Leaf, a company that offers a payments-specific tablet, is opening to more processors in an effort to lure merchants away from Square and other point of sale acceptance companies.

Leaf previously worked with a limited number of processors. In addition to expanding its list of partners, Leaf is working on other tech advancements, such as allowing its tablet to handle EMV chip-card payments.

"Payments processing is becoming commoditized…what we want to do is build a plug-and-play model where merchants can work with whoever they were using before," says Aron Schwarzkopf, CEO of Leaf.

Leaf charges $50 a month for the use of its tablet, which has a built-in card reader. It offers additional tablets for $250 each.

Leaf's program gives businesses the ability to use the same device to accept payments from multiple providers, or accept new payment forms such as LevelUp.  It has more than two dozen credit card, gift card and alternative payment providers within its partner program, which it plans to expand in the coming months. Current partners include Heartland Payment Systems, PayAnywhere, Swipely, First Data, Global Payments, Chase Paymentech, TSYS, Elavon and SecurePay.

Merchants that maintain an existing relationship with a payment processor provide account information to Leaf to handle payments on LeafPresenter, the company's tablet. LeafPresenter is primarily aimed at small businesses as an alternative to iPad-based systems such as Square Register and PayPal Here. Small businesses can also create new accounts with pre-approved partners through LeafBusiness, Leaf's analytics and management portal. Merchants that accept supported mobile wallets can also link these credentials within the LeafBusiness portal.

Leaf's attempt at openness may create too much complexity for most merchants, says Gareth Lodge, a senior analyst for Celent.

"What is the problem that this is solving? Square was very clear—it was a simple, low-cost entry point for the smaller end of the market, who didn't need or couldn't get a merchant account, nor needed a traditional [point of sale] terminal," he says. Leaf's also not substantially unique from other providers, Lodge says, "other than offering a tablet which to me is not sufficient…one way I can see this working is as an 'industrial strength' Square."

Another analyst needled Leaf's use of the word "open," but gave a gentler review.

"It is a bit of a contradiction to describe a platform as open but require the merchant to use a specific device," says Philip Philliou, a payments consultant. "That said, providing a merchant with the ability to maintain multiple processing relationships is a novel concept.  Leaf may find greater acceptance for their solution at larger merchants who are better resourced to optimize multiple processing relationships."

Leaf contends its tablet will attract merchants because of its narrow focus on digital commerce, which gives merchants more control over security and managing special offers and other payment products. Leaf also contends its openness to myriad processors is a differentiator from others that offer card-reading dongles.

"I believe the dongle was a great invention, but it wasn't really made to be a merchant device," Schwarzkopf says.  "At a merchant you need one device that can take payments, delivery loyalty coupons and redemptions all in one place."

General-use tablets such as the iPad are a poor fit for merchant systems, Schwarzkopf says.

"Tablets are great for people like you and me, but in a store, they weren't made for that purpose. You can't control the operating system," he says. 

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