Simple definition
Getting a green light from the bank for a purchase.
Expanded definition
The process by which a transaction is approved by the card-issuing bank, ensuring sufficient funds or credit availability.


Every time you use your credit or debit card, a series of events takes place behind the scenes, ensuring your transactions are secure and seamless. At the heart of this intricate dance is the authorisation process—a vital component that often goes unnoticed. In this article, we'll embark on a journey, tracking a transaction from the moment of swiping your card to receiving that gratifying approval notification.

What is Authorisation in the World of Payments?

  • Definition of Authorisation:
  • In simple terms, authorisation is the process by which a card issuer approves or declines a transaction. It ensures that the cardholder has sufficient funds and that the transaction is legitimate.
  • The Importance of Authorisation:
  • Without authorisation, the payment ecosystem would be chaotic. It acts as a gatekeeper, verifying transactions and protecting both merchants and customers from potential fraud.

The Step-by-Step Journey: From Swipe to Approval

  • Card Swipe/Insert/Tap:
  • The journey begins the moment you swipe, insert, or tap your card on a payment terminal. This action initiates a request for funds from your account.
  • Transmission to Acquiring Bank:
  • The payment terminal communicates with the merchant's bank, relaying essential transaction details.
  • Forwarding to Card Network:
  • Card networks, such as Visa or Mastercard, play a pivotal role in guiding the transaction to its next destination: the issuing bank.
  • Reaching the Issuing Bank:
  • This is where the cardholder's bank reviews the transaction details, checking account balances, and other critical metrics before making a decision.
  • Approval or Decline:
  • Based on multiple factors, the issuing bank will either approve or decline the transaction. If approved, an authorisation code is generated; if declined, a reason is usually provided.

Factors Influencing Authorisation Outcomes

  • Available Balance:
  • One of the most common reasons for transaction decline is insufficient funds in the cardholder's account.
  • Fraud Detection:
  • Banks employ advanced algorithms and systems to detect suspicious activities. Any anomaly can lead to a transaction being flagged and subsequently declined.
  • Card Expiry and Validity:
  • An expired card or one with incorrect details can lead to transaction failure.
  • Merchant Factors:
  • Sometimes, the type of merchant or specific transaction categories can trigger additional scrutiny, affecting the authorisation outcome.

The Role of Technology in Modern Authorisation

  • Speed and Real-time Processing:
  • The advancements in technology allow for near-instantaneous decisions, enabling real-time transaction feedback to merchants and customers.
  • Tokenisation and Security:
  • Your card data is encrypted and tokenised, ensuring that sensitive information is never exposed during the transaction process.
  • Adaptive Authorisation:
  • With AI and machine learning, authorisation decisions have become smarter, adapting to evolving fraud patterns and user behaviours.

Common Myths and Misconceptions

  • "Declines Mean Insufficient Funds":
  • While often the case, not all declines are due to low balance. Various factors, like suspected fraud, can lead to a declined transaction.
  • "Authorisation Guarantees Payment to Merchant":
  • An approved authorisation doesn't always translate to payment. Final settlement occurs separately, and discrepancies can arise in the interim.
  • "All Transactions Undergo the Same Process":
  • Different transaction types, like online vs. in-store, can have varying authorisation pathways.

Best Practices for Merchants: Ensuring Smooth Authorisations

  • Regular Terminal Updates:
  • Updated point-of-sale systems ensure compatibility with the latest card technologies, reducing potential friction points.
  • Prompt Transaction Finalisation:
  • Merchants should swiftly finalise transactions post-authorisation to ensure smooth settlements.
  • Staying Informed on Card Network Policies:
  • Adhering to guidelines set by card networks can significantly reduce transaction hiccups.


The authorisation process, while complex, ensures a reliable and secure payment ecosystem. As technology continues to evolve, we can anticipate even smoother, quicker, and more secure transaction journeys in the future.

FAQ Section

  • How long does an authorisation typically last before it becomes a finalised transaction?
  • Most authorisations are finalised within 1-3 days, but it can vary based on merchant and bank policies.
  • Can merchants manually request authorisation for a transaction?
  • Yes, in certain scenarios, merchants can initiate manual authorisations, especially when facing technical difficulties with their regular systems.

With a thorough understanding of the authorisation process, both merchants and consumers can navigate the world of digital transactions with confidence and ease.