Expanding access to the internet economy, with limits

Stripe builds economic infrastructure for the internet that enables businesses to accept payments and access other financial services. We want to make it easier for businesses of all kinds—from large enterprises to small businesses—to start, run, and grow. We aim for our platform to be broadly accessible, just like other forms of infrastructure, such as roads or telecommunications networks. As a financial services company, we also have to adhere to rules and policies designed to protect our users and the financial system. This means we aren’t able to support some businesses. We know this can be frustrating, so we want to explain a bit more about why some businesses are restricted and how we work to enable access to Stripe’s services.

Why we can’t work with some businesses

There are certain restricted businesses we are unable to support. When someone purchases a good or service through Stripe, we work behind the scenes with payment networks (such as Visa and Mastercard) and banking partners across dozens of countries to process that payment. These financial institutions are subject to their own set of legal requirements and internal policies. We advocate for updates to our partners’ restrictions if they no longer seem relevant, and work with them to adjust policies to make space for new business models. But we take them seriously, and must adhere to their rules.

We also have our own legal obligations and policies designed to manage legal and financial risks, and to protect the integrity of the financial system. We comply with anti-money laundering and sanctions requirements on a global basis. In addition, Stripe has an obligation to protect users and consumers from an array of financial risks, including fraudulent activity or unplanned cash flows. We have invested substantially in our advanced technology and tools to identify, prevent, and restrict activity that materially increases these risks. 

Just as there are some countries where we don’t operate, there are also industries where support is currently limited or restricted for business reasons. Certain verticals, like pharmaceuticals or medical devices, are subject to intensive local regulation and require specialized operational and compliance capabilities. Others may present highly elevated fraud, chargeback, or other risks. While these categories may require significant investment to enable, we are continually working to improve our capabilities so we can support more users and types of verticals.

Finally, we have a responsibility to prevent the use of our services in ways that are likely to result in violence to others. We have a longstanding prohibition against providing services to businesses that engage in or promote unlawful violence, as outlined here. At times, determining what constitutes the promotion of unlawful violence is not clear. Some would prefer we go further and deny services to users that are controversial, or have views some find extreme. While others may draw different lines, our view is that basic economic infrastructure, like bank accounts or the services Stripe provides, should be broadly accessible and provided in an impartial manner. In particular, in the area of political expression, we want to avoid becoming an arbiter of what speech is legitimate. We are cautious about making determinations that deny access to our services. Our policies attempt to provide wide latitude for lawful content and expression, while preventing the use of our service to encourage or perpetrate violence against others. In making these difficult determinations, we work hard to maintain a process that is rigorous, objective, and fair.  

Stripe’s work with platforms

We regularly work with marketplaces and platforms, such as Lyft, Shopify, and Substack, enabling an ecosystem of creators, business owners, and bootstrappers.

We require these platforms to have the appropriate governance and tools to comply with Stripe’s terms of service, and we work with them to understand how they meet these obligations. Beyond compliance with our terms of service (including the restrictions described above), we think our platform users should be able to make their own decisions about what businesses or individuals they will support. In our experience, this approach best comports with the law and our obligations, while also meeting the diverse and often intricate needs of businesses and their stakeholders. Take a social media platform, for example. We think they should be the primary arbiter to determine what content can or cannot be shared on their own platform, which is why we seek to be deferential to the platform in making these determinations.

Expanding access through user advocacy

Stripe offers tools to help businesses of all types start and grow. We want to make it easier for more people, in more places, to participate in the internet economy–and to develop new kinds of businesses, services, and creative undertakings. We understand that businesses that have the potential to change the world often look unconventional when they begin, and we want to help ensure that innovation is not unnecessarily stifled. These businesses might not meet traditional requirements, so we work closely with our financial partners to adapt their approaches and support new business models as they arise. Our work on behalf of fintech and pharmacy users are two examples of how we try to resolve conflicts between traditional financial system restrictions and novel business models.

The regulatory requirements for fintech merchants are sometimes complicated and unclear, as their novel business models don’t always fit neatly into the traditional regulatory frameworks. Fintech merchants also face a patchwork of licensing obligations that vary by country and even by state, which makes it challenging to confirm that a merchant holds the licenses required to operate. We work with financial partners such as banks and card networks to adapt policies to enable innovative fintech business models. This allows us to support new fintech businesses, like Capital On Tap, as they work to expand in the US.
During the COVID pandemic, many people had to quarantine at home. As a result, pharmacies needed to find new ways to remain accessible while contending with restrictions that make online payments and home delivery of prescriptions difficult. In Germany, Stripe worked with the card networks and local regulators to ensure MAYD, an on-demand telepharmacy, could accept online payments and deliver medication in a safe and compliant way. Since partnering with Stripe and launching in October 2021, MAYD has grown to deliver in more than 40 cities and towns.

We won’t always be able to find a way to work with a novel business model. Some user categories are prohibited by law. And some exceed our risk tolerance or that of our financial partners. But we keep an open mind and always work to understand why restrictions are in place, particularly those that seem dated. If you think we should support a new way of doing business, or think we haven't gotten something right, we encourage you to get in touch.

Our approach will continue to evolve

Technology and legal requirements are changing rapidly, and businesses are innovating every day. As a result, the types of businesses we can support will no doubt continue to change over time. We will continue to listen to feedback from our users about what they need, and work with our financial partners and regulators to try to support new and innovative businesses across the world.

Editor’s note: this updates our earlier post from 2016