Peter Guidi's Blog

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Credit Card acceptance costs expected to increase by summer 2010; is your pool of profit going down the drain?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card, Uncategorized on February 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm

David Mamet said “The surprise is half the battle. Many things are half the battle, losing is half the battle. Let’s think about what’s the whole battle.”

According to NACS, in 2008, convenience stores sold approximately $414 billion in gasoline sales with the average store selling 118,526 gallons per month. On Monday, (2/23/2010) Yahoo reported the national average for the price of gas at $2.68 per gallon up $.73.1 cents from the same time last year. Fred Rozell, Retail Pricing Director at Oil Price Information Service, is predicting a high of $3.25 for this summer. If Fred is correct, then the retail price on gasoline will have increased $1.33 cents per gallon from the summer of 2009. If that isn’t painful enough, look at the corresponding increase in credit card fees of a little over three cents ($.033) per gallon. 

Cause/effect: If Fred is correct, the average retailer will pay an additional four thousand dollars ($4,000!) in card acceptance costs totaling nearly $9630.009 per month this summer. The impact of these increases will significantly reduce margins on gasoline sales. Is there any doubt this is happening? A quick look at the gasoline balance sheet at $2.65 per gallon shows that retailers are already half way there! 

Where’s the surprise? This summer won’t likely be as painful to the retailer’s pocketbook as the summer of 2005. The difference?; Total demand remains low as the economy continues to suffer while people keep their cars, boat’s and RV’s in the driveway. Without a big increase in demand it’s unlikely that prices will reach the $4.00 range. Reflecting back just a few years ago to when retailers experienced this trend and eventually saw profits disappear the call for change was sounded. 

Robert Shapiro, author of “The Costs of “Charging It” in America: Assessing the Economic Impact of Interchange Fees for Credit Card and Debit Card Transactions” correctly identifies the “Whole Battle” when he says, “credit companies and banks compete with each other by offering large rewards that are financed by fees”, “The competition is driving fees up rather than driving fees down.” 

The Whole Battle is asking how the retailer can compete with Financial Institutions for the consumers “Method of Payment”. This summer will mark another battle won or lost, how will you fight back?


What is Alternative Payment?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on February 15, 2010 at 6:33 pm

The payments landscape is constantly changing with new technology and applications regularly emerging trumpeted as the latest and greatest “Alternative Payment” system. With all of this change it might be helpful if we define “Alternative Payment”. Perhaps the challenge is to define “Traditional Payment” and say that everything else is Alternative Payment, but somehow that does not satisfy the question. 

There are a two ways to look at this question; the practical application and the academic question. Practically speaking, in the current payment landscape any payment system that eliminates card associations from the transaction is an alternative system. Academically, the question is more complicated and reaches to the Financial Institution. To satisfy both the practical and academic definitions, “Alternative Payment” could be defined as: payment methods that do not adhere to the issuer-network-acquirer model and those that do not utilize card association networks or, where the liability of payment is held by an issuer that is different than the FI holding the consumers “dda”.

Do “E-Wallets” qualify? What about merchant issued debit cards? ACH Decoupled Debit is an example of an “alternative payment system”, but does it meet the criteria? The result of an ACH decoupled debit transaction is the disintermediation of the Financial Institution holding the consumers dda from the card based transaction. What if we consider EFT networks, or the ACH to be a part of the FI, then where do we draw the line? Perhaps any payment where the consumer does not directly enter their credit/debit card number at check-out qualifies as an “alternative payment”. Google Checkout or PayPal transactions that are funded by a Credit Card do not appear to be “alternative payment. National Payment Card, BillMeLater and eBillMe clearly consider themselves alternative payment. What is Alternative Payment? What do you think?


Pen or Pin: An expensive decision for the retailer. Are best things in life free, or do you get what you pay for?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on February 3, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Debit cards are making news as the consumers preferred method of payment. Financial industry analysts predicted that debit cards would overtake credit cards and would start a change in the loyalty offering and other types of card incentives from credit to debit cards. It was never predicted that it would happen so quickly with such a tidal-wave type of shift. One major transaction processor, revealed that membership in credit card reward programs has declined from 71% of the consumers surveyed in 2008 to 67% this year. While at the same time, the participation in the debit reward programs has increased markedly from 34% of consumers surveyed in 2008 to 45% this year. This trend is expected to continue as consumers struggling under the load of credit card debt move to debit.

PCI PED deadlines appear like a fog bank on the horizon, big, dark, impenetrable and getting closer. Retailers are faced with the decision to either upgrade from older, no-secure PIN pads to PCI PED approved pads at significant cost, or to accept all cards as “signature” at the pump paying the higher “signature transaction fee”.

Meanwhile, banks are sending a conflicting message as retailers are now faced with PIN debit transaction fees that are nearly equal to signature debit transaction fees.  Adding injury to insult, Financial Institutions are offering consumers aggressive “debit reward” programs based on consumers’ choosing ‘Signature” rather than PIN.  Rewarding the consumer for using signature debit is essentially bribing the consumer to use a more expensive form of payment. One major bank recently released its “Swipe & Sign” program offering consumers a $10.00 gift certificate from for one “signature debit transaction” at a grocery store. The result is retailers are paying for more expensive Signature based debit transactions. This is a “dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t” situation. 

Retailers are wondering if the upgrading to PCI PED pin pads is worth the expense. They face a situation where the lower cost PIN debit rate is going away at the very same time banks are rewarding consumers to use signature debit. It appears that the banks are saying “no” to PCI PED upgrades.