Peter Guidi's Blog

Lower fees get the headlines, but might not be the story. Why multiple unaffiliated networks is the real bombshell in Judge Leon’s decision.

In alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, big data, credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, retailers, swipe fees on August 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Groucho Marx once said that “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Judge Leon might have been better served had he considered the wisdom in Marx’s thought before his recent ruling throwing out the current Fed’s implementation of the Durbin Amendment.

When Judge Leon threw out Durbin saying “The Board has clearly disregarded Congress’s statutory intent by inappropriately inflating all debit card transaction fees by billions of dollars and failing to provide merchants with multiple unaffiliated networks for each debit card transaction” he may have opened the legislation to a potential flaw that might just make implementation of Durbin impossible

In an August 13 article published in American Banker called “Damage to Banks from Debit Card Ruling Goes Beyond Lower Fee Cap”, Kevin Wack writes “Perhaps just as significant, but less discussed, the judge also ruled that retailers must be given the choice of routing each signature debit transaction, as well as each PIN debit purchase, over at least two card networks.” Kevin is correct, fees impact the economics of the transaction, but like the highs costs of implementing EMV, multi-homing has technical implementation costs far beyond the cost of the transaction. I covered this this issue in this blog, January 2011, “Who gets to choose? Durbin’s provision on “multi-homing” and the prohibition on network routing exclusivity” Here is the issue. I asked a well know expert this question: what makes multiple unaffiliated networks a complex requirement? His answer: “most retailer’s payment systems route transactions based upon the Bank Identification Number or BIN.  They do not have the ability to make different routing decisions if a PIN is present or not.  Additionally, a lot of smaller merchants do not have direct connections to networks but instead route the majority of their traffic to a merchant acquirer who then will determine how the card needs to be authorized based upon processing agreements that retailer has in place.  While the concept of allowing networks to compete for the same card traffic sounds attractive, from a practical matter it is far more complex.  And as raised in the most current legal opinion, the ability to route between non-affiliated networks needs to be at the transaction level, not the card level. “

I wanted a bit more granularity and so another source tells me that “Although most retailers do not connect directly to debit networks, there is nothing other than cost that prevents them from doing so. As EMV comes into the US domestic market and each Debit Issuer is tagged with their own network EMV AID(application identifier on the Chip), we may see more large scale retailers choosing to connect directly with their network of choice. A lot of stuff is up in the air right now. The next 10 months will be very exciting in terms of the number of changes coming to the debit networks above and beyond Judge Leon’s judgment. I doubt if the Federal Reserve or Congress will be able to keep up with everything that is happening in this space in the interim.”

So, Judge Leon concluded that the Fed must allow retailers the choice of two unaffiliated networks for each individual purchase — whether the consumer elects to make a signature or PIN debit transaction, never mind the costs or complexity of making it so. I come way feeling like Judge Leon clearly does not understand how routing actually works especially for small merchants.  He seems to believe there is a “Payments Genie” and that rubbing the lamp makes payments happen. The intuition is easy, but the way this actually works as a technical matter I think is a mystery to people.

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