Peter Guidi's Blog

The Battle of the Titans continues as NACS squares off with the ETA over mobile payment.

In Convenience Store, merchants, mobile payment, Retail Payment on October 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Greek Mythology and the payments industry seem to have a lot in common. There’s something similar about CVS and Rite Aids decision not to accept Apple Pay that reminds me of when “Cronus attacked Uranus, and, with the sickle cut off his”…..well, you get the point.

There has been a lot of noise about mobile payment over the last few years. Confusion about technology and economics clouds the issues. Now, in the same tradition of Durbin (legislation) and Brooklyn (litigation), banks and retailers are setting the stage for another battle over mobile payment. The new issue is; does Apple Pay, Softcard and other NFC based solutions simply enable the traditional payment providers (read fees), or is MCX just an anti-competitive alliance of retailers created for no other reason to leverage the emerging consumer acceptance of mobile payment systems to drive the cost of payments down? In the middle is the consumer who simply wants convenience and choice.

The Apple Pay launch opened the latest salvo in the fee/service war. The Electronic Transactions Association is saying that the decision by CVS and Rite Aid to block mobile payments services like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Softcard is “anti-consumer and anti-competitive”. NACS, apparently in support of the Retailers MCX relationship is saying that Apple Pay essentially allows “Visa/MasterCard monopoly into mobile payments”. saying “Those two dominant credit card networks have faced a lengthy series of antitrust actions from the U.S. Department of Justice and merchants over the years due to their anticompetitive conduct. Now, they are working feverishly to require merchants to accept their preferred technology, near-field communications (NFC), so that they can extend their dominance into the future.” How supporting MCX, a program that requires exclusivity within the mobile payment channel, even the exclusion of non-VISA/Mastercard 3rd parties is not Anti-Competitive is a bit of a mystery.

Let’s be clear, MCX could allow either Visa or Mastercard into the CurrentC wallet, it’s a business decision, not a technology issue. Apple was clever enough to shift costs (at least for now) to the issuer, rather than the merchant. This opened the door to many merchants avoiding the interchange conversation. Why many merchants have chosen not to join MCX might have something to do with membership fees, product availability, or perhaps that it is an ACH program rather than a new low cost 4th network. After all, there are many ACH providers, why spend a lot of money joining a coalition only to pay a high membership fee for a product that is already available from other providers?

The reason the industry is lining up to fight over the CVS & Rite Aid decision is because this is another skirmish in a multi-year battle over the fees retailers pay, or banks earn, when consumers make a payment. For retailers simply wanting mobile payment at low cost, the program is available today. Retailers can compete with banks for consumer’s method of payment, that’s the “Competitors Code”. The point is, Retailers don’t need legislation or litigation to drive fees down, competition will do the job. If CVS and Rite Aid don’t want to accept Apple Pay, so be it. On the other hand, how does a restrictive exclusive contract with MCX serve the consumer?

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