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Archive for the ‘alternative payment’ Category

“Contractual conflict”; Apple Pay and MCX, the new front in the mobile payments war.

In ACH decoupled debit, alternative payment, merchants, mobile payment, payment, Platforms, Retail Payment, Uncategorized on November 3, 2014 at 8:38 am

A few years ago, while at one of the major POS annual user conferences, I had the opportunity to socialize with one of the initial members to MCX. At the time, I was with PayPal and mobile payments was more of an idea than a technology. MCX had just been announced and I was learning about the “hush hush, MCX Exclusivity” requirements. I was floored. How could that be good for either the merchant or the consumer? His answer; “They really did not care if MCX ever conducted a single transaction. If allowing Visa/MC into the mobile wallet forced lower overall fees (read cards as well) then MCX would have done its job”. When asked about how profitable CurrentC would be, Lee Scott, former CEO of Walmart said, “I don’t know that it will, and I don’t care. As long as Visa suffers”. It never seemed like much of a business plan to me.

It was all such a secret. I can’t count the number of times I heard; “The first rule of MCX is; you don’t talk about MCX”. Well, judging from the news, things appear not to have worked as planned. The veil was lifted on the MCX story when Rite Aid and CVS Health pushed aside Apple Pay and in doing so revealed a new wrinkle in the mobile payment war, contractual conflict. The notion that an exclusive MCX mobile payment solution might be a lever to force card acceptance fees down seems to have reached its apex. Are retailers willing to say no to Apple Pay? The consumer is caught in the middle.

One of the ingredients in the MCX secret sauce is the idea that retailers will adhere to an exclusive arrangement thus locking out competing payments systems in the mobile channel. As Karen Webster speculates in her 10/27 blog, MCX is likely to have told both Rite Aid and CVS “You simply can’t do it. And, the fact of the matter is that you’ve been caught two-timing with Apple Pay, and that’s clearly a violation of your contract with us.” In doing so MCX is leveraging its big stick, not its economics, product features, or consumer demand, but the strength of its legal teams and the adverse contract its members have signed. “This act by CVS and Rite Aid heralds the advent of the imminent battle in the mobile payment system,” said Anindya Ghose, a marketing and information-technology professor at New York University. Now that lines have been drawn, we will learn if MCX can drive the cost of payment down, or will its own member retailers instead chose to provide their consumers with choice. Call the lawyers.

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Right to the “3rd” power”: Mobile Payment the POS and ROI

In ACH decoupled debit, alternative payment, Bank Fees, big data, Coalition Loyalty, connected consumer, Convenience Store, interchange, loyalty, merchants, mobile payment, omni-channel, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Petroleum retailing, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees on July 8, 2014 at 4:46 pm

The arc of loyalty/payment programing, particularly as it relates to mobile, is now mature enough for retailers to set long-term strategic goals. The high level strategy is about consumer engagement. The objective is to create a more intimate consumer shopping experience that is contextual in nature. The requirement being: “Right to the 3rd power”; the right offer, to the right person, at the right time. The tool set for loyalty, payment and the integration of omni-channel marketing in the mobile channel is the POS.

Mobile is the most important next generation service, in many ways it is here today. Consumer adoption of mobile services is exploding. The consumer is willing and ready, even waiting for the retailer to catch up. First to market retailers will be in the lead and have an advantage. Ignore mobile and you risk losing both the Millennials and the X-er’s. Is there any doubt that the next group will only be more mobile? Cards, checks and cash will exist, and will require attention, but having a mobile strategy is the key to future success.

While EMV will drive NFC to the POS, consumer engagement will be driven by merchant rewards. The days when retailers give over control of their customers to banks and associations will end as mobile payment becomes the norm. In this war for the mobile consumer, the POS and cloud-based mobile payment is supreme. The transaction is changing from the legacy model of capture/authorize and settle to a robust IP based dialogue. This dialogue is between the consumer and the POS and is about the relationship between the retailer and the consumer. Unlike today where the transaction begins when the item, coupon or loyalty card is scanned, tomorrow’s consumer will begin the engagement long before they arrive at the location. Mobile app based solutions will leverage Geo Fencing, Wireless, and BLE to engage the consumers according to their preference. The IT environment required to deliver these services must be tightly coupled to the POS at the Transaction Services Layer (TSL). This important change in the transaction flow means that payment, rather than being outside of the TSL, is now a part of the TSL. This change means that the entire legacy payments network may be disintermediated from the mobile transaction. We see this with companies like National Payment Card Association and believe MCX shares this goal.

Retailers are understandably concerned about ROI. ROI is a result of more profitable shopping. ROI is more than a function of “frequency and shopping basket”, it is about shaping the consumers purchasing decisions. People are asking about ROI and Mobile and reluctant to allow legacy payment fees into the branded app. To the extent that consumers react through the use of offers, coupons, push notifications, points etc in the mobile channel, payment is required to close the transaction within the same user experience. The notion that the mobile consumer will be interactive with the mobile experience and then be asked to use a card for payment does not make sense. Using a card in the mobile channel would destroy the user experience and make it impossible to measure conversion.

Certainly, there are many issues impacting retailers and the POS environment. The key questions is: which IT solution makes the most sense and how does it set the retailer on the road towards a larger goal of implementing a successful consumer acquisition and retention program that is “Right to the 3rd Power”?

The Target Breach: what it means to card and mobile ACH payment:

In ACH decoupled debit, alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, merchants, mobile payment, omni-channel, Payment card, retailers, swipe fees, Target breach on December 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm

In the aftermath of the Target Breach, David Heun at American Banker writes that ACH decoupled debit could be the big winner saying “security may have suddenly become the product’s biggest selling point.” He tiled the story, “Target’s Redcard Proves Less Vulnerable to Data Breach than Bank Cards”. Today Richard Crone, chief executive of consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC is quoted in PYMTS.com saying “Skimming the 16 digits on Target’s proprietary decoupled debit Redcard will probably not even be pursued by the fraudsters who captured that number because it can only be used inside Target”, he went on to say; “The proprietary Target card represents another reason merchants may want their own card because it can mitigate risk, too.”

National Payment Card Association is the leading provider of ACH decoupled debit card services at the POS and the world’s largest processor of mobile ACH transactions at the fuel pump. ACH decoupled debit is safer than legacy payment because the actual payment credentials are not being passed through the POS. Instead the consumer links their financial account to a card or phone as a psydo number/Token across our database. This process isolates the consumer’s financial data from the payment processing network. This differs from legacy payments where the payment credential is on the card; given the choice, “no one would pass actual payment credentials through the point of sale”, says Richard Crone

Retailers can lower their liability to payment data loss by implementing ACH decoupled debit programs. At the 2013 Pinnacle Users Conference in Dallas, I quote Gray Taylor; Executive Director of PCATS, where he said that ACH programs lower the retailer’s exposure to payment data liability. Retailers are rightly concerned about the liability associated with payment data loss. Target is not the first to be a victim of this crime and watching the media reminds me of, with my apologies to the family; Kitty Genovese.

The debate about payment data is hardly new, who can forget the transition to 3dez. Target has announced that stolen PINS are safe behind a processor based encryption key, one win in the data protection business. Proponents of EMV, and by its extension, those involved with NFC mobile payments will point to Target as another justification for their systems. Meanwhile thieves will work on new man in the middle attack strategies. As long as the payment credential passes through the POS and processing network, it will be a target for theft.

Mobile payment is impacted as well. Data security is also a consideration as the retailer evaluates cloud-based mobile payment or NFC at the POS. Some proponents argue that the payment data can be stored on the secure element and be safe. The growth of mobile payment will capture millions of users as consumers choose mobile payment. Retailers have a unique opportunity to lower payment liability by shifting consumers to card and mobile ach decoupled debit.

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.

Big Data, mobile payments and the connected consumer

In alternative payment, big data, connected consumer, Convenience Store, mobile payment, omni-channel, payment, Peter Guidi, Platforms, retailers, Uncategorized on March 9, 2013 at 6:36 pm

“Big Data” is a term that refers to the vast quantity of consumer information that is available both on-line through 3rd party resources and within the retailer’s environment. Connecting Big Data to consumers through mobile payments represents the commercial usefulness of the information. Thanks to more powerful ePOS, the internet and the emergence of the “information cloud” this data can now be manipulated and utilized to drive pre-sales consumer engagement and drive sales during the purchase cycle. Big Data information is more potent when it can be applied to areas unconnected with how it was originally collected. As an example, the ability to link the CDC’s tracking of the flu with promotions for cold medications, or the ability to link coupons for hot/cold drinks to National Weathers Services tracking of temperatures. The back bone of retailer performance will be connecting Big Data to mobile payments (the consumer) during the purchase cycle through “personalization” and driving consumer engagement.

Mobile payments. The integration of the consumer through their smart phone to Big Data is the technical challenge facing the industry. Leveraging Big Data in a mobile payment environment means establishing a dialogue between the consumer’s smart phone/wallet and the ePOS at the time of purchase allowing a robust exchange of data so that the consumer experiences payment, loyalty, and offers (product recommendations, coupons) in one seamless experience.

The technical requirements of serving mobile payment and the connected consumer at the ePOS during the purchase cycle will drive change in the payments processing environment. Perhaps the greatest change is the potential disintermediation of the traditional payment processor from the mobile payment. A large shift in consumer payment behavior to mobile payment means a significant drop in card transactions across the legacy payment processing network. 

The legacy payments processing network was built to handle payments at the beginning of the electronic payments era before the emergence of Big Data. The result is that the infrastructure, while highly fault tolerant and reliable, does not lend itself well to change and is not compatible with a robust exchange of Big Data between the consumer and POS at the time of the transaction. This is great for the traditional card based ISO8583 message, but severely lacking for mobile payments and Omni-channel shopping.

The ePOS has evolved from a limited “dumb” machines built around closed systems with proprietary code to a very powerful computing device utilizing open standards. The ePOS now has the ability to communicate in an IP environment and as a result, has the ability to communicate both payment and Big Data to networks outside of the legacy payment network utilizing IP based communication.  ePOS vendors have changed their payments strategy and are moving to cloud based systems. In Petroleum all four major providers are developing cloud based payments applications that will standardize the software between the POS, EPS and Payments Cloud.

The future of Omni-channel shopping depends on the ability to communicate to the connected consumer through an IP/cloud based mobile payment with access to Big Data. Big Data is the “secret sauce” of mobile payments.

The MasterCard/Visa settlement; an alternative point of view.

In alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, Convenience Store, credit card, debit card, interchange, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees, Uncategorized on August 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Opportunities are often difficult to recognize and they do not come with their values stamped upon them. It is often hard to distinguish between easy choices and those of opportunity; such may be the case with the retail industry’s reaction to the proposed Visa, MasterCard Settlement. As it stands today the proposed “Brooklyn” settlement has been rejected by nearly all retailer associations like; NACS, SIGMA, NGA as well as multiple retailers including large national and smaller local companies and even Senator Dick Durbin has added his disapproval to the chorus of rejection. It’s fair to say that the proposal is “Dead on Arrival”. Even so, I wonder if by refusing to embrace this settlement an opportunity is being missed.

With so much opposition to the settlement, how is it possible that an opportunity may be missed? The answer lies in the fundamental assertion that retailers can compete for the consumer’s method of payment steering them to low cost payment, rather than relying on legislative price controls or judicial action that seek to control the payments industry. Core to this belief is that there is significant competition in the credit card industry, it just happens to be between banks competing for consumers, rather than between retailers and banks competing for the consumers method of payment. There is nothing unusual about this model, it’s standard platform economics. The more end-users (retailers accepting cards and consumers with cards) on either side of the platform (MC/VISA), the more valuable and hence expensive the platform. This is why banks do not negotiate fees with retailers. Their mission is adding value to the consumer to carry and use their card for payment. The result is richer reward programs that add cost and drive the transaction fees higher. The retailer’s perception is a monopolist market, when in fact, as consumers we all participate in the very same economic activity.

In today’s rapidly evolving payment landscape consumers have many payment options. Surcharging creates an opportunity for the retailer to compete with the associations and promote low cost payment options. The challenge with surcharging is that it forces retailers to compete not just for the consumers purchase, but also for their method of payment and as a result some retailers may choose to use card payment as an economic advantage. Up until the proposed settlement this concept was merely theoretical because the card association rules prohibited the activity. While some retailers had experimented with cash discounts, the concept of charging for credit or debit card use has not been tested. The reason there is no information on surcharging is because it was prohibited by the associations operating rules. The Associations prohibited surcharging because it exposes the real cost of payment to the consumer and therefore allows the consumer to understand that using their card is not free.  This capability provides a powerful new tool for retailers to steer consumer payment choice.

Now armed with the tool needed to expose this cost, retailers are more concerned about the perception and customer services issues than the costs of payment. One retailer was quoted in NACS Online as saying he wants customers “impressed by the quality of products and services they receive” lamenting that surcharges for payment may appear to penalize them for the use of the card saying “it does not make for very good customer service”. This statement tends to suggest that the current costs accepting credit cards is acceptable, a suggestion that tends to explain why the opportunity presented by surcharging may be overlooked.

It’s unlikely that we will learn the answers to these questions in the near future. The industry is committed to seeking significant concessions that go beyond the proposed settlement which means the lawsuit is likely to move forward.  Stay tuned……

Surcharging for credit versus discounts for cash; why it makes a difference and how the consumer will react.

In alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, Convenience Store, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, Petroleum retailing, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees on July 16, 2012 at 8:02 pm

In the struggle between the Credit Card Associations and Retailers this week’s court decision reminds me of the old western film when two guys are fighting and the guy with the rifle runs out of ammo as the other guy’s gun is a few yards away. There is that brief moment when they both realize that the game has changed and now the race to the finale is upon them.  This week MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc. along with some large banks settled what had become known as the Brooklyn case, setting the stage for retailers to pick up the gun and shoot first.

 The weapon that the Brooklyn decision has given the retailer is the ability to surcharge the consumer for the use of a credit card.  Surcharging is a tremendously powerful tool that has the ability to dramatically shift consumer behavior. Surcharging is fundamentally different than Discounts; understanding why, is the key for retailers wishing to leverage this decision. How powerful is surcharging?  Alphawise (Morgan Stanley Research) reports that “43% of consumers would be “very-likely” to switch from credit/charge cards to debit, cash or check if asked to pay a 1-2% surcharge by a merchant”. Further, “on average, those who said they would be “very likely” to stop using a credit card would shift about 67% of their credit purchases to other forms of payments”.

Retailers have some experience with offering discounts for cash or alternative payment discounts.  In the Convenience Store Industry, the per gallon discount for cash or merchant issued debit has been moderately successful. Some merchants like Savannah’s Parker Stores, are offering up to 10 cents off per gallon for consumers using their PumpPal card. These programs are reported to have captured between 5% and 25% of their consumer’s transactions.  But if Alphawise is correct, and Parker posts a price of $3.50 with PumpPal, and then ROLLS-UP the price of gas by 10 cents per gallon for the use of credit, then according to Alphawise’s survey results,  upwards of 50% of consumers appear ready to walk away from credit cards

The reason Surcharging is more powerful than Discounts is because of “Network Effects”. Network Effects are an economic term that describes the attraction of two groups of end-users across a “platform”. The reason the card associations have never allowed surcharging is because the economic principles driving a platform (two-sided market) state that only one side of the platform can be weighted with fees to the end-user.  An example of network effects is the Adobe PDF Reader. Almost all of us have the PDF reader on our computers, and it is free. The PDF writer on the other hand is expensive. The reason the writer is expensive is because so many people have the reader. If Adobe had charged for the reader it’s likely no one would have purchased it and as a result, the writer would be valueless. The same is true for credit cards, show the consumer the real cost of using their credit card and they are likely to find another way to pay.

The question is; will the Retailers react? Like our gun fighters, there is risk going for your gun.  Mike Schumann, owner of Traditions Classic Home Furnishing in Minneapolis was quoted in the WSJ saying that he is “hoping that surcharging will become commonplace, but that small firms will not lead the charge” adding that he might charge 2.5% to 3% if his competitors adopt the practice. During a call with a national home furnishings chain, the CIO wondered aloud how consumers would react to seeing an $80.00 upcharge for a major purchase. It’s a good question. But what does seem clear, is that in areas of every day spend, like gasoline and groceries, retailers have a new tool. We’ll have to see if they choose to use it.

 

New Bank fees set the stage for Merchant Issued Debit and Rewards.

In alternative payment, Bank Fees, Bank Tax, Coalition Loyalty, Convenience Store, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Petroleum retailing, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees, Uncategorized on October 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm

The stage is set for an epic battle between the merchant community and the financial industry to win the consumers method of payment (MOP).  This week, BoA joined the list of financial institutions announcing either fees, or cut backs in consumer rewards programs, for debit card use .  Senator Dick Durbin sounded surprised when he said of BoA’s actions; “It’s overt, unfair” adding that “Banks that try to make up their excess profits off the backs of their customers will finally learn how a competitive market works”. Many in the industry had long predicted that this would be the immediate result of the regulation (see my June 13, 2011 Blog).  Regardless of the merits of the regulation, or the banks reaction to it, one immediate result is that merchants have the opportunity to steer consumers to a lower cost form of payment (debit): the question; will they be able to leverage this opportunity, or will the payments industry adjust their payments offerings steering consumers to unregulated forms of payment with higher fees i.e. credit, pre-paid cards, etc.

The pivotal decision for merchants is how to recapitalize the anticipated saving from swipe reform and use that money as an incentive for consumers to choose a lower cost form of payment.  Many merchants, particularly in the petroleum and grocery industry are already actively competing for method of payment by offering ACH decoupled debit card programs (merchant issued debit) or cash discounts. For these merchants, and vendors offering alternative payments  like PayPal or National Payment Card Association, the Durbin Amendment is living up to expectations providing them with a strong tailwind to the merchant and consumer.

Merchants are understandably cautious as they approach payment.  While technology, investment and ramp time look like the heavy lift, the real challenge is to understand the economics.  Traditionally merchants have relied on the bank and card associations to deliver payments.  During the lead up to regulation one argument was that; “there was no competition for payment”. Merchants’ successfully argued this point, irrespective of the intense competition between banks for consumers. What was missing from the debate is that the reason consumers use one form of payment over another is often rewards. These rewards had been paid by the issuers of the card using interchange fees (as much as 50%), and now with regulation, that funding source has disappeared.  Therefore merchants can provide consumers with the same incentive to use a low cost form of payment by offering merchant issued rewards.

Finally, there is a saying “He who enrolls; controls”. Issuance or enrollment is a critical question for merchants choosing to compete for MOP using rewards. Assuming that the merchant chooses to offer rewards for a specific MOP, which MOP should it be, cash, PayPal, Google, or perhaps a merchant issued debit card.  The smartest strategy might be a flexible approach to payment where rewards are based on the costs associated with the method of payment, regardless of whether the rewards are paid for by the merchant, or a 3rd party.

More Durbin confusion from the Fed, will they or won’t they; Bernanke Agrees!

In alternative payment, Convenience Store, credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, retailers, swipe fees on March 31, 2011 at 10:11 pm

This week Federal Reserve Board Chairman Bernanke sent a mixed message by stating that the Fed won’t be able to meet the April 21st rule making deadline but will meet the July 21st deadline for imposing the rules set by the Dodd-Frank Act for regulating the debit card business. This seemingly contradictory statement raises the question; how can the impacted businesses prepare and be ready for the rules implementation without knowing the final requirements within the prescribed time. Advocates on both sides of the issue cheered the news as another sign that their cause would carry the day.

Retail groups applauded Bernanke’s statements as a commitment to move forward and implement the rules set forth in the Durbin Amendment. One industry representative stating “This confirms the Fed’s commitment to putting forth a rule that has been thoroughly vetted” adding “there is no need for a congressional mandated delay.  

Meanwhile opponents of the legislation lined up for battle pinning their hopes on exactly that type of congressional mandated delay as Sen. Jon Tester attached the “Debit Interchange Fee Study Act” to the Small Business Reauthorization Act. Passage of this act would move Durbin into a two-year obscurity as quickly as it originally appeared.

The confusion now extends to consumers who are equally puzzled as more information on Durbin’s impact makes it into the main stream press. Last week a Time Magazine article by Bill Saporitio explained to consumers that they may see lower retailer prices as a result of lower fees while warning that free checking may also vanish along with rising bank fees. Hilary Shelton, Washington Bureau Director for the NAACP echoed the same concern when she testified saying “that Regulators should guarantee it (the rule) wouldn’t push poor and minority consumers out of the banking systems”. Consumers are left wondering, is this good or bad? 

(http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterguidi)

Competitive opportunity in a post Durbin world: richer debit rewards as the unintended consequence of the $10 billion exclusion.

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card, Petroleum retailing, swipe fees on October 27, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Dozens of articles have been written about the impact of the Durbin Amendment on the payment card industry, with nary a positive comment in the mix. The focus has been on the punitive impact that the legislation will have on both financial institutions and consumers. The consensus has been that banks will lose significant revenue and that consumers will see more bank fees as costs are shifted to make up for lost interchange revenue. This article takes a different approach and looks at the new market opportunity hidden in the bill, the opportunity for smaller financial institutions to launch aggressive debit reward programs fueled by higher interchange fees.

Under Durbin’s “reasonable debit fee requirement,” there is an exemption for banks and credit unions with assets under $10 billion (this includes 99% of all banks and credit unions). This means that Visa and MasterCard can continue to set the same debit interchange rates that they do today for small banks and credit unions.  Those institutions would not lose any interchange revenue that they currently receive; in fact they could receive even higher rates. Many experts writing on Durbin have concluded that this exception will be meaningless because the networks will be unable to accommodate multiple fee structures and as a result, while exempt, interchange fess on those financial institutions will suffer along with their larger brethren.

The argument is that the required costs and effort, such as network IT changes to accommodate multiple interchange fees, make this outcome unlikely. The recognition that business pressure from small banks and credit unions on the networks, Congress or the Fed could leave the networks with little choice but to develop a two tiered fee structure may alter this conclusion. A few weeks back, TCF, an issuer whose business is above the $10 billion exemption, filed a lawsuit stating, “the thousands of banks exempted from the amendment will be free to continue to charge retailers the current debit-card interchange rate and recover all their cost plus a profit. This will result in an irrational competitive disadvantage for banks like TCF that are subject to the new regulations.” It appears from TCF statements that the idea of 7000 smaller financial institutions issuing a new class of richer debit reward cards seems not only plausible, but probable, and a real threat to their business. The focus on the challenges associated with creating a network pricing schema that allows for multiple interchange rates, rather than discussing the market dynamics, is missing the business opportunity.

The reason this will happen is that the payment card industry is a two-sided market. Durbin treats the payment industry like a utility, but this analysis is mistaken. Durbin and its proponents have argued that the payment card industry lacked competition. This falsity, propelled by an active merchant lobby, found resonance in Congress. In reality, the payment card business is a highly competitive marketplace. It just happens that the competition is between financial institutions fighting for a larger share of the consumer market. The result of this competition is higher fees to those wishing access to the market.  Durbin seeks to upset this market, ignoring the two-sided market economics driving consumer demand.

Consumers will move their purchasing to whatever product provides the most incentives. Merchants will accept the business from any large group of consumers, and Durbin does not allow merchants to discriminate by issuer on a network. What this means is that smaller financial institutions will introduce richer debit rewards programs attracting larger shares of consumers who will then shop at retail locations using those cards. Retailers will not turn customers away because payment method would be become a factor in the consumers choice of retailers, something no marketing department will allow.  This is the result of network effects, and they are the unavoidable economic reality driving the industry. The resulting competitive dynamic is in play: issuers will want to try to drive up fees on the merchant side of the market, delivering greater rewards on the consumer side. Consumers will look for low-fee banking services and richer rewards that are supported by these programs. As a result, millions of consumers will gravitate from the 90 or so issuers affected by Durbin to the 7000 who are excluded. This looks like opportunity.

The real question is how long it will take the networks to code the system to handle multiple prices for issuers. I’d be surprised if the work was not already well underway and available not long after the Fed sets its rates. Durbin will have closed the door on the top 90 issuers, essentially putting them at a competitive disadvantage. But in closing that door, the way has been cleared the remaining 7000 financial institutions to develop their debit rewards business. In many ways Durbin did for the network what they could not do themselves; i.e Durbin eliminated the power of the major issuers and opened the market to the smaller financial institutions.

The TCF lawsuit has been both ballyhooed and scoffed at.  No matter the outcome in court, the case will have an impact on the industry. If Durbin passes all of its legal challenges, the irony may be that the consumer will benefit as a result of richer rewards programs from smaller issuers, and merchants will see card acceptance costs rise taking no comfort knowing that they won a battle but lost the war.