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Archive for the ‘loyalty’ Category

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”?


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.

Debit or Credit, the role of merchant-issued rewards and the consumer’s choice of method of payment.

In credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, swipe fees on December 28, 2010 at 10:45 am

On December 16, 2010 the fog began to lift on where Section 1075 of the Durbin Amendment would lead as the Federal Reserve Board issued its proposed interpretation of the legislative language. One question on many peoples mind is how the new regulations will impact consumers. Voices on the banking side seem skeptical that the regulation will have any positive impact for consumers sighting Australian studies where retailer prices appear unchanged as bank fees rose and payment options declined.  On the other side of the argument, the National Retail Federation welcomed proposed regulations saying “a significant reduction in the fees would result in lower costs for merchants and could lead to discounts for their customers.”

NRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mallory Duncan said. “The combination of reducing rates and allowing retailers to offer discounts will go a long way toward stopping the current scheme where big banks take a bite out of consumers’ wallets every time they use a debit card.” He goes on to say that the NFR “will work closely with the Fed as these regulations are finalized to ensure that the reduction in fees – and the amount of money retailers can offer customers as a discount – is maximized.” And so it seems that the stage is set for retailers to offers consumers discounts if and when they use a debit card to pay for their purchase.

In a recent article published in PYMNTS, Katherine M. Robison of O’Melveny & Myers LLP says that “while the Board says it understands and appreciates the importance of debit cards to consumers, it is disturbing how little the interests of consumers entered into its justification for the Proposal”.  She goes on to say that “The debit card market is a two-sided one, with merchants who accept debit cards on one side and consumers who use them on the other.” Her point being that in this two-sided market an action that may decrease consumers’ demand for debit (say by making debit transactions less appealing to them) will ultimately decrease the utility of debit to merchants.  Further, if Banks add fees to the checking account or the use of the debit card while eliminating reward programs consumers will also find debit less appealing. She adds “So while lower interchange fees may encourage more merchants to accept debit cards, at that point there may be fewer consumers who want to use them.” Enter the role of merchant issued rewards.

Consumers could benefit from a rewards battle between merchants and banks for their method of payment. On one side will be the issuers of credit cards, on the other will be the retailer and the winner could be consumer as they rack up rewards by choosing either credit or debit. Their choice will be simple, choose to use a bank issued credit card and earn rewards like airline miles, or choose a debit card (either bank or merchant issued) and earn retailer funded rewards. The decision will be based on which offer the consumer finds more attractive? 

Over the last five years a variety of alternative payment providers. Like National Payment Card Association, have brought forth payment technologies like merchant issued debit cards designed to circumvent the traditional payment processing network delivering a lower cost transaction to the retailer. Now with the Fed’s proposed interpretation of the rule, bank issued debit cards will carry similar fees and so the retailers will face an analogous implementation challenge. How does a merchant motivate a consumer to use a lower cost form of payment? Merchant rewards are the obvious answer. And so the question is; will retailers recapitalize the cost difference between a traditional credit card transaction and the new debit fee and use the savings as a reward? And if not, why would the consumer choose to use a debit card rather than a credit card? Retailers will face a variety of challenges leveraging these new fees to their advantage.  Most notably is that the possibility that a debit transaction with merchant funded rewards may actually cost more than the original bank fee for a debit transaction. 


Customer Engagement; network effects and building long term customer value using a loyalty platform.

In Coalition Loyalty, Convenience Store, loyalty, Platforms on November 10, 2010 at 12:47 am

The need for customer engagement in retail business is critical to effective marketing programs. Societal changes in the way information and communication is received have diminished the ability of traditional “Top Down” marketing strategies to reach the consumer. Media fragmentation and smaller audiences have reduced the effectiveness of mass; “interrupt and repeat”, newspaper and other print media advertising models. Easier access to information about retailers, products and brands has increased consumers’ choice. The internet and emerging social media along with decreasing brand loyalty and lower entry barriers have increased competition. New products and services reach consumers rapidly bypassing traditional sales and distribution channels. Mass-market discounter’s makes customer loyalty hard to achieve as retailers fight to capture a share of the consumer’s wallet by selling at lowest possible profit margin.

Retailers can avoid the “rush to the bottom” by focusing on “Customer Engagement”. Customer Engagement is about strengthening the emotional and psychological affinity a customer has with a retailer. Consumer loyalty is the best measure of current and future customer purchasing behavior. The most effective way to increase a consumer’s engagement with a retailer is by stimulating the consumer’s loyalty. Retailers can change the consumer engagement paradigm by utilizing a loyalty platform to create and leverage “network effects” to drive affinity.

Customer Engagement typically refers to the engagement of customers with a retailer rather than a brand; a loyalty platform can change that paradigm. When retailers add vendor supported incentives to a loyalty program, the program develops network effects. Network Effects are in play when consumer’s access brand (and retailer) supported benefits through the platform. The retailer, who owns the platform, experiences the value of the network effects when consumers shop in their store. Proprietary loyalty programs are closed loop platforms that leverage network effects to drive customer engagement. Coalition point based programs like “Air Miles” is an example of an open-loop loyalty program that exhibit network effects. Like all platforms, loyalty programs require two different parties to adopt the network to be viable; in this case it is either the vendor or retailer offering incentive on one side of the loyalty platform with the consumer and their desire to enjoy the incentive on the other side.

Loyalty platforms are the tool retailers can use to create the customer engagement needed to compete and win in this new social, technological consumer market. Creating an engaging dialogue with consumers and motivating their loyalty with the retailer is the key to driving both sales and margin. (

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.

Incentives or Discounts; increased profit or eroded margin? Are you using buckshot, or firing a rifle?

In Coalition Loyalty, Convenience Store, loyalty, merchants, Petroleum retailing, retailers on September 23, 2010 at 10:11 pm

When it comes to loyalty programs and promotional strategy there are two schools of thought in retail. On one hand, there are those who believe that everyday low pricing is the surest way to gain consumers trust and their business. These businesses believe that loyalty programs are just about giving bigger discounts to your best customers. Certainly one very large retailer with “every day low pricing” has reached the pinnacle and it is hard to argue with their success. But, with the giant sitting on top of the low price heap, what can the rest of the retailer community do to gain market share? Certainly you can not compete on price and stay in business very long. Nevertheless, many retailers cling to the monthly coupon flyer or web site promotion offering today’s new deal; the Buckshot approach.

The second school of thought has a different perspective on pricing and strategy. These retailers believe that consumer’s make purchasing decisions for a complex set of reasons and that their behavior can be motivated by incentive. In this model the customer’s loyalty is critical to business success. The concept is to track, measure, and then provide specific incentives to individuals based on their demonstrated purchasing behavior. This science is the most effective use of marketing budgets and is focused on increasing business with each current customer. This is the rifle shot, one bullet for each customer.

At the end of the day it’s all about profit. Profit is the difference between success and failure.  When it comes time to pay the bills, or dividends, the only number that matters is the “bottom line”, you either earn a profit or you go out of business, “no margin, no mission”. Regardless of strategy, every program, and every effort must have an ROI. The objective is to make money; buy low, and sell high. It’s hard to make up a loss on volume!  Successful retailers negotiate for the best price, terms & conditions and then set prices and launch promotions that will motivate more profitable customer purchasing thus, maximizing profit. Earning a profit is the battle you fight with yourself as you pick the right price point to execute your sales strategy.  It takes cunning and courage to set solid price points, avoiding the traps of promotional discounts that erode margin simply to increase “top line” performance. Does your sales strategy drive more profitable sales, or is your strategy to be the low priced retailer turning over inventory for increased sales?

In every contest there is a moment when the game is decided. A touch-down or goal is scored, a home run hit, or a competitor’s doors shuttered. Retail is a lot like sports. Taking the lead and then winning the contest is about momentum and emotion. Employees and customers must be engaged, excited and motivated to participate. Success is defined as both top-line and bottom-line growth. Company strategy needs to set realistic goals designed to achieve long term success. Retailers use incentives to motivate employees and engage customers.  Incentives without loyalty programs are simply discounts.  Discounts erode margin. Loyalty programs increases both top line growth and increased profits. 


Coalition Marketing; The power and opportunity of developing an “alternative currency”

In loyalty, merchants on September 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Loyalty marketing in the convenience/petroleum retail business is rapidly evolving.  Looking back five years, today’s landscape is hardly recognizable. The confluence of two major trends, IT advancement and marketing strategies have changed the way retailers allocate resources and measure ROI. At the convergence of these two trends is the loyalty program. What was a simple punch card fraught with liability, is now a complex real-time database capable of tracking and measuring every dollar spent and earned. Today, many smaller retailers have modern POS and Internet services allowing them to launch complex loyalty programs that had previous been available only to the largest most sophisticated retailers.

There are numerous types of loyalty programs, clubs, instant discounts and others. In the c-store space, one of the most significant questions being asked is: what type of loyalty program to launch? The more sophisticated loyalty programs are based on “platform” economics and work to develop networks of consumers and retailers. In the c-store/petroleum space there are two popular programs available; “Coalition and Community”

Recently, the industry has been “a buzz” with news of “Community” loyalty programs linking major oil companies and gargantuan grocery chains together in “cents off per gallon” promotions. In these programs the c-store/petroleum retailers are a “redemption center” for the program. The question is; are “Groceries for Gallons” a good deal for the c-store retailer? The answer requires an understanding of the difference between coalition and community programs. The importance of this distinction is critical.

In a community program, the retailer is a “redemption depot”, storing the reward (gas) while the grocer sells groceries by giving away gas. These programs move a lot of gallons, but how do they motivate the consumer to purchase other products from the c-store?

In a coalition program the c-store is the owner of the alternative currency (points) both “issuing and redeeming” the currency. In a coalition program, the c-store is “selling” points to coalition partners. Each point is sold at a profit. The c-store earns a profit when the point is sold, rather than redeemed.

Coalition programs put the c-store at the center of a powerful marketing program designed to build profit for all members. Coalition programs motivate consumers’ to purchase more products with greater frequency from both the c-store and the coalition members. 

Summed up, in a Community program the c-store retailer is building someone else’s business, with coalition programs the c-store is building their business. The choice seems clear; coalition is the path to growth and profit. (

The only sustainable competitive advantage is being better than your competition.

In loyalty, merchants, retailers on August 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Retail is a blood sport, period. Never mind the concept of “friendly competition”; the battle for the consumers’ business is a Win/Lose equation. In the c-store space, platitudes, like “everybody plays, everybody wins” could not be further from the truth. In the c-store business there are winners and losers. Retail sales are a “Zero-Sum” equation; sales that you win are yours and not to be shared with your competition.

The c-store retail environment has changed and continues to evolve. There are changes in consumer purchasing behavior and expectations, product offering and margins, store level technology, software capability and more. Gone are the days when gas sales could drive the bottom line, this is not your father’s “service station”. Today’s focus is the “total customer relationship”. Margin is directly related to the number of consumers who shop with greater frequency making larger purchases from an expanded product line.

 If merchants are to compete for the consumer and capture a larger share of their “spend”, then rewards and incentives will be at the heart of their decision. Consumers are motivated by incentive, but incentives without loyalty are just discounts. Retailers who understand their consumers’ behavior use information strategically to motivate more profitable purchasing behavior. That is the point. 

Like the Gladiators, the goal is to snuff out the competition by dominating your market. Are you feeling the sharp edge of the blade, or wielding the sword?


“Reasonable and proportional”, is issuance and the cost of reward programs a part of the “incurred payment processing costs”?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card on June 17, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Lost in the debate over interchange fees and the Durbin amendment is a focus on how payment card products reach the consumer. One of the key points of the amendment is to mandate that the interchange fees on selected debit transactions be “reasonable and proportional to the cost incurred in processing the transaction” Merchants have taken the position that as the volume of transactions have increased, the economies of scale and overall effectiveness and efficiencies of the payment processing network have improved, and therefore the cost of transaction processing have gone down. The fact that interchange has gone up during this period is used as evidence that system is corrupt and anti-competitive. This point is heard when Senator Durbin says that government needs to “reasonably regulate this system”.

Missing from the debate on interchange and what constitutes the costs incurred in processing a transaction is consumer acquisition. Consumer acquisition costs are incurred in at least two areas; enrollment (consumer application) and rewards (loyalty programs & retention), to say nothing about overhead, like customer service. This week both Citigroup and TD Bank launched new “Debit Rewards” programs. Citigroup launched a 5% debit card cash back promotion, while the TD Bank program offers 1 point for every $1 dollar spent. In both cases, these reward programs are only available to consumers who use signature rather than PIN debit. As a consumer, which program should I choose? These are two highly competitive businesses, each offering me a product and a service. Each has put their best foot forward and is universally accepted. Both have used a different approach; one uses point’s, one utilizes cash back, and the choice is mine. If the Durbin amendment is successful and retailer acceptance is selective, and interchange fees regulated, would the consumer have these same choices?

Merchants involved with loyalty programs understand the costs associated with advertising and marketing to drive enrollment and fund reward programs. Industry sources report that up to 40% of all interchange dollars paid by merchants are used to support payment card loyalty programs. That means, in 2008, consumers may have earned up to 19 billon dollars in consumer rewards; a cost borne by the merchant, but also a cost to the issuer (bank).

The suggestion is that high fees are a result of no competition in the payment card market. In reality, the high fees are a result of intense competition. It just happens, that the competition is between banks (issuers) fighting for the consumers’ business.