Peter Guidi's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘closed-loop’

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.


Durbin’s Catch -22, Merchant Issued Rewards.

In credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, Payment card, Peter Guidi, Petroleum retailing, Platforms, swipe fees on June 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Merchants have won a battle, but the question is: can they leverage the advantage and win the war for the consumer’s method of payment?

The phrase “Catch-22” means “a no-win situation” or “a double bind” of any type. In the book, “Catch-22”, Joseph Heller describes the circular logic that confronts an airman trying to avoid combat missions by saying that his claim of insanity is the proof of his sanity. With the passage of Durbin, retailers are faced with the same circular logic. The Catch 22 of Durbin is that consumers must choose debit if retailers are to save on interchange fees, and consumers will only choose debit if offered rewards or to avoid bank fees. Today consumers choose debit in large degree to earn signature based debit reward or because PIN debit does not have bank fees as opposed to credit cards where there are annual fees and interest.  Durbin will change that paradigm as banks make up lost revenue by eliminating signature debit and adding fees to, or eliminating, pin debit cards. If those changes occur then retailers will need to fund consumer debit rewards to promote debit payment. Because merchant issued debit rewards erode Durbin’s potential cost savings, the potential is that total debit transactional fee may be higher than those during the pre-Durbin era…Catch-22.

Durbin’s challenge to Retailer’s is how to influence the consumer’s method of payment. Just because consumers are choosing Debit today, does not mean they will be choosing Debit tomorrow. The reasons why consumers choose one form of payment over another (Debit, either signature or PIN, cash, credit, check, prepaid etc.) are complex, but “Rewards” plays a large role in the process. In fact, nearly 50% of all interchange dollars are used to fund reward programs. A quick review of Bank advertising for Debit will show that Debit Rewards is tied to Signature Debit, not PIN Debit; “rewards are ” Pen, not PIN”.  Rewards for Signature Debit, plus “No Fee” PIN debit has created significant consumer demand for debit products. The banks loss of signature debit interchange fees means that these reward programs will disappear and consumers will begin paying fees for PIN debit. The result is that Durbin will change both the Debit and Payment Card market, not just the fees.

Look for these results:

1. Look for more pressure on retailers to install Pin Pads. Signature debit will go away as Financial Institutions will not longer offer signature debit. The whole point of signature debit was capture credit card like interchange fees. Debit rewards programs are funded by credit card like interchange fees and at Durbins mandated +/- 12 cents there is no “rabbit in that hole”. The reason retailer’s implemented PIN pads (3dez) were to move consumers from Pen to PIN. If Merchants are to win from Durbin, PIN Pads will play a large role in that success; otherwise there will be no debit at retail. Durbins “$10 Billion” exemption is a wild card. If smaller institutions introduce aggressive signature debit programs at the expense of larger institutions then Durbin will prove to have cost retailers more than they will save.

2. Financial Institutions will seek ways to replace lost revenue. The most immediate impact is likely to be fees on both dda accounts and perhaps the use of debit cards either as a transaction fee or monthly fee. Banks will discriminate against Debit making it less attractive. One of my associates added “Issuer’s already have plans to discontinue issuing debit cards and returning to ATM only cards.” He adds “other issuer’s are going to place a transactional cap on debit cards instead of taking them away.  They will only allow a transaction for $50.  If the transaction is $51 – then, another $1 transaction will have to run.”  Say good-bye to friendly debit transactions.

3. Watch for growth in closed loop debit card, particularly ACH Decouple Debit.

In the short term, Merchants will realize a windfall as consumers who use Debit maintain that method or payment. Debit usage will drop off unless Merchants introduce “Merchant Issued Rewards”. Merchant Issued Rewards are another name for loyalty. I can offer more on that if requested. The question retailers need to answer is: If you must offer rewards to promote debit, why not promote your own debit card? Durbin will increase the importance of loyalty rewards as merchants compete with FI’s for the consumer’s method of payment (i.e. PIN Debit).

4. Watch for more aggressive Credit Card and Pre-Paid card offerings with lower credit card fees, easier credit and more aggressive rewards. Pre-Paid is apt to be the next place the FI’s push for consumer adoption and fees. As the economy strengthens, and consumer debt drops the structural issues negatively impacting credit will lesson. Financial institutions can impact the consumer’s attitude towards credit by being more consumer friendly. The loss of signature debit will hasten this activity.

5. One “Wild Card” is the DOJ lawsuit on credit card interchange fees. There has not been a lot of press on this, but there will be soon.



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. (

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. 


Does regulated debit “Swipe Fees” mean the end of cobranded debit card programs?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers on June 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Retailers choosing “open-loop” or “closed-loop” alternative payment system might want to consider the long term viability of the open-loop business model, particularly in light of their campaign to regulate and lower the associated “swipe fees”. 

Affinity, cobranded credit card programs have opportunities for both the bank and the merchant. While the “no or low fee” in-store use of the cobranded card is a big attraction, Retailers also profit from cobranded credit cards when consumers use the card to make purchases. When a consumer uses a co-branded credit card, the accepting merchant pays the “swipe fee”.  The cobranded merchant earning “swipe fees” is an example of network effects in a two-sided market. In this example, the merchant is leveraging their customers to market a bank product. Organizations that have the marketing to reach their customers will get the response needed to make the program successful. Ironically, much of the success will be a result of the high fees paid by the merchants who pay the “Swipe Fees”. 

Retailers evaluating merchant issued ACH decoupled debit card programs consider the same model while evaluating their choice of “Open”, or “Closed” loop payment systems. The question is can the decoupled debit card generate revenue for the issuing merchant in the same way cobranded credit card products do. Ironically, the answer all depends on the “swipe fee” the 3rd party merchant pays when the consumer uses the card. The higher the fee, the more successful the program. 

In order for an ACH decoupled debit card to work in an open loop system the card must affiliate with a bank, and a network. Today’s interchange rates for PIN debit are already comparatively low. The challenge for cobranded cards is to offer a level of consumer rewards that will motivate the consumer to use the card. This is the reason that debit rewards programs are offered for signature debit and not pin debit transactions. As Merchants anxiously await the passage of the much ballyhooed Durbin amendment, they might consider its impact on the cobranded card. If “swipe fees” for debit are regulated, (decoupled debit card programs included) there will be no dollars in the program for either the consumer, or the cobranding retailer. If the consumer does not receive rewards to use the card, and the retailer is not earning money from the program, the network effects driving the value of the platform will be eliminated, making the cobranded credit/debit card program obsolete.    (

What decision factors should retailers use when choosing between an open-loop vs. closed-loop alternative payment solutions?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers on April 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Prevailing wisdom is often wrong.  Mark Twain said: “Every generalization is dangerous, especially this one”.

The prevailing wisdom on payment is that open-loop systems are superior to closed-loop systems. Open-loop payment systems have four stakeholders; consumer, merchant, issuer, and network. It is generally accepted that successful payment systems offer the consumer at least three attributes; simplicity, safety and desirability. This has lead to the mantra that only ubiquitous payment products can achieve “top of wallet” status. The reason being that the consumer wants one method of payment rather than multiple options as a matter of convenience; consequently, it’s simple and desirable.

Yesterday, Target announced they are dropping its Visa cobranded program. The Target program was one of Visa’s largest cobranded programs. This decision is the strongest sign yet that merchants are reevaluating the benefits of offering general-purpose credit cards. Target said they tested a Target credit card and that research indicated that the Target credit card drove more sales. The test made a clear case for its private-label cards over general-purpose cards. So much for “prevailing wisdom”.

Closed-loop payments systems have two stakeholders, the consumer and the merchant. When a payment system creates disintermediation between issuer and the network (acquirer) the result is increased engagement between the retailer and the consumer. Engagement is good for business. If consumers are interested in single purpose cards, as Target’s test indicated, why share the relationship with two other parties?

Prudent retailers will consider the results of Target’s decisions and other trends in payment before making a final payment system decision. Recent research indicates that 38% of consumers will reduce the use of their credit cards. Visa has reports that debit usage has surpassed the use of credit. Last week VISA announced an increase in Debit rates. Retailers looking to leverage these emerging payment preference trends should consider closed-loop ACH decoupled debit. (