Peter Guidi's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘federal Reserve’

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. 

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“Reasonable and proportional”, issuance and rewards are out, Fraud is in!”?

In alternative payment, credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers, swipe fees on June 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Last week I discussed the operational costs associated with issuing cards and retaining members and postulated that the Fed should include these costs in the analysis of “reasonable and proportional costs associated with a transaction”. One reason these costs might be included is to support the competitive product offerings consumers receive from banks to enroll in the various programs that are offered. The expectation being that if these costs are not considered a part of the reasonable cost of the transaction, then the programs would need to be eliminated, thus limiting consumer choice. With the Durbin Amendment nearing agreement and inclusion in the final bill, it now appears that the answer to the question is; no, the regulation says these costs are not included in the Fed’s evaluation used to establish debit interchange fees. The deal reached between Messer’s Frank and Durbin expanded the meaning of “reasonable and proportional to the cost incurred in processing the transaction” to include the cost of fraud in its analysis, a recognition of risk associated with payment card issuance. Moving forward, Financial Institutions have good reason to remain concerned about the Fed’s price setting authority as the language for assessing costs is limited to “incremental costs” excluding operational and other costs like issuance and rewards.

The wild card remains the $10 billion exemption. Watch for a multitude of creative corporate structural changes and new programs from entities’ falling below the threshold. If you think the rate table is confusing now, wait until the banks attorneys’ drive through the Durbin Amendments’ loop-holes! 

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

Petitions or competition? The “Supply-Side” & “Demand-Side” of the two-sided payment market.

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on April 8, 2010 at 11:25 am

Most consumer payments involve some form of banking relationship. Mobile and other P2P payment providers like the newly launched “Square” offer the allure of disintermediation promising the end of the banks control over payment. But for now, retailers looking for lower transaction costs at the POS; the choices are limited, with most involving a card and all involving a financial institution (bank).

Retailers considering alternative payment need to under stand the “Demand-Side” of payments. Currently few retailers deal with the “demand-side” of payment; rather they deal with the “Supply-Side. The “Supply-Side” perspective of payments focuses on the network through which the payments are settled. 

The Demand-Side of payment systems has to do with the choices consumers make when selecting a “Method of Payment”. For most convenience/petroleum retailers this means a sticker on the front door or pump announcing which payment cards are accepted. Other “Demand-Side” promotional opportunities come from major oil or co-branded cards. Banks (card issuers) understand the importance of the “Demand-Side” and focus their efforts on influencing the consumers’ Method of Payment. Competition for the consumer’s payment choice or the Demand-Side is influenced by the banks and networks through affinity & reward programs promoted through extensive advertising and marketing paid. Retailers support these programs through Interchange Fees. 

In any two-sided market there are two groups of end users who need a “platform” to reach each other. In the case of payments, consumers with credit/debit card and retailers who want access to those consumer funds represent the two groups of End-Users. Their desire to reach each other is called a “network effect”. When banks focus on the ‘Demand-Side” of consumer payment choice by offering rewards, they are increasing the strength of the network effect. When Retailers focus on the supply side of the of consumer payment choice, accepting the cards and offering no alterative, they are adding to the strength of the network effect. The result of strong network effects is greater platform value resulting in higher fees. 

Successfully launching alternative payment programs means that retailers will need to focus on both the supply and demand sides of consumer payment choice.http://www.linkedin.com/in/peterguidi

The convergence of payment and loyalty programming and the trends influencing consumer payment behavior.

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on March 30, 2010 at 11:52 am

Confluence is the act of flowing together; the junction of two or more bodies of water; the place of meeting. Like two rivers, convenience store operators navigate both payment and loyalty relationships. The confluence of these two programs is the card and the consumer. Data suggests that retailers can recapitalize “Swipe Fees” as “Rewards” by leveraging consumer’s willingness to participate in loyalty programs and their increased preference to use debit payment.

According to “The Big Sort, 2009 COLLOQUY Loyalty Marketing Census, in 2008, 51 million consumers participated in Fuel/Convenience loyalty programs.  2009 saw the further expansion of loyalty with a number of retailers launching new programs. That same year, 422 million consumers participated in Financial Services loyalty programs (credit/debit rewards). While the convenience store industry was hammered by low margins under onerous interchange fees, financial institutions used up to 45% of the “Swipe fees” to drive their business forward, achieving nearly ten times the number of participants. 

The January 2010 version of “The 2008 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice” published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston reveals data demonstrating consumer’s increased participation in debit rewards programs.

\The two studies point to specific trends that support the confluence of loyalty and payments. Consumers now belong to an average of 14.1 loyalty programs, but only 3.5 credit cards. The average consumer has adopted 5 “Payment Instruments”. More consumers have and use debit cards than credit cards (88.2% vs. 78.3% w/ 208% increased usage). Consumers have more “loyalty” to their debit card than credit card with 27.5% of consumers discarding a credit card, while only 5.9% reported discarding a debit card. The analysis indicates that consumers are more willing to join a loyalty program than a payment program. Further when customers use a card for debit, they are less likely to discard the program making for a double win; more enrollment with less attrition.     

The conclusion is that growth in Fuel/Convenience loyalty programs and increased debit card usage considered in juxtaposition with the high rate of attrition of credit card users suggests that retailers offering debit rewards as a feature in the loyalty program could recapitalize a significant percentage of “Swipe Fees” as consumer rewards resulting in greater consumer loyalty and increased ROI.

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