Peter Guidi's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘H.R. 2382’

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? 



Who gets to choose? Durbin’s provision on “multi-homing” and the prohibition on network routing exclusivity.

In credit card, debit card, interchange, merchants, payment, Peter Guidi, Platforms, retailers, swipe fees on January 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Here is the question:  When considering Durbin’s requirement prohibiting exclusive debit transaction routing arrangements, does the merchant or issuer choose which second unaffiliated network is available to route transactions? The answer is unclear and its implications impact both the intent of the regulation and the technology required to implement the rule.

Thus far, the majority of interest in Durbin is focused on the impact of interchange fee regulation with little attention on the second aspect of the provision; network exclusivity and transaction routing. Durbin has two provisions, the second of which says “that neither the issuers nor network may restrict the ability of merchants to direct the routing of the transaction”.  The rule is intended to foster competition between networks. The concept being that when at least two unaffiliated networks compete for transaction routing, the price merchants pay will optimize.

The Board is requesting comment on two alternative rules prohibiting network exclusivity: one alternative would require at least two unaffiliated networks per debit card, and the other would require at least two unaffiliated networks for each type of transaction authorization method. Under both alternatives, “the issuers and networks would be prohibited from inhibiting a merchant’s ability to direct the routing of an electronic debit transaction over any network that may process such transactions.” Some have suggested that the answer to this question lies in the currently available least-cost routing selections available to consumers between PIN and Signature debit. In this scenario debit cross-routing is the solution to network exclusivity. One expert suggests that “one such solution would be Visa for signature debit and Maestro for PIN debit. They are not affiliated, and thus fulfill the requirements of the first alternative.” The existence of the second alternative makes it clear that the Fed has not yet decided whether signature and PIN debit are one market.”

The contradiction is between the intent of the regulation and the Boards’ rule making process.  The differentiation between routing based on a transaction or a card may delineate the type of routing available, but it does little to foster routing competiveness. The intent of the regulation is to foster competition between networks.  Allowing the Issuer to choose the second network by pitting the PIN and Signature networks against each other is a weak proposal. On the other hand, if merchants choose the second network from a multitude of routing options competition will emerge, but how does that work? In order for the merchant to have a choice between a variety of networks, Issuers would have to support routing on all networks. In this scenario merchants might choose different networks on a location or regional basis? Implementing this type of network routing matrix will mean substantial changes in the infrastructure and business rules. The time and effort to create such a system is currently unknown. If competition between networks is the congressional goal this seems to be the correct interpretation.

The alternative interpretation is for the Issuer to offer the merchant a choice of two networks. In this case every Issuer would be forced to offer two networks for processing a transaction.  As an example, Visa and MC may have to route each other’s transactions. The merchant would be able to choose which of the two available networks to route the transaction.  Presumably, creating competition. As a result the merchant would choose the cheaper of the two. However, this scenario does not assure the merchant choice and adds the possibility that the Issuer could offer a second network with higher fees. In this case the second network would be the more costly option resulting in no opportunity for merchant savings.

How a two-network solution is allowed under the final version of the regulations remains unknown. It does seem that merchant choice fits congressional intent more clearly than Issuer choice, even if the technical challenges and costs to develop such a system are currently not contemplated or that the rule making process appears to miss the point.


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. 


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.

“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.


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.    (

73rd NPECA Annual Conference – What is alternative payment

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, merchants, payment, Payment card, retailers, Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 11:21 pm

There are at least two possible ways to answer the question; “What is alternative payment?” one practical, one academic.

Practically, any payment solution that is not MasterCard or Visa is alterative payment. This is true because up to 90% of all card acceptance fees occur at the pump and these two associations, along with AMEX and Discover control a monopolistic percentage of the payment market. Practically, any payment other than the major card associations is an alternative payment. An Academic approach to the question is more elusive.

Suppose that “alternative payment” is a payment where the payment relationship is between the retailer and the consumer. If so, then cash is the ultimate alternative payment?  But what about all the emerging payment systems like NPCA or PayPal, Bling or BillmeLater? Are they alternative payment? What if we changed the meaning to say that: “alternative payment is any system that creates disintermediation between consumers, retailers and their financial institutions”. Does eliminating the network roles and captured costs of the current payment processing network define alternative payment or is there more?

For the convenience petroleum retailer alternative payment is a system that disintermediates the transaction while enhancing the customer relationship. Alternative payments systems allow the retailer to focus on the “Demand-Side” of payment using incentives and tracking data to influence the consumers “Method of Payment” and enhance customer loyalty. The result should be lower card acceptance costs and increased sales. Retailers using this definition will find the final answer to the question, alternative payment is one that delivers additional profit, rather than additional cost to the retailer.

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.

Is “Social Justice”, the new rallying cry in the battle over interchange fees? What’s next price controls?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on March 18, 2010 at 9:51 pm

 “Pandora opened her jar and unleashed many terrible things on mankind.”

 In February 2010 the Consumers for Competitive Choice (C4CC) released a report called “The Costs of “Charging It” in America” by Shapiro & Vellucci: The report offers a number of conclusions, including the proposition that government regulation of interchange fees is Social Justice. Social Justice is a concept used to describe the movement towards a government regulated socially just world. The report suggests that the economics behind payment platforms, Two-Sided Markets and their inherent “Network Effects” create negative “Regressive Cross-Subsidies”. The suggestion is that interchange fees create a system where the poor pay for the privileges of the rich.

 In a paper written by Bolt & Chakravorti titled “A Review of Payment Card Economics” published in the November 2009 Lydian Payments Journal concluded “There is no consensus among policy makers or economists on what constitutes an efficient fee structure for card payments”. They go on to say “efficiency of payment systems is measured not only by the costs of the resources used, but by the social benefits generated by them”. Shapiro & Vellucci would seem to agree when they add “The current credit card and debit card systems provide valuable services to consumers and merchants and those services involve legitimate costs and therefore prices. Apparently the concept of profit for risk is not in their equation.

Last week a Delaware politician suggested mandating Full-Service Gas as a job creation initiative. Today the NRF urged Senator Dodd to add Interchange reform to the financial services reform bill. The C4CC published report suggests that Interchange Fee Regulation is a morally just cause towards achieving a level of Social Justice. Are retailers ready to see Social Justice added into their margin equation?


Orwellian market principals; is legislation regulating interchange fees a harbinger of greater merchant acceptance of government control over industry?

In alternative payment, Bank Tax, credit card, debit card, interchange, loyalty, payment, Payment card on March 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Close on the heels of Barney Frank’s decision not to pursue HR 2382, and as the industry plots its next step, merchants might want to consider the words of Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The Finance Minister is quoted as saying; “(he) would exercise the new powers (sic. impose card use fees) if the industry failed to comply with a proposed VOLUNTARY code of conduct. Merchants’ should ask themselves if this is the type of government intervention that is appropriate in the United States? Merchants might ask if they are opening the chicken coop to the wolf. If the government can regulate interchange fees, what else could they control? More importantly; who will determine what a “fair price” is and will merchants be pleased with a “regulated result”?  What if the Government chooses to raise fees rather than lower fees?

One way to evaluate this question is to consider how merchants feel about interchange fees in countries with government regulation? I read a blog about one consumer’s experience with credit card fees in New Zealand and Australia. He reports that most merchants specifically asked if he wanted to pay using signature or PIN? One restaurant is reported to have a sign stating “$15 min.” explaining that credit card fees were too high to allow purchases under $15 using a credit card. Imagine that? Even with card fees at 0.55%, merchants reported interchange fees are too high.

The current political environment is ripe for all sorts of government intervention. Government sponsored higher interchange fees are possible, particularly if interchange is seen a source of tax revenue. The merchant community could find that advocating interchange regulation might lend support to adverse government action in areas like Motor Fuels, Tobacco, Labor and Healthcare and other issues where they seek less, not more, government involvement.