Peter Guidi's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘swipe fees’

Dodd-Frank: thrown out again; is it a win?

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2013 at 8:37 am

As just about every pundit in the country is writing about, yesterday’s action by a Federal Judge gave the Fed another set-back by tossing out a second provision of the Dodd-Frank bill. Apparently the court is not as fond of the Fed’s actions as the agency would like. In case you missed it, the first ruling occurred last month as key provisions designed to limit speculation in the commodity market was also throw out by the court.  So while the retail focus is on the ruling as it applies to fees, perhaps a better question might be; can Dodd-Frank survive?

After yesterday’s news, my inbox started filling up. Since National Payment Card Association is the industry’s leading provider of alternative payments and many see our low cost ACH transaction as the answer to high cost bank card fees, our customers, contacts and prospects are wondering what this means to their plans. The question is, will lower cost bank card fees mean the end of merchant issued debit? Before offering my take on the ruling, let me answer the question. Even if we see lower rates on bank issued debit cards, the merchant issued program remains the most cost effective and successful use of capital to drive additional sales and profit. Let me explain.

NPCA customers typically capture between 20% and 40% of their total transaction volume with our program. Consumers who enroll in the program do so for the reward, not because the card has a lower fee. The result is that our customers experience increases of up to 40% in sales volume from the enrolled consumer base. It is the profit generated by these sales, rather than the saving on the transactions that drives ROI. In many ways, I think there is a good chance that yesterday ruling may actually help, rather than hinder, the business opportunity for retailers with NPCA,

So here’s my take on the judge’s ruling; let me preface this by saying, we’ll need to see, there is no crystal ball on this one.

1.            First, I wish I were a lawyer retained on this issue, this means years of work. The next date is August 14th and you can be sure all of the parties will come “armed for bear”. There will be multiple lawsuits, appeals, legislative hearings and more. Let’s not forget, a big part of the rational for Durbin was that Retailers would give the saving back to consumers. Has that happened? 2014 will be an election year, one result may be that Durbin is dropped all together. You can expect the Banks to make this case. If we see a Republican senate in 2014 I’d say the good money is on over turning Dodd-Frank all together, with a veto from the President. Durbin will be lost in this mess.

2.            If the Fed capitulates and takes action to force a 12 cent fee on banks, the market impact is likely to be huge. Debit Cards as we know them may/will go away. Banks cannot or will not operate the debit card network on 12 cents. It’s the reason why only regulated banks where covered in the original rule. One possible result, a consumer charge for carrying a debit card, perhaps a bank fee; once again, who knows. Regardless of the actual result, Debit Rewards will be nonexistent only increasing the power of a merchant issued card.

3.            Not all consumers are paying with debit, and those who do lost debit rewards long ago. Lowering the fee only lessons the economics for banks to compete with the NPCA or merchant issued program.

4.            More uncertainty. The ongoing struggle between the Fed, Congress, the Executive, and the Judiciary will contribute to the uncertainly in the banking market. Retailers can capitalize on this period by introducing their own method of payment. NPCA offers the retailer a stable program designed to increase sales though frequency and basket size. While the industry fights, our retailers will grow and profit.

From an NPCA perspective, what we’ve seen is our customers are focused on leveraging the loyalty aspect of the NPCA program. The real value in our program is the ability of the retailer to reward their consumer for the use of the merchant card. This feature and the underlying economics remain unchanged, regardless of what happens in Washington.


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.



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. 


“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! 


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.    (