Whether you are a payment instrument (think credit, debit, gift, stored value, prepaid cards and more) expert or a retail merchant, a corporate purchasing manager or, like the rest of us, a consumer, you cannot have escaped the news, announced this past Friday (Friday the 13th), that Visa and MasterCard have agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by some merchants in connection with the fees merchants pay to be permitted to "accept" credit cards. I certainly couldn’t escape it. In fact, Joe Rosenbaum (that’s me) is quoted in yesterday’s American Banker article "‘We Won’ vs. ‘You Lost’: Reactions to Credit Card Settlement" written by Maria Aspan and Victoria Finkle.
While the settlement must still be approved by the court and provides billions of dollars in payments to merchants, the most contentious piece of this settlement relates to the so-called "interchange fees" (sometimes referred to as a "discount rate" – no pun intended) that refers to the charge imposed on merchants by the credit card associations and owners for their right to accept their branded credit cards from consumers.
When a merchant accepts a credit card, that merchant must have a relationship with the "brand" on the card (e.g., American Express®, Discover®, JCB®, MasterCard®, Visa®, Diners Club®, etc.), either directly or through a member institution. Because the brand owners operate vast settlement and transaction processing networks that allow you to use your card to buy a suit in Hong Kong or King Kong at a toy store, they charge merchants an interchange fee for the privilege of riding their networks – card acceptance translates into more business, say the brand owners.
If the settlement is approved, it will see MasterCard and Visa modify their operating rules to permit merchants to charge the consumer more to pay with a card. Merchants will have the right to "surcharge" the use of a card, rather than if you use cash or another payment method.
Where will this lead – it’s complicated. Stay tuned. The National Association of Convenience Stores has announced it has already retained counsel to challenge approval of the proposed settlement. The association says the settlement doesn’t go far enough and, for example, doesn’t put a limit on how high the brand associations can raise the interchange fees charged to merchants. Whether approved or whether the law suit goes forward, or some other settlement is reached – it’s complicated.
So, if you need lawyers to help you navigate the charted and uncharted waters of the financial seas ahead, talk to us. It’s what we do. Contact me, Joseph I. ("Joe") Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers at Rimon you routinely work with. Our FIG (Financial Industry Group) lawyers are experienced in virtually every aspect of the law or finance, financial institutions and payment systems – from privacy and GLB, to chargebacks and B2B. Call us, you’ll like us.