According to Canada NewsWire, MasterCard provided the following key points regarding interchange and debit and WayTooHigh.com replied below.


[repost April 22, 2009]

MASTERCARD CANADA: Canada has a well-functioning payments system that provides significant convenience and security to consumers and merchants. It has continued to operate effectively and drive commerce despite a global credit crisis. More than $240 billion in Canadian commerce is expedited on credit card systems annually.

WAYTOOHIGH: Nobody denies that payment cards are convenient and relatively secure. However, these benefits have nothing to do with interchange fees and do not confer upon issuing banks a blank check to extort supracompetitive profits from merchants and consumers through a hidden tax. Price-fixing is illegal!

MASTERCARD CANADA: A merchant that processes a credit card transaction enjoys guaranteed payment even at a time of increasing consumer default rates.

WAYTOOHIGH: Merchants are not permitted by the Visa and MasterCard rules to separately negotiate for payment guarantee services. This should be a negotiable service subject to competitive forces. Merchants should have the choice of whether to purchase these services from the card networks, from a third party, or not at all. The card networks and issuing banks already include the risk of default in the interest rates they charge to consumers. There is no justification for forcing merchants to cover this cost.

MASTERCARD CANADA: Merchants benefit from increased sales, improved payment efficiency, reduced cash handling, customer convenience and satisfaction, e-commerce facilitation, international purchase handling, automatic currency conversion and settlement, among other benefits.

WAYTOOHIGH: There are no studies supporting the assertion that card usage increases sales, reduces checkout time, or increases consumer satisfaction. These are simple advertising puffery. To the extent that some of these claims are accurate, they are neither an excuse to price-fix supracompetitive interchange fees nor a justifiable expense to force upon merchants without negotiation. Just look at the tricks MasterCard and Visa (both were controlled by thousands of the same member banks) They offer sweepstakes, but the less expensive PIN-based debit cards are ineligible. They charge merchants for the high-costing affinity (frequent flier reward) signature cards, but many consumers never cash in those rewards. And now, the credit card companies are taking back the accrued rewards if a cardholder defaults by a single day, some unscrupulous companies are even paying cardholders to close their accounts, thus also losing those rewards.

MASTERCARD CANADA: Interchange is a fee that passes between acquirers (who handle card processing for merchants) and card issuers. Issuers receive interchange to compensate them for significant costs and risks borne in offering credit cards including interest-free periods, account management, credit losses, fraud protection and processing.

WAYTOOHIGH: Regarding the assertion that merchants don’t pay interchange, the rebuttal is that the merchant discount rate automatically includes the interchange fee. The rest is mere semantics. Also, why would they talk about benefits to merchants from interchange fees if merchants weren’t paying those fees? Remember: interchange fees were designed forty-years ago, when retailers used antiquated manual credit card imprinters (ScanMyPhotos.com used these way back in the early 1990′s.  The fee was cost-based; remember those stacks of carbon-copy receipts? Write a check, which passes through the Federal Reserve network and the there is no clearing (interchange) charge. Use a Starbucks gift card, and there is no interchange fee. Use a shopping mall card, good at multiple merchant locations, and there is no interchange charge. Buy a gift card for any retailer at a supermarket and even though there is a network of payment mechanisms in place, there is no interchange fee. Use a PIN-based Debit card in Canada and there is no interchange fee. Use a credit card in Iceland and… you get the idea. As to the “issuer compensation” argument, many of those expenses should be borne by the consumer, not the merchant (e.g. free funding period). Furthermore, the merchant should not be forced to purchase these alleged services as a price-fixed bundle. These should be available separately and negotiably.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard’s Canadian interchange rates remain well below those of other developed markets including the United States and below similar fees for American Express in Canada. A sampling of other countries with higher blended interchange rates than Canada include Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Turkey and Uruguay.

WAYTOOHIGH: The relevant comparison is not Canada v. Uruguay, it’s competitive v. anticompetitive. The fact that MasterCard’s supracompetitive interchange rates are not quite as inflated in other countries as they are in North America doesn’t render them legal. MasterCard and Visa boast 80% market power and are two giant cartels with, until recently, the same representatives on their board of directors. Collusion, greed, illegal price-fixing and hundreds of billions of dollars paid by consumers and merchants over the years is why this battle may be the largest antitrust case in U.S. history, and why the banks are engaged in a death-spiral battle against its two core customers – consumers and merchants.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard receives no revenue from interchange.

WAYTOOHIGH: MasterCard remains a puppet of the issuing banks, who receive enormous amounts of revenue from interchange. How does MasterCard explain the term “Merchant Discount Rate?” So, where do their revenues come from, then?

MASTERCARD CANADA: Consumers do not pay interchange fees nor merchant fees.

WAYTOOHIGH: As with the argument that merchants don’t pay interchange, MasterCard exalts form over substance. As a practical matter, merchants must build in their overhead costs into the costs of their products. Increasing interchange fees effectively increases the cost of goods just as would increasing the cost of the merchant’s rent or electricity.  The nearly $60 billion dollars in merchant interchange fees in the U.S. last year came from somewhere!  It is a hidden tax that ultimately, the consumers pay.

MASTERCARD CANADA: Merchants who choose to accept credit cards pay to participate in exchange for the benefits received. The fee accounts for the multiple benefits received.

WAYTOOHIGH: The idea that merchants “choose” to accept credit cards is a myth. In reality, merchants must accept payment cards in order to stay in business. Furthermore, interchange is not cost-based. If it were, it would be far, far lower. Look at the European Union, where cross-border interchange is mandated to be cost based by law. For Ecommerce businesses, like ScanMyPhotos.com and millions of other online companies we are forced to accept Visa and MasterCard – they have an 80% market power over the industry. Their millions of dollars invested in TV commercials training consumers not to pay with cash is all the more reason why MasterCard and Visa are like drug dealers, they get consumers trained and then force them to use their products. Yes, force, and we can explain why.

MASTERCARD CANADA: Merchants pay a merchant fee established by their acquirer, not MasterCard. Interchange forms a portion, but not all, of that merchant fee.

WAYTOOHIGH: Interchange accounts for the vast majority of the merchant discount fee and is non-negotiable. The merchant discount fee is always higher than the interchange fee, meaning that merchants effectively pay interchange. If the truth were otherwise, we’d have acquirer lawsuits against the networks and the issuers. Get real, it’s all about MasterCard. Until recently, MasterCard and Visa were just brands (trade associations) fully owned by the banks. Whether the fees go to the banks or the two giant credit card association, the same pockets were being enriched.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard’s 2008 adjustment to interchange rates was the first in seven years. Some rates were reduced.

WAYTOOHIGH: Whether or not that’s true, it doesn’t change the fact that the rates are much higher than they would be in a competitive environment (assuming they’d exist at all). Some rates were 300% higher than in 1999. Without warning, millions of merchants receive a twice yearly letter explaining the new rates, just days prior to it taking effect.

MASTERCARD CANADA: A merchant can obtain his MasterCard interchange rates via http://www.mastercard.ca. This information has been available for more than two years. [There is a now similar website in the U.S. with more than one-hundred pages of rate schedules].

WAYTOOHIGH: Only two years? Why was MasterCard so secretive before that? Regardless, the merchant has no way of knowing what the interchange rate will be at the time of sale and therefore cannot make an educated decision about whether to accept the card. There is no transparency, and those website rate schedules are unclear and confusing. If MasterCard was honest, they would easily post the exact interchange fee as part of every charge card receipt (right under the sales tax breakdown).

MASTERCARD CANADA: When interchange was regulated in Australia, it led to reduced card benefits to consumers and there is no evidence that retailers passed on savings in reduced prices.

WAYTOOHIGH: To allege that a reduction in overhead costs for an entire country’s merchants would not result in lower prices is to allege a price-fixing conspiracy among all merchants. If so-called “cardholder benefits” were only available because of a price-fixing conspiracy between issuing banks, we should not lose sleep over the disappearance of those benefits when the conspiracy is busted up. The rule of law is what matters, not cardholder benefits.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard Worldwide has a PIN-based debit payment solution – Maestro(R) – used by more than 652 million cardholders in over 100 countries.

WAYTOOHIGH: Perhaps, but that doesn’t justify the price-fixing conspiracy and it doesn’t justify forcing merchants to pay supracompetitive interchange fees. MasterCard and its issuers don’t get a blank check just because they provide some benefits. Banks would need to provide debit cards even if they didn’t get interchange fees. Otherwise, it would be like banks providing a checking account but no checks.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard Canada is preparing to expand its global debit processing system in Canada where it would deliver compelling benefits to Canadian consumers and merchants.

WAYTOOHIGH: MasterCard is only increasing its market power so that it can continue to force supracompetitive interchange fees on merchants.

MASTERCARD CANADA: Using Maestro, Canadian consumers could use debit all over the world.

WAYTOOHIGH: See previous two arguments.

MASTERCARD CANADA: Accepting Maestro means Canadian merchants could accept international travelers’ debit cards.

WAYTOOHIGH: See above.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard will provide technological advancements including greater security and fraud protections, innovations

WAYTOOHIGH: See above.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard operates a global debit infrastructure with centralized operations that run 24/7. The system delivers significantly greater scale than Canada’s incumbent debit network. It has had zero downtime in more than seven years.

WAYTOOHIGH: See above.

MASTERCARD CANADA: MasterCard will create competition in the Canadian debit market where it has never existed.

WAYTOOHIGH: MasterCard is not talking about competition for merchant acceptance, only “competition” for issuing banks, which has the effect of increasing interchange rates at the expense of merchants. Payment cards are a two-sided market (issuance and acceptance) and when MasterCard, Visa and the member banks talk about so-called “competition,” they’re never talking about the merchant side of the market.

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