Welcome to our new Payments Insights newsletter, a morning email with the top news and analysis on the digital payments industry, produced by BI Intelligence.
AMERICAN EXPRESS JOINS RETAILERS TO APPEAL $US5.7 BILLION ANTI-TRUST SETTLEMENT. Back in July 2012, Visa and MasterCard elected to settle a 2005 price-fixing lawsuit brought by a group of merchants and trade organisations, which claimed that the two credit card networks had fixed the prices of card swipe fees, which merchants pay every time a customer pays with a credit card.
But many of the plaintiffs in the case, including merchants like Walmart and Amazon, were unsatisfied with the final settlement, and appealed the decision. Now AmEx is joining these plaintiffs.
“The language of the release that Visa and MasterCard required in their settlement is so broad that defendants in that case could argue that it applies to claims of competitors, not just merchants,” said Marina Norville, vice president of public affairs and communications at AmEx.
The settlement has four main stipulations:
- Visa, MasterCard, and a collection of banks must reimburse retailers for months worth of past swipe fees.
- Fees on transactions would be reduced for eight months post-settlement while new negotiating rules are put in place.
- Retailers are now allowed to pass the network fee on to consumers, by adding a surcharge to the cost of items and services that are purchased with credit cards — the idea is that once consumers see the extra fee they have to pay, they may elect to pay with less expensive forms of payment, like cash or debit cards.
- The settlement broadly protects Visa and MasterCard from any further similar lawsuits.
Many merchants are appealing the settlement because they don’t think it solves the problem. They argue that by adding an explicit surcharge to credit card transactions they would alienate their customers and after an eight-month period, Visa and MasterCard could start charging high fees again.
But from the standpoint of AmEx, the biggest threat may be protection from further litigation. AmEx is likely worried that it won’t be able to sue Visa and MasterCard if the two companies engage in price fixing in the future.(Payments Source)
BITCOIN CLOSE TO COLLAPSE? In a particularly bearish “early retrospective,” Reuters’ Economics Editor Edward Hadas highlights five lessons that we can take from what he believes will be the collapse of Bitcoin:
- Money that isn’t backed by government appeals to the lawless. One of Bitcoin’s most successful businesses was Silk Road, an e-commerce site for illegal goods and services.
- Speculation can make the price of anything skyrocket. Bitcoin is neither a store of value or a unit of account and has little, if any value, on its own.
- There are problems that need to be addressed in the existing monetary system because otherwise people wouldn’t be turning to Bitcoin.
- People don’t understand what money is because otherwise they wouldn’t be investing in Bitcoin.
- And the psychological angle: we waste a lot of time and energy on things that are not worthwhile. Bitcoin is essentially “idle speculation,” but has attracted the efforts of many skilled people.
We are less bearish on Bitcoin than Hadas, which we’ll highlight in our upcoming Bitcoin report. (New York Times Dealbook)
OVERSTOCK.COM LAUNCHES PAY WITH BITCOIN. We recently covered Overstock.com’s decision to accept Bitcoin as a method of payment for the products on its website. Now the service has officially launched and the first purchases have been made, according to to a report by Business Insider’s Rob Wile. (Business Insider)
NON-CASH PAYMENTS WILL GROW IN POLAND IN 2014. Currently, about 25% of payment card holders use their cards less than once a month in Poland. This is explained in part by the fact that Poland has higher interchange fees than most countries in Europe. But Poland recently introduced new legislation that will reduce interchange fees, which merchants pay when customers use credit cards. With lower costs to process credit cards, we expect to see an uptick in payment card activity in Poland. (VeriFone)
THE NEW YORK METROCARD TURNS 20 THIS WEEK, BY AGE 25 IT COULD BE EXTINCT. This week marks the 20th anniversary of New York’s paper subway card, but in 5 years the subway fares will be paid with devices using NFC or another communication frequency, according to the MTA. It’s not clear what the new payment system will look like, but the benefits for the subway’s 7.7 million daily users are clear: electronic subway payments will eliminate the costs associated with paper cards and lost or stolen cards, and allow people to access the subway more quickly. (Skift)
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JP MORGAN CHASE IS GETTING OUT OF PREPAID PAYROLL CARDS. The company has offered prepaid payment cards to businesses and some governments as an option for paying their employees, as opposed to paper checks or direct deposit. Prepaid cards are particularly attractive as a method of payment for people who do not have bank accounts. The difficulty of managing risks and regulations, though, is said to have led to the decision to end the service. It is unclear how the company will wind down its prepaid program, but selling it isn’t off the table. (Reuters)
OPTIMAL PAYMENTS BECOMES A MERCHANT ACQUIRER. Global online payment solutions provider Optimal Payments announced yesterday that it will now act as a merchant acquirer for MasterCard Europe and Visa Europe. In contrast to the U.S., acquirers in Europe don’t need to be banks. Before the deal, Optimal sold services to merchants on behalf of acquiring banks in Europe. Now they will be able to act as a direct acquirer, which could reduce costs both for merchants and Optimal. Optimal Payments already issues credit cards to consumers on behalf of Visa and MasterCard in Europe.
AN ANTI-FRAUD COMPANY PROVIDES HEAT MAPS SHOWING HIGH FRAUD IN CITIES. London-based fraud security company ReD has released heat maps showing areas in cities that see a high incidence of card fraud. Areas with above average levels of fraud are shown in the map of New York below.
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