Visa Europe Our response to the European Commission s proposed regulation of interchange fees for card-based payment transactions

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1 Visa Europe Our response to the European Commission s proposed regulation of interchange fees for card-based payment transactions

2 Executive summary On 24 July 2013 the European Commission published a proposal for a regulation on interchange fees for card-based payment transactions. At the European Parliament Plenary session held on 3 April 2014, MEPs voted to adopt amendments to the proposal. Discussions on the proposal and the changes put forward by the European Parliament have now moved to the Council of the European Union (EU). Visa Europe supports the efforts to develop an integrated European payment market that fosters competition, innovation and security and brings benefits to all stakeholders, especially consumers. In this spirit, we offer our comments to help bolster the effectiveness of the proposal and minimise any adverse impacts or unintended consequences it may have on stakeholders. In our view taking into account these principles and the European Commission s proposal in aggregate, we have a number of concerns about the text that currently forms the basis of the discussions: Interchange fee levels The Regulation does not facilitate the creation of a level playing field between the various business models of the card payment schemes and other payment providers. A yearly weighted average with a higher absolute cap is also needed to differentiate between secure and non-secure transactions and low value transactions to incentivise innovations to the benefit of consumers, retailers and all participants in payments. Commercial cards The European Parliament s suggestion to include commercial cards into the scope of the Regulation would create an even more un-level playing field between three and four party systems and will have a negative impact on end users including merchants. Commercial cards should therefore remain exempt from the proposal s scope. Cross border acquiring The European Parliament s suggestion to apply the interchange fee rate of the country of the acquirer in relation to cross-border acquiring would result in an unjustified race to the bottom with significant consequences for innovation and security and would go against the aim of harmonising interchange rates. In order to have a harmonised payment market, Visa Europe believes that common interchange fee levels for cross border acquired transactions should be set across the EU. Separation of scheme and processing More competition in processing will be achieved by increased harmonisation of processing standards across the Single Market, not through forced separation of scheme and processing. Implementing the SEPA Card Processing Framework would be a more effective and better way to ensure a fully open processing market. Co-badging Visa Europe strongly believes that in order to foster competition and innovative payments, payment card systems must remain free to choose their business partners. Forced co-badging would undermine competition, have negative effects on innovation and cause a lack of clarity for consumers in case of problems such as fraud and chargebacks. Honour all Cards Rule Removal of the Honour All Cards Rule (HACR) would create confusion for consumers due to uncertainty as to the acceptability of cards throughout Europe. Visa Europe believes the Honour All Cards principle should be kept as it is essential for consumers to have clarity and confidence that a particular brand is accepted at the point of sale. Definitions The proposed definition of credit and debit cards transactions are not sufficiently clear and could lead to uneven application and potential misuse. A better solution is to define the card type not the transactions. We therefore welcome the text proposed by the European Central Bank as this provides a better basis for a definition. Transitional periods Should the legislators decide to adopt the business rules from Article 6 to 10, a transition period of at least 3 years should be considered. The articles would have a significant impact for business and the time lines proposed are completely unrealistic. 2

3 Visa Europe Sitting at the heart of the payments ecosystem Visa Europe is a payments business, constantly investing in technology in order to introduce new, easier and more secure payment options for our members and their customers. We are the glue that binds the payments system together, bringing benefits and real value to cardholders and businesses. For instance, when a consumer purchases goods online, he/she requires a payment system that is secure, efficient and convenient. Businesses that accept e- and m- payments also want the same but need a system that is competitive, innovative and legally certain. Visa Europe plays a crucial role in maintaining and fostering an ever more secure, efficient, competitive and innovative payment system with a high degree of acceptance through multiple channels across Europe. We embrace our role as one of Europe s leading European-owned payment card systems and the only member-owned, Europe-wide payment system open to all regulated institutions. Visa Europe has long supported the creation of a Single Euro Payments Area and the Internal Market for Payments. As a membership association, Visa Europe is owned and governed by its approximately 3,000 European members that issue Visa cards and acquire Visa transactions. Visa Europe is independent of Visa Inc, a publicly traded US company, from which it has an exclusive, irrevocable and perpetual licence to operate in Europe. Profit maximisation is not our primary objective. We only seek to ensure that we are adequately capitalised as a business. We are committed to continuing the facilitation and development of innovative e- and m- payments in the interests of European consumers and businesses. In order to do this, we need a clear and balanced regulatory framework that eliminates the risk of slowing innovation and not addressing the most pressing problems facing consumers and retailers. Europe needs to focus on, and promote, efficient payment methods for society as a whole, by supporting electronic payments over inefficient cash. What is the European Commission proposing? On 24 July 2013, the European Commission adopted a legislative package in the field of the EU payments framework. This package contains proposals to revise the Payments Services Directive (PSD2) and a Regulation on Interchange Fees for card-based transactions (IFR) 1. Both proposals seek to make the payments framework better serve the needs of the European payments market by facilitating competition, innovation and security. These changes will benefit all stakeholders, especially consumers. Although Visa Europe supports this objective, we have some concerns about the modalities of some proposals. Visa Europe s key principles for new legislation Visa Europe considers that as a matter of principle, any regulation dealing with the issues proposed should be based on very careful assessment of all of its implications in order to avoid unintended consequences that could reverse any possible benefits, distort competition and create new problems for those involved in payments, including consumers and merchants. We always assess proposed new legislation using 5 key principles: 1) All market participants should operate on a level playing field enabling full and open competition; 2) Both the supply and the demand side of payments should be motivated to promote the use of more electronic innovative payments to the detriment of cash; 3) A viable balance between payment security and consumer convenience should be established; 4) Legal certainty is necessary to ensure that the supply side can make the necessary investment decisions and can continue to foster innovative solutions; 5) Operational requirements should be fully commercially viable, technically neutral and within a realistic timeframe. We are concerned that the European Commission s proposals will be detrimental to these principles that support European economic growth. There is little evidence to support the claims that these proposals will be beneficial to consumers. 1 A copy of the full proposals can be found at: 3

4 Visa Europe s concerns and proposed solutions 1) Level playing field a) Scope (Article 1) Regulation should support the creation of a level playing field between the various business models of the card payment schemes and other payment providers. Visa Europe requests that this regulation guarantees fair competition among all market players and that the same rules apply for all as of the same moment in time. New regulation needs to be based on the clear objective of achieving a level playing field between three and four party systems and between other players in the payments industry. In the long term, fair competition is allowing users to benefit from payment services such as cardholders and merchants. Three party systems do not have an explicit interchange fee. However, Visa Europe understands that such systems already charge merchants higher prices than those by four party systems such as Visa Europe. A level playing field would not be guaranteed if they would be able to exploit opportunities arising from being outside the scope of the Regulation. This would particularly be the case if commercial cards issued by four party systems were included in the scope of the Regulation. Therefore, the rules and principles of the new Regulation should be applicable to all payment systems operating in the European Union, including three party systems. In addition, a significant interchange gap is likely to arise between Visa Europe and MasterCard if the provisions of the IFR enter into force later than the commitments 2 agreed between Visa Europe and the European Commission. This risks negatively affecting competition and merchants by leading to higher interchange rates where payment service providers switch from issuing Visa cards to more expensive card brands. In our view, in order to create a level playing field and maintain competition, it is only fair that the IFR is aligned as much as possible with the Visa Europe credit commitments accepted by DG Competition. b) Commercial cards (the European Parliament proposes to delete article 1.3a) The inclusion of commercial cards into the scope would destroy the business case for the issuing of commercial cards in four party systems and would potentially result in those issuers withdrawing from the market. Visa Europe strongly opposes the European Parliament s suggestion of including commercial cards in the scope of the regulation. Commercial Cards should be exempted as per the Commission s original proposal. Commercial cards are very different from consumer credit or debit cards. Business customers require more information from the issuer of the card for accounting, auditing and tax purposes. Commercial cards provide a cost effective tool for providing this information and eliminate the need for paper based invoices which are time consuming and expensive to produce. They are limited in scope of use by business and government entities and are mostly used for specific purposes, e.g. hotels, restaurants and transport, including airlines. The inclusion of commercial cards into the scope of the Regulation would make it economically unviable for issuers in four party schemes such as Visa to offer these cards to business and government entities. A regulated four party commercial card issuer could not compete with an unregulated, more expensive three party scheme issuer. Many would potentially leave the business, resulting in higher costs for merchants as the market share of three party schemes in commercial cards would grow even further. If European retail banks stop offering commercial cards, SMEs will be negatively affected be it as users or acceptors of commercial cards. As users they will lose a very efficient tool to manage their business expenses, while the liquidity management advantages (guaranteed payment) would no longer be available to card accepting SMEs. 2 As part of its constructive engagement with the Commission, and following previous commitments in relation to debit interchange, in May 2013 Visa Europe made commitments in relation to reducing its credit and deferred debit interchange fees. 4

5 c) Cross border acquiring (the European Parliament proposes a new article 6a) The European Parliament s suggestion to apply the interchange fee rate of the country of the acquirer for cross-border acquiring would result in an unjustified race to the bottom with significant negative consequences for innovation and security. Visa Europe calls for common interchange fee levels for cross-border acquired transactions to be set across the EU. The proposed Regulation seeks to harmonise interchange fee levels within the EU. We believe that this should be achieved by setting common levels across the EU and not by opting for the lowest level offered. Domestic interchange fees are set based on specific domestic circumstances and different levels of market maturity. Interchange fee levels set in one Member State may not be justifiable and sustainable in another Member State and could completely undermine the market. The European Parliament s suggestion to apply the interchange fee of the country of the acquirer for cross-border transactions will result in an unjustified race to the bottom with significant consequences for innovation and security. The principle would also lead to concentration of European acquiring in a few Member States and loss of tax revenues in other member states. 2) Promote the use of more electronic innovative payments a) Interchange fee levels (Articles 3 & 4) Interchange fees of 0.2% for debit transactions and 0.3% for credit will not allow PSPs to make structurally necessary investments in innovation and security. If 0.2% and 0.3% were to be agreed, Visa Europe asks for the introduction of a yearly weighted average with a higher absolute cap, set at a reasonable level to differentiate between secure and non-secure transactions and low value transactions to incentivise innovations to the benefit of consumers, retailers and all participants in payments. Electronic payments including payment cards, are substantially more efficient than other payment transactions such as cash and should be promoted. MIFs are necessary for the successful operation of fourparty payment systems to the benefit of merchants and cardholders, and play a key role in delivering growth in card usage at the expense of less efficient means of payments. The proposals seek to bring interchange fees down to 0.2% for debit transactions and 0.3% for credit transactions. Visa Europe has engaged constructively with the European Commission over the past two decades in order to ensure clarity, consistency and viability of interchange as this issue has been the subject of investigation by competition authorities. We have never accepted that 0.2% and 0.3% are the right level of interchange and have concerns whether these rates are the correct levels. The rate for credit card payments is not considered as economically viable given that it is below issuers costs. A debit interchange fee of 0.2% with a maximum of 7 cents, as suggested by the European Parliament, is below an issuer s marginal costs and the typical cost of accepting cash for higher value transactions. As a consequence issuers might have no other choice but to increase fees to recuperate some of the lost revenues. It is widely accepted that the methodology underpinning the proposed rates is not based on consistent data, is highly theoretical and is difficult to apply in practice. If 0.2% and 0.3% are to be agreed, the best solution is to apply a yearly weighted average of 0.2% and 0.3% of the transaction value for debit and credit respectively combined with an absolute per transaction cap, set at a reasonable level. A weighted interchange average has been agreed with DG Competition in the commitments offered by Visa Europe 3 and has also been applied by national regulators for other schemes. A yearly weighted average would also allow payment schemes to have differentiated rates, which can enable the uptake of new technologies or security features. These features would include for example to incentivise secure transactions over less secure transactions to the benefit of consumers, retailers and all participants in payments while maintaining the proposed levels overall. 3 The Visa Europe debit commitments (8 December 2010, available at ) and proposed credit/deferred debit commitments published in May 2013, available at ) reflect a weighted average not an absolute cap. 5

6 b) Honour All Cards Rule HACR (Article 10) The Honour All Cards principle is essential for consumers in order to have clarity, confidence and certainty in relation to which cards are accepted at the point of sale. Visa Europe recommends deleting Article 10 from the proposal in order to ensure certainty, transparency and consistency of use for consumers. The European Commission proposal suggests abolishing the so-called Honour-all-cards rule, which obliges merchants to accept all cards issued under the same brand. This proposal is not in the interest of consumers as it will decrease confidence in electronic payments. The Honour All Cards principle is essential for consumers to have clarity and confidence in relation to which cards are accepted at the point of sale, irrespective of where the card is issued or used. Without this certainty consumers will not know where and when their card is accepted and are likely to default to cash, leading to security risks and growth in the shadow economy. As a minimum and in line with the Commission s suggestion on surcharging, the Honour All Cards Rule should be maintained for all regulated card payment schemes which fall under the interchange regulation. 3) A viable balance between payment security and consumer convenience a) Co-badging and choice of application (Article 8) Visa Europe supports co-badging only when it takes place on a voluntary basis. Forced co-badging on cards creates partly unworkable technical and practical problems and will have substantial negative consequences for consumers and merchants. Visa Europe strongly recommends the deletion of Article 8 on forced co-badging. As a minimum there should be no forced co-badging on physical cards. Visa Europe believes that consumers should be able to agree to a preselected application if proposed by the issuer and not only at the point-of-sale. Visa Europe strongly believes that in order to foster competition and innovative payments, payment card systems must remain free to choose their business partners. Voluntary co-badging of the Visa mark with national domestic payment card systems has increased the attractiveness and usage of such cards by providing for cross-border functionality and facilitates the SEPA initiative. Schemes operate in different ways both practically and technically and mandated co-badging would undermine competition, have negative effects on innovation and cause a lack of clarity for consumers in case of problems such as fraud and chargebacks. Various technical operational and technical issues arise, i.e. cards are based on global ISO standards. Global payment schemes have been allocated specific card number ranges (the so-called BIN ranges). A card can belong to only one BIN range. Combining both on one card is highly problematic. Schemes also have different security features which are unique to the card, i.e. the three digit security code printed in the signature panel which is unique to every card scheme. Product differentiation and innovation would become difficult as the co-badged schemes would share the same hardware (e.g. the chip on the card) and card functionality would be reduced to the common denominator, leading to reduced competition and innovation Visa Europe agrees, however, with the proposed principle that consumers should be able to freely choose the application in case the card and terminal have more than one application in common. In such instances, it should be equally possible to set a pre-defined and transparent default application. Application selection at point-of-sale should not be imposed in all circumstances. For example, forced application selection would make check-out queues longer, make contactless payments technically impossible as well as limit the benefits of this innovative technology for consumers. The considerations raised above solely apply to co-badging on a plastic card. Having more payment applications on mobile phone or an electronic wallet should not be regarded as co-badging and would not raise similar concerns. 6

7 a) Separation of Schemes and Processing (Article 7) 4) Legal certainty is needed to enable the necessary investment decisions The Commission has not identified particular problems or issues in the national processing markets which would be solved by a forced legal separation. As the Commission has also not conducted an impact assessment or analysis of the potential implications of the proposal, there is no clear evidence of what the actual impact would be to consumers and businesses. Visa Europe sees no need to separate schemes and processing in terms of legal structure, organisation and decision making. Emphasis should be placed on implementing the SEPA Card Processing Framework to ensure a fully open processing market. The legal separation of schemes and processing that exists in some Member States have not made it easier for processors to enter the market. Forced structural separation through regulation is only considered to be appropriate where clear market failures have been identified. The European processing market is highly competitive with more than 20 transaction processing companies competing domestically and cross-border. According to the SEPA Cards Framework, payment systems are obliged to abolish any processing mandates and offer unbundled and transparent pricing, allowing payment service providers (PSPs) to freely contract with their processor and network of choice. A more effective way to ensure a truly open and competitive processing market is to adopt the SEPA Card Processing Framework which is currently being developed by the EPC s Card Stakeholders Group. This Framework sets out the rules and principles for all stakeholders involved in the processing value chain in view of ensuring a competitive processing market. It is anticipated that the Framework will be formally adopted by the EPC this year and become an integral part of the SEPA standards for cards. b) Definitions and Transitional Periods In the event that European legislators decide to adopt the business rules from Articles 6-10, Visa Europe calls for a transition period of at least 3 years to be considered. Visa Europe calls for the proposed definition of credit and debit cards transactions to be reconsidered as they are not sufficiently clear and could lead to uneven application. For reasons of legal certainty a number of definitions in the proposals should be reconsidered and appropriate transition periods should be adopted. The proposed definition of credit and debit card transactions should be reconsidered as they are not sufficiently clear and could lead to uneven application. The text suggested by the European Central Bank provides a better basis for a definition. In the event that European legislators decide to adopt the business rules from Articles 6-10, Visa Europe calls for a transition period of at least 3 years to be considered. The adoption of the articles in their current form would have a significant impact on businesses. Visa Europe is also concerned that the timelines currently proposed are too short. Additional Information If you would like more information on Visa Europe s position regarding the EC proposals, please contact us at: Visa Europe Marc Temmerman T +32 (0) Peter Møller Jensen T +32 (0) Brussels Office Rue Luxembourg Brussels 7

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