Friday, April 13, 2012

A Warning Against Durbin “Fatigue”

We hear it all the time at financial services meetings and conferences these days. “This is a Durbin-free meeting.” Or, “…We are all suffering from Durbin fatigue.” I have invoked these words from time to time.

It is true the financial services sector has been quite topsy-turvy since the debit card interchange amendment (aka The Durbin Amendment) was adopted during the Senate’s consideration of financial reform in 2010. The following is a brief timeline of events:

·       July 2010 – President Obama signed into law Dodd-Frank which included the Durbin interchange amendment
·       December 2010 – The Federal Reserve issued a proposed rule to implement the Durbin Amendment and sets the cap on interchange at 12 cents for issuers at $10 billion in assets or above
·       June 2011 – The Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) which sought to delay implementation of the Durbin Amendment
·       July 2011 – The Fed issued the final rule essentially doubling the interchange cap to 24 cents with an October 1 effective date
·       November 2011 – Merchants sued the Fed to overturn the final rule alleging a disregard of Congressional intent

On April 1, part two the Durbin Amendment took effect. Debit card issuers are required to offer routing across two unaffiliated networks, regardless of the authentication method. Financial institutions will also start shortly reporting first quarter financial results, so we’ll get a better snap shot of lost revenues associated with the Durbin Amendment. Banks have already reported fourth quarter results from 2011 and some estimates are a combined loss of interchange revenue of about $2.2 billion for those with more than $10 billion in assets.

Meantime, reports and press releases are flying around asking merchants where the savings are for consumers. I probably shouldn’t even start a discussion of Bank of America’s plan to charge its customers a $5 monthly fee for debit card usage.

Adding more fuel to the fire, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) issued a report this week detailing how credit card interchange fees are hurting consumers at the gas pump. So, let’s get this straight. The retailers rallied Senate support to pass the Durbin Amendment. The retailers turn around and sue the Fed to overturn the Durbin Amendment. Now, the retailers are using high gas prices to rally support for limiting credit card interchange rates. What does it all mean?

I’m here to say that no one in the financial services industry can afford to suffer Durbin fatigue. The NACS study demonstrates the retail community’s unrelenting desire to end interchange as the industry knows it. And, if you sit around believing Congress will never touch credit card interchange, you do so at your peril.

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