Durbin Amendment Almost Here

September 29, 2011

The Official Merchant Services Blog once again takes up the task of analyzing the media reports revolving around the Durbin Amendment and the changes it will bring to how banks do business with their customers because of its cap on debit card swipe fees. We continue to use Host Merchant Services‘ own analysis as the foundation of the comparisons we make regarding other media sources and their take on the legislation and its impact.

Durbin on Durbin

The first article comes from a Chicago-based radio station WLS 890 AM. It’s an interesting read because it quotes the legislation’s namesake, Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois. It’s one of the few articles that includes Durbin’s perspective on the legislation as we get closer to the October 1 date of when the law takes effect. The article begins with a brief explanation of what Durbin sought to do with the legislation:

“Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the debit card fees retailers have to pay will go down Saturday thanks to the Durbin Amendment.”

It then offers a lively retort from J.P. Morgan Chase executive Jamie Dimon: “The big boss at J.P. Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, calls this ‘price fixing at its worst’ that will surely cause banks to raise fees on customers with deposit accounts. “

While many of the articles on this amendment have been dancing around the confrontation between consumers and banks over the Durbin Amendment this article dives right into the rhetoric, giving it a much more active tone for the reader and an insight into the debate that framed and spawned the legislation. It helps that the article ties this confrontational perspective into the legislation’s author and Durbin’s motivation for working on the amendment. Citing a letter that Durbin wrote to Dimon back in April, the article states: “Durbin said to Dimon, ‘Your industry is used to getting its way with many members of Congress and with your regulators. The American people deserve to know the real story about the interchange fee system and the ways that banks in general — and Chase in particular — have abused that system.’ “

But the basic conclusion is pretty much the same as the other articles focusing on the amendment and what changes it will bring on October 1. The conclusion is that banks will react by creating more fees for their customers and just recouping the losses from the swipe fee cap in other areas not covered by the legislation. Durbin is quoted in the article, calling that tactic “indefensible” but conceding it is the likely outcome of the amendment. The article sums it up: “So what the government giveth, the banks may take away.”

The Cost of Doing Business

The next article we look at is an Associated Press piece located on Bloomberg’s website. It’s a report that reveals how much money American Express spent in the second quarter of this year to lobby Congress and fight against the implementation of the Durbin Amendment.

American Express Co. spent $610,000 in the second quarter to lobby the federal government on rules involving the fees charged to merchants for processing payments and other issues, according to a disclosure report.”

The article notes that the company spent the same amount of money in the previous quarter of 2011, but that they spent 3% more money in the second quarter of 2010 comparatively. The article also notes that Amex doesn’t offer debit card services, but does offer interchange services on credit card payments, suggesting that was the reason it spent money to lobby Congress on the topic. The money wasn’t solely spent on lobbying against the Durbin Amendment. And the article notes that: “Amex representatives also lobbied the federal government on legislation involving online tracking of consumer behavior and the protection of personal information, cyber security, financial regulatory reform, consumer financial protection and issues related to reloadable prepaid cards, patent reform, tax reform and reform of the U.S. Postal Service.”

So what we see in today’s Countdown to Durbin is a look at how heated the debate still is between the legislation’s namesake and the big banks that are targeted by the reform. The intensity of this debate was such that American Express even spent more than $600,000 in a single quarter to lobby against it in 2011.

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