NRF Opposes Interchange Settlement

September 19, 2012

It’s been a little while since the Official Merchant Services Blog touched on the increasingly sensitive topic of the Credit Card Interchange Settlement. We first talked about the possibility of ‘The Big Cash Comeback’ when the settlement was first announced, and later we discussed the opposition to the settlement.

Seven years after the first lawsuits were actually filed against the bank card networks and some leading banks, a tentative settlement was reached on July 13 of this year.  The agreement has had many mixed reviews, and some big name retailers have come out against it, including most recently the National Retailers Foundation, the nations largest retail trade association.  The NRF’s members operate 3.6 million stores nationwide, however the organization itself is not involved in the lawsuit, which includes individual and class merchants as well as trade-group plaintiffs.

Under the proposal, the main defendants, Visa and MasterCard will pay $6.6 billion in damages and temporarily reduce interchange rates to save merchants another $1.2 billion. Merchants also will get greater freedom to surcharge card transactions and could form bargaining groups to negotiate interchange with the networks. In return, the networks will be freed from future legal challenges from merchants regarding interchange rates and merchant rules, even from merchants that didn’t participate in the current lawsuit.

I think the key points here are the temporary reduction of interchange rates as well as the fact that all merchants give up their rights to sue Visa and MasterCard upon accepting the settlement.  Merchants will most certainly be satisfied by the reduction of interchange rates, but the drop will only be temporary.  After a few months Visa and MasterCard will raise them again, and continue to collect outlandish fees for credit card transactions.  Also, not every merchant is involved in this suit. I don’t think it’s a good deal for merchants to give up any of their rights, particularly the rights to any future litigation.

The National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) released a statement on Monday, announcing their dismissal of the settlement, “We joined this lawsuit in search of real reform to a broken system, one that is shielded from normal competitive forces. This proposed settlement does not achieve this goal. It lacks meaningful fixes to a system that allowed Visa and MasterCard to set artificially high swipe fees and provided retailers and consumers with no choice except to pay.”

This statement echo’s the cries of dissenters, who say the settlement protects the status quo more than anything, and will not change the way the networks set interchange.

In conclusion, the settlement still faces harsh criticism, and Visa and MasterCard have not had much to say to those who oppose it.  Only time will tell if the plaintiffs decide to accept the deal, or push back for a settlement more in their favor.  Host Merchant Services will keep you informed of all the latest news involving this legal battle between the merchants and the card-issuing giants.

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