Debit Fees – Newton’s third law in banking

In the next phase of bank plans, expect the Visa logo to disappear from the standard card issued for a base checking account. The card will operate as ATM card, just as it did 20 years ago. As a side note, the banks (and PIN Debit networks such as Star, Pulse, NYCE) will be working with merchants and processors to expand adoption of PIN Debit separate from the card networks.

2016 – This post is 4+ years old now.. I wouldn’t take it too seriously.. but good historical context

1 October 2011

First… 2 paragraphs of venting and perspective.

I was quite surprised to see BAC’s $5/mo debit card fee on the national news today. Personally, I think it is a great thing.. customers should pay for services they want to use.. sticking the merchant with the cost of debit leads to some very poor incentives. One of the biggest “innovation stifling” problems we have in the US is that consumers don’t care about prices, for things they should (payments,  health care, fraud, education, … ). The cause? the direct costs are hidden. Once consumers bear direct costs for services, market forces can take hold.

This is not to say I’m a supporter for HOW the Durbin change came about.. Dodd-Frank, Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act represent the most sweeping changes to financial regulations in the United States since the Great Depression. From my perspective the timing could not have been worse. Did Congress think  the banks would just sit on the sidelines and patiently suffer? After being forced by regulators to act in good faith and “acquire” ailing community members like Country Wide? To suffer again as State AGs and the CPFB go after them for a few billion more (robo-signing).  Retail banking is becoming a very unattractive business, particularly in the lower mass market segments.  For the recovery to take hold, we need banks to be healthy…  these are not a bunch of “fat cat” millionaires.. but a core component of commerce that is instrumental in managing the lifeblood of our economy.

Debit Reaction.. equal and opposite

Well the banks have reacted to the finalization of Durbin fees. As I related in my previous blog on Debt, the fee plans have been in the works for some time, and for good reason: the lower mass segments are no longer profitable. US banks are well capitalized…. with excess liquidity, and a cost of funds near zero. There is very little incentive for them to seek to increase their deposit base (improve liquidity ratio). The core issue in retail banking profitability is asset quality (few qualified people to lend to… who want a loan). This is even more true now that Dodd-Frank has virtually gutted retail banking fees.  Two excellent articles below detail the role of transaction revenue and service fees in retail banking.

http://www.bai.org/bankingstrategies/payments/general/protecting-dda-profitability

http://www.novantas.com/article.php?id=317

http://www.standardandpoors.com/ratings/articles/en/us/?assetID=1245235038776

Of course not all consumers will be paying this $5/mo cost. For example, the folks reading this blog will likely have account relationships that warrant a fee exception. Mass market customers will likely be up in arms and seek to move their accounts.. believe it or not.. this is what the large banks want to happen since many of the lower tier customer segments are no longer profitable.

See this American Banker Article for more detail on alternatives to mass market customers

In the next phase of bank plans, expect the Visa logo to disappear from the standard card issued for a base checking account. The card will operate as ATM card, just as it did 20 years ago. As a side note, the banks (and PIN Debit networks such as Star, Pulse, NYCE) will be working with merchants and processors to expand adoption of PIN Debit separate from the card networks.

Market Forces in Payment

Now that consumers have to bear the costs of using a Debit Card. They have new choices:

1) Use credit card. This would be best for the banks, and perhaps best for the consumer as they collect merchant funded card reward points. The looser here is obviously the merchant. An important point  to make here is that this is exactly the strategy behind new NFC based mobile payment types.. there are NO NFC enabled debit cards.. banks and the networks want you using your phone for payment to drive credit card usage.  This is also the strategy behind Visa’s new EMV mandate, to drive retailer reterminalization. This will be a subject of a future blog.

2) Leave the bank and use pre-paid cards. This will certainly be the path for many lower mass customers

3) Pay the fee

4) Improve your relationship with the bank to meet a threshold and avoid the $60/yr fee.

5) Shift your transactional relationship to new “non bank” structures like PayPal or Google Wallet (both of which are licensed MSBs in all 47 states).

Downside for banks

CEOs make decisions based on data they have. The first 4 options have all been through. I would profer that creating a market for new competitors has not. I outlined in my previous blog “Banks will WIN in payments.. but WHICH ones”  that banks are firmly in the position of control today.  However there is a strong correlation between control and value delivered. In my upcoming blog I’ll describe how to value a payment network. My view is that payments are on a course of a utility service (i.e. dumb pipes with least cost routing), and that payment services are only the last step of a much more important commerce interaction. Any network business is highly dependent on balancing a value proposition between participants. Today retailers and consumers are not pleased. I only wish I could tell of you the wonderful things I’m seeing in Silicon Valley… IT IS NOT about technology.. but about creating business value.

Within 5 years, I see the strong possibility that a new network which will be able to PAY merchants for accepting a payment method..  (see my 2009 Blog on Googlization of Payments).

BTW… sorry for the lack of content this last month.. I have 15 page blog I’m about to publish.. I will never again try to write so much in one article.

AT&T, Verizon in Mobile Money Newco w/ Discover and FirstData

Don’t think about this as a card business, think about this as the next Google and payments are the KEY that ties together the mobile, virtual and physical world. NewCo will be to mobile advertising what Google was to online. For example, rumors are NewCo is attempting to consolidate $1-5B+ in Madison Avenue marketing spend in first year (See consumer scenario here). The MNOs are brilliant! Their collaborative efforts here are a severe threat to both banks and established payment networks. Widespread adoption of NFC will revolutionize consumer payments and may result in the next boom cycle for silicone valley. Make no mistake, NewCo will be the leader of the next great ecosystem.

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, .. create NewCo to deliver mobile payments w/ Discover

2 August 2010

In press today – Bloomberg Today – AT&T and Sprint to create prepaid venture

Previous Posts

Mainstream press has added a few additional details to what we outlined back in November. The biggest surprise to me is that Discover is the network partner (quite frankly I assumed it was Visa). Discover is an interesting partner, given its capabilities (issuer and acquirer) and reveals much about the mobile network operator (MNO) plans to bring a merchant friendly (lower interchange) strategy to market. It appears that First Data is in this alliance as well acting as the trusted service manager (TSM).  NewCo represents a major investment (rumors are that the major operators are investing north of $200M) and may start a new venture wave  in the valley as NewCo positions itself to be the “Google” of mobile advertising.

Don’t think about NewCo as a card business, think about this as the next Google and payments are the KEY that ties together the mobile, virtual and physical world. As I discussed in March:

Q: What will it mean when every AT&T subscriber receives a pre-paid Discover card with an NFC sticker?

Answers

  1. Tipping point for mobile commerce, ushering in a new era where the mobile phone can transact with a wallet that spans the virtual and physical world, aggregating every other account type and payment instrument.
  2. A new business for AT&T which could drive 30-60% growth in LT revenue
  3. Software REVOLUION. The “Next wave” for iPhone AND the entire mobile commerce ecosystem (see googlization)
  4. New mainstream marketing channel as couponing integrates with payment, location awareness and detailed knowledge consumer behavior/preferences
  5. Card business killer for Bank/Issuer revenue as MNO Pre-paid encroaches on the consumer relationship AND issuer debit/credit products (Decoupled Debit)
  6. Cash replacement for small value payments as merchants of all types adapt POS to accept NFC, and small merchants take out POS terminals in favor of making their phone a cash register
  7. .. would love to hear from you on the next 100…

There are at least 3 major elements to this announcement which warrant further discussion, as impact on the venture and payment community will be significant:

–          NewCo business model: It’s all about marketing and control

–          Payments shift from banks, Visa, and MA

–          Mobile payment value proposition. Can NewCo make this work for consumers and merchants?

Business Model

The AT&T Universal card changed the credit card landscape in 1990. AT&T demonstrated it could both create a card business AND leverage distribution muscle as it attracted over 10M card holders in under 2 years. Citi acquired the AT&T Universal card for $3.5B+ in 1997 and it remains the largest affiliate card in Citibank’s portfolio.

As I wrote back in November, The US market is ripe for a break from the 6 party political “fur ball” that is hampering delivery of mobile payment (Card Issuers, Acquirers, Network, Merchant, MNOs, Handset Mfg). For those outside the US, MNOs have substantial control over handset features and applications, and have been leveraging this “node control” to “influence” direction of payments. The central US MNO argument being: “it is our customer, our handset, our network we should get a cut of the transaction rev”. Unfortunately existing inter-bank mobile transfers/ payments are settled through existing payment networks that provide limited flexibility in accommodating a “new” MNO role and the network rules leave much room for improvement in: authorization, authentication and consumer “control”. The Discover partnership would appear to offer NewCo the opportunity to define new rules, rates and incentives for consumers and merchants to participate.

The key to unlocking this new business model is not interchange, but creating a new market for mobile advertising, NewCo will be to mobile advertising what Google was to online. For example, rumors are NewCo is attempting to consolidate $1-5B+ in Madison Avenue marketing spend in first year (See consumer scenario here). The MNOs are brilliant! Their collaborative efforts here are a severe threat to both banks and established payment networks. Widespread adoption of NFC will revolutionize consumer payments and may result in the next boom cycle for silicone valley. Make no mistake, NewCo will be the leader of the next great ecosystem.

More tomorrow.

US Carriers Form New US Pre-Paid Venture

It seems as if AT&T has pulled together Verizon and Sprint to form a new venture to focus on pre-paid.

May 31

Previous Post http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/att-visa-prepaid/

Mobile Ad start ups… watch out… the big fish are coming …

It seems as if AT&T has pulled together Verizon and T-Mobile to form a new venture to focus on pre-paid. The large US Card Issuers are now aware (and quite suprised) of the move . It is doubtful that this new US entity (NewCo) will reach as far as Canada’s Enstream in mobile platform collaboration, but the focus of this initiative is mobile payment (NFC and P2P) and mobile advertising.

MNOs see a “Google like” future in mobile advertising, as they attempt to monetize their tremendous customer knowledge. For those that have ever purchased online advertising, we know that the biggest challenge in justifying spend is to move beyond “cost per click” to cost per customer acquisition or purchase. This Ad-Purchase disconnect is particularly true when purchase is made in the physical world. Mobile has the potential to bring together these two worlds, but a “key” is needed. MNOs and Banks see this “key” as a a common payment instrument available  to all customers. NewCo is therefore planning to control (issue or manage) a common pre-paid card which will serve as this transaction key and give MNOs the remaining tool necessary to coordinate focused mobile advertising.

Given that NewCo doesn’t yet have the CEO in place there is probably much left open (with respect to business plan and services). At a minimum I believe they will act as issuer, and create common services to address mobile advertising and payment.

Message for VCs and Start-Ups:

  • Assess risk of current path vs. supporting this new “collaborative” MNO ecosystem.
  • Investments “tied” to this new ecosystem will have different risk profile, particularly in navigating more complex environment.
  • Mobile advertising “pure plays” which do not touch financial transaction will be at a significant disadvantage. Ecosystems are forming based upon: Platform, Service (ie search), Network, Payment Instrument and bank.
  • Adapt.. A “dynamic” strategy which will keep your IP “in play” is necessary.
  • Winners will have the right talent that can navigate with the “big fish” and the right BOD that can help you evolve your strategy.
  • Think Global. Ecosystems will likely evolve differently globally, particularly in Asia.
  • Using financial information for advertising will touch privacy and regulatory issues. Regulated entities (Banks, MNOs, Payment Networks) are best positioned to deal with these. However, large MNOs and Banks have poor track records in “innovation” and moving collectively.

In short, it remains to be seen whether MNOs will be able to take on role as “orchestrator” of mobile advertising, or just a provider of location, reputation, authentication and transaction services.  How MNOs monetize these services will be driven as much by their ability to execute as investor expectations and competing models.