Random Thoughts: Settlement, NFC and CLO

My bet on retailer plans? Well they are not exactly a small group marching in unison, so response will likely differ by segment, ticket size, purchase type (ex non-discretionary gas) and influence.

16 July 2012

Retail settlement

As most of you have read a $7.25B settlement was reached with some US retailers (led by Kroger, Safeway, Payless, Rite-Aid). I’m not going into depth on the settlement but rather the likely response by retailers, and potential impact on Visa/MA earnings.  The big retailers have been assuming that this settlement would be reached and have been in the midst of a plan. What would you do if someone was taking 3% of your sales and your average profit margin was 2.4% (ref page Aii IMAP Study)?  Well the retailers have plans to leverage a portion of this $6B windfall and invest it in a payment network they can control. Perhaps they should turn around and buy Discover (DFS market cap $18B). This rumor has been in the market (perhaps a driver of 2012 performance).

The US has 2 other countries which serve as benchmarks for a shift away from credit card at POS: Canada (Interact – debit launched 1994) and Australia (EFTPOS). Unfortunately I have limited information on Visa/MA transactions in these geographies to generate a decent analysis of spend shift. From http://www.interac.ca/media/stats.php we see in Canada that roughly 80% of all retail card present transaction are done via Interact (2011 GDV was $182B). I’m not implying a 40% hit to Visa’s GDV is imminent (US is $507B out of global $956B GDV for quarter 31Mar12), particularly since there is no competing network like Ineract (YET). But there are certainly references for success.

I presented some of the Retail Drivers last week and also in my March post (Retailer Wallet). My bet on retailer plans? Well Retailers are not exactly a small group marching in unison, so response will likely differ by segment, ticket size, purchase type (ex non-discretionary gas) and influence.

Gas/Automotive

  • Credit card use fee in 2-4 months nationally

Grocery

  • Slower roll.. we will see marketing to inform customers of the costs of credit and plans to implement a fee for use of credit cards
  • We will also see tests of fees in isolated stores/geographies. Not only assessing customer issues, but also competitive responses.
  • Loyalty cards that will be integrated into a payment system
  • Loyalty cards that have integrated digital wallet (WalMart issued a Digital Coupon RFP over 18 months ago).
  • Incentives dependent on payment type
  • Push for PIN Debit.. as it allows the retailer to route away from Visa/MA directly to the bank.

Big Ticket Retail

  • No fee likely as they benefit from access to consumer credit
  • “Carrot Trials” of Rewards programs and targeted offers will be contingent on payment type
  • New loyalty cards

Apparel / Luxury

  • Least likely to implement a fee.. wait for other stores to establish customer behavior.

Travel/Entertainment

  • No fee likely…
  • Discounts for debit, particularly with airlines.
Visa/MA impact. Minimal through 2012, but could result in negative US transaction growth by 2014 unless networks are successful in delivering some sort of retailer friendly service.

NFC

I’m still just laughing at the mainstream press’ reaction to Apple iPhone 5 plans. Perhaps I should crying at the disinformation that mobile payments (at POS) are taking off. Everyone should ask: what kind of mobile payments?… Transit/ticketing is a slam dunk for NFC technology, yet NFC is having problems (witness London TFL’s decision to defer). Other mobile payments segments which are doing quite well: mCommerce with Amazon reporting around $2B, Digital goods with Zynga leading the category around $1.2B (investor relations).

But the mobile payments at the physical POS? This has not even started. (update.. Starbucks is clear leader here)

I don’t know how much more bluntly I can educate the NFC aficionados, but retailers have not gone gaga over mobile POS payments.. In fact I will state that Payment is not the killer app for NFC.. payment delivers NO VALUE to the Retailer.

For all of you looking at Apple’s patents and thinking they will eventually put NFC in… here is news for you: every one of the patent claims could be fulfilled by Bluetooth (replacing NFC). In order for NFC to take off, the carriers must let go of control (see my long blog here on MNOs walled garden strategy). There is nothing wrong with NFC technology, but unless the carriers are willing to front all investment for retailers, consumers, marketing , …  this will never take off. There is a value proposition problem (payments only) AND a control problem.  The US MNOs won’t even work with Google who has built everything for free.. free is not good enough for them….  They want control…

Card Linked Offers

I have new stories of just how bad the open rates are on these offers, but most revolve around a central problem. It goes something like this

1) Banks want to get consumers interested in offers. The consumer experience is TERRIBLE (no discount on the receipt) and banks are experimenting with 3 types of distribution. Integrated into online banking (Bank of America), e-mail, and secure messaging.

2) Retailers are not buying basket level discount advertising.. they never have. Retailers must pay for the offer (15% back), the revenue share (% of margin) AND the tax on the offer since it is technically treated as a retailer rebate. Total Retail cost for the offer is approaching 25%.

3) Given lack of retailer participation, Banks (and the offer companies) are thus forced to create offers themselves with no retailer participation (see my WalMart Story)

4) Banks do not want to let consumers go with “no offers” so all available inventory is distributed to “everyone”

5) The poor targeting (universal distribution) has a twofold effect: Consumers see garbage offers and start to tune out the channel, retailers see poor lift in performance as the offer redemption is done by existing customers that would have normally come to store

I could go on.. the exception to the rule of CLOs is Card Spring.. I like them quite a bit. Also Linkable just purchased the assets of Offermatic, which will enable them to link offers across card networks (using Yodlee)..

Ruminations: Durbin and Debit

Time for a blog with many questions and few answers. My natural perspective is that of a banker. Banks are created to act as trusted intermediaries of commerce, and I’m concerned when their ability to act on this charter changes. I want banks to win and to create products that satisfy the customer, build trust, and effectively serve in commerce.

Will Merchants loose sleep if debit goes away? Answer probably rests with what will take its place.

13 Aug 2010

Time for a blog with many questions and few answers. My natural perspective is that of a banker. Banks are created to act as trusted intermediaries of commerce, and I’m concerned when their ability to act on this charter changes. I want banks to win and to create products that satisfy the customer, build trust, and effectively serve in commerce.

A friend and I were discussing the impact of Durbin’s 2 tier debit structure (Excellent analysis by Mercator here) on the incentives for large banks to continue to issue debit. My perspective (as a banker) has been greatly altered from my time at 41st parameter working with the largest retailers in the world. I’ve developed a new view and a new appreciation for the pain felt by merchants. It would not be too extreme a statement to say that there is a deep hatred of the cards networks. The feeling is both visceral and reasoned. I remember when a senior executive from Wal*Mart came to Wachovia for a presentation and was asked what he thought were appropriate interchange rates for credit and debit. He said “0” dead pan.. then during the quiet of the audience, he said “actually we think we should be paid for accepting your cards” and emphasized that this was not a joke.  

Will Merchants loose sleep if debit goes away? Answer probably rests with what will take its place. The retail banks are very unorganized around payments. With few exceptions (Chase, WFC, USAA, ..) bank payment executives do not get the focus of their retail organizations.  In general, retail banks are challenged to relate payments to profitability (and hence the overall retail strategy). Debit was a clear exception to this challenge and a “killer product” for cash/check replacement.

The bank value proposition for debit was clear. However, what was the merchant value proposition? Certainly reduction in check fraud, funds availability… but at what costs? The federal reserve studied interchange rates in graph to the right. What exactly drove this step creep? How did it drive value? What were the economic forces that pushed back against it? What additional investments did Visa/MA make in their network?

Will banks develop a debit replacement? Clearly Durbin has reduced banks incentives to push debit (w/ assets over $10B). I project that the market is ripe for a merchant friendly payment method that is much different than the products available today. Instead of funding the card product on merchant interchange.. perhaps mobile advertising?

Can banks/cards regain the trust of merchants as intermediaries of retail commerce? Could the wholesale or merchant acquisition business which drives a new payment product (ie Amex Revolution Money)?

 Thoughts appreciated