Decoupled Debit

Retail Payments over the next 20 years are likely to morph substantially from their current issuer/network dominance. In addition to regulatory changes, new technologies and new value networks are creating a new competitive dynamic which will bring more than $5-10B in capital investment into the payments within the next 2-3 years.

8 November 2010

Winston Churchill may have been referring to Payment systems in the US when he said:

It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

The macro economic impacts of the recent US card legislation portend substantial business change for Visa and Mastercard. The US debit card market is soon to resemble Australia and Canada with other countries soon to follow (See China and India). Retail Payments over the next 20 years are likely to morph substantially from their current issuer/network dominance. In addition to regulatory changes, new technologies and new value networks are creating a new competitive dynamic which will bring more than $5-10B in capital investment into the payments within the next 2-3 years.

My wife’s visit to Target this week prompted a revisit to the decoupled debit space. Target’s value proposition: hand me your check and sign a release form, you will then receive a RedCard linked to your checking account and good for 5% off all future purchases. Will we see more of this type of value proposition (which Durbin enables through its steering provision)?

From TSYS

Decoupled debit is interesting for several reasons:

  1. The issuer is not required to be a bank in order to offer an account and issue a card
  2. The products can exist as private label products or co-branded products
  3. The products can potentially build significant loyalty
  4. The products reduce costs when delivered and managed correctly
  5. The products leverage the existing payments infrastructure and standards

Retail Business Case

Retailers have a different mindset when it comes to alternative or decoupled products because they are stakeholders in the product, not just the transaction. They look at the product as a way to help them:

  • Reduce cost of payments
  • Build loyalty
  • Offer merchant-designed promotions
  • Drive more store sales
  • Segment and target customer groups
  • Leverage ‘spend information’

For those outside the US I recommend reading:

Debit Card in Peril?

The biggest story of the week has largely gone unreported. Bank of America (BAC) has taken a $10.3B goodwill impairment charge in 3Q. What does this mean for Visa? Not Good News.

27 October 2010

The biggest story of the week has largely gone unreported. Bank of America (BAC) has taken a $10.3B goodwill impairment charge in 3Q.

The Merchant Payments Coalition responded to the impairment charge (reference above)

“With a Federal Reserve decision on debit interchange rates not expected until mid-2011, today’s claims by Bank of America dramatically overstate reality and represent a feeble attempt to divert attention from its mortgage foreclosure problems,” said Doug Kantor, counsel to the Merchants Payments Coalition.

In the 8-K, Bank of America said it plans to take (ref The Street)

 “a number of actions that would mitigate some of the impact when the laws and regulations become effective,” but it didn’t provide details about what those actions might be.

Will write more later, but I can assure you BAC is looking for debit alternatives. Given their size, most anticipate a new product driven from both their retail and global card team (including merchant services). So in addition to AT&T/Discover, we will now have another major bank led team developing a new payment product with a multi billion dollar incentive.

What does this mean for MA and Visa? Not good news for US growth.

Related Article

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