Issues : Retail

The Myth that Binds Banks to Their Payment Processors


payment-7-22-19.pngBanks are losing a heavyweight fight, one in which they did not know they were participating. Their opponent? The ever-growing giants of debit card processing in an ever-shrinking ring of industry consolidation.

Over the past few years, interchange income has surpassed all traditional types of deposit-based fee income, making it the number one source of deposit-based non-interest income. But in order to maximize that income, interchange network arrangements must be effectively managed and optimized. Executives must sift through misinformation to consider several critical issues when it comes to protecting interchange income.

Many bankers aren’t aware they can choose which vendors process their customers’ debit card transactions from the point-of-sale and believe they are forced into selecting the PIN-based debit card transaction network provided by their core or EFT processor. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Debit card transaction networks have varying negotiable switch fees, increasingly complex expense structures and several types of incentive offerings for transaction routing loyalty or priority. Most importantly, these vendors offer differing interchange income pay rates; some even support PIN-less routing, which negatively affects the interchange income bank card issuers can earn for certain transaction types. This means bankers must thoroughly evaluate their options to find a partner that can generate above-average interchange profit.

Oftentimes a bank’s core or electronic funds transfer (EFT) processor offers the least-competitive option when compared to other PIN networks. Since the Durbin Amendment awarded merchants the power of the card transaction network choice, EFT processors are negotiating with merchants to get as many transactions on their network as possible. The processors do this by offering lower PIN and PIN-less rates than their competitors.

Of course, if a merchant can divert less of the purchase amount in interchange with the bank, then they absolutely will. The merchant simply chooses the transaction-routing options that are less expensive to them, and pays less to the bank. In this type of situation—where it appears that banks have little control—what can a banker do?

One way for bankers to exert influence is by limiting network choices on their debit cards. Banks should limit the PIN networks available for routing their debit card transactions to a maximum of two. At the same time, banks must select the best two-network combination to force the merchants’ hands, providing the best rates possible. This tactic tips the power scales back toward the card issuers.

Some processors are creating networks to compete with Visa and Mastercard for routing dual-message, or signature transactions. These signature-routing networks, being rolled out by PIN network processors, will likely be structured to appeal to merchants in attempts to win as many transactions as possible. As one might guess, this will further pressure bank income.

Most recently, it’s also been observed that several networks setup for ATM-only routing by their participating issuers were gaining PIN point-of-sale transactions from merchants. They did this by allowing PIN-less routing and simply being present as a network option on the issuers’ debit card network arrangement. Both of these tactics create confusion for banks, and build a case for closely monitoring network performance.

Banks participating in their core or EFT processor’s PIN network should take a close look at how their PIN-based interchange income has performed over the past two to three years. They should compare their current PIN income rates to the rate averages in the FED Interchange Study, fully considering the historical trend being reviewed. This can be a great first step for banks to regain some control of their interchange income.