Europe drops Visa antitrust probe after interchange agreement

Europe drops Visa antitrust probe after interchange agreement

The EC has abandoned antitrust charges against Visa Europe after reaching a settlement that will see multilateral interchange fees (MIFs) for debit card payments tumble.

In April 2009 the Commission accused Visa of violating antitrust rules over MIFs, which "restrict competition between banks for accepting consumer payment cards without benefiting consumers by contributing to technical and economic progress".

However, it has now closed the investigation after Visa Europe agreed legally binding commitments to cap fees at 0.2% of the value of transactions for debit card cross border transactions and to national debit payments in countries where MIFs are set directly by Visa Europe.

The EC says this represents a reduction of about 60% on average for domestic MIFs and 30% for cross-border fees.

The figure is designed to reflect the application of the "merchant-indifference methodology", which seeks to establish the MIF at a level at which merchants have no preference whether a payment is made with a Visa debit card or with cash.

Joaquín Almunia, Commission VP in charge of competition policy, says: "Lower inter-bank fees will trigger real benefits for merchants and consumers whilst more transparent rules will also improve competition in the cards markets."

Visa Europe President and Chief Executive Peter Ayliffe, CEO, Visa Europe, adds: "The agreed commitments on immediate debit interchange fees and methodology are an important step towards the achievement of Sepa, meeting the recent call from the European Central Bank for such guidance. It will provide much needed legal certainty to all stakeholders and provides a mechanism for a revision to the average 0.2% rate if further data becomes available on the costs of different means of payment, including cash."

Comments: (1)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 09 December, 2010, 10:17Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

This was inevitable politically given the similar agreement between the European Commission and MasterCard Europe in April 2009.

However, two things are noticeable. First, Visa has not (unlike MasterCard) agreed to change its rules on surcharging. Second, there are no details in the announcement of the so-called "merchant indifference test" studies performed by the central banks of a number of EEA countries. Which countries were covered? What were the studies' methodologies, assumptions and retailer samples? And what were the results, given that all previous studies have shown that cash is less-costly for retailers, especially for low-value transactions?