Retailers bankers fight for debit card swipe fees
Consumers, job hunters not likely to benefit from Fed proposals
Retailers and financial institutions are fighting in Washington, D.C., over debit card swipe fees, but the end result might not translate into consumer savings or job growth, experts say.
Deborah Davenport, of Stamford-based Cromwell Associates LLC, said the Federal Reserve is working out plans to roll out the Durbin Amendment, passed last year, which aims to cap fees on debit card purchases.
The Fed proposed in December to limit the fees to 12 cents.
Davenport, a consultant to the retail sector, provides guidance on how to cut costs on credit and debit card transactions for retailers with more than $1 billion in sales.
"Durbin is rewinding the calendar to where the fees stood 13 years ago," Davenport said.
When a person uses a card for a purchase, it sets off a transaction that results in the financial institutions involved taking a piece of the sale price from the retailer, she said. For example, Davenport said one company she reviewed last year had $143 million in debit card sales last year, almost $1.4 million of which went to the banks. Under the 12 cent proposal, the fees would be reduced to $276,000.
The savings for retailers probably won't benefit consumers, Davenport said. The merchant will keep more of the sale and there's the possibility consumers will face other banking fees.
"This is a game of whack-a-mole," she said. "You whack one fee and another pops up."
There's another concern in the banking community about the proposed so-called interchange cap. Banks with less than $10 billion will not be subject to it. Those banks could theoretically take a higher fee from retailers.
Peter Garuccio, an American Bankers Association spokesman, said his organization would expect retailers to encourage people to use the debit cards from the larger banks over the smaller ones, which would have a negative impact on community banks.
The Dodd-Frank Act enacted in July requires the Fed to establish the cap on so-called interchange fees charged to merchants. The central bank's proposal set off a lobbying battle between retailers who favor the rule and lenders who stand to lose more than $12 billion in annual revenue if the proposal, as written, becomes final.
"It should be stopped," Garuccio said of the Durbin Amendment proposal, named after Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who drafted the provision.
Ward Thrasher, University of Bridgeport School of Business assistant dean and director of the MBA program, said in this economy, it's unlikely the savings would translate into job creation and business expansion.
"Most companies that are carrying debt are going to look at restructuring debt if they get more free cash flow," he said.