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Thursday, 28 May 2020

FCA To Issue Extra Guidance To E-money and Payments Firms On Safeguarding Customer Funds

The Financial Conduct Authority has issued a consultation on its proposed further guidance to firms issuing electronic money and other payment services on how they should avoid their customers' funds being taken by creditors if the firm goes under. Comments are required by 5 June 2020, and the final guidance will be sent to firms' chief executives by the end of June. 

The FCA asks four specific questions:
  • ‘Do you agree that we should provide additional guidance on safeguarding, managing prudential risk, and wind-down plans? If not, please explain why.’
  • ‘Do you agree with our proposed guidance on safeguarding? If not, please explain why.’
  • ‘Do you agree with our proposed guidance on managing prudential risk? If not, please explain why.’
  • ‘Do you agree with our proposed guidance on wind-down plans? If not, please explain why.’
Please let me know if you would like help understanding or responding to the guidance.

Monday, 25 May 2020

The End Of Unilateral Change In Contracts For Payment Services?

This is the final post about some awkward PSD2 issues that were recently referred to the European Court of Justice. The initial post sets out the facts and the four issues referred to the ECJ. The second post addresses the Avocate General's opinion that the contactless feature of a credit or debit card is a separate payment instrument in its own right. The third examines the AG's view that making contactless payments with a debit or credit payment card means the cardholder is using the card "anonymously". The fourth explores whether a card issuer can agree with the cardholder that it is not technically feasible to block the card or prevent further use of the payment instrument if it is lost, stolen etc., even when it is possible to block it.

This post examines the view of the AG (and the Austrian court) that a payment service provider can only rely on the regulation allowing automatic changes to its contracts for "non-essential changes", citing German court rulings that such acceptance "cannot extend to substantial contractual changes."

Why is this important?

This is a huge issue for the payments industry, because it is very expensive in time and resources to re-issue contracts to large numbers of customers, many of whom will simply not bother to open and/or reply without significant prompting. Enabling changes to be made on notice, with a right to terminate if the changes aren't accepted, means that customers can choose to ignore the correspondence yet continue to receive the payment services. Preventing it means services will cease unless customers open, read and say they accept.

These practicalities are recognised in the recitals to PSD2:
(57) In practice, framework contracts and the payment transactions covered by them are far more common and economically significant than single payment transactions. If there is a payment account or a specific payment instrument, a framework contract is required.
(60) The way in which the required information is to be given by the payment service provider to the payment service user should take into account the needs of the latter as well as practical technical aspects and cost-efficiency depending on the situation with regard to the agreement in the respective payment service contract.
(63) In order to ensure a high level of consumer protection, Member States should, in the interests of the consumer, be able to maintain or introduce restrictions or prohibitions on unilateral changes in the conditions of a framework contract, for instance if there is no justified reason for such a change.
This last recital is important, because national contract laws do generally offer consumers protection from the abuse of unilateral change arrangements, as discussed below. The point here is whether PSD2 allows such arrangements to be agreed for all changes to payment services contracts, or just "non-essential changes." 

What does PSD2 allow?

The relevant provisions of PSD2 are as follows:
‘framework contract’ means a payment service contract which governs the future execution of individual and successive payment transactions and which may contain the obligation and conditions for setting up a payment account;
Article 51 Prior general information
1. Member States shall require that, in good time before the payment service user is bound by any framework contract or offer, the payment service provider provide the payment service user on paper or on another durable medium with the information and conditions specified in Article 52...
2. If the framework contract has been concluded at the request of the payment service user using a means of distance communication which does not enable the payment service provider to comply with paragraph 1, the payment service provider shall fulfil its obligations under that paragraph immediately after conclusion of the framework contract.
3. The obligations under paragraph 1 may also be discharged by providing a copy of the draft framework contract including the information and conditions specified in Article 52.
Article 52 Information and conditions
Member States shall ensure that the following information and conditions are provided to the payment service user:...6. on changes to, and termination of, the framework contract:
(a) if agreed, information that the payment service user will be deemed to have accepted changes in the conditions in accordance with Article 54, unless the payment service user notifies the payment service provider before the date of their proposed date of entry into force that they are not accepted;... 
(c) the right of the payment service user to terminate the framework contract and any agreements relating to termination in accordance with Article 54(1) ...
Article 54 Changes in conditions of the framework contract
1. Any changes in the framework contract or in the information and conditions specified in Article 52 shall be proposed by the payment service provider in the same way as provided for in Article 51(1) and no later than 2 months before their proposed date of application. The payment service user can either accept or reject the changes before the date of their proposed date of entry into force.
Where applicable in accordance with point (6)(a) of Article 52, the payment service provider shall inform the payment service user that it is to be deemed to have accepted those changes if it does not notify the payment service provider before the proposed date of their entry into force that they are not accepted. The payment service provider shall also inform the payment service user that, in the event that the payment service user rejects those changes, the payment service user has the right to terminate the framework contract free of charge and with effect at any time until the date when the changes would have applied.
2. Changes in the interest or exchange rates may be applied immediately and without notice, provided that such a right is agreed upon in the framework contract and that the changes in the interest or exchange rates are based on the reference interest or exchange rates agreed on in accordance with point (3)(b) and (c) of Article 52...
The first point to note is that it is mandatory to enable payment service provicers and customers to agree a unilateral change process: "Member States shall ensure... if agreed... in accordance with Article 54... Any changes...specified in Article 52 shall be proposed...".

Secondly, there is no distinction made for the type of changes to the framework contract that can be covered by the unilateral change process, except to say that changes in interest or exchange rates based on agreed reference may be applied immediately and without notice, if that is also agreed.

Consumer Protection

This is not to say that consumers are not protected against the abuse of a unilateral change arrangement - it's just that those protections are not stated in PSD2 as conditions attaching to its use. 

The need for the unilateral change arrangement to be "agreed" provides the necessary hook for local law "restrictions or prohibitions" of the kind contemplated by recital 63, namely "in the interests of the consumer... for instance if there is no justified reason for such a change.

But I would submit such restrictions or prohibitions cannot distinguish between types of change, even if, for example, they require a "justified reason" for every type of change.

Under English law, for example, independently of the unilateral change arrangements in the Payment Services Regulations 2017, the parties to a contract can agree that one party has the right to unilaterally vary it, but some constraints apply to how that right is exercised. For instance:
  • any clause in a business-to-business contract that is subject to the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 (UCTA) which allows a party to perform in a way that is substantially different to what was reasonably expected will be void unless it passes the test of reasonableness; 
  • various terms giving traders the unilateral right to change the terms of a contract, the characteristics of the products supplied or the price payable under the contract are grey-listed in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 under suspicion of being unfair, with an exception for financial services contracts (particularly those for an indefinite duration) that reflects the type of mechanism specified in PSD2 (paragraphs 21-23 of Schedule 2); 
  • the courts may imply a term that such a right must not be exercised capriciously, arbitrarily or for an improper purpose (Nash v Paragon Finance), except in the case of a decision whether to exercise an absolute contract right (The Product Star (2)).
In Ireland, the unilateral change arrangement in PSD2 is included in the European Union (Payment Services) Regulations 2018. In addition, the European Communities (Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts) Regulations, 1995 allows terms under which a seller or supplier reserves the right to alter unilaterally the conditions of a contract of indeterminate duration, provided that he is required to inform the consumer with reasonable notice and that the consumer is free to dissolve the contract.

In the case at hand, my view is that the unilateral change clause is not of itself unfair or unreasonable etc., but the clauses that wrongly claim the bank is unable to prove a payment was authorised or is technically unable to block contactless use might be impeached (whether under UCTA, or on grounds of mistake etc as explained in previous posts). 

What is a non-essential change?

At any rate, even if the relevant provisions in PSD2 were to support the restriction of unilateral change arrangements to "non-essential changes" (which they do not, as explained above) that would beg the question what a "non-essential change" might be and, if it is non-essential, why the service provider would bother with the change at all. 

The risk of uncertainty on this point is that service providers will err on the side of caution, thereby increasing cost and inconvenience to consumers with the risk that their payment services will cease for lack of agreement to contract changes that consumers view as mundane, possibly without them having any ready alternative.

Indeed, an essential change (to comply with a change in the law, improved security etc) might be very much in the consumer's interest, particularly where necessary to efficiently ensure the continued use of the service, while minimising the associated cost and inefficiency (as per recital 60). It would seem harsh and disproportionate to deprive them of that benefit for merely failing to read their correspondence and signify acceptance that could otherwise have been rightly taken for granted (with the right to terminate if not).


Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Can A Bank Make You Agree That Your Card Cannot Be Blocked When It Actually Can Be Blocked?

This is the fifty seventh fourth post in a series about some awkward issues under PSD2 that were recently referred to the European Court of Justice. The initial post sets out the facts and the four issues referred to the ECJ. The second post addresses the Avocate General's opinion that the contactless feature of a credit or debit card is a separate payment instrument in its own right. The third examines the AG's view that making contactless payments with a debit or credit payment card means the cardholder is using the card "anonymously". In this post, I explore whether a card issuer can agree with the cardholder that it is not technically feasible to block the card or prevent further use of the payment instrument if it is lost, stolen etc., even when it is possible to block it. Again, the two prior judgments in the Austrian courts effectively found that the bank cannot validly get customers to agree to something that is factually wrong. In this instance the AG appears to agree (and that it is possible to block contactless use).

This issue is important because payment service providers could escape certain liability if contactless functionality is treated separately as a "payment instrument which, according to the framework contract, solely concerns individual payment transactions not exceeding EUR 30... if the payment instrument does not allow its blocking or prevention of its further use."

In this case, the bank stated in its card terms (the "framework contract") that "it is technically impossible for the debit card to be blocked when used for low-value transactions" and, if lost etc. "it shall still be open to use for low value payments not requiring a PIN up to a value of EUR 75, even after a block has been placed on the card [for higher value transactions]..."  so "payments may not exceed EUR 25 per individual transaction and the debit card cannot be blocked for low-value payments made without entering a PIN..."

On this point, the AG noted that even the bank admitted at trial that it can could block a multifunctional payment card; and evidence was accepted that "almost all Austrian banks" provide in their terms that "after a blocking notification, the card's [contactless] functionality is required to be and is... blocked." This would be a reference to the card number being blacklisted (on a MATCH list), or placed in a hotlist or blocklist for a specific merchant, as well as the industry and regulatory contactless security protocols explained in the second post on this case. This in turn implies that blocking the contactless functionality is done within the scope of blocking the card itself and this prevents further use. Accordingly, the bank's terms in this case are simply wrong in stating that "it is technically impossible" to block the contactless payments, and the requirements for the exclusion are not satisfied.

Of course, under English law, these facts would also raise issues under the law of mistake, which can affect the formation, existence and enforceability of the contract.

In my view, the AG's acceptance of the facts and reasoning on this point also runs contrary to the notion that the contactless functionality could be a separate payment instrument in its own right, since the blocking procedures for the card encompass the contactless functionality. 

In addition, even if the contactless functionality were construed as a payment instrument in is own right, as the AG suggests, the bank would still fail because, according to the bank's framework contract, the payment instrument does not "solely concern individual payment transactions not exceeding EUR 30." The contract is clear that the cards can be used for higher value payments requiring the entry of a PIN, and the clauses relevant to low-value transactions use language such as "when the debit card is used to make low-value payments without entering a PIN" and "any risk of misuse of the payment card for low-value payments not requiring a PIN" and "the debit card cannot be blocked for low value payments made without entering a PIN." 

Indeed, it would also be true to say that the contactless use of the card can be blocked by virtue of the cardholder being unable to enter the PIN when challenged.

Note, too, that the legal requirement for the liability exclusion to apply is that the payment instrument does not allow its blocking or prevention of its further use. Therefore it does not matter that one or more unauthorised payment transactions might go through before the card is reported missing or a thief fails to enter the PIN when challenged. 

In the final post, I will address the Advocate General's view that the unilateral change mechanism for amending payment services 'framework' contracts cannot be applied to "the essential elements" of the contract, such as those used to add contactless functionality to a payment card (i.e. another payment instrument). This would introduce huge practical challenges - and costs - for all payment service providers seeking to update their contracts to introduce new products and features, as well as aggravation for their customers.


Sunday, 17 May 2020

Are Contactless Card Payments "Anonymous"?

This is the third post in a series about some awkward issues under PSD2 that were recently referred to the European Court of Justice. The initial post sets out the four issues referred and the facts. The second post addresses the Avocate General's opinion that the contactless feature of a credit or debit card is a separate payment instrument in its own right. Here, I comment on the AG's view that making contactless payments with a debit or credit payment card means the cardholder is using the card "anonymously". Again, this is contrary to two previous judgments in the Austrian courts. 

This matters, because PSD2 would apply differently to contactless payments if they were carried out using a separate payment instrument, rather than as just another card payment. In addition, payment service providers could escape certain liability for anonymous transactions (which the bank in this case sought to do) and contactless payments would (strangely) not be subject to the obligation of strong customer authentication in the relevant PSD2 regulatory technical standard. Specifically, the bank could escape the liability if contactless functionality is treated separately as a "payment instrument which, according to the framework contract, solely concerns individual payment transactions not exceeding EUR 30... if the payment instrument is used anonymously or [the bank] is not in a position for other reasons which are intrinsic to the payment instrument to prove that a payment transaction was authorised.

In this case, the bank stated in its card terms (the "framework contract") that it "shall not have to prove" and it "is unable to prove" that low value transactions were authorised and not defective.

The Austrian regional appeal court held that the contactless functionality on a multifunctional payment card just creates a separate processing category, like mail-order telephone order (MOTO), but for low-value purchases; and the contactless functionality is personalised by virtue of being protected by the need for a PIN to be entered from time to time. 

The Advocate General considers that contactless payments using the contactless functionality on a debit or credit card are "depersonalised" and "anonymous" because the communication between the contactless functionality and the terminal "is sufficient to validate the transaction, irrespective of who is in possession of the card at the time, and dispenses with the need for the cardholder to enter his PIN or provide a handwritten signature." 

There are numerous problems with this view.  

The AG cites analysis from the European Central Bank and the Euro Retail Payments Board. But I do not read anything in either report on the development of contactless acceptance, and the ability to have separate contact and contactless devices/procedures to support the conclusion either that where the same card can operate in both modes they are separate, or that the contactless mode is depersonalised or anonymous. 

A payment card might be used by a third party (with or without authorisation) in either contact mode or contactless mode. Payment cards were notorious for high rates of fraud long before the introduction of contactless functionality. That in itself explains the industry's decision to introduce the Chip-and-PIN security measure over a decade before the statutory requirement for strong customer authentication in the relevant PSD2 regulatory technical standard. Indeed the report from the Euro Retail Payments Board referred to by the AG explains that adoption rates were still quite low even by 2015, and the ability for Chip-and-PIN cards to be used contactlessly was a key driver to improve adoption rates of Chip-and-PIN cards by making it quicker and more convenient to use them for lower value transactions, subject to the industry requirement to enter the PIN from time to time as a guard against unauthorised use. The contactless functionality merely creates the potential for choices to be made about whether and when the user must enter the PIN related to the card. The fraudster takes the risk of being detected if he does not have the PIN.

It is therefore odd to say that contactless functionality added to a card to improve its utility is somehow independent of the card, and that the requirement to be able, if and when challenged, to enter the Personal Identification Number set by the cardholder (who must keep it secret) somehow renders the contactless use of the card "depersonalised" and "anonymous". Card issuers must also carry out "customer due diligence" on their cardholders, including identify verification and transaction monitoring.

The entry of the PIN and the lack of a report by the cardholder that the card has been stolen should also make it probable that the cardholder made the contactless transactions since the previous entry of the PIN. This means that the requirement to enter the PIN from time to time is also an important factor in determining the validity of contactless transactions, not to mention the customer identity verification and monitoring obligations that sit behind the issuance of the card/account and PIN. 

The AG also relied on the fact that the bank in this case delivered the cards with the contactless functionality automatically enabled so that cardholders might be unaware the functionality existed. Ironically, I would regard this as confirmation that the contactless functionality does not constitute a distinct payment instrument (let alone an anonymous one), and that this is a good basis for saying the bank could not then pretend that the feature was at all distinct. It is clear that, for practical purposes, the bank saw the contactless functionality as an inherent property of the card itself, not distinct.

Furthermore, it is a legal requirement under the regulatory technical standard that requires strong customer authentication (SCA) for cards used for remote or electronic payment transactions that the security credentials for the card (which do not vary for contact or contactless use) must be applied, unless the issuer of the payment instrument/account to which the security credentials relate applies any of the following exemptions:
    Low-value transactions: up to €30 per transaction (limit of five separate transactions or €100);
    Recurring transactions: e.g. subscriptions for the same amount and payee (SCA applied to the first transaction);
    Whitelisted: payers can add payees to a whitelist of trusted beneficiaries with the issuer, but payees can't request this;
    Corporate payment processes: dedicated process for non-consumers, approved by the regulator (member states may exclude micro-enterprises as consumers);
    Contactless: up to €50 (limit of five separate transactions or €150 without an SCA check);
    Unattended terminals: only for paying transport fares or parking fees;
    Low-risk of fraud: as determined by the issuer, depending on its average fraud levels for the relevant acquirer (not by merchant/channel), with different limit for cards and credit transfers.
Importantly, the European Banking Authority has said that the limit of five transactions needs to be calculated not on the basis of all transactions where the exemption could have been applied, but on the basis of transactions where the particular exemption was applied. This reflects the fact that certain scenarios may trigger the application of more than one exemption. So the use of the card to pay £2.50 at an unattended parking machine should not count towards your five contactless or low-value transactions.

Therefore, the regulatory SCA requirement introduces a significant regulatory challenge to the 'anonymous' use of a card's contactless functionality. It merely dictates that an issuer may allow the use of the card without the security credentials in seven scenarios, the contactless scenario being merely one. 
It would make no sense to consider the SCA requirements in the context of the contactless feature on its own, and it is worth noting that the Advocate General does not contend that the use of a payment card in each of the other scenarios benefiting from an exemption from SCA also constitutes a separate "payment instrument" in its own right.

It would also be wrong, however, to conclude (as the Advocate General has) that contactless payments would not themselves "not subject to the obligation of strong customer authentication". The regulatory SCA standard requires that the customer's contactless use must be challenged by the requirement to provide her security credentials, either every fifth time she uses it or when a total transaction value of €150 is reached. This will result in the attempted contactless use being prevented, and an invitation to insert the card in the relevant terminal into which the credentials can be entered.

My next post will address the Advocate General's view on the third issue raised in proceedings - in effect that it is not technically feasible for an issuer to block the contactless use of a payment card or prevent further use of the payment instrument if it is lost, stolen, misappropriated or used without authorisation. 



Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Is The Contactless Payment Function In a Payment Card a Separate Payment Instrument?

This is the second in a series of posts about a case referred to the European Court of Justice that raises some awkward issues under PSD2. The initial post sets out the four issues on which the Advocate General has expressed his opinion, and the facts in the case. This post addresses the AG's opinion on the first question, namely that the contactless feature of a credit or debit card is a separate payment instrument in its own right, contrary to two previous judgments in the Austrian courts.

This matters, because PSD2 would apply differently to contactless payments if they were carried out using a separate payment instrument, rather than as just another card payment. 

Let me know if I can help you with any of these issues.

What is a payment instrument?

A "payment instrument" is defined in PSD2 as:
"any personalised device and/or set of procedures agreed between the payment service users and the payment service provider and used in order to initiate a payment order".
The Advocate General cites extensive debate on whether or not the word "personalised" applies to both "device" and "set of procedures", since EU countries are split in how they have transposed the definition in their national laws implementing PSD2. One group of member states (France, Spain etc) did not apply "personalised" to "set of procedures". The Germans applied "personalised" expressly to both "device" and "set of procedures" and the rest (the Netherlands, UK etc) copied the definition as set out in the directive, leaving the issue open. In any event, the Advocate General has said that "it must be agreed that the definition... allows for personalised and depersonalised or anonymous varieties" of payment instruments, citing the ECJ's judgment in the T-Mobile Austria case that payment instruments may be either:
  • personalised, which is to say that they allow the payment service provider to verify that the payment order was initiated by a user authorised to do so; or
  • anonymous or non-personalised, in which case the payment service providers are not required to prove that the transaction in question was authenticated.
My own view is that T-Mobile Austria is correct (though it's important not to get too caught up in the difference between "anonymous" and "non-personalised"). Indeed, this interpretation allows for 'virtual cards' where no physical plastic is created yet they are still personalised, while the French/Spanish interpetation could mean virtual cards are not payment instruments in those countries!

But in my view this distinction should be irrelevant in the present case, since the contactless use of an NFC-enabled payment card is neither "anonymous" nor "non-personalised", as I'll explain in my next post on the second issue being referred to the ECJ. However, the Advocate General clearly relies quite heavily on the scope for non-personalised payment instruments in his view that the contactless feature is a payment instrument in its own right.

Is NFC functionality of a payment card a separate payment instrument? 

It seems unnecessary to get into all of the technical detail of how near-field communication (NFC) or the other technology enables the use of a payment card to be used 'contactlessly' by waving it near a terminal to initiate the relevant payment transactions, rather than swiping the card or inserting it into the terminal and entering a personal identification number (PIN). The AG's opinion refers to technological "formats based mainly on ISO 14443", but it should be noted that the industry actually develops NFC solutions to the EMV specification that began with contact-based Chip and PIN (under ISO/IEC 7816 for contact cards) and contactless functionality [note, you must agree EMVCo's terms to access the spec]. I think that's an important sign-post to the many stakeholders and systems potentially impacted by the case in point.

The first Austrian court held that the contactless feature was not to be viewed as a distinct low-value payment instrument, because the same card could be used to make other payments. The regional appeal court held that the contactless functionality just creates a separate processing category, like mail-order telephone order (MOTO), but for low-value purchases; and it is personalised by virtue of being protected by the need for a PIN to be entered from time to time.

However, the Advocate General has said that a 'multifunctional' payment card features two different payment instruments:
  • a personalised device which requires the use of one or two security elements (strong authentication) and is reserved for payments from a certain value
  • a set of procedures for making low-value payments without using those security elements, via NFC functionality.
In reality the NFC feature cannot be used independently of the card it resides upon - the user has to wave the card near an NFC-enabled terminal. In addition, the NFC feature is technically configured under the industry (non-regulatory) standards so that the security credentials (PIN) must be entered from time to time. Therefore, the highlighted language shows the card and the NFC feature must constitute the same payment instrument, with the NFC feature merely creating the potential for choices to be made about whether and when the user must enter the security credentials related to the card.

Furthermore, it is a legal requirement under the regulatory technical standard that requires strong customer authentication (SCA) that the security credentials must be applied, unless the issuer of the payment instrument/account to which the security credentials relate applies any of the following exemptions:
    Low-value transactions: up to €30 per transaction (limit of five separate transactions or €100);
    Recurring transactions: e.g. subscriptions for the same amount and payee (SCA applied to the first transaction);
    Whitelisted: payers can add payees to a whitelist of trusted beneficiaries with the issuer, but payees can't request this;
    Corporate payment processes: dedicated process for non-consumers, approved by the regulator (member states may exclude micro-enterprises as consumers);
    Contactless: up to €50 (limit of five separate transactions or €150 without an SCA check);
    Unattended terminals: only for paying transport fares or parking fees;
    Low-risk of fraud: as determined by the issuer, depending on its average fraud levels for the relevant acquirer (not by merchant/channel), with different limit for cards and credit transfers.
Importantly, the European Banking Authority has said that the limit of five transactions needs to be calculated not on the basis of all transactions where the exemption could have been applied, but on the basis of transactions where the particular exemption was applied. This reflects the fact that certain scenarios may trigger the application of more than one exemption. So the use of the card to pay £2.50 at an unattended parking machine should not count towards your five contactless or low-value transactions.

Therefore, the regulatory SCA requirement cannot be seen as determinative of what amounts to a payment instrument. It merely dictates that an issuer may allow the use of the card without those credentials in seven scenarios, the contactless scenario being one.

It is worth noting that the Advocate General does not contend that the use of a payment card in each of the other scenarios benefiting from an exemption from SCA also constitutes a "payment instrument" in its own right.

In any case, there is only one set of credentials issued per card (it's hard enough for consumers to remember one PIN etc per card, let alone multiple PINs for different uses of the card!). Neither the industry EMV standard nor the regulatory SCA standard dictates distinct security credentials for different uses of the card.

It is also wrong, therefore, to conclude (as the Advocate General has) that contactless payments are themselves "not subject to the obligation of strong cusotmer authentication". The regulatory SCA standard requires that the customer must be challenged to provide her security credentials either every fifth time she uses it or when a total transaction value of €150 is reached. This will result in the attempted contactless use being prevented, and an invitation to insert the card in the relevant terminal into which the credentials can be entered.

The Advocate General also believes that making the contactless feature a distinct payment instrument is also justified by the need for users of NFC-enabled cards to receive "enhanced protection" and to promote fair and transparent competition between the issuers of such cards. However, PSD2 already addresses these points insofar as any payment service provider who fails to apply SCA (unless the issuer has applied an exemption) will be liable for any resulting unauthorised transaction, and could face enforcement action (now delayed to 14 September 2021))

The Portuguese and Czech governments also made submissions in the latest appeal to the effect that the contactless feature of a payment card is not a distinct payment instrument ("any personalised device and/or set of procedures agreed between the payment service users and the payment service provider and used in order to initiate a payment order"). The Portuguese pointed out that not even cards themselves are mentioned in the definiton of payment instrument, yet are specifically mentioned elsewhere in PSD2 as ways of initiating payment transactions. The Czechs said the contactless functionality is merely one of the ways the card can be used.

I would go further by focusing on the fact that contactless use of a payment card does not alter the effect of using the card to "initate a payment order". Recital 68 of PSD2 explains:
The use of a card or card-based payment instrument for making a payment often triggers the generation of a message confirming availability of funds and two resulting payment transactions. The first transaction takes place between the issuer and the merchant’s account servicing payment service provider, while the second, usually a direct debit, takes place between the payer’s account servicing payment service provider and the issuer. Both transactions should be treated in the same way as any other equivalent transactions.
It is clear from the balance of the Recital 68 that if the same payment transactions flow from the use of the card with or without the security credentials, then they are to be treated the same (subject to the 'liability shift' and potential enforcement action related to any failure to use the credentials where the issuer requires). Indeed, this is also consistent with the need for 'technological neutrality', which the Advocate General has ironically said somehow requires the separate treatment of the contactless feature. The fact that a debit card and credit card can also reside on the same multi-functional card does not alter the fact that the card itself is still the single payment instrument in each use-case, with the one set of security credentials.

Nothing turns on the use of both the terms "card" and "card-based payment instrument". These are used interchangeably in the recitals to PSD2. In the main text of PSD2, the term "card-based" is generally used to refer to any payment instrument/transaction involving a payment card. The only exception is that the expression "execution of payment transactions through a payment card or a similar device" is included among the activities that constitute the "Execution of a payment transaction" which is are two types of regulated "payment service" (depending on whether credit is also involved).  So, if the Adocate General were correct in holding that the contactless element of a payment card constitutes a separate payment instrument distinct from the card, then it would follow that executing the related payment transactions is not a regulated activity because they are not executed "through a payment card"...

In the next post, I will address the Advocate General's view that making low-value contactless payments with a multifunctional card means the cardholder is using the card "anonymously" (which would mean contactless payments are not subject to the obligation of strong customer authentication in the relevant PSD2 regulatory technical standard mentioned above.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Red Alert: European Court Is Told That The Contactless Feature of a Payment Card is a Separate Payment Instrument!

Fans of the adage "A hard case makes bad law" will wince as the regulatory and contractual treatment for contactless credit cards and debit cards is at risk owing to the misadventures of a single Austrian bank. I would hope that the industry is alive to the problem and is finding a way to improve the bank's arguments and save the day. Let me know if I can help!

Briefly stated, a series of questions has been referred by the Austrian Supreme Court to the European Court of Justice and, alarmingly, the Advocate General has given his opinion to the effect that:
  1. The contactless feature of a credit or debit card is a separate payment instrument in its own right.
  2. Making low-value contactless payments with a multi-functional card means the cardholder is using the card "anonymously" (and this means contactless payments are not subject to the obligation of strong customer authentication in the relevant PSD2 regulatory technical standard).
  3. The issuer of the contactless feature can only use the low-value exclusions from liability for unauthorised transactions in PSD2 if the issuer can show that it is not technically feasible to block the card or prevent further use of the payment instrument if it is lost, stolen, misappropriated or used without authorisation.
  4. The unilateral change mechanism for amending payment services 'framework' contracts cannot be applied to "the essential elements" of the contract, such as those used to add contactless functionality to a payment card (i.e. another payment instrument).
I have briefly set out the facts of the case below, and will post my thoughts on each of these issues in turn over the coming days, but in summary I do not see how the first two points could be right, for reasons I will explain.

The third issue is a question of fact. In this particluarly case the issuer appears to have created a problem for itself by inserting factually inaccurate provisions in its card terms, so that "according to the framework contract" it was not technically feasible to block contactless use, even though it really is possible to decline the transactions on a stolen card.

The fourth is a really awkward twist in the tale, since it introduces huge practical challenges - and costs - for all payment service providers seeking to update their contracts to introduce new products and features, as well as aggravation for their customers.


The Facts

When it began issuing cards with NFC/contactless functionality, the bank in this case decided to also amend its payment card terms to avoid liability for unauthorised payments when the cards were used in contactless mode (i.e. using 'near-field communication' or NFC functionality).

The bank's new terms said the bank (a) did not "have to prove" that a contactless payment was authorised; (b) it was unable to do so; and (c) that it was "technically impossible" for the card to be blocked when used for low-value transactions, even if blocked for other types of transactions. On this basis the bank concluded that it was not liable for any unauthorised low-value contactless payments.

Like all payment service providers, to introduce these changes to its terms the bank relied on the 'unilateral change' mechanism under PSD2, so that customers would be deemed to have accepted the changes unless they notified the bank within two months that changes were not accepted, and terminated the contract.

Whether the bank could do this depended on whether the use of the contactless feature was itself a "payment instrument" independent of the use of the card in, say, Chip-and-PIN mode, mail-order/telephone order (MOTO) or indeed online. 

Two Austrian courts held that the contactless mode is not a payment instrument in its own right, so the bank can't escape liability in this way. So far, so good, because many card issuers would otherwise need to review their terms to figure out if they had properly addressed the contactless as a distinct payment instrument - and maybe many would be tempted to pull the same stunt.

However, both the Austrian consumer body who brought the original proceedings (the VKI) and the bank then appealed to the Austrian Supreme Court, which in turn referred to the European Court of Justice the issues of whether the contactless payment feature could be considered a payment instrument in its own right, and whether the bank could use the 'unilateral change' mechanism to introduce the exclusion of liability for contactless payments. The case actually goes back to before the implementation of PSD2, but the provisions under the PSD and PSD2 are essentially the same, so the ECJ's ruling will determine the position under PSD2 as well.

The preliminary step in ECJ proceedings is the filing of an Opinion of the Advocate General, with whom the court very often agrees.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

FCA Guidance on Consumer Credit Lending Authorisation

A key supporting document for applications to the Financial Conduct Authority for authorisation and permission to carry on a regulated activity is the 'regulatory business plan'. 

The requirements for what the plan must cover are usually summarised in various guidance, depending on the type of authorisation or permission being sought, but there's a lot of variation as most advisers have developed their own templates. 

Helpfully, however, the FCA has published a sample regulatory business plan for use by firms seeking authorisation/permission that is also useful for consumer credit lending, with a web page that also contains link to other relevant guidance for prospective lenders.

What is consumer credit lending?

This is a huge topic, but very broadly...

Permissions required for consumer credit lending activity will include entering into regulated credit agreements as the initial lender (under article 60B(1) of The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 (RAO) and/or buying or exercising the rights under pre-existing regulated credit agreements (under 60B(2)), subject to exemption under article 55 of The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Exemption) Order 2001, for example). That deserves a post of its own.

A similar regime applies to regulated consumer hire agreements (under article 60N of the RAO), while hire purchase and conditional sale agreements are treated as regulated credit agreements.

There are also various related permissions that will likely be required to deal with credit agreements and consumer hire agreements, including credit broking (article 36A, RAO), operating a peer-to-peer lending platform (article 36H), as well as debt adusting (39D), debt counselling (39E), debt collecting (39F) and debt administration (39G). These activities and various exemptions also deserve their own post.

Regulated credit agreements do not generally include "exempt agreements" (based on many exemptions in articles 60C-60K of the RAO that would require yet another post), but carrying out credit broking in relation to exempt agreements is still a regulated activity, and facilitating entry into exempt agreements can also still constitute peer-to-peer lending.

There are also specific exemptions for consumer hire agreements (articles 60O-60R, RAO).

Regulated credit agreements and consumer hire agreements and so on are also subject to the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and related regulations, though some provisions (including those relating to the 'form and content' of agreements) will not apply to "non-commercial agreements" or exempt agreements (though some exemptions require certain declarations in the paperwork). The CCA also deals with pawn receipts, revolving credit (e.g. credit cards), small loans and so on - yet another whole post in itself.

Finally, the FCA's 'Handbook' of rules generally apply to authorised firms who conduct consumer credit/hire activity, as well as specific rules on consumer credit (CONC) which distinguish between different types of consumer credit (e.g. pawnbroking, high cost short term (payday lending) and P2P agreements) for certain purposes.

Please get in touch if any you need advice on any of this.