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Monday, 24 November 2014

Card Scheme MIF Regulation [Updated 20 Jan 2015]

In addition to a new Payment Services Directive (PSD2), the Beurocrats have been busy on a Regulation aimed at payment card transactions - mainly to cap merchant interchange fees, but also to introduce some 'business rules' (MIF Regulation). Unlike PSD2, the MIF regulation will take effect directly in each member state, rather than having to be implemented into national law first. The caps on fees described below apply from 6 months after the regulation enters into force, while the grace period for the business rules is 12 months after the regulation enters into force. The MIF regulation must be reviewed by the Commission four years after entering into force, with any recommendation to amend the fee cap. Underlining and strike-through reflects changes made to the MIF Regulation since October 2014.

Capping fees:

The January 2015 version of the MIF Regulation (updating the October 2014 version) caps the hidden interchange fees that card issuers receive from merchant acquirers for cross-border all debit card transactions at 0.2%. However, for domestic debit card transactions, Member States may apply either a lower cap per transaction and a fixed maximum fee amount, or allow payment service providers (PSPs) to apply a per transaction fee of up to €0.05 in combination with a maximum percentage rate of no more than 0.2%, provided that the interchange fees of the payment card scheme does not exceed the fee is capped at a weighted average of 0.2% of the annual transaction value of the domestic debit card for all transactions within each payment card a scheme, or 0.2% per transaction. But for 5 years, Member States may allow PSPs to apply to domestic debit card transactions a weighted average interchange fee of up to 0.2% of the annual average transaction value of all domestic debit card transactions within each payment card scheme, or a lower weighted average if they wish.

The interchange fee for each credit card transaction is to be capped at 0.3%, although member states can reduce this for domestic transactions.

If domestic payment transactions are not distinguishable as debit or credit card transactions by the payment card scheme, the provisions on debit cards or debit card transactions apply. However, for 1 year after the fee caps apply, Member States may rule that up to 30% of the indistinguishable transactions are considered to be credit card transactions to which the credit card cap shall apply.

At these levels, the authorities believe that retailers should not be allowed to impose additional charges for use of cards that are subject to the caps (such 'surcharging' is controlled by PSD2). However, cards issued to businesses ('commercial cards') and those issued by 'three party payment schemes' (like Amex) are exempt from the caps. That's because businesses are thought to be able to fend for themselves (unlike consumers); and in a three party scheme all fees are charged by the scheme operator, so both the consumer and the merchant know who's paying what to whom. In those cases, then, the merchants can charge for the pain of accepting such cards and it's up to the scheme operators whether to lower their fees. But there are certain limits to the exemption for three party schemes.

In addition, the caps will not apply to 'limited network' payment instruments (like gift cards) which:
  • allow the holder to acquire goods or services only within a limited network of service providers under direct commercial agreement with a professional issuer; or
  • can only be used to acquire a very limited range of goods or services; or
  • instruments valid only in a single Member State provided at the request of an undertaking or public sector entity and regulated by a national or regional public authority for specific social or tax purposes to acquire specific goods or services from suppliers having a commercial agreement with the issuer.
Confusingly, however, there's a similar exemption under PSD2 which carries an additional limitation that “The same instrument cannot be used to make payment transactions to acquire goods and services within more than one limited network or to acquire an unlimited range of goods and services”. So it's conceivable that a scheme may be exempt from the need to be authorised under PSD2, yet have its interchange fees regulated under the MIF Regulation.

Business Rules:

The MIF Regulation has some additional 'business rules':
  1. there can't be any territorial licensing restrictions on scheme membership within the EU;
  2. card schemes (other than three party schemes) must: ensure their system is technically interoperable with other systems of processing entities within the EU; must separateensure the rule-making entity is independent from entities providing payment processing and other services; eliminate cross-subsidies among scheme services; and not make any one service conditional on taking or providing another;
  3. all card schemes must:
  • allow 'co-badging', so that a single card can be accepted under multiple schemes;
  • enable co-branded instruments on the same card, if possible, but give clear and objective information on the different instruments and their characteristics;
  • not discriminate between issuers or acquirers concerning co-badging of payment brands or applications or in terms of reporting, fees or other obligations, routing of transactions or by using mechanisms that limit the choice of application by payer and payee when using a co-badged instrument (though prioritising is okay);
  • not charge fees on a blended basis for different card types, unless requested;
  • not insist that all their types of cards are honoured if a merchant only wants to accept some of them (and so must enable customers to readily distinguish between the different types of cards offered by the scheme);
  • not prevent retailers ‘steering’ customers toward using a preferred payment method, without prejudice to rules under the PSD or the consumer rights directive.
While the MIF Regulation is reasonable advanced, the UK Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) recently warned that if the adoption of the MIF Regulation is delayed, or the implementation of its domestic fee caps is deferred from the caps on cross-border interchange fees, it will consider taking action in advance of the Regulation; and that it may still consider whether it is appropriate to take any further action even if the MIF Regulation is adopted.

In other words, official trust in card schemes is low.