Most of this year's chatter surrounding card interchange has centered on the prospects for the Credit Card Competition Act's passage. While this pending legislation remains on the watch list, the plot has taken a sudden twist. The Federal Reserve, at an October 25 meeting, pulled debit interchange squarely back onto center stage.
It has been almost a year and a half since the Fed had requested public comment on a “non-substantive” proposed amendment to Regulation II that would 1.) specify that the prohibition on network exclusivity applies to card-not-present debit card transactions, 2.) clarify the responsibility of the issuer to enable at least two unaffiliated networks to comply with the prohibition on network exclusivity, and 3.) standardize and explain the use of certain terminology. The proposal was anything but non-substantive and would have fundamentally altered issuers’ compliance obligations under Durbin. The Fed received more than 2,750 comments, and it has taken nearly a year since the comment period was completed to receive a final ruling. The ruling has finally arrived.
Ever since the Durbin Amendment upended the debit card industry in 2010, insiders have speculated that Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) would eventually pursue similar changes to the credit card industry.
Sen. Durbin made it known during a May 2022 Senate Judiciary Committee meeting that credit card reform was in his crosshairs. As inflation rose, he found a bipartisan partner in Sen. Roger Marshal (R-Kan.) and introduced bill S.4674, the Credit Card Competition Action of 2022.
This bill reflects many principles Reg II applied to routing, intending to increase competition and reduce merchant costs. If this bill becomes law, it will have significant consequences for issuers and consumers, potentially completely upending credit access as we know it today. It could also lead some issuers to dial back rewards and benefits.
Rumor is that a further tightening of the Durbin Amendment is on the near-term horizon for card issuers. The most concrete evidence is the Fed’s May request-for-comment on regulations for debit routing of online transactions.
The Fed wants to clarify the regulatory requirement that at least two unaffiliated payment card networks must be enabled for all debit card transactions, including card-not-present (CNP), and card-issuing banks and credit unions will be held responsible. Some terminology will also see standardization.
While the Fed positioned its query as a “non-substantive clarification,” many of the 453 comments submitted so far express a belief that the proposal, if enacted, would have a significant impact on issuers. Meanwhile, bankers are entering a period of uncertainty as they closely monitor the situation for implications to P&L.