NEW YORK - An American Banker feature earlier this week highlighted the state of growing tensions between banks and retailers over interchange fees.
Bankers are pointing their fingers at merchants, maintaining their efforts at swipe fee reform were self-serving.
"It's going to take a long time before that relationship can be repaired," said Richard Hunt, the head of the Consumer Bankers Association, who called the retail industry's support of debit-card fee regulation "so disingenuous. ...They owe everybody an apology."
Retailers, as NACS members know, made debit card swipe fee reform a signature issue in recent years, an effort that continues with credit cards.
"Merchants are so fed up with a lot of the attributes of the current payments system, they're looking for any alternatives. And that's what led to a lot of the activities on the Hill last year," said Mark Horwedel, a former Walmart executive who now runs the Merchant Advisory Group, which represents large retailers in their negotiations with payments companies.
"I've been in the payments business 37 years," he said, "and I've never seen the degree of animosity that exists today."
The conflict is significant as mobile payment options are emerging, with many that bypass traditional banks. As such, "the established payments industry players," American Banker writes, "have the most to lose."
Since reform took effect, large banks have reported large decreases in debit card revenue, though Visa and MasterCard have offset the law€™s effects by revising how they charge merchants€™ banks and technology vendors for accepting debit cards.
In the meantime, merchants remain frustrated at a system that bears unilateral decision-making power as to price.
"For every transaction that's authorized and funded by a financial institution, there's a merchant on the other end, and why is it that only one side makes all the decisions about the rules?" said Horwedel. "I think as long as that is the case, there are going to be issues."
American Banker wrote that a number of merchant lawsuits are working their way through the courts, intensifying the friction between the retail and financial sectors.
As for mobile payments, while it offers a range of yet-to-be-determined opportunities, the retailer-financial services company dynamic is perhaps the biggest unknown. "There's a new vision of how [merchants and banks] can operate together. But a lot of these same old problems still exist," said Matthew Friend, who runs the North American payments practice of consulting firm Accenture.
But the real mobile payments threat to banks is the influx of tech heavyweights €" Google, Apple, and Facebook, among others €" who no doubt seek a share of payment processing revenue. As such, banks are increasingly concerned that their fee income will drop even further.
The biggest challenge for the banks, American Banker concludes, is to find an alignment with merchants in the early days of mobile, or else risk losing market share to new competitors.
To learn more about the future of mobile payments, be sure to attend this year€™s NACStech event in Nashville.