Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Interchange Revenues Leap Over Holidays (WayTooHigh.com)

With consumer spending up nearly 9% from holiday shopping, what exactly did the banks earn and how much did retailers have to pass along to Visa and MasterCard for credit and debit card transactions?

Because merchant interchange fees are an elusive component of bank profits, and because there are nearly one-hundred separate charges, it is anyone's guess how well the banks did from soaring holiday shopping. We know that MasterCard Advisors, a unit of MasterCard International said that holiday shopping was up 8.7% ahead of last year.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Friday, December 23, 2005

Is MasterCard International's Due Diligence Lacking? (WayTooHigh.com)

An open-letter to MasterCard International's president and CEO, Robert W. Selander and to the company's general counsel and secretary, Noah J. Hanft

Dear Messrs. Selander and Hanft,

With just weeks away from seeking the financial confidence and $2.5 billion from public investments, the second largest bank-owned credit card association, MasterCard International, has yet to update its website.

For months, The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com has been mentioning that the MasterCard.com website continues to post a timeline from only previous merchant litigations.

As the bank-owned credit card association now faces
multiple antitrust actions targeting the core of its revenue stream and because this price-fixing antitrust case is among the largest in our nation's history, why is there such a void?

MasterCard continues to fail in making sure that the case is clearly referenced on its company information litigation page. There is no mention at all.

Viewing the MasterCard International website suggests that the banking industry is mystifyingly protected from complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which oversees corporate governance and reporting practices. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act Section 409 pertains to 'Real Time Issuer Disclosures,' where companies are required to disclose to the public, on an urgent basis, information on material changes in their financial condition or operations. Ordinarily, these disclosures are to be presented in terms that are easy to understand and supported by trend and qualitative information of graphic presentations as appropriate.

So, why is there no clearly presented disclosure information on the MasterCard International website?


Mitch Goldstone and Carl Berman
The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Thursday, December 22, 2005

MasterCard, Inc. uses disadvantaged as pawn in the IPO scheme (WayTooHigh.com)

The MasterCard planned IPO is gaining even more attention for its schemes and gimmicks. The latest, as reported by Reuters is to bestow 10% of the investors proceeds as a ruse to fund a MasterCard Foundation Charity.

The hubris of using other people's money to fund goodwill philanthropy by the 1400 banks which own the credit card association is unconscionable. Has any other multi-national corporation ever devised this type of scheme to deflect and use investors money for this type of cause?

In addition, MasterCard is also planning to use upwards of $650 million from the IPO proceeds to battle 30 Minute Photos Etc. and the other merchants who are standing up to their price-fixing charges and anticompetitive antitrust violations.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

What's at Stake in the Interchange Wars (Green Sheet)

Interchange, once a minor fee levied to cover the costs of processing a credit card transaction and the risk assumed by the issuing bank that the credit will not be repaid, has skyrocketed to a flashpoint that industry experts say is certain to change the industry, although opinions are divided on exactly what the fallout may be.

Interchange is also a significant, and growing, expense for merchants. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), credit and debit card fees are the third largest expense convenience stores face after store rent and labor costs.
These fees are anticipated to match the cost of store rent by 2020.

NACS points out that in 2004, credit card issuers earned more profits in interchange fees from the sale of gasoline than gasoline retailers earned off those same sales. "Out-of-control interchange fees for credit card transactions are a $25 billion tax on retail transactions that goes straight into the pockets of the card issuers," said Mitch Goldstone, lead plaintiff in a merchant class action antitrust lawsuit filed in June against Visa and MasterCard.

Goldstone is also Co-editor of "The Credit Card Interchange Report" (
www.waytoohigh.com.) "We're not opposed to a cost-based interchange," he said. "The problem is the banks got greedy and raised the rates just to make more money."

Merchants point out that interchange fees have declined or are declining in most other countries but are steadily rising in the United States. "If interchange was actually cost based, it would effectively disappear," Goldstone said. "In Australia it is less than half a percent. And Canada is a great example: Business is thriving even though the interchange rate is zero."

This complexity is one factor that is fueling the debate. "I know exactly what my cost of goods sold are, what every cost involved with my business is, but I don't have a clue what my interchange fee is," Goldstone said.

here to view entire article).

[source: Green Sheet]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

American Express Tarnished, the Brand Leader's Cache Faces Saturation (WayTooHigh.com)

In what was anticipated to be a smooth marketing alliance between the banks and American Express’ branded cards, might now be embarking on roaring discord among retailers. Even cardholders are beginning to understand that using new super-high-margin Citigroup, Bank of America or HSBC charge cards with the American Express logo may lead to even higher merchant interchange fees. The new American Express logo on these cards will most likely yield soaring new hidden taxes on consumers.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal (Dec 21 - page, C3), Bank of America chairman and CEO, Kenneth D. Lewis believes that it is difficult to partner with a business they are in litigation against. However, while they settled with American Express, the bank is party to a multi-billion dollar antitrust class-action launched by merchants who accept Visa and MasterCard.

While Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express asserted in the same WSJ article that "the economic opportunity is tremendous," his focus was distracted and myopic. Clearly, the banks and American Express are so entrenched in their orgy of boardroom domination that they truncated the focus group component; if only they involved current cardmembers and retailers. This contentious plan to flood the market with millions of new American Express branded cards, and potentially spike interchange rates will not be supported - even with hundreds-of-millions of dollars certain to be spent advertising this alliance.

For the premium "Platinum" American Express cardholders and the even more exclusive "Black" American Express cards, the appeal and benefits of distinction from these exclusive cards are about to be diminished.

This new alliance with the New York financial-services company is the latest scheme by banks which may outrage retailers and even decimate the venerable American Express brand. Even its cache as the recognized and respected customer-oriented, world leader in quality is at risk. It could be doomed as the strength of its exclusive image will be saturated with millions of new American Express logos popping up everywhere.

Several months ago, The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com reported on 26 leading issues affecting credit card interchange fees. Two of the primary assertions follow which initially drew attention to what is now about to occur.

* Because banks are now permitted to issue Amex and Discover cards, MBNA and Citibank plan to issue American Express cards, which means, merchants will be flooded with the higher costing premium cards (this translates into a 50% increase in costs from about 140 bp [basis points] to 210 bp. I anticipate they will then convert their classic cards to higher priced "signature" "affinity" and "business" cards.

* The argument by American Express was that their cardholders spend more money. Perhaps this is based on buying diamonds and luxury items, but when you are at a convenience store, the amount charged from a Visa card is typically the same as for American Express. As MBNA and Citibank switch from Visa to American Express, they are appealing to the same group of cardholders with the same spending patterns.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

CBS Reports Online Gambling Earning Billions; Banks Profit Too

Millions of merchants and consumers are not the only groups affected by the banks price-fixing, interchange fees. Illegal online casino gambling is now a multi-billion dollar off-shore industry which generates huge returns to Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and the few thousand other banks which own MasterCard and Visa.

Click here for an update from the November broadcast on CBS' 60 MINUTES which profiled why this is so damaging.

CBS: "I-Gaming: Illegal And Thriving. Billions of dollars are being spent on online gambling Web sites and the majority of that cash comes from American pockets. Despite being illegal in the U.S., Lesley Stahl reports, the industry is thriving." [What few understand is that the banks can be indirectly involved for reaping a percent of every transaction when their debit or credit cards are used. Although banks decline charges to many of these overseas businesses, there are websites to help identify ways to get your charge card approved].

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Monday, December 19, 2005

MasterCard IPO Might Be Price-Less (WayTooHigh.com)

MasterCard's IPO might just be "price-less," suggests The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com. The credit card giant is poised to debut a nearly $2.5 billion public offering, but recent articles suggest that the public might become weary of the the planned use-of-proceeds.

The Wall Street Journal on Mon, Dec 19th explained that not all announced IPO deals which are filed actually are completed. WayTooHigh.com expects that the 1400 banks which owns MasterCard, Inc. might have a challenging time trying to unload their credit card interchange liability. The Journal profiled several companies, including Boise Cascade which pulled its IPO after putting it on hold.

WayTooHigh.com is closely monitoring the offering to look for signs that MasterCard also might place its planned stock sale on hold or even withdraw it in early 2006.

For background, click here.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Credit card pricing set to change (Swiss Radio International)

Switzerland's competition watchdog has approved a deal between the issuers of Visa and Mastercard credit cards and banks aimed at cutting costs.

The accord limits fees levied by the card companies on their partner banks and allows stores to offer different prices depending on whether a customer pays in cash or with a card.

Click here to view article.

[source: Swissinfo.com]

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Another Reason Why The Banks Interchange Fee Should Be Zero (WayTooHigh.com)

The National Association of Convenience Stores magazine (July 2005) reported that "interchange fees arguably are meant to cover the technology cost of account processing and the risk taken by the issuing bank that the credit will not be repaid. It is no secret that technology costs continue to fall while processing power increases dramatically."

The previous posting addresses the risk factor, this column focuses on technology.

As well-known entrepreneurs, Mitch Goldstone and Carl Berman, lead plaintiffs in the antitrust litigation against Visa, MasterCard and member banks also co-edit The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com. This column provides a real-life experience to understand why Visa and MasterCard may be forced to disband its merchant interchange charges.

The nationally recognized business leaders operate an online boutique photo service(30minphotos.com) which recently created an entirely new business model for preserving generations of photos. Their new business, ShoeboxReprints.com is the biggest news in the photo industry since the launch of digital photography. The company previously charged $5.00 to produce one high-resolution digital scan from a single photo; the process would take several minutes. Today, their ShoeboxReprints.com service scans 150 photos of any size -- from wallets to 11x17 enlargements in just one minute. The charge is $49.95 for 1,000 photos; an entire shoe box of pictures is scanned within minutes and mailed back the same day for under 5-cents per print.

This same math applies to the credit card associations. With technology advancing at lighting-fast speed, each few months yields entirely new cost-saving techniques, yet for banking card transactions the fees keep rising?

Just one decade ago when merchants used bulky non-electronic credit card imprinters, the multi-page carbon forms cost a great deal and had to be mailed for processing. This took several days and incurred costly clearing and processing fees, which was why the interchange fees were initially established; it was cost-based.

Today, just as how the cost for digitally preserving photos was cut by Goldstone and Berman from $5 to 5-cents, so too have the costs for banks to process merchant payments. Yet, the latter service continues to face huge, unjustified fee increases.

Visa and MasterCard can learn a great deal from their customers like Goldstone and Berman. Many business services and products share similar cost-savings to lower rates while enhancing the benefits.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Interchange Fees Were Designed to Hedge Against Fraud (WayTooHigh.com)

A lead argument by Visa and MasterCard for forcing merchant interchange fees was to cover their exposure to fraud. Although the fraud costs are a faction of the total take from the $25 billion annual interchange charge.

Interchange fees are meant to cover the cost of processing a credit-card transaction and the risk taken by the issuing bank that the credit will not be repaid. If the fraud costs were a real issue certainly, the banks would not want back its riskiest former customers.

Now, the banks are issuing a record number of credit card solicitations to the 2 million Americans who filed for bankruptcy in 2005. The New York Times (Dec 11) reports that the newest target for issuing solicitations are those with the most risk.

In May, The Merchants Payment coalition explained that: "Banks say they charge interchange to make up for bad debt or fraud. With fraud costs consistently decreasing in recent years, however, the costs interchange is intended to cover aren't nearly as much as the amount charged, and banks already make huge profits from cardholder interest and fees. Moreover, the coalition believes that much of the fraud that interchange is intended to cover is the fault of banks' poorly designed card programs, not the fault of merchants."

Only 1 in 2000 of the banks mail solicitation lead to signing up just one new cardholder. Credit card companies mail out 5.24 billion mail solicitation each year yet only 4-10ths of 1% reply. This means 5 billion pieces of mail are garbage. What other industry has such huge profits that they can afford to throw away 5 billion pieces of junk mail every year?

An earlier WayTooHigh.com posting compared the banks to drug dealers. Can you imaging the outrage if a drug supplier or legal pharmaceutical company launched a marketing campaign to former addicts?

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Visa Restructures, Looks to Outsiders for Help (Green Sheet)

Visa U.S.A. announced a major shakeup to its corporate governance structure. The result is that for the first time Visa will allow nonbankers to serve on its board of directors. Since its inception, Visa has been considered a bankcard Association, and only bankers whose institutions issue Visa-branded cards have been given seats on the board.

Pending approval by member financial institutions, Visa will add one new seat to the board and shuffle membership so that financial institutions hold only seven seats and independent directors hold eight. The restructuring is expected to take up to 12 months to complete.

In a prepared statement, Visa said "dynamic changes" taking place in the payments system precipitated the move. Some observers speculate that the intention, at least in part, is to forestall additional litigation over interchange and other contentious issues.

"Visa and our stakeholders will benefit from the wider range of talent and diverse experience that independent directors will bring to the boardroom as they help shape the Association's growth strategies," said John Philip Coghlan, Visa's President and Chief Executive Officer.

"Independent directors will generate added confidence in the organization's decision making and will ultimately strengthen Visa's position with regard to legal issues concerning the impartiality and autonomy of directors."

Visa said the new, independent directors will oversee "core economic decisions such as pricing, member transaction processing and service fees and economic relationships." Financial institution members will be responsible for control and disposition of assets, membership eligibility and corporate governance. Visa spokesman Will Valentine stated that the new board structure will "strengthen the organization competitively, organizationally and legally."

Visa, MasterCard International and member financial institutions of both organizations are under fire for alleged anticompetitive interchange pricing; they face a host of merchant lawsuits. MasterCard announced its own corporate restructuring in August and is in the process of going public (see "MasterCard Plans IPO," The Green Sheet, Sept. 26, 2005, issue 05:09:02).

K. Craig Wildfang, lead plaintiff attorney in two legal proceedings that merchants have brought against Visa, said the change in Visa's board makeup will not have much of an affect on pending lawsuits. "It will definitely not affect their liability going backward," he said. "They are trying to escape their liability going forward."

To be considered as an independent director, one must have "no material relation to Visa or its members for the past five years," Valentine said. "We have very high standards. They must be a
senior level executive with a relevant business, academic or regulatory body."

While Valentine wouldn't discuss specifics, he left open the possibility that Visa might ask a retailing executive to join the board. Visa's member banks are expected to decide on the new board's makeup sometime in spring 2006. Currently, Visa's board is comprised of 16 people, including 14 from member financial institutions and two nonvoting Visa executives (Coghlan and Visa International CEO Christopher Rodrigues).

Separately, Visa International announced new criteria for its own board and the six regional boards that comprise the organization. The new boards will be required to have at least two independent directors, subject to member approval.

[source: GreenSheet]

Friday, December 02, 2005

MasterCard IPO Attempts To Limit Liability and Fuel its Lawyers Battle Against its Customers

The Associated Press reports the MasterCard Inc. planned IPO is "mostly as a defensive measure to combat antitrust lawsuits."


Move seen as method for organization, banks to limit liability

JOE BEL BRUNO - Associated Press

NEW YORK - An initial public offering of a big credit-card outfit might not command the hype afforded a white-hot tech company, but the move could prove priceless for MasterCard Inc. and the big banks that own it.

This week the 1,400 banks that issue its cards -- and together control the brand -- approved a series of proposals that clear the way for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange early next year. Although the vote is considered a common step for companies going public, analysts and former executives of the nation's No. 2 credit-card brand say this won't be your average IPO.

For starters, the amount of money raised -- estimated conservatively at about $2.5 billion -- will easily trump the $1.67 billion raised by Internet darling Google Inc. And, unlike most IPOs, MasterCard is tapping the capital markets begrudgingly -- and mostly as a defensive measure to combat antitrust lawsuits.

"The paramount reason for them going public is to reduce their legal liability exposure in the U.S. market, period," said Eric Grover, an analyst with corporate consultancy firm Intrepid Ventures.

Both MasterCard and larger rival Visa USA have been accused of anticompetitive practices in dozens of class-action lawsuits that could cost billions of dollars to settle. The architects of MasterCard's plan to go public are betting the IPO will take the wind out of those lawsuits.
After converting to a public company, member banks will give up voting rights -- effectively shielding them from being named in future lawsuits. The move also ends any criticism of the banks having too much influence in MasterCard's operations.

Besides getting a new structure, MasterCard plans to bank $650 million from its IPO proceeds into a war chest to fight pending litigation. The biggest legal challenge are 38 federal lawsuits that claim MasterCard and the banks conspired to artificially inflate interchange fees charged by card companies to merchants.

Already, MasterCard and Visa have paid some $3 billion in damages from a class-action lawsuit led by retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. They've also lost a legal challenge mounted by the Justice Department, which paved the way for rivals American Express Co. and Morgan Stanley's Discover unit to sue for damages.

These legal hurdles have made member banks increasingly nervous through the years, said former MasterCard general counsel Brian Smith.

"When I was there, we had a number of cases and investigations that were brought against individual banks, which have a chilling effect on their executives," said Smith, who served as the company's top attorney from 1974 to 1982 and is now a Washington, D.C.-based senior partner with Latham & Watkins.

He said the next step for MasterCard might be allowing member banks an opportunity to cash out completely -- and instead enter into licensing agreements to continue using the brand. JPMorgan Chase & Co. has an 11.7 percent stake in MasterCard, Citigroup Inc. owns 6.2 percent, and Bank of America Corp. has 6 percent, filings show.

[Source: AP, Charlotte Observer ]

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Senator Schumer Warns against Store Credit Cards (The Epoch Times)

Click here to read article.

[source: The Epoch Times]

All-time Low for Credit Card Fraud (TODAYOnline.com)

All-time low for credit card fraud. Incidence of cheating dips by 38% despite more billings. While credit card transaction volumes in Singapore have grown significantly over the past few years, the number of fraud cases have fallen by 38 per cent to a historic low.

Click here to read article

[source: TODAYOnline.com]

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"MasterCard's® Legal and Regulatory Risks Threaten ... Its Entire Business Model" (BW)

[Ed note: From the BusinessWeek article, Mastercard's® IPO filings indicate that the new non-bank investors would be forced to pay its legal bill from antitrust class-action litigation initiated by 30 Minute Photos Etc. as lead plaintiff and other class representatives (disclosure, 30 Minute Photos Etc. and 30minphotos.com are owned by the co-editors of this Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com)].

DECEMBER 5, 2005 FINANCE - BusinessWeek

When The Bill Comes Due

MasterCard's® new IPO investors will have to pay the company's legal fees.

Priceless. That's the theme of MasterCard Inc.'s® long-running advertising campaign claiming that there are some things in life on which you just can't place a value. Little did the Purchase (N.Y.) credit-card outfit know that someday its own ad shtick could be applied to its upcoming initial public offering.

Just what will investors be buying if they invest in shares of MasterCard® when it goes public next year? Right now, no one can say for sure.What we do know is this: In the first quarter of 2006, MasterCard -- which helped to pioneer the credit card nearly 40 years ago -- will convert from a private, members-only club for banks to a public enterprise. Wall Street forecasts a blockbuster IPO that will eclipse the $1.2 billion raised by search engine Google Inc.

Street estimates put the value of MasterCard® anywhere from a conservative $2.65 billion to as much as $7 billion. In a world where plastic has trumped cash as king, MasterCard®, second only to Visa USA Inc.® as a payment network, seems like a good bet.

But is it?

The credit-card issuer is embroiled in dozens of lawsuits that could cost millions in legal fees and tens of billions in damages -- and new investors could be stuck with the tab. MasterCard® is in a bitter battle with consumers, regulators, and merchants worldwide over issues ranging from data security breaches to processing fees. In filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission, MasterCard® says it plans to spend $650 million of the IPO proceeds on legal fees. It has no other reserves to fight this litigation, and although the banks will probably be on the hook for some of it, they're distancing themselves from the MasterCard® network.

The most damaging cases are some 38 federal lawsuits by merchants that charge MasterCard® and Visa® with antitrust infractions and abuse of market power. MasterCard® and Visa® have already lost a similar case filed by the Justice Dept., as well as a class-action suit led by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ®in which they had to pay $3 billion in damages. As a result of the DOJ case, American Express and Discover cards have sued the networks and big banks for damages stemming from anti-competitive behavior. "These are terrible cases for the industry," says Duncan MacDonald, former general counsel of Citibank® cards.

"The 'big bomb' is if they are found to have colluded in price-fixing, the dirtiest sacrilege you can commit in the commercial world." A MasterCard® spokeswoman says the company is in its SEC-mandated quiet period and cannot discuss the IPO.


But what the company says in its reports to the SEC is revealing enough. In an amended registration statement filed on Nov. 14, MasterCard states that legal and regulatory risks threaten its prospects for future growth, its profits, and its business model. The company says it believes that the legal woes have been brought on by its ownership and governance structure, and it hopes that by overhauling the board, bringing in new independent directors, and cashing out the member banks who currently set prices, MasterCard can put its legal troubles behind it.Others aren't so sure. "The liability to the banks and MasterCard is unlimited," says William McCracken, chief executive of Synergistics Research Corp., a financial-services market research outift in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, few analysts think that $650 million is enough to cover legal bills and damages, and MasterCard says "it is unable to estimate the amount of potential charges." Says Craig J. Maurer, a managing director with Fulcrum Global Partners LLC.: "If the motivation to go public is to protect itself from legal problems, that's a pretty thin investing prospect.

"There are plenty of good reasons, though, for MasterCard to do an IPO. It will gain cash to make acquisitions, invest in new technologies, and hire top talent at a time when the payments industry is becoming brutally competitive. New entrants such as Wal-Mart, PayPal, Google, and even mobile-phone operators are entering the fray. For example, Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. plans to launch new cell phones next year that can function like credit cards, in partnership with Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, the world's largest bank. MasterCard also plans to use fresh capital to become a better marketing machine, Ã la rival American Express Co. as well as to narrow the longstanding gap between its arch-nemesis, Visa USA.

MasterCard processed $1.03 trillion in transactions last year, less than half of Visa's $2.27 trillion. AmEx is a distant third, at $414 billion.Visa, too, is feeling heat from the lawsuits. On Oct. 20 its board approved a plan to change the company's governance structure by replacing bank executives with eight independent directors. Visa, however, will continue to be owned and controlled by its member banks.

Elizabeth Buse, Visa USA executive vice-president in charge of product development, says the company has no plans to go public, and she is unsure whether MasterCard's reorganization "will afford it any more legal protections than Visa's ownership and governance structures will afford Visa."Both card networks will soon find out. They and their partner banks face their nastiest legal tussle over so-called interchange fees. These are the lucrative charges that banks and the networks collect from merchants every time a credit or debit card is used to pay for a purchase. Merchants typically pass these charges, which by some estimates add up to more than $24 billion each year, on to consumers in the form of higher prices.


Visa and Mastercard have argued for years that their fees are fair. U.S. regulators have yet to weigh in. But foreign governments have so far sided with the merchants. The Reserve Bank of Australia mandated lower fees in 2001 and the European Council and Britain's Office of Fair Trading are considering regulation. Because of class-action laws that are unique to the U.S., legal and credit-card experts here anticipate an ugly battle between lawyers representing the merchants and the banks. "It's a civil war," says MacDonald, who argues that the government should step in.

Even MasterCard's best customers are making things tough. As banks and merchants each consolidate, they are negotiating lower processing rates, thereby squeezing its margins. And as they shed their member status, big banks such as Citi and JPMorgan Chase will finally be free to promote their own brands over the network. This is no small issue. A huge portion of MasterCard's revenue is concentrated among its five largest customers.

For the first six months of 2005, these customers represented $485 million, or 34% of revenues. The loss of any one customer could hurt the business. Already, Citi and GE Consumer Finance have announced they will issue rival American Express and Discover cards.The timing of the IPO seems to be working against MasterCard, too. Financial companies have made up almost a fifth of IPOs in the last few years as newcomers have benefited from low interest rates.

Returns for 2005 listings have been decent, up 7% vs. the S&P's 3.5% gains. But consumer credit quality is faltering and personal bankruptcies are up. The value of MasterCard going public? Hard to say.

By Mara Der Hovanesian, with Justin Hibbard in San Francisco. [source: BusinessWeek]

MasterCard Inc®. IPO, "The Ultimate Hedge Against Litigation" (WayTooHigh.com)

[ed note. On May 16, 2006 WayTooHigh.com noticed that MasterCard Inc.® had posted mention of the merchant litigation on its website. The below commentary was authored in Nov 2005].

At first read, you would think that because MasterCard Inc. ® Shareholders approved the planned initial public offering (IPO) that would be good news. But, when you understand that the credit card association's shareholders are the 1,400 banks which own the credit card cartel, new questions arise.

Even the company's CEO indicated part of the reason for selling out to the public is to remedy its multi-billion dollar antitrust interchange fee litigation. This planned $2.5 billion IPO might hedge against future litigation, but does nothing against the price fixing class-action case going back to the early 1990's.

The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com strives to raise significant attention during the due diligence process.

In addition to this link related to the MasterCard, Inc.® IPO, we are equally focused on these concerns:

1) Why does MasterCard® continue to not post mention of the scores of antitrust suits on its website?

2) Why would the public be interested in risking their capital on a this scheme to reduce the banks risk?

3) Click here for The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com column on this issue.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Credit Card Service Charges Often a Mystery for Merchants (Alaska Journal of Commerce)

By Melissa Campbell; Alaska Journal of Commerce

Sunshine Sports owner John Bice freely admits it: He has next to no idea what all those charges and fees are on his monthly merchant services statement.

"It's incomprehensible," he said. "But it's just part of the costs of doing business, an increasing cost. You just suck it up. It's not like we have bargaining power." He's not far off, say those in the business of credit and debit card processing.

"It's all very confusing," said Mark Lawrence, relationship manager with Heartland Payment Systems, a company that provides merchant services to businesses. Heartland is one of the nation's few third-party administrators of merchant services to openly discuss the processes and the various fees relating to accepting debit and credit cards. And even Lawrence doesn't know it all.

Many merchants open their monthly statements and quickly develop this befuddled expression. There could well be 15 or more different types of fees, depending on how many different types of cards the business accepted that month. There are also various processor fees and something called discount per item fees - a seemingly oxymoronic term that no one seems to know much about. (Attempts to contact Visa Corp. for information about the fees were unsuccessful.)
And those rates and fees can change with little or no notice.

"They make it as absolutely confusing as possible," said Marx Brothers Café co-owner Jack Amon, who has been in business for 30 years. "That's why a lot of people fail in small business. You think you can cook great, then no problem. But you have all this other little stuff to deal with too."

Customer demand dictates that businesses take credit and debit cards. Debit card transactions have now topped the number of checks written to merchants. What are all these fees, and how are small-business owners supposed to know if they're being overcharged?

Finding help - especially from an entity that has nothing to gain by ending the bewilderment - is difficult. Web searches on the issue on the national Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Corp. and the Chamber of Commerce - all organizations that strive to help small companies - came up empty.

Though they don't consider themselves experts, Gene Fairbrother, lead small business consultant with the National Association for the Self Employed, and Amon had some common sense tips on shopping for merchant services. Heartland's Lawrence also provided some ideas.
The first step to finding a merchant services provider is to ask businesses around you who they use, Fairbrother said. Also, check with your local trade association to see if it has brokered a deal with a processor. Many trade associations have agreements with processors and have bargained for reduced rates and fees for their members.

Before signing a contract, shop around and compare the fees. This is probably the most confusing part of accepting cards. "Merchants should shop three to five processors, and tell them you're shopping," Fairbrother said. "That way, business owners tend to get more information, and that increases the learning curve."

When businesses want to accept credit cards, they go to a bank or a third-party administrator, which is a processor that resells the service for the credit card companies. Amon said he used Wells Fargo Bank for merchant services for years, but the bank raised its rates to a point that he felt was too high. So he started shopping around.

He called Heartland because that organization is associated with the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association. In the end, Amon signed up with Electronic Merchant Services, an Outside company, but in talking to Lawrence, Amon said the process became much clearer. Lawrence suggested asking the merchant services salesman for a list of every fee that may be applicable to your account, and for how long those rates would be guaranteed.

An array of fees

Businesses that accept cards - credit or debit - are charged fees for every transaction. The fees are called interchange rates, and are a percentage of the value of the transaction. That percentage is different for various types of businesses: restaurants are charged different interchange rates than a department store, for example.

In addition to the interchange rate, each transaction is also charged fees that go to pay the merchant services provider and something referred to as a discount per item fee, which is paid to the credit card company.

The rates may change for small purchases, $15 or less, purchases of between $15 and $25, and for $100 or more.

The average interchange rate ranges from 1.12 percent to about 2.8 percent, Lawrence said. The interchange rates vary depending on whether a credit or check card is used, whether it's swiped or hand-entered into a system, and if you have the customer's billing information. There are different fees for the various credit cards - awards cards (such as airline miles), signature cards (various rewards cards), corporate cards or just a plain bank-issued credit card.
The lowest rate is given for PIN-entered debit card purchases that typically incur the merchant a flat fee. Signing for a debit transaction puts the sale into the interchange rates and comes in at a slightly higher fee.

The processing company serves as the middleman for the transaction, taking care of the money transfers between the customer's and merchant's banks, and between Visa and the merchant. The company charges a fee for that service, about a nickel. Overall, the processor generally keeps 15 percent of all the fees, while Visa or Mastercard receives 85 percent, Lawrence said.

At the end of the month, the business owner gets a statement displaying the total transactions and the various fees. While talking to the salespeople about the services, ask too about equipment costs. Processors generally encourage leasing equipment. Determine the costs of leasing versus buying. Fairbrother said that leasing the slide card terminal can cost upward of $1,000 during the term of a contract, where buying a terminal may be closer to $300.

Once deciding on a provider, get out the magnifying glass and carefully read the entire contract, Fairbrother said.

"The person who finds the information confusing is probably also the person who hasn't read the information and understands it," he said. "Business owners don't read the contract, and it has everything in there. They say they don't have time to read a 20-page, small-print document. Credit card companies are more complex and (extra charges) come after the fact. But you should understand what all those charges are, and they are in the contract."

As with any business decision, make sure to sign up with someone you feel you can trust, Fairbrother said. "Make sure they are giving you a fair value," he said. "They may not be the cheapest, but they will treat you right."

[source: Alaska Journal of Commerce]

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Crying Wolf Over Credit Card Fees" (commentary from "The Boston Globe" and WayTooHigh.com)

With the law against them and their customers against them, the banks begin argung that Congress should come to their rescue.

With scores of antitrust suits against Visa and MasterCard, and more than 150 posting below this one from the Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com, the Nov. 25th Commentary in The Boston Globe by Phil Kerpen (policy director for the Free Enterprise Fund) demonstrates why this $25 billion annual hidden tax is so divisive.

The commentary was written by the Free Enterprise Fund ("FEF"), a fledgling Washington-based conservative think-tank and lobby group. Their prior campaign was running pro-DeLay TV ads.

Columnist Terry M. Neal in the Washington Post explained more about FEF: "The conservative Free Enterprise Fund, a Washington-based group that promotes conservative economic policies, is underwriting a national ad campaign aimed undermining District Attorney Ronald Earle's credibility. And because it is reportedly running in especially high concentration in the Austin market, where the DeLay trial will be held, it's clear FEF is trying to influence the jury pool."

Mr. Kerpen fails to mention anything about our nation's antitrust laws and why price-fixing is illegal. His lobbying group should know that retail and ecommerce merchants have no option, MasterCard and Visa must be accepted or they will be out of business. Even the FEF accepts contributions using the Visa and MasterCard payment system. Their supporters who pay monthly with automatic deductions on their cards pay interchange fees with every individual charge. But, contributors to FEF who pay by charge card once a year incurs a single interchange fee.

While American Express and Discover cards are not party to this litigation, they too will be influenced as the interchange fee disappears and they too will be forced to lower their rates.

As the Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com boasts an arsenal of facts and strength in knowing that merchants and consumers both are rallying to cease these illegal pricing schemes, groups like FEF simply want Congress to handle this matter.

[source: WayTooHigh.com; Click here to view The Boston Globe FEF Commentary]

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Banks Struggle to Find the Right Strategies for Debit Cards (WSJ)

By Robin Sidel and Ron Lieber. The Wall Street Journal. November 25, 2005 (from: Sun-Sentinel Co.)

It has been more than a decade since banks began issuing debit cards, but they are still trying to figure out how to design viable rewards programs for the fast-growing payment method.

The efforts have been complicated by intense competition for banking customers, huge growth in debit-card usage and the simmering tension between merchants and banks over the fees that financial institutions charge for accepting plastic. Those fees are crucial for the banks, which use them to fund rewards programs that are aimed at keeping their customers.As a result, the nation's largest banks now offer a hodgepodge of rewards programs to debit-card customers.

Some carry annual fees. Many offer rewards only to customers who authorize a purchase with a signature instead of a four-digit personal identification number, or PIN. It can take anywhere from one to four dollars of spending for debit cardholders to earn a single rewards point, frequent-flier mile or penny of a cash refund."

Debit rewards are a struggle for the banks," says Chris Allen, senior manager at Dove Consulting, a division of Hitachi Consulting. "

And a clear winning debit-rewards strategy hasn't emerged yet."

There are more than 234 million debit cards in use in the United States, generating more than $60 billion of sales each month, according to CardWeb.com, which tracks debit data.

About 36 percent of the nation's banks that issue debit cards offer rewards programs with them, up from 24 percent in 2003, according to Boston-based Dove. For the first time, Visa USA Inc. expects its 10 largest debit-card issuers to offer a rewards program by the end of the year. The theory behind debit rewards is the same as credit-card rewards programs: build loyalty by giving the customer something in return for using the card. In the debit programs, many of the rewards echo the "everyday" types of purchases that people make with those cards: Customers of KeyCorp can earn a $25 gift card to Old Navy for 5,000 points or a three-night Caribbean vacation for 70,000 points.

U.S. Bancorp offers several debit rewards programs, including one that lets people enter a drawing for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle each time they spend $1 on a signature-based transaction.Unlike credit cards that allow consumers to pay their bills at the end of the month or carry a balance, debit cards are linked to existing bank accounts.

When a cardholder makes a purchase with a debit card, the funds are automatically withdrawn, typically from a checking account. The payment method is especially popular with consumers who use debit cards as a budgeting tool -- they can spend only the money that is already sitting in the bank.

For the card-issuing banks, debit represents a new revenue stream at a time when profit growth from credit cards is slowing due to intense competition among issuers. By offering rewards programs tied to debit, the banks are encouraging consumers to use plastic at times when they would ordinarily be paying for a purchase with cash or by check.

The problem, however, is that the banks earn less money from debit cards than from credit cards, which can include finance charges, late fees and annual fees. Debit cards usually don't have many consumer fees associated with them.Furthermore, banks earn bigger fees from merchants on credit-card transactions than debit-card payments.

Merchants pay an average 1.6 percent for a credit-card transaction, compared with 1.3 percent on a debit card requiring a signature and about 0.8 percent for a PIN-based debit transaction.Those interchange fees vary widely based on the type of card being used and the kind of purchase being made on it. Interchange at a gasoline station, for example, is less than interchange at an upscale restaurant.

In recent months, merchants have sued Visa, MasterCard International Inc. and the card-issuing banks over increases in those fees. The financial institutions, for their part, accuse the merchants of steering consumers to PIN-based debit transactions, which often don't carry rewards, because they carry lower fees.Debit rewards "is a continuing evolution and we're entering a new stage of growth in the debit marketplace," says Stacey Pinkerd, senior vice president for consumer debit products at Visa.

The card association, which sets interchange fees for its member banks and also provides rewards programs for them, says that debit-card use rises as much as 30 percent after cardholders enroll in a rewards plan.

[Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

House Passes Energy Bill Addressing Interchange Fees (Green Sheet)

What do interchange fees and a U.S. energy bill have in common? More than you may think.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed "H.R. 3893, or the "Gasoline for America's Security Act of 2005." The bill includes a provision to examine interchange and its effect on pump prices at gas stations.

It addresses concerns about inadequate fuel supplies brought to the public's attention in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), an international trade association for the convenience retailing industry.

The bill's intent is "to expedite the construction of new refining capacity in the United States, to provide reliable and affordable energy for the American people, and for other purposes."

A section of the legislation that calls for a Federal Trade Commission study on price-gouging also includes "an analysis of the role and overall cost of credit card interchange rates on gasoline and diesel fuel retail prices."

NACS said it has been working diligently with Congress to ensure that the legislation speaks to the interests of retailers and the petroleum marketing industry. NACS is also one of the lead plaintiffs in a class action interchange lawsuit against the card Associations and their member banks (see "Trade Groups Sue Visa, MasterCard and Banks Over Interchange," The Green Sheet, Oct. 10, 2005, issue 05:10:01)

The House passed the bill by a vote of 212 - 210. As of Oct. 24, 2005 it resides in the Senate.

[source: Green Sheet]

Food Marketing Institute - Resource Directory

Click here for link

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is Black Friday Going Green? (ConsumerAffairs.com)

By Martin H. Bosworth - ConsumerAffairs.Com, November 22, 2005

"Black Friday" is the nation's number-one shopping day, with an estimated $8 billion spent on shopping in 2004. The day after Thanksgiving was coined "Black Friday" as the day businesses started to show profits on their books, i.e. "going into the black."

Many major retailers are now referring to the day as "Green Friday," in order to avoid the negative connotations of using the word "black."

Another source calling the day "Green Friday" is Mitch Goldstone. The online photo shop owner and credit card reform activist has been promoting "Green Friday" as a "day without credit cards."
Goldstone has been urging shoppers and activists to
use cash to pay for gifts on Nov. 26th, in order to draw attention to the high merchant fees banks and card issuers charge stores when consumers buy goods with credit and debit cards.

"We've been drawing a lot of attention," Goldstone said. "It's being observed by a lot of big companies."

Goldstone is part of a class action lawsuit against Visa, MasterCard, and major banks over the issue of interchange fees.

The nonprofit group Americans for Consumer Education and Competition (ACEC) has come out against Goldstone's crusade, saying that consumers prefer the convenience of using debit cards over cash.

"We are in a technological age where consumers want to streamline the process of purchasing, better track their own expenses, and maintain a certain amount of security -- which becomes challenging when they carry a wad of cash as opposed to one plastic debitcard," ACEC's national chairperson, Susan Molinari, said.

It's just not practical and it's not what consumers or retailers want."

Molinari cited as evidence another poll conducted by the NRF in 2004, which cited debit cards overtaking cash -- and credit cards -- as the chief purchasing tool for holiday shopping.

Visa-funded Group Tries to Distract, But Falls Short (WayTooHigh.com)

The brazenness with which the banks are bulling merchants has just reached a new level of paralyzing boldness. In a Visa-funded "alert," the alarmist headline suggests a major inequity: "illegal credit card surcharging exposed."

They claim that "merchants who accept the most widely used credit cards want to pass the costs associated with credit card processing onto consumers ... By adding a surcharge or more appropriate, a `check out fee' to your purchase."

Rather than charging a surcharge, merchants can legally simplify the transaction by explaining to consumers about this $25 billion annual hidden tax. Then, ask their retail customers to pay with cash or checks - both are without interchange fees.

Better yet, why doesn't this group behind the bank-owned mirage explain that what is illegal are the banks-owned credit card associations' violation of antitrust laws and price-fixing?

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Sunday, November 20, 2005

"Syriana" - George Clooney, Matt Damon film could have been about the banking industry too (WayTooHigh.com)

Co-editors of The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com were invited to attend the first pre-screening of "Syriana" on Saturday, November 12th. Click here for commentary on how this important film could easily apply to the banking industry as well. Film opens in early December.

Matt Damon and George Clooney star in

Warner Bros. Pictures' political thriller, "Syriana."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Consumers Nationwide Prepare for "GREEN FRIDAY" - Cash vs. Credit and Debit Cards

ACEC, the Visa-funded advocacy group advising consumers to use debit cards as a tool to better budget their money got burned when WayTooHigh.com reminded American's that an even better currency to budget a family's finances is ... cash.

The nation is preparing for GREEN FRIDAY in protest over the banks $25 billion annual hidden consumer tax. Retailers are asked to contribute proceeds from this $200,000,000 weekend booty that the banks will earn from interchange fees to local charities to help feed the hungry during Thanksgiving.

After GREEN FRIDAY, the campaign moves on to the winter Olympics, where Visa is a worldwide partner. Again the goal is to draw attention to the interchange fees while asking spectators to Italy to use Euros rather than Visa cards (The interchange rate in Italy is less than half the rate in the U..S.).

U.S. shoppers' reliance on credit cards drops as consumers plan ahead for the holidays.

More U.S. consumers will be leaving their credit cards at home as they hit the stores for holiday shopping, according to the "NRF 2005 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey," conducted by BIGresearch.

While debit/check cards (34.3 percent) will remain the favored form of payment this holiday season, fewer people will be relying on credit cards when purchasing holiday merchandise (28.2 percent versus 29.5 percent in 2004). In fact, cash has replaced credit cards as the second most-popular payment method, as one in four shoppers (28.5 percent) plans to primarily use cash during the winter holidays, up from 25.9 percent last year. A small percentage (9.1 percent) of shoppers will be writing checks at the register.

"Debt-conscious consumers will prefer to pay out-of-pocket for gifts this year and are making a conscious decision to reduce their reliance on credit cards," said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. "

Index of Recent WayTooHigh.com Postings

Due to the expanding interest, visits and more frequent postings to The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com, we are providing this index of recent stories.

Advanced screening of "Syriana" - new George Clooney, Matt Damon film could have been about the banking industry too

It might be a cold winter for Visa in Torino, Italy

"GREEN FRIDAY" Can Save American's More Than $200 Million Dollars

Why promoting GREEN FRIDAY is so important

Using cash rather than charge cards might just help feed the hungry on Thanksgiving

What’s the Difference Between Some Banks and Drug Dealers?

"Erin Brockovich" Inspiration to WayTooHigh.com

Visa USA considers changes to its Board

Thursday, November 17, 2005

All In The Family: Chase Paymentech Solutions, North America's Largest Financial Transaction Processor (WayTooHigh.com)

If merchants were curious why the payment processing companies are deftly hushed on the multibillion dollar antitrust litigation against Visa, MasterCard and their member banks, WayTooHigh.com has an answer.

When a single company which handles the electronic payment processing for more than half of all Internet retailers and service providers remains silent on interchange price-fixing charges, we were curious. This consolidation within the payment processing sector should startle. But instead, silence.

And, here is why.

Last month, Paymentech announced that parent company's JPMorgan Chase & Co. and First Data Corp. have reached an agreement to integrate the companies' interests in merchant processing, Paymentech and Chase Merchant Services, and have formed Chase Paymentech Solutions, LLC, effective immediately.

Chase which co-owns Visa now owns Paytmentech too. With Chase Paymentech Solutions now as North America's largest financial transaction processor, the banks don't just have their hands in the largest pot, they own the entire kitchen!

Smart move. Especially as the banks face growing discontent from consumers and merchants. They will be forced to transform and cease their interchange fees, but watch for the possibility of then adding excessive charges on the processing side, which is now the other hand that wasn't already slapped.

During a recent interview, the co-editors of The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com were asked how the airlines could possibly sue Visa and MasterCard over interchange fees when the banks helped bail them out? We explained that just like how our Ecommerce and retail business still partners with the leading banks and payment processing firms, we are also class representatives and lead plaintiffs in this antitrust litigation against them.

Just as many consumers and retailers still don't understand the depth of this $25 billion dollar annual pilfering and exactly how the voluminous structure of countless fees works, it is clear that the battle ground has widened to include not just the banks but also the processing companies.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"GREEN FRIDAY" Can Save American's More Than $200 Million Dollars (WayTooHigh.com)

This year, in stores across America, the day after Thanksgiving will be known as "‘GREEN’ FRIDAY."

WayTooHigh.com is projecting that the banks may incur a windfall merchant interchange fee of more than $200,000,000 during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday. Over two-hundred million dollars!

GREEN FRIDAY can considerably alter that calculation ... and help feed many people.

When consumers participate in GREEN FRIDAY and use cash rather than debit and credit cards, the banks will take notice. This will also help consumers better budget their spending. Another advantage is when retailers contribute proceeds from their savings to local "Meals on Wheels" and food bank charities, the hungry will be well fed during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Based on the national interest in GREEN FRIDAY, we are finding that most people were unfamiliar with the enormous magnitude that merchants, and therefore consumers, pay to Visa and MasterCard each year. Both of these credit card associations are owned and managed by the banks which sit on Visa and MasterCard's board of directors and regularly meet to fix the charges retailers pay.

[As lead plaintiff in the antitrust, class-action price-fixing litigation and as co-editors of WayTooHigh.com we want to clearly point out that price fixing is illegal. The banks set the interchange fees as high as they can get away with and there are no market forces to restrain them from doing so].

This is the reason consumers are gearing up for GREEN FRIDAY. They will use the busiest shopping day of the year to flex their vocal and economic currency to draw attention to the banks' ever-increasing windfall profiteering schemes.

While nation's like Canada have no interchange fees for debt cards, and there is no interchange fees when writing checks, the banks explain that what use to be cost-based is not a reflection of their expenses.

For instance, fraud is one of their main arguments for record high interchange fees. Even though there is no added risk from a worn magnetic strip on the back of a charge card, merchants are forced to pay more. And they pay more for nearly one-hundred other rates, whereas a decade ago there was only a handful of separate interchange fees.

So, if risk of fraud is the reason for excessive interchange fees, then why is it that other nation's have lower fees? Countries better known for economic instability like Greece, Italy and Brazil have tiny interchange fees. If the communications and technological infrastructure costs for transacting business is the argument, then the United States should have the lowest rates.

Banks know that bad debit and fraud issues are better addressed by restricting the more than 5-billion pieces of junk-mail sent each year, often to consumers at higher credit risks. Why merchants are forced to cover consumer fraud makes about as much sense as why merchants now have to pay even higher interchange fees when a shopper uses an affinity frequent flyer charge card rather than a standard card.

Additional information on GREEN FRIDAY is pending.

[Source: WayTooHigh.com]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Is MasterCard IPO in Jeopardy? - Sale Might be Postponed or Terminated (WayTooHigh.com)

Based on recent media interviews, The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com is sensing that the planned MasterCard Inc. IPO might not happen.

The privately held corporation which is owned by 1,400 banks may either postpone or terminate the planned IPO due to the heightened focus on its credit card interchange fees.

With even more antitrust filings against the giant charge card association earlier this week, although entirely unsubstantiated, it now seems possible that the organization could choose not to pursue their planned IPO. The timing and structure of the IPO is especially noteworthy.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

American Booksellers Association and the National Grocers Association Join to Battle Visa and MasterCard, But Does MasterCard Care? (WayTooHigh.com)

With over 40 separate antitrust litigations filed against Visa and MasterCard, you would think that the credit card associations would be taking this matter seriously.

[As lead plantiffs and class representatives, the co-editors of The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com were the first to file class-action antitrust litigation against the card associations and member banks on June 22, 2005 representing their companies, 30 Minute Photos Etc. and 30minphotos.com]

While uniting most merchants and consumers together against the banks, this multi-billion dollar antitrust case seems not to be very important to MasterCard, specifically. Even though economically this is the largest antitrust litigation since the AT&T case in the early 1980's, MasterCard has yet to update its website listing for merchant litigation. With the card association's interest in selling off ownership to the public, WayTooHigh.com is perplexed why they still have yet to modify their website since 2003?

Two more trade associations filed class action suits against Visa USA, MasterCard Inc. and member banks for their merchant interchange fees. The American Booksellers Association and the National Grocers Association and several of its members filed antitrust litigation on Monday.

[More info: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov 14]

Monday, November 14, 2005

Group Funded by Visa Issues Advisory (WayTooHigh.com)

The Visa funded group, American's for Consumer Education and Competition really should be called "'Banks' for Consumer Education and Competition."

In their just issued advisory, the group -- which "enjoys the financial support from Visa USA" -- urged consumers not to permit gas stations to blame the record prices on card fees. What they don't mention is that as gas prices have doubled, so too have the windfall profiteering by the banks. The credit card interchange fees are based on a percent of the sale.

Debit card merchant charges are typically a flat fee. But, when clerks enter the card as a charge card, the consumer's funds are immediately deducted from their account, yet the retailer then pays a percent of the sale.

Motorists pay on average about $1.50 per fill-up directly to the banks when they pay with charge cards.

There is an easy reason that electronic payment processing is an easy target, and you don't need to be a affiliated with the banking industry to figure out why.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Advanced screening of "Syriana" - new George Clooney, Matt Damon film could have been about the banking industry too (WayTooHigh.com)

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein's office invited the co-editors of The Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles on Saturday evening for an advance screening of the Warner Bros. political thriller "Syriana".

Editing of the film by executive producer Steven Soderbergh, who directed "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich," just completed last week.Staring George Clooney and Matt Damon, this ambicious movie will be released in December. It involves brokering back-room deals in Washington and the intrigues and corruption within the global oil industry. The multiple storylines are weaved together to illuminate the human consequences from the fierce pursuit of wealth and power.

Why is this important to the credit card interchange litigation against Visa, MasterCard and its member banks?The powerful U.S. oil companies fictionally portrayed in Syriana were involved in complex corruption and corporate mischief with explosive impact upon the world. While the backdrop for Syriana involves the global oil industry, there are many parallels to the depths of illegal corporate maneuvering we assert are practiced by the banks which own Visa and MasterCard. Their collusive price-fixing and global reach parallels many aspects of this fictional movie about failures of government.

Syriana illuminates the inner workings of what easily can relate to the banking industry and the executives who keep it running. In portraying the considerable influence and exploitation through many points of view, there are startling parallels to the fight against the multinational banks' anticompetitive practices.

Just as "The China Syndrome" in the late 1970s, "Wall Street" in the 1980s and "Erin Brockovich" in the 1990s drew attention to corporate greed, so too will this film.Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" speech in "Wall Street," symbolized a decade. Yet that famed phrase is about to be overshadowed by the new corporate-speak from actor Tim Blake Nelson in Syriana:"We have laws against corruption precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the street. Corruption ... Is why we win."

Friday, November 11, 2005

Four Years Ago Today...

On Veteran's Day 2001, just two-months to the day after "9/11," the co-editors of WayTooHigh.com led a group of thousands of American's to New York City to support The Big Apple, the airlines and commerce. Several other national initiatives were founded since then by the entrepreneurs who edit WayTooHigh.com.

Why is this important today?

Their grassroots campaign to support New York City mirrors the key initiative of today's Credit Card Interchange Report - WayTooHigh.com which also is designed to support our country. But, this time the mission is to benefit every merchant and every consumer nationwide by addressing and drawing attention to the $25 billion annual hidden bank tax on consumers.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oil Company Execs Defend Huge Profits

With top oil executives called to address the Senate hearings on windfall profits and price-gauging, the next question is: where are the Visa, MasterCard and banking executives?

As gas prices doubled so too have the bank's credit card interchange fees and then some. Motorist accustomed to paying in cash are more regularly paying with credit cards due to the higher charge for filling up.

[source: WayTooHigh.com]

What’s the Difference Between Some Banks and Drug Dealers? (WayTooHigh.com)

One of the most powerful memories from the University of Southern California was not just graduating from the School of Business and Entrepreneur Program, but from volunteering on the peer-review board.

As chairperson, one particular student infraction still haunts me today. A pledge-master was freely giving drugs to freshman fraternity seekers; upon winning over their confidence he then became their dealer.

Today, the bank-owned credit card associations share an alarming comparison to the abhorrent practices of drug dealers on a different level. Both exploit the vulnerable and both transact illegal businesses. Price-fixing is illegal.

Through mega-marketing campaigns, the banks promote debit and credit cards; which are now the preferred way to transact business. But, in the process, just as how drug dealers clutch new customers, Visa and MasterCard are equally in control of a mega-monopoly. They set the rates, force the customer to pay whatever they dream up and use their prominence to do just what drug dealers do - get people hooked.

Ashland Food Cooperative, owner of a food-buying club in Oregon is actually discouraging its shoppers from using credit cards, as reported in the Mail Tribune ("The Cost of Doing Business" Nov 8). They even have "plastic-free checkouts." Their policy is similar in scope to GREEN FRIDAY - an educational campaign to use cash rather than charge cards on the day after Thanksgiving. The Oregon co-op even beat us to the campaign. They already have signs urging customers to use cash.

Unlike the clandestine world of drug dealers, banks commenced an arsenal of public relations tools to explain the value of their $25-billion dollar annual plundering on the backs of every retailer and consumer in the nation.

Thirty-years ago their interchange fees were justified. It was cost-based. Today, Visa and MasterCard have market power and the banks which control them are involved in unlawful price fixing which harms our entire nation to the tune of $25-billion every year. With recent record gas prices, their take will soar even higher; remember they get a piece of the action for all charge and debit transactions.

The Mail Tribune article interviewed a bank spokesperson who actually helped not their case, but the antitrust, price-fixing litigation against Visa, MasterCard and member banks. "Joe Danelson, regional president of U.S. Bank - which owns Nova - said that even with the fees, cards are cheaper for merchants than checks because studies show merchants lose more money from check fraud than card fees."

And with that fact, WayTooHigh.com accepts Mr. Danelson’s softball pitch and adds that if charge card transactions are cheaper than checks, then why are their no interchange fees when writing a check? Using Mr. Danelson’s logic, card transactions should then have a negative interchange fee. Perhaps he is on to something?

[source: WayTooHigh.com]