Review of Card Payments Regulation 2. The Bank's Card System Reforms

The Bank's Early Reforms

The Reserve Bank's reforms in the card payments sphere have used regulatory powers given to the Bank following the 1996–97 Financial System Inquiry. The Wallis Report suggested that the Australian payments system could be characterised by relatively high overall costs and that there was scope for substantial efficiency gains, including greater use of electronic payments and reduced use of cash and cheques. It also noted, however, that card payment systems were characterised by opaque fee arrangements, distortionary incentives for certain cardholders and restrictive entry criteria and trade practices. In particular, the Report found that ad valorem interchange fees on credit cards meant that the cost to merchants of providing credit card acceptance to consumers could be very high and were ultimately borne by consumers in the form of higher prices.

The changes to Australia's financial regulatory structure introduced in response to the Wallis Report included a new structure for payments system regulation. Under the new structure, the Bank was given regulatory powers to promote efficiency, competition and stability in the payments system. The Payments System Board was established to focus on payments system issues and to determine the Bank's payments system policy. The Reserve Bank Act 1959 (as amended) gives the Board a mandate to direct the Bank's payments system policy to the greatest advantage of the people of Australia. The Act specifies that the Board's powers under the Payment Systems (Regulation) Act 1998 (PSRA) and the Payment Systems and Netting Act 1998 are to be exercised in a way that will best contribute to:

  • controlling risk in the financial system
  • promoting the efficiency of the payments system
  • promoting competition in the market for payment services, consistent with the overall stability of the financial system.[1]

The PSRA sets out the main powers of the Bank in respect of payments system policy and the factors that the Bank must take into account in determining the public interest. These include that payment systems should be financially safe, efficient and competitive, and that they should not contribute to increased risk to the financial system. Part 3 of the PSRA allows the Bank, among other things, to:

  • ‘designate’ a particular payment system as being subject to regulation
  • impose an access regime for any designated system (i.e. a regulation that seeks to ensure that new participants are able to access a network on fair and reasonable terms)
  • set standards with which participants of a designated system must comply.

Consistent with the model proposed by the Wallis Report, payment systems in Australia largely operate without regulatory intervention. The Board has not opted for regulation as a first resort but initially seeks to encourage industry initiatives to address areas of concern; only intervening on public interest grounds when industry is clearly unable to do so.

The Wallis Report recommended that the Bank and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should review interchange fee arrangements for credit and debit cards, and that access arrangements in the payments system be liberalised. Accordingly the Bank and the ACCC undertook a study of the pricing, rules and access arrangements of card payment systems in Australia. This detailed analysis culminated in the publication of the ‘Joint Study’ in October 2000 (RBA and ACCC 2000).[2]

The Joint Study found that the card systems, exercising market power, tended to have arrangements that detracted from the efficiency and competitiveness of Australia's payments system. The Study suggested that three aspects of credit card scheme rules seemed to be impeding the efficiency of the overall payments system: the collective setting of interchange fees; ‘no surcharge’ rules that prevented merchants from passing on the cost of accepting credit cards; and restrictions on membership that appeared to be stronger than needed to protect the integrity of the schemes. The Study concluded that the interests of end users of card payment services needed to be more directly engaged in the pricing process and conditions of entry to card payment networks needed to be more open.

The Board's reform process for credit cards formally began in April 2001, when, following a period of consultation, the Bank designated the Bankcard, MasterCard and Visa credit card schemes in Australia.[3] The Bank then undertook a comprehensive evaluation of the credit card schemes' arrangements and examined whether there were any changes that could address the problems identified in the Joint Study and thus improve competition and efficiency and further the public interest. The Board announced a package of reforms in August 2002 after extensive consultation.

The first reform measure to take effect, the Standard on merchant pricing, came into force in January 2003. It removed the restrictions imposed by the international credit card schemes on the freedom of merchants in Australia to charge according to the method of payment. Although not formally captured by the Bank's regulatory measures, American Express and Diners Club gave voluntary undertakings to remove their restrictions on merchant pricing.

The second measure, the Standard on interchange fees, came into effect in July 2003. Interchange fees are wholesale fees paid between a merchant's financial institution and a cardholder's financial institution when a cardholder undertakes a transaction. Historically, interchange fees had been set collectively by the members of the scheme. Competition between the schemes had, if anything, created upward – not downward – pressure on these fees. The higher the interchange fee paid to card issuers, the greater their incentive to issue the cards of a scheme and the larger the subsidies that can be paid to cardholders to encourage use of those cards. At least up to some limit, merchants appear unable to resist the high merchant service fees that result, typically finding it difficult to decline acceptance of cards given the risk of losing sales (see ‘Box A: Interchange Fees’).

The Standard set an interchange fee benchmark for each scheme and increased transparency of these fees. The benchmark was based on the average costs of the issuers of each scheme. Since November 2006, there has been a common cost-based benchmark for average interchange fees of 50 basis points for both MasterCard and Visa.

The third plank of the Bank's reform of credit card schemes, the Access Regimes for the credit card systems, was intended to reduce barriers to entry, including for non-financial institutions wishing to participate in the designated card schemes. The regime was finalised in February 2004 and involved the creation of a special class of institutions, to be authorised by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, to conduct only credit card activities.[4]

In September 2002, the package of reforms was challenged in the Federal Court on procedural and jurisdictional grounds by MasterCard International and Visa International. The Court rejected the challenge in September 2003, finding that the Bank had validly and properly exercised its powers.[5]

Reform of the debit card systems began in 2004, with the Bank designating the Visa Debit system in February and the eftpos system in September.[6] The Debit MasterCard system has not been formally designated but MasterCard provided a voluntary undertaking to comply with the standards applying to Visa Debit. In October 2004, a group of merchants mounted a challenge to the designation of the eftpos system, focused on the Bank's jurisdiction and regulatory processes. The challenge was dismissed on all counts.[7]

The structure of interchange fees at the time created a strong incentive for financial institutions to promote the international scheme credit and debit systems over the eftpos system, despite the eftpos system having lower resource costs. When a cardholder made a payment with an eftpos card, the institution that issued the card paid around 20 cents to the merchant's bank. In contrast, if the payment was made with an international scheme debit card, the institution that issued the card received around 44 cents on average. This difference in fees existed despite both forms of payment accessing a deposit account. In the Bank's view, if the arrangements remained unchanged, it was highly likely that the international scheme systems would grow at the expense of the eftpos system, simply because of the structure of interchange fees.

By significantly narrowing the difference in these fees, the Bank's debit card reforms sought to promote competition between the schemes based on the benefits that they offer to cardholders and merchants, rather than on fees that were not subject to normal competitive pressures. In April 2006, the Bank released a package of reforms to Australia's debit card systems, including Standards to apply to Visa Debit interchange fees and Visa's ‘honour-all-cards’ and ‘no-surcharge’ rules. These reforms took effect in July 2006. As a result of the reforms, the average interchange fee for a MasterCard or Visa debit transaction fell from around 44 cents to 12 cents. In addition, from January 2007, merchants were no longer obliged to accept a scheme's debit cards as a condition of accepting its credit cards and vice versa. eftpos interchange fees were also reduced – to between 4 and 5 cents, paid to the merchant's bank. Subsequently, with the creation of a scheme to govern the eftpos system, regulation of eftpos interchange fees has been aligned to that applying to the MasterCard and Visa debit systems, and eftpos interchange fees now typically flow to the issuer.

Box A: Interchange Fees

An interchange fee is a fee charged by the financial institution on one side of a payment transaction to the financial institution on the other side of the transaction. They are most commonly seen in card transactions, although can arise in other payment methods.[8]

A typical card transaction (Figure 1) involves four parties – the cardholder, the cardholder's financial institution (the issuer), the merchant and the merchant's financial institution (the acquirer). For most card transactions, the interchange fee is paid by the acquirer to the issuer. Interchange fees can have important implications for the prevalence and acceptance of different cards as well as the relative costs faced by consumers and merchants. In contrast to normal markets for goods and services, competition in payment card networks can actually drive fees higher.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Stylised Flows in a Card Transaction

Financial institutions typically charge fees to their customers for payment services. Cardholders are charged by their financial institution in a variety of ways. In the case of payments from a deposit account such as debit cards, financial institutions typically charge a monthly account-keeping fee and, sometimes, a fee per transaction (or for transactions above a certain number). In the case of payments using a credit card, financial institutions usually charge an annual fee rather than a per transaction fee, and interest is charged on borrowings that are not repaid by a specified due date.

Merchants receiving payments are also typically charged by their financial institutions. The fees paid by merchants usually depend on the payment method. For credit and debit cards, merchants are usually charged a ‘merchant service fee’ for every card payment they accept. Some merchants are also charged a fee by their financial institution to rent a terminal to accept cards.

In contrast, interchange fees are paid between financial institutions and are present in many, but not all, card systems.[9] Interchange fees are often not transparent; cardholders and merchants do not typically see them. But they have an impact on the fees that cardholders and merchants pay.

Prior to the Bank's reforms, interchange fees in the international credit and debit card schemes (MasterCard and Visa) worked differently to the domestic debit card system (eftpos).

In the MasterCard and Visa card schemes, interchange fees are paid by the merchant's financial institution to the cardholder's financial institution every time a payment is made using a MasterCard or Visa card. This has two effects. First, the merchant's financial institution will charge the merchant for the cost of providing it with the acceptance service plus the fee that it must pay to the card issuer (the interchange fee). The higher the interchange fee that the merchant's financial institution must pay, the more the merchant will have to pay to accept a card payment. Second, since the card issuer is receiving a fee from the merchant's financial institution every time its card is used, it does not need to charge its customer – the cardholder – as much. The higher the interchange fee, therefore, the less the cardholder has to pay. In effect, the merchant is meeting some of the card issuer's costs which can then be used to subsidise the cardholder. Indeed, with rewards programs, the cardholder may actually be paid to use his/her card for transactions.

Where the market structure is such that there are two payment networks whose cards are accepted very widely (i.e. merchants accept cards from both networks), and where consumers may hold one network's card but not necessarily both, competition tends to involve offering incentives for a consumer to hold and use a particular network's cards (loyalty or rewards programs, typically). A network that increases the interchange fee paid by the merchant's bank to the cardholder's bank enables the cardholder's bank to pay more generous incentives, and can increase use of its cards. However, the competitive response from the other network is to increase the interchange rates applicable to its cards.

That is, competition in well-established payment card networks can lead to the perverse result of increasing the price of payment services to merchants (and thereby leading to higher retail prices for consumers). This phenomenon has been most clearly observed in the US credit card market, which has not been subject to any regulation, with a 2009 report documenting a significant increase in interchange fees over the previous two decades (United States Government Accountability Office 2009). It has also occurred to an extent in the Australian credit card market over the past decade, with average interchange rates in the MasterCard and Visa systems tending to rise in between the three-year compliance resets under the current interchange Standard. As discussed further in Chapter 4, this has in part reflected the introduction of new, significantly higher interchange categories by the schemes.

In contrast to the fees charged in the international card schemes, in the eftpos system the cardholder's financial institution until recently paid the merchant's financial institution a fee for each eftpos transaction. This also had two effects. First, it increased the cost to the cardholder's bank and, potentially, the fee paid by the cardholder to use eftpos. Second, since the merchant's financial institution received a fee from the card issuer, it did not need to charge the merchant as much – if the fee was high enough, the merchant could even receive a fee from its financial institution. In this case, the cardholder was in effect meeting some of the costs of the merchant's financial institution.

When one compares the incentives for cardholders and merchants and for their financial institutions the implications of the different interchange flows described above are clear. Other things equal – in particular assuming no regulatory intervention and no surcharging by merchants to offset the differences in their costs – cardholders will have a preference to use a card from a network where interchange payments flow to the card-issuing financial institution, while merchants will prefer to receive cards from a network where interchange fees flow in the opposite direction. In circumstances where multiple card networks are widely accepted by merchants (as in Australia and many other developed countries), the consumer typically decides which means of payment is tendered and used in a transaction. Given this, financial institutions will have an incentive to issue cards from networks where interchange fees flow from the merchant's financial institution to the cardholder's institution, and competition may lead networks to increase the size of such fees. The generosity of cardholder rewards programs will rise, as will the cost of payments to merchants.

Interchange fees may be appropriate in some circumstances, particularly in the establishment of new systems where they may be necessary to rebalance costs between the sides of the market and ensure that both sides of a market have an incentive to participate. However, the major card schemes are mature systems, and regulators in many countries have reached the judgement that their cards are ‘must take’ methods of payments – that is, that merchants have little choice but to accept their cards. In practice, with interchange fees being used to incentivise issuers to issue cards from a particular scheme and cardholders to use that card, the tendency has been for competition between mature card schemes to drive up interchange fees and costs to merchants, with adverse effects on the efficiency of the payments system.

The 2007–08 Review

When the Bank announced its regulation of the credit card schemes in August 2002, it indicated it would conduct a review of its reforms after five years. In 2007 the Bank initiated a formal review of all of its payments system reforms, as well as the arrangements in some other payment systems that had not been subject to regulation, such as BPAY and ATMs. While this was the first formal review of the Bank's payments system reforms to that point, the reforms had been subject to considerable external scrutiny via two unsuccessful legal challenges (noted above), as well as in a 1½ day special hearing by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration. The Committee's report, while recognising that there were a wide range of views about the reforms, concluded that ‘the benefits of the reform, at this point, outweigh any alleged disadvantages’.[10]

The 2007–08 Review provided the opportunity to consider the reforms – which had been progressively implemented – as a package, with particular focus on the way the configuration of interchange fees across the various payment systems had influenced relative prices for payment services. In addition to extensive bilateral consultation, the Review encompassed an industry conference hosted by the Bank and the Melbourne Business School, which provided an open forum for discussion of the reforms. Around 90 people participated, including all members of the Board, representatives from financial institutions, merchants, schemes and academics.[11]

To inform its analysis, the Bank also undertook two studies: a cost study updating and extending the data on costs collected as part of the Joint Study in 2000, and an extensive study of how individuals make their payments. The Bank's findings from these studies were presented at the conference. The new cost study confirmed the earlier findings on payment instrument costs. In particular, it confirmed that the resource costs involved in credit card transactions were significantly higher than for eftpos transactions, even after excluding those costs associated with the credit function. Cash was found to be the lowest cost payment method for the low-value transactions for which it is generally used.

The Preliminary Conclusions of the Review were released in April 2008 (RBA 2008a). In September 2008, following further consultation, the Conclusions were released (RBA 2008b). In the Conclusions, the Board reaffirmed its view that the reforms had met their main objectives of: improving price signals in the payments system; increasing transparency; improving access; and creating a more soundly based competitive environment. The Review concluded that close oversight of retail payment systems would continue to be necessary.

The Review found no case for allowing the schemes to reimpose their ‘no-surcharge’ rules or to reimpose their earlier ‘honour-all-cards’ rules. It suggested that the various Access Regimes should remain in place and that there was a strong case for further improving the transparency of the payments system, in particular, by the publication of average interchange fees and scheme fees.

However, the Review identified an opportunity to step back from direct regulation of interchange fees, predicated on there being a sufficiently strong competitive environment to prevent interchange fees rising over time from their regulated levels. Two approaches to addressing this risk were identified:

  • Industry could strengthen competition through measures which included: enhancement of the eftpos system to allow it to compete more effectively with the international card schemes and the development of an alternative system for online payments; further modifications to the honour-all-cards rules to allow merchants to make separate acceptance decisions for any card for which there was a separate interchange fee; and more transparent scheme fees.
  • Four-party schemes could directly address the Board's concerns that interchange fees might rise by providing voluntary undertakings that the weighted average of credit card interchange fees would not rise above 0.5 per cent.

The Board indicated that, if industry was not able to make sufficient progress on these, interchange regulation would be retained and the benchmark for credit card interchange fees could be reduced to 0.3 per cent.

Following the release of the Conclusions, the Bank closely monitored industry progress. While progress was made, in August 2009 the Board concluded that it had not been sufficient to warrant a decision to step back from interchange regulation (RBA 2009). While the Board welcomed the establishment of eftpos Payments Australia Limited (ePAL) to operate the eftpos system as a scheme and the industry's commitment to develop an online payment system via its MAMBO (Me at My Bank Online) project, it did not believe that these initiatives had reached the point where they could exert significant competitive pressure on interchange fees. The Board also concluded that, despite the willingness of both MasterCard and Visa to work with the Bank to implement voluntary undertakings, the set of undertakings developed did not meet the Board's requirements.

Although the Board did not believe it was in the public interest to remove interchange regulation at the time, it decided to defer consideration of further reductions in interchange fees in light of the progress that had been made. It indicated that it would keep matters under review and would be prepared to reopen consideration of the regulations in light of industry developments.

Developments since the 2007–08 Review

Reforms to card payments regulation in Australia have been more incremental over the past five years. However, it is noteworthy that the initial reforms put in place by the Bank have been followed by similar reforms in a large number of other jurisdictions (see ‘Box B: Retail Payments Reforms in Other Jurisdictions’).

Box B: Retail Payments Reforms in Other Jurisdictions

At the time the Wallis Committee made its recommendations on the card systems, it was unusual for central banks or other authorities to take action focused on retail payments efficiency; restrictions on interchange fees and actions against scheme arrangements such as ‘no-surcharge’ rules were uncommon. However, subsequent to the reforms in Australia, an increasing number of countries have undertaken or proposed similar reforms.

In the case of interchange fees and merchant service fees, tables compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City list 38 jurisdictions as having undertaken action or initiated investigations (Hayashi and Maniff 2014). This includes recent actions in Europe and the United States.

By the end of 2015 the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (EU) are anticipated to have approved an amended version of the package of reforms to retail payment regulations in the European Economic Area (EEA) proposed by the European Commission (EC) in 2013. The package takes a similar regulatory approach to that of the Board over the past decade, and the explanatory memoranda to the proposal made a number of references to Australian payments system reforms to support the EC's proposed actions.

The proposed reforms include a cap on interchange fees on cards that are widely used by consumers and therefore difficult for retailers to refuse. Under the current amendments, interchange fees on all such transactions would eventually be capped at 30 basis points for credit cards and 20 basis points for debit cards, although member states also have the option of applying a fixed-value cap in combination with the basis point cap, or expressing the cap as the sum of a fixed value and percentage rate for domestic debit card transactions. While caps of 30 and 20 basis points have previously been agreed to by MasterCard and Visa for cross-border transactions in the EEA, implementation has been mixed, so the EC has decided that there is a need for an EC-wide regulatory cap applying to all transactions involving international and domestic four-party schemes. The EC argued that a failure to regulate would risk the disappearance of (typically cheaper) domestic card schemes and stymie the entry of new payments technologies and players.

The documentation to the reforms notes that caps of 30 and 20 basis points are consistent with the ‘merchant indifference test’.[12] They also appear to be ‘reasonable benchmarks that have already been implemented without calling into question the operation of international card schemes’ (European Commission 2013b, p 13). The EC considered a zero interchange fee for debit cards and noted that eight EU member states currently have very low or zero debit interchange fees and these tend to be markets with high card issuance and use.

In the United States, interchange fees have also been subject to recent regulatory action. Debit card interchange fees (on cards issued by institutions with more than $10 billion in assets) have been subject to a cap since October 2011 (Federal Reserve System 2011). This follows the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act 2010, which required the Federal Reserve Board to develop rules for debit card interchange fees and network routing restrictions. Credit card interchange fees in the United States are not subject to interchange regulation but are currently the subject of a number of legal challenges by merchants.

In the period since the implementation of the Wallis reforms, provisions such as ‘no-surcharge’ and ‘honour-all-cards’ rules have also come under increasing scrutiny by central banks and other authorities. As at August 2014, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City listed 36 jurisdictions as having taken action in relation to surcharges and discounts (a majority of these allow or enable surcharging, but in some cases surcharging has been prohibited but discounts allowed).

In Europe, the amended reform package includes the regulation of scheme rules covering a wide variety of topics. ‘Honour-all-cards’ and ‘no steering’ rules must be removed, so that merchants have greater choice in accepting or rejecting individual card products, including categories within a product range (e.g. accepting standard but not premium products). Any rules preventing merchants from disclosing to customers the interchange or merchant service fees that they are charged for payment services will be prohibited.

However, surcharging would be prohibited for payment methods which have regulated interchange fees: the EC argues that the new, low interchange fee cap and changes to scheme rules (which will increase transparency on costs and allow merchants to limit the cards they accept) sufficiently reduce the costs faced by merchants for these transactions. For other transactions (including corporate cards and three-party scheme cards, but also credit transfers, direct debits and cheques), surcharges must not exceed the costs borne by the merchant for the use of the payment instrument, in line with the recently enacted Consumer Rights Directive.

Reforms in a range of other countries have also established the right of merchants to surcharge for more expensive means of payments. For example, in December 2013 the New Zealand Commerce Commission noted that the ability of retailers to surcharge has provided benefits to the consumer because it is now ‘a user pays system’. That is, customers using more costly payment methods are not being effectively subsidised at the expense of customers who use cheaper payment methods.

Having determined in August 2009 that it would maintain the regulatory regime for card payments for the time being, the Bank then initiated consultation on a change to the regulation of eftpos interchange fees to ensure a more level playing field between the eftpos and international scheme debit systems. A revised Standard came into effect from January 2010, capping the weighted average of any multilateral interchange fees in the eftpos system (determined by ePAL) at the same level as for scheme debit – 12 cents paid to the issuer. Further changes became effective in July 2013, with the regulation of any bilaterally negotiated interchange fees shifting to a basis consistent with other eftpos interchange fees and those of the international debit schemes. The changes were intended to place eftpos and the international debit schemes on a more consistent regulatory footing. eftpos has now moved from bilateral to multilateral interchange fees, with the highest fees set at 5 cents per transaction – flowing to the issuer, the opposite direction to pre-reform fees – which is well below the cap of 12 cents per transaction.

The Bank has also made a number of changes to access arrangements for the card systems. In November 2012, the Board made an in-principle decision (which is likely to take effect in mid 2015) that it would revoke the existing Access Regime for the eftpos system once it was satisfied that ePAL, the company managing the system, had put in place suitable access arrangements for new entrants. And in March 2014, the Board made an in-principle decision to modify its Access Regimes for the MasterCard and Visa systems. This reflected its conclusion that, while the original Access Regimes were appropriate when introduced, changes in industry structure and in the ownership of the card systems had meant that the regimes were now unduly restricting access. The amended framework became effective in January 2015 and will provide the card systems with the flexibility to expand membership beyond existing participants. The card systems are required to have in place transparent eligibility and assessment criteria and to report information about membership and applications to the Bank.

The Bank has also been involved in negotiations with the three debit networks (eftpos, MasterCard and Visa) regarding issues concerning dual-network debit cards – that is cards issued by banks and other financial institutions with point-of-sale debit functionality from two payment networks. While these cards are convenient for cardholders and allow stronger competition between networks at the point of sale, the Bank was concerned that actions by particular networks could inhibit competition, limit consumer choice and increase costs. Following discussions between the networks and the Bank, the networks agreed to address the Board's concerns voluntarily, safeguarding the rights of Australian card-issuing banks and institutions to maintain existing dual-network arrangements as card transactions increasingly shifted to the contactless environment. In particular, where an issuer wishes to include applications from two networks on the same card and chip, the networks agreed to work constructively with the issuer to allow this. The networks also agreed not to prevent merchants exercising choice in the networks they accept, in both the contact and contactless environments. In addition, the networks have agreed not to prevent merchants from exercising their own transaction routing priorities when there are two contactless debit applications on one card.

Finally, the Bank has modified its Standard with respect to surcharging. The initial reforms, effective January 2003, required the removal of the card schemes' no-surcharge rules and allowed merchants to pass on the cost of credit card and scheme debit card transactions, resulting in improvement in price signals to cardholders. Reflecting concerns about excessive surcharging by some merchants and a tendency towards the ‘blending’ of surcharges for higher- and lower-cost schemes, in May 2012 the Board decided to vary the surcharging Standards to allow card scheme rules to limit surcharges to the reasonable cost of card acceptance. The Bank subsequently published a Guidance Note on the varied surcharging Standards, to provide clarification about the costs that might be included in ‘the reasonable cost of acceptance’. The Bank has continued to monitor developments with respect to card surcharging and signalled in its March 2014 submission to the Financial System Inquiry that it might consider additional changes to the regulatory framework in this regard.


While the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has broad responsibility for competition and access issues in all industries under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, the Bank and the ACCC have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to ensure appropriate coordination between the two agencies in the payments system. The legislation and MoU are designed to ensure that there is no regulatory overlap between the two agencies. [1]

Concurrent with the Joint Study, but quite separately, the ACCC had asked Australian banks to consider having the setting of interchange fees on credit cards subjected to the test of authorisation under the Trade Practices Act 1974. In early 2001, however, the ACCC suggested that the Bank's powers could better address concerns with competition and interchange fees. [2]

With the closure of the Bankcard scheme, the Bank revoked its designation and regulations in 2007. [3]

Subsequent changes in the ownership structure of the schemes and developments in card issuing and acquiring markets led the Bank to modify the Access Regimes in concert with changes to the Banking Regulations 1966, providing the schemes with greater flexibility to establish access eligibility and assessment criteria. These changes were implemented on 1 January 2015. [4]

For the final judgment, see Visa International Service Association v Reserve Bank of Australia [2003] FCA 977. [5]

References in this document to eftpos are to the domestic debit scheme, now operated by eftpos Payments Australia Limited (ePAL), rather than to the broader concept of electronic funds transfer at the point of sale. [6]

For the final judgment handed down in the Federal Court, see Australian Retailers Association v Reserve Bank of Australia [2005] FCA 1707. [7]

There is now a substantial theoretical literature on the role of interchange fees in card systems; see Verdier (2011) for a recent survey. [8]

For example, the European Commission (2013a) notes (p 53) that ‘in Norway, the absence of IFs [interchange fees] for debit cards is accompanied by very high level of card acceptance by merchants and usage. Denmark also has one of the highest card usage rates in the EU at 216 transactions per capita with a zero-MIF [multilateral interchange fee] debit scheme. This is also true of international schemes: in Switzerland Maestro has no MIF and is the main debit card system. It is also worth noting that all European card schemes were originally created without MIFs. MIFs have been introduced by banks and card schemes only later.’ [9]

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration (2006), p iv. [10]

See Reserve Bank of Australia and Melbourne Business School (2008) for more detail. [11]

The merchant indifference test is the proposition that interchange fees be set at a level that results in a cost of card acceptance that makes the typical merchant indifferent between accepting a card payment and other widely used forms of payment. For further details, see Rochet and Tirole (2011) and European Commission (2013b). [12]