The Federal Reserve, which this year skipped its now traditional January cut in Fedwire prices, on Monday announced its first midyear cut ever but, in another first, only for the biggest customers.
Starting Aug. 1, institutions with more than 80,000 Fedwire originations per month will pay a penny less 16 cents per transaction rather than 17 cents.
Since 1996 the Fed had lowered online transfer fees almost 60% through January cuts announced the preceding fall. This was the first year since 1996 without such a cut.
Surprisingly robust volumes and lower operating costs prompted the move, said Dara Hunt, a senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who is the product manager of the Feds Wholesale Payments Product Office. Going into this year, we didnt know if we could reduce fees, she said.
By law, the Fed must earn enough to recover its costs while remaining competitive with the private sector. Our projections didnt give us a whole lot of headroom, but they turned out to be somewhat conservative, Ms. Hunt said.
Fedwire is a high-speed electronic payment system that is owned and operated by the Federal Reserve banks. Payments are initiated, processed, and settled individually and immediately upon receipt; once processed by the reserve banks, Fedwire payments are final and irrevocable.
Since the mid-1990s the Fed had slashed fees across the board, from 53 cents in 1995 to just more than 22 cents on average last year.
Mondays announcement is in keeping with a trend of declining prices for electronic services, said Michael Herd, the director of public relations for Nacha, the rulemaking body governing automated clearing house and other electronic transactions. When you have higher volumes, you have better efficiencies, unit costs, and processing costs, so you can charge lower fees, he said.
Ms. Hunt said technical efficiencies and the streamlining of manual operations had enabled the Fed to reduce costs. To be good service providers we have to be as lean possible while also being extremely reliable, secure, and stable, she said. Since the mid-1990s, the Fed has been pushing a lot of excess costs out of the service.
In 1999 the Fed began a policy of volume-based pricing, establishing three tiers for origination volume. That year and last year fees in all three tiers were reduced.
This time around the savings were earmarked for high-volume customers because of their importance to overall operations, Ms. Hunt said.
To protect the fees of all our customers, to maintain a really viable service, we need to maintain our high-volume customers, she said. We want to maintain reasonable fees for all of our customers, and paying attention to the needs of our high-volume customers will provide befits across the service.
The Fed plans on spreading these savings around to other customer segments in the future, Ms. Hunt said.