In his Sept. 18 op-ed, American Bankers Association chief executive Frank Keating claims that the Federal Reserve's debit card interchange fee regulations have not done enough to help merchants or consumers. I agree.
The Fed's Regulation II allows interchange rates to be charged at an unreasonably high level that far exceeds the real costs of transactions. The Fed's final rule failed to adequately follow the law I wrote and did too little to rein in the lucrative swipe fee price-fixing scheme created by Visa, MasterCard and debit card-issuing banks. Under the Fed's rule, Visa and MasterCard have gleefully raised swipe fee rates on many types of debit transactions, boosting the profits of their big-bank allies but hurting Main Street businesses and their customers.
What Mr. Keating fails to mention is that his association played a leading role in shaping the Fed's final rule. The ABA aggressively, and successfully, lobbied the Fed to abandon its strong proposed rule and to adopt a watered-down final rule that diminished the savings that merchants and consumers would receive. The consequences Mr. Keating cites were predictable and orchestrated by the ABA. It's time for the Fed to stop giving deference to the banking industry and correct the industry's swipe fee increases on small-ticket transactions. The point of the law was to curb swipe fee abuses, not make them worse.
Also, while Mr. Keating claims that swipe fee regulation has "made it much more difficult for banks to offer free or low-cost checking accounts," the ABA announced last September that "the majority of Americans — 62% — pay nothing at all for bank services such as checking account maintenance and ATM access" and that "the number of people who say they pay nothing in bank fees increased 7% in the last year." Five years have now passed since the Durbin amendment's enactment and it is clear, by the ABA's own admission, that free checking is alive and well.
The real laugh line in Mr. Keating's piece is the suggestion that swipe fees were the product of the marketplace. How can anyone argue that a fee imposed by credit card companies for retailers to pay banks is a product of market competition? Only in the eyes of the ABA.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is the assistant Democratic leader.