British watchdog sets out plan to shine a light on card payments

© Reuters.

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s payments watchdog proposed reforms on Wednesday to increase competition in card services for retailers after cashless transactions increased sharply during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) said its remedies, put out for public consultation until April, tackle the lack of transparency in fees charged to retailers to companies who handle their card payments as well as address indefinite contracts for such services and contracts that discourage switching providers.

Lawmakers want more competition in card payments given that fees charged to retailers are passed on to consumers, but the PSR said it was not currently considering any direct intervention on pricing structures.

Card “acquiring” services from Barclaycard, Elavon, Lloyds (LON:) Bank Cardnet, Global Payments and Worldpay — the five largest — enable shops to accept card payments from customers buying goods and services.

In return, the acquirers pay fees to Mastercard (NYSE:) and Visa (NYSE:), who operate the international card payment systems that account for a high proportion of transactions.

The PSR said it proposes that the acquirers give retailers standardised key price information and send messages to retailers when an initial contract is due to expire, followed by annual messages to trigger consideration of alternative acquirers.

A further remedy would ensure that retailers are not prevented or discouraged by acquirers from searching and switching between services, the PSR said.

“We invite industry to develop detailed proposed specifications for the remedies we describe and for any other measures they wish to propose,” the PSR said in its consultation paper.

Final remedies will be published later this year.

There are around 157 million cards in issue in Britain, and consumers made 15.5 billion debit card payments in 2020.

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