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July 25, 2011


Is the final Durbin Amendment rule an impetus for EMV in the United States?

On June 29, the Federal Reserve Board released its much-anticipated final rule, Regulation II, to the Durbin Amendment. The Board's final rule significantly differs from its interim rule on this amendment, resulting in ample commentary from the payments industry, financial institutions, and the merchant community.

However, there has been little commentary provided about the potential impact the final rule may have on encouraging the migration of debit cards away from mag stripe to the EMV standard. Upon closer examination of the Board's lengthy final rule, it appears that issuers might have the ability to recoup a portion of EMV-related costs should they opt to migrate away from magnetic-stripe technology in the years ahead.

Initially, the Board limited allowable costs for the calculation of the interchange fee cap of $0.12 to include only variable costs associated with the authorization, clearance, and settlement (ACS) of transactions. In setting the final interchange cap base component at $0.21, the Board broadened its definition of allowable costs and included costs incurred to effect a debit transaction such as network connectivity and processing fees. The Board also included fixed costs, such as hardware and software costs, in developing its final interchange cap.

In addition to the $0.21 base component of the interchange cap, the Board included an ad valorem component of 5 basis points of the transaction value to reflect a portion of issuers' fraud losses. Finally, the final rule allows for a fraud-prevention adjustment of $0.01 per transaction, conditioned upon the issuer adopting effective fraud-prevention policies and procedures. These interchange fees become effective on October 1, 2011.

The final rule requires that the Board collect cost data from debit card issuers biennially. Presumably, the Board can make any necessary adjustments to the base component, the ad valorem component, and the fraud-prevention adjustment based on issuers' biennial reports of incurred costs.

What impact will the Board's final rule have on the future of EMV?
If the Board makes future adjustments to the interchange standard components based on the survey of costs every two years, language within the Board's final rule suggests that issuers may be able to recoup some, but not all, costs associated with an EMV migration. Given the Board's addition of fixed costs as allowable costs, hardware and software costs incurred by issuers to migrate to EMV might be included in future adjustments to the base component of the interchange cap. While the research and development (R&D) costs are not included in the base interchange standard, the rule states "the cost of research and development of new authentication methods would be considered in the fraud-prevention adjustment." Should issuers adopt EMV, R&D costs incurred are allowable under the fraud prevention adjustment standard. Finally, the final rule clearly excludes the cost of card production and delivery—a requirement for migration to EMV—as an allowable cost.

The impact of the Durbin Amendment on movement toward EMV remains open to debate. Is the potential for future debit card interchange rate increases enough to motivate issuers to finally migrate to the EMV standard? Do the current interchange cap and exclusion of some EMV-related costs from the interchange standard hinder a future move toward EMV? I am optimistic that future potential adjustments to the components of the interchange standard under the final rule's expanded set of allowable costs—along with the consideration of R&D costs as part of the fraud adjustment component—will have a positive impact on migration to EMV.

By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

July 25, 2011 in bank supervision, consumer protection, EMV | Permalink

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