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January 09, 2012


Is what you see what you get? Proposed pricing disclosures for electronic remittances

In previous posts, we've talked about the state of regulatory reform for remittance payments. Other posts have looked at the evolving landscape for money transmitters—or remittance transfer providers (RTP), as the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) refers to them.

This week's post speaks directly to a proposed consumer protection requirement that RTPs in the United States may have to comply with when they send electronic remittances to recipients in foreign countries. Specifically, the proposed rule would require RTPs to disclose clear and complete information about cross-border money transfer services, including all fees, the exchange rate, and the amount of currency the recipient will actually receive once the fees and exchange rate have been applied.

This sounds reasonable. Under the new rule, consumers would be able to determine the total price, and therefore would know the net proceeds available to the recipient. The rule would also establish error resolution rights for remittance senders, defining standards for the resolution process and procedures for cancelling transactions and refunding fees.

However, variables outside the RTP's control can complicate remittance transfer pricing. Many RTPs have reported that the new requirements threaten to drive consumers to less formal and sometimes illicit money transmitters.

Below, we summarize some of the issues that the CFPB must consider as it crafts the final rule provisions. At issue is whether the agency will effectively achieve its mission of improving transparency for consumers without also bringing about the unintended consequences of onerous regulatory compliance costs for RTPs or undesired process formality for unbanked and possibly less sophisticated consumers.

Why would remittance costs vary?
The following table shows how pricing can change depending on how RTPs combine the fees and foreign exchange costs.

Many commenters on the proposed rule contend that RTPs cannot always control the transaction from start to finish, so compliance with such a requirement could become very complicated. They argue that the sending RTP may not know the exact amount of taxes, fees, and other charges that intermediary firms and governments impose. The lack of such information would also complicate the error resolution process. Nearly all commenters suggested that the rule be modified to allow RTPs to estimate costs based on information available at the time of the transaction.

Disclosures may not be enough to do the job
The CFPB aptly notes that disclosures may be insufficient in the battle for improving transparency and customer awareness. Consumers often rely on shortcuts and opt for convenience when making decisions; they often do not make the most advantageous financial choices. Additionally, many consumers need some extra help to understand disclosures, however well-designed and articulated. The CFPB also therefore recommends augmenting disclosure practices with customer education and outreach campaigns.

There is yet another issue to consider. As we've noted in previous posts, technology is helping create new business models for money transmitters and opening new channels for delivering remittance services. As a result, RTPs will need to modify their disclosure practices for multiple channels as remittance transfers continue to evolve into new innovative products and services. As the new regulator for ensuring that nonbank RTPs are ensuring adequate consumer protections, the CFPB must also assume an adaptive posture in the highly dynamic remittance service market.

Cindy MerrittBy Cynthia Merritt, assistant director of the Retail Payments Risk Forum

January 9, 2012 in consumer protection, remittances, transmitters | Permalink

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