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Özlem Bedre-Defolie

30 December 2009
In a payment card association such as Visa, each time a consumer pays by card, the bank of the merchant (acquirer) pays an interchange fee (IF) to the bank of the cardholder (issuer) to carry out the transaction. This paper studies the determinants of socially and privately optimal IFs in a card scheme where services are provided by a monopoly issuer and perfectly competitive acquirers to heterogeneous consumers and merchants. Different from the literature, we distinguish card membership from card usage decisions (and fees). In doing so, we reveal the implications of an asymmetry between consumers and merchants: the card usage decision at a point of sale is delegated to cardholders since merchants are not allowed to turn down cards once they are affiliated with a card network. We show that this asymmetry is sufficient to induce the card association to set a higher IF than the socially optimal IF, and thus to distort the structure of user fees by leading to too low card usage fees at the expense of too high merchant fees. Hence, cap regulations on IFs can improve the welfare. These qualitative results are robust to imperfect issuer competition, imperfect acquirer competition, and to other factors affecting final demands, such as elastic consumer participation or strategic card acceptance to attract consumers.
JEL Code
G21 : Financial Economics→Financial Institutions and Services→Banks, Depository Institutions, Micro Finance Institutions, Mortgages
L11 : Industrial Organization→Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance→Production, Pricing, and Market Structure, Size Distribution of Firms
L42 : Industrial Organization→Antitrust Issues and Policies→Vertical Restraints, Resale Price Maintenance, Quantity Discounts
L31 : Industrial Organization→Nonprofit Organizations and Public Enterprise→Nonprofit Institutions, NGOs
L51 : Industrial Organization→Regulation and Industrial Policy→Economics of Regulation
K21 : Law and Economics→Regulation and Business Law→Antitrust Law
Retail payments: integration & innovation