Walmart, Visa Resume Lobbying Battle Over Credit-Card Rules

(Bloomberg) -- Lobbyists for Walmart Inc. and other retailers are joining forces with companies that process payments in the latest battle over the $90 billion that U.S. merchants pay banks annually to process credit and debit-card charges.

Trade groups including the National Retail Federation announced Thursday that they’ve joined with Washington advocates for companies such as First Data Corp. They want regulators and lawmakers to give more companies a say in setting standards for card security and new payment technologies.

“We want a seat at the table,” said Doug Kantor, a lobbyist at Steptoe & Johnson who is leading the new group, called the Secure Payments Partnership. “We are not looking to start another fight but if that’s what happens, then that’s what happens.”

Retailers say networks like Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. make decisions such as which industry is on the hook when cards are stolen. Financial firms counter that retailers and tech companies do have representatives who weigh in on rules for credit cards. They say retailers are just trying to pay less in so-called swipe fees.

Providing Feedback

Regional debit card networks such as Shazam and First Data’s Star have signed on to help the retailers’ in their lobbying efforts. Recently, merchants have complained that they’ve lost the ability to route transactions over these alternative, cheaper networks for online and mobile-wallet transactions that use tokenization technology, which Visa and Mastercard introduced to enhance payment security.

“All players in the payments ecosystem -- including retailers -- have the opportunity to provide feedback and participate in the process,” said Jeff Tassey, chairman of Electronic Payments Coalition, whose members include networks like Visa and banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“While some industries lobbying Washington for further regulation seem to be more interested in cutting their own costs than protecting their customers from fraud, the payments industry is fully committed to providing security and innovation for all participants,” Tassey said.

The group’s launch marks another flash point in a drawn-out clash in Washington over swipe fees, which banks collect from retailers every time a consumer uses a credit card. As more consumers shop online and via mobile phones, retailers and financial firms have battled over who should be in control of new technologies and systems to thwart fraud.

With each new system -- whether it’s an online checkout button, chip cards or Apple Pay -- every company involved in transactions must adopt new systems and standards. Currently, several councils run by the card networks make those decisions.

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