We received the following note from Aaron M. Pitcher, vice president of Cashless Payments Inc. To connect with him on this issue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org:
"I recently attended the SEAA conference in Atlanta and, it was great. I don't know what it is, but vendor food and vendor-sponsored drinks just taste better than the ones I room charged. The conference was standard, with processors, POS suppliers, terminal options and some new stuff. One discussion was on surcharge/cash discount, with many aspects being discussed. The one topic that wasn't really addressed was the 500 lb. gorilla: Visa and Visa Debit.
"Having been in the industry for 25 years, I understand the importance of feeding the gorilla its usual diet of interchange fees, registrations, fines and such. The issue/question is this: How come when it comes to surcharging and cash discounting, we, the merchants and consumers no longer have a choice of credit or debit? How come suddenly, and only in this scenario, is the choice taken away? "Consumers have been told for over 20 years to choose credit or debit. As an industry, we've built credit and debit rails to securely transact the cards. We have explained to merchants that if the card has a Visa logo, you can accept it even if you don't take debit. We have explained that other logos on the back allow you to take it as a debit even if you don't take credit. Today, when I purchase gas with one of these cards, I am asked 'credit or debit' (and gas stations have been surcharging for years, but I digress).
"At grocery and big-box stores it's the same question, 'credit or debit?' but when I enter a small, struggling restaurant that has chosen to surcharge or cash discount, suddenly only Visa has the say as to how that card can be accepted. 'That is a debit, and it can not be surcharged' is the message. Really?
"In reading the Durbin Amendment, Visa seems to be equating that transaction as if it were equal to accepting cash, as in zero charge. If that is the case and I missed the memo, I'm sorry for my misunderstanding. But I thought merchants and we (the processors) still are incurring fees for Visa Debit. Now, when merchants raise questions pertaining to the Durbin Amendment, I can give them a general explanation. But when they ask me, 'Since when is this card only debit?' I have no answer.
"We, as an industry, might have a little more power than we have ever given ourselves. I mean, it is our rails that millions and billions and even over a trillion dollars are safely transferred annually into Visa's coffers. Maybe, for just once, we could stop cutting each other's throats for a second; hold hands with Kroger, our merchants, and each other; and form a 'super zookeeper' and (respectfully, of course) tell Visa that when it comes to surcharge and cash discount, 'We choose credit!'"
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