Durbin, Dimon, and interchange

By Felix Salmon
April 14, 2011
Dick Durbin's bodyslam of Jamie Dimon on the subject of debit interchange is, simply, a must-read.

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Dick Durbin’s bodyslam of Jamie Dimon on the subject of debit interchange is, simply, a must-read. If Durbin ever had any dreams of a cushy sinecure on JP Morgan’s board, those have surely now been quashed forever — but being able to write a letter like this on official US Senate letterhead makes it oh so very worth it:

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He’s also not afraid to get personal:

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It’s always difficult for a sitting US senator to pick a fight with a US citizen, because it’s so hard to fight back: it can look like very much like bullying. But Jamie Dimon is no ordinary US citizen, and in fact has more power than Dick Durbin or any other senator. When it comes to bullying, the financial industry clearly has much more control of Congress than Congress has over the financial industry. Durbin, here, is just standing his ground in the face of an astonishing onslaught of mendacious lobbying from Dimon and his minions. Good for him!

If and when Durbin finally wins the debit-interchange fight, he might think about next turning his attentions to credit interchange. This chart comes from Nerdwallet’s Tim Chen:

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Credit-interchange fees in the US are not only the highest in the world, they also make life particularly difficult for smaller merchants:

According to NerdWallet’s calculations, a small supermarket pays $1.15 to process a $50 credit-card transaction from a Visa Signature” customer, while a large supermarket pays $0.63 to process the same transaction from a basic or simple rewards customer…

In the United States, the level of “swipe” or interchange fees appears to be based on merchants’ ability to negotiate (Walmart pays substantially lower processing fees than smaller stores and restaurants). The regulated interchange fees in Europe seem to be based more on the costs of processing.

It’s worth noting that even the super-low fees begrudgingly allowed Walmart are significantly higher than the regulated fees just about anywhere else in the world.

There’s a case to be made for credit interchange fees being significantly higher than debit interchange fees. But there comes a point at which they’re simply ridiculously high by any standard — and the US has now reached that point. If Jamie Dimon continues to anger Durbin on the subject of debit interchange, I do hope he gets his comeuppance on the credit-interchange front.

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