Australia’s competition watchdog has commenced legal proceedings against Mastercard for allegedly trying to stifle competition in the supply of debit card acceptance services.
Mastercard’s alleged anti-competitive conduct commenced in late 2017 in response to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s least cost routing initiative. This aimed to increase competition in the supply of debit card acceptance services and reduce payment costs for businesses by allowing them to choose the lowest cost network to process their transactions.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges that Mastercard attempted to circumvent the decree by offering cheaper interchange fee rates to more than 20 major retail businesses, including supermarkets, fast food chains and clothing retailers.
The agreements meant that these businesses would not process significant debit card volumes through the eftpos network even though eftpos was often the lowest cost provider.
“We allege that Mastercard had substantial power in the market for the supply of credit card acceptance services, and that a substantial purpose of Mastercard’s conduct was to hinder the competitive process by deterring businesses from using eftpos for processing debit transactions,” says ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb. “We are concerned that Mastercard’s alleged conduct meant that businesses did not receive the full benefit of the increased competition that was intended to flow from the least cost routing initiative.”
In March 2021, the ACCC accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from Visa in relation to concerns that the card scheme may also have limited competition in relation to debit card acceptance through its dealings with large merchants.