MasterCard’s Retail Data Grab: Forget PayPal, It’s About ChainsWritten by Frank Hayes
MasterCard (NYSE:MA) wants your customer data. That’s the bottom line when it comes to the new fee that the number-two card brand will start slapping on PayPal, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and other digital wallet operators in June. It’s not really about digital wallets, which represent a tiny fraction of big chains’ transactions. MasterCard just wants to put pressure on anyone who might keep customer data out of the hands of itself and its issuing banks.
Wait—isn’t losing control of CRM data the biggest reason chains aren’t wild about digital wallets in the first place? Wasn’t everyone worried that Google might somehow share transaction data with a chain’s competitors? Apparently, that fear was well-founded—just misplaced. It turns out the people who will do anything to grab CRM data are the card brands and issuers.
MasterCard’s new charge, which gets the train-wreck of a name “Staged Digital Wallet Operator Annual Network Access Fee” (SDWOANAF), made its first public appearance in February, when PayPal parent eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) described it in an SEC filing. Details are sketchy, but SDWOANAF apparently applies only to credit transactions (not debit) and only to digital wallets that use a cloud-style arrangement where the wallet operator stores the card number on its systems, instead of storing the card number directly on a smartphone. So PayPal, Google and possibly Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) get hit with SDWOANAF, but Isis doesn’t.
That “staged” arrangement means MasterCard and its issuers will only get data on exactly what customers bought secondhand, through the wallet operator, instead of directly from the POS. MasterCard is willing to strong-arm the wallet operators with a fee (it’s tiered based on last year’s transaction volume, but one source says it’s 35 basis points) in an attempt to get them to cough up everything MasterCard used to receive from a regular POS transaction.
If you’ve wondered how much other people want your CRM data from transactions, wonder no more.
Let’s be clear: For the moment, most of the chatter about this situation has been focused on PayPal, which is the only third-party wallet with a really big footprint online or in-store. It’s also the one wallet operator that MasterCard North American President Chris McWilton called out at a financial conference two weeks ago.
“PayPal rides for free on the back of other business models,” McWilton told Credit Suisse Global Services Conference attendees. “So they ride on the back of the networks for a card-funded transaction. They ride on the back of ACH, which is owned by the banks. And I think they’ve got to be cautious that they don’t get too big and start making people wake up and say, ‘Wait a minute. I’m actually losing business here because of your moving into the physical space.’” (That’s from a Nomura Equity research note, quoted by NFC World.)