Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.
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May 15, 2017
What Canada Knows That We Don't
In a previous post, I made reference to the pending release of a Bank of Canada study on the costs of point-of-sale payments in Canada. Last month, the study was released. This study covers cash as well as debit and credit card payments. It's a fascinating read that highlights what little comprehensive knowledge we have about comparable costs of payments in the United States.
The scope of the study was limited to the following parties in the payment chain:
- Bank of Canada and Royal Canadian Mint (prints and distributes currency)
- Financial institutions (FIs) and infrastructure providers (includes cash transport companies, payment networks and payment card acquirers)
- Retailers (covers retail trade, accommodation, food services, and personal service providers)
As background, the study categorizes costs of payments from the parties above into social (or resource) and private costs. Social costs include all internal and outsourced costs to parties outside the scope of the study. Excluded are transfer fees paid among parties within the scope of the study (for example, fees paid by retailers to FIs serving as card acquirers). This exclusion avoids overstating total social costs since fees paid to one party in the payments chain are revenue to another party in the payments chain. With this adjustment, aggregating social costs across all parties reflects the total resources expended for the entire country to facilitate payments. True or private costing from a particular party in the payment chain is simply the sum of its social costs plus any transfer fees paid to other parties within the scope of the study. Knowing private costs provides insight into which payment instruments are preferred from a costing perspective.
Here are some selected highlights from the study:
- Total annual social costs clocked in at 15.3 billion (Can$), which comprises 0.78 percent of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP). In comparison, a paper from the Kansas City Fed highlights GDP figures ranging from 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent for other developed countries. Unfortunately, no comparable comprehensive study has been conducted in the United States. Using indirect approaches based on assumptions, some sources have estimated that the cost of the payments system in the United States could be as high as 2 percent of GDP. Unfortunately, we don't have any definitive sources on what the figure really is.
- Below are the average social costs, transfer fees, and private costs (that is, sum of social costs and transfer fees) per transaction across the payment chain (in Can¢) by payment instrument.
We can see that transfer fees among the parties in the payments chain are relatively minimal for cash. Consumers proportionally pay higher transfer fees for debit card payments due to transaction fees paid to FIs. Transfer fees that retailers pay are proportionally high for debit cards and significantly higher for credit cards. Based on private costs alone, credit cards costs are less costly to consumers, while retailers incur the highest cost in accepting credit cards. These findings are generally consistent with studies conducted in other countries.
- Lastly, the study further subdivides costs into fixed costs and variable costs based on the number of payments and by the value of payments. Along with the number and value of payments, costing components in Canadian dollars are itemized below:
The proportion of variable costs to overall costs for cash, debit cards and credit cards comprise 55 percent, 64 percent, and 64 percent, respectively.
Because of the central and significant role payments play in any economy, many current payments policy questions circulate around payments—in particular the costs associated with adopting and accepting various payment methods, fraud experience and prevention, and compliance with security standards and requirements. What are your views on the value of a comprehensive cost survey in this country?
By Steven Cordray, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed
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