Archive | ISO Contracts RSS feed for this section

The Supreme Court Weighs in on Merchant Surcharging

30 Mar

On March 29, 2017, the United States Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision on the litigation surrounding the New York law that prohibits surcharges.  In Expressions Hair Design, et al. v. Schneiderman, Attorney General of New York, et al., the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether a New York law prohibiting merchants from charging credit card users a surcharge above the sticker price was constitutional.  The practical outcome of the Supreme Court decision is that it does not definitively  answer whether the 10 state laws that prohibit surcharges are unconstitutional.  The technical outcome is that the Court remanded, or sent back, the case to the lower court, requiring the lower court to determine whether the law is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

The Court first reviewed the history of efforts to pass along interchange costs to consumers.  The Court noted that merchant contracts historically barred merchants from charging credit card users higher prices than cash customers, which Congress put a stop to when it passed the Truth In Lending Act.  That law prevented surcharges and it prevented merchants from giving discounts to cash customers.  When Congress allowed the federal surcharge ban to expire, ten states, including New York, enacted their own surcharge bans.

The merchants in the Expressions Hair Design case were five New York businesses who wished to impose surcharges on customers who used credit cards.  As a result, they wanted to advertise their prices by posting a cash price and a price which included a surcharge.

The pivotal issue was whether the surcharge ban regulated conduct, i.e., was a price regulation, rather than speech.  Because the statute told merchants nothing about the amount they were allowed to charge, the Court concluded that the law regulates how sellers communicate their prices, not what they charge.  “In regulating the communication of prices rather than prices themselves, [the New York law] regulates speech.”

The Supreme Court, having determined that the law regulates speech, and not conduct, sent the case back to the lower court to analyze whether it violated the constitutional right to free speech.  The lower court had concluded that the law regulated conduct, and therefore did not analyze that issue.

As you may recall, ten states currently have laws banning surcharges.   Many of these statutes also have been challenged on First Amendment grounds.  In this case and in a parallel Texas case, the federal appellate courts upheld the state statute. In contrast, the Eleventh Circuit struck down Florida’s law governing surcharges.

The Supreme Court decision did not address whether the New York law was constitutional, but it did conclude that the statute regulated speech and had to be analyzed under First Amendment standards.  That decision is binding on other courts.  So, to the extent challenges to similar state statutes were rejected because the court did not think free speech was involved, those decisions will have to be revisited.  The ultimate effect of this decision will depend on whether the case makes its way back to the Supreme Court after the lower court rules again, and how the courts interpret the various state laws that prohibit surcharges.

For now, industry companies should act as though the ten state laws that ban surcharging are still effective.

But stay tuned.

–Eric Linden, Attorney and Partner, Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

–Holli Targan, Attorney and Partner, Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

Holli Targan

Attorney & Partner

htargan@jaffelaw.com

Cyber Insurance Shortfalls

20 Feb

If you store cardholder data, transaction information, or other personally identifiable information you may want to revisit your cyber insurance policy to verify the extent of your coverage.  A court recently found that the cyber insurance policy held by P.F. Chang’s did not cover many losses suffered in P.F. Chang’s data breach.  Based on the court’s findings in this decision and given the structure of the payments industry, many cyber insurance policies will not provide processors, ISOs, or payment facilitators with coverage against fees, fines, and assessments issued by the card brands.
 
On June 10, 2014, P.F. Chang’s learned that hackers had obtained approximately 60,000 credit card numbers belonging to its customers.  P.F. Chang’s turned to its cyber insurance policy to cover the costs of the data breach.  The policy had been advertised as “a flexible insurance solution designed by cyber risk experts to address the full breadth of risks associated with doing business in today’s technology-dependent world” that “[c]overs direct loss, legal liability, and consequential loss resulting from cyber security breaches.”
 
Under the cyber insurance policy, P.F. Chang’s was reimbursed for approximately $1.7 million for the cost of an investigation and defending litigation.  However, the insurance company denied coverage of three assessments by MasterCard: a Fraud Recovery Assessment of $1,716,798.85; an Operational Reimbursement Assessment of $163,122.72; and a Case Management Fee of $50,000.  These assessments were technically received by Bank of America, and not by P.F. Chang’s.  P.F. Chang’s used Bank of America Merchant Services (“BAMS”) for its payment processing services.  The assessments were contractually passed through to P.F. Chang’s under its merchant agreement with Bank of America.  P.F. Chang’s filed a lawsuit seeking to recover the amount of the MasterCard assessment.
 
In its opinion, the court sided with the insurance company.  The court found that the Fraud Recovery Assessment was not covered because: P.F. Chang’s received the assessment from BAMS pursuant to its merchant agreement; BAMS did not suffer any privacy injury (as it was the issuing bank’s records that were breached rather than the acquiring bank’s records); and the policy only covered claims brought by those persons whose records were accessed without authorization.
 
In addition, the court found that all three MasterCard assessments were excluded from P.F. Chang’s coverage.  The policy excluded any liability contractually assumed, an exclusion commonly found in insurance contracts.  This exclusion means that any loss incurred by P.F. Chang’s as the result of a contractual relationship (in this case as a result of its merchant agreement with BAMS) would not be covered.
 
Processors, ISOs, and payment facilitators are typically liable for card brand assessments incurred by their sponsor financial institution under their sponsorship agreement.  If you suffer a breach, you may incur card brand assessments.  If one of your merchants suffers a breach, and the merchant isn’t able to pay the related assessments from the card brands, you will likely be liable for the assessment.  Would your cyber insurance policy cover such expenses?  It would be worth your time to check on your insurance coverage and, if appropriate, work with your broker to adjust your insurance policy accordingly.
 
– James Kramer, Attorney, Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

James Kramer

James Kramer

James is a member of the firm's Electronic Payment Group, Corporate Group and Business Transactions Group. James counsels clients on contractual, regulatory, and compliance matters as well as on purchases, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. He routinely advises and negotiates on behalf of financial institutions and entities in the electronic payments industry.

jkramer@jaffelaw.com

State Law Mandates New Merchant Contract Requirements

3 Feb

The payments world is in a constant state of change, and the requirements surrounding clauses that must be included in card processing agreements with merchants are no exception.  Typically, language that must appear in merchant contracts is handed down from the card brands.  To remain compliant with those constantly-evolving requirements a close eye on card brand rule revisions has been essential.  But now states are getting into the act as well.     

Tennessee provides the latest example.  Effective March 1, 2016, Tennessee requires that all merchant agreements disclose certain terms, such as the effective date and term of the contract,  the circumstances surrounding early termination or cancellation, and a complete schedule of all fees applicable to card processing services.  These requirements are benign enough, as the vast majority of commercial contracts already contain those provisions. 

But here comes the sticky part.  In addition to the above, the Tennessee statute requires the payment acquirer to provide monthly statements.  So far so good – everyone provides monthly statements.  However, the law mandates that certain data points be included in each monthly statement, including an itemized list of all fees assessed since the previous statement, the total value of the transactions processed, and, if the acquirer is not a bank, an indication of the “aggregate fee percentage”.  The aggregate fee percentage is calculated by dividing the fees by the total value of processed transactions during the statement period.

The troubling requirement is the last one:  that any non-bank payment acquirer include in monthly statements the fees imposed, calculated as a percentage of the total value of the transactions processed during the statement period.  Currently such a calculation is not determined, so systems will need to be revamped to include that information in statements. 

And a determination will need to be made as to who, exactly, this requirement applies to.  The law says it is imposed on non-bank payment acquirers.  Certainly that includes payment facilitators.  But if both an ISO and a bank are a party to a merchant agreement and provide the statement, does the aggregate fee percentage need to be included in the monthly statement?  It’s not clear.  A conservative interpretation would suggest that if any non-bank is a party to a merchant agreement, the aggregate fee percentage should be disclosed each month.

Interestingly, the remedy for non-compliance with the Tennessee law is limited to an option by the merchant to terminate the contract.  Before the merchant may cancel the agreement, it must give the acquirer 30 days’ notice.  If the non-compliance is cured, then the merchant is not permitted to terminate the agreement.

ISOs, banks, and processors should review the new Tennessee statute to ensure compliance with its provisions.  And now that the payments industry is on the radar of state legislators, card processors will need to monitor state law developments to keep up with shifting obligations. 

–Holli Targan, Partner, Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

Holli Targan

Attorney & Partner

htargan@jaffelaw.com

What to Do in the Face of a Dispute

9 Mar

What do you do when your exclusive agent starts referring merchants to a different processor?  What if your residuals from your ISO are cut off, or if you don’t receive the hold-back payment from the buyer of your merchant portfolio?

These are the kind of disputes that regularly arise in the payments industry and which require immediate attention.  What should you do when faced with them?

First, gather up all relevant documents, including written agreements, emails and letters concerning the dispute as well as information that supports the other side.  Then, reach out to a lawyer knowledgeable and experienced in the industry.  Knowledge of the payments business is critical because courts will look to industry standards in interpreting contractual ambiguities.

Should you file a lawsuit right away?  We typically recommend, instead, that a demand letter be sent.  A demand letter lays out in some detail what your grievances are, why the contract or parties’ dealings support your position, and what you want the other side to do.  If you are the recipient of a demand letter, gather up the same materials and get them to your counsel right away.

The principal goal of a demand letter is to begin a discussion to reach a resolution of the dispute.  A resolution of a dispute, however, is not the same thing as capitulation.  It involves compromise and negotiation.  Why compromise?  Because litigation is expensive, time-consuming, distracting and the end result is always uncertain.  A negotiated resolution to a dispute is far preferable to one costing tens of thousands of dollars and dragging on for months if not years.

Of course, some disputes cannot be resolved amicably or are of such dire importance that immediate court intervention is necessary.  Under such circumstances, litigation may be the only recourse.

Litigation starts with preparing a complaint which sets forth facts and the plaintiff’s claims.  That document is filed with the court and is served on the other side.  The other side usually has 20 to 30 days to answer depending on the state.  The next step is usually written discovery, meaning a set of questions which need to be answered.  Following written discovery, usually depositions are taken where lawyers question witnesses under oath.  Once all discovery is complete, the parties often will file motions for summary judgment.  A motion for summary judgment asks the court to rule that there are no issues of fact requiring trial and that, as a matter of law, you are entitled to prevail on your claims.  Preparation of a good motion for summary judgment is an arduous task requiring the summation of all of the evidence gathered through the discovery process.  If the court finds that it is unable to grant summary judgment for either side, then the case will proceed to trial.

Litigation can be a lengthy, costly and distracting process.  It will consume many hours of internal personnel time.  Conventional wisdom says that 99% of commercial litigation matters get resolved before trial.  There is, therefore, no reason why a resolution could not have been reached at the demand letter stage rather than after 12 months of discovery and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of expense.  If you provide your lawyer with all relevant information at the outset of the dispute, significant costs may be avoided with little, if any, difference in the ultimate outcome.

 — Eric A. Linden, Attorney and Partner, Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

Holli Targan

Attorney & Partner

htargan@jaffelaw.com

Aggregator Rules Evolve

11 Dec

 It’s been awhile now since Visa and MasterCard revised their rules to permit merchant aggregation of payment transactions.  Recently MasterCard refined the concept yet again, this time to increase the annual dollar volume limit a sub-merchant may process to $1,000,000, and to institute a few other tweaks to the merchant aggregator program.

 A refresher:  Back in 2011 Visa and MasterCard revised their rules to permit small internet and face-to-face merchants to be aggregated under a master merchant.  Both card brands treated the aggregating entity as a merchant.  So in addition to special rules relating to aggregators, all requirements imposed on merchants also applied to the aggregators themselves.  These “master merchants” are permitted to provide payment processing services to smaller “sub-merchants”.  MasterCard calls this a Payment Facilitator or “PayFac”.  Visa uses the Payment Service Provider or “PSP” nomenclature.  Once a sub-merchant’s annual volume hit $100,000 per card brand, that sub-merchant was ineligible for aggregation, requiring a contract directly with the acquirer. 

 The aggregator model has enabled small merchants to accept payment cards.  It also has enabled a broader array of companies to offer payment processing services.  All sorts of entities are electing to become aggregators.  Previously any non-bank company that desired to generate revenue by providing payment processing services to merchants was required under the card brand rules to become an independent sales organization, or ISO.  The aggregation rules now allow those entities to become aggregators instead.   In some instances traditional ISO companies are qualifying as aggregators.  And companies that have created software that caters to a certain merchant vertical are bundling their software offerings with payments under the aggregator construct.

 This past October, MasterCard revamped its PayFac standards.  PayFacs are now classified as a type of service provider, rather than a merchant.   The permissible submerchant transaction volume was raised from $100,000 to $1,000,000 in annual MasterCard volume.  Entities with higher annual volumes must enter into direct merchant agreements with an acquirer. 

 In addition, the revised rules state that performing a credit check when screening a prospective merchant or submerchant is not required if the entity has annual MasterCard transaction volume of $100,000 or less.  Further, the new standards specify clauses that must appear in contracts between PayFacs and submerchants, and mandate that submerchant contracts must include all provisions required to be included in a standard merchant agreement.

 We have observed an interesting evolution in the contract terms entered into between PayFacs and acquiring sponsor banks.  As the acquirers gain experience with the PayFac model, that is reflected in a shifting of the terms under which acquirers are willing to sponsor aggregators.  History proves that nothing ever stays the same in the payments business; we expect this new aggregator model will continue to morph and have an effect on the payments landscape for some time to come.

 –Holli Targan, Attorney and Partner, Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer & Weiss, P.C.

Holli Targan

Attorney & Partner

htargan@jaffelaw.com

ISO Sponsorship Contract Trends

1 Jan

We’ve noted a subtle but decided shift over the past few years in the terms under which acquiring sponsor institutions have been engaging with larger independent sales organizations (“ISOs”).  While the terms of every contract are uniquely dependent on the negotiating leverage of each party, there seems to be a shift afoot in the ISO space.  Thought you’d be interested in the following market trends, styled after the “in” and “out” lists that circulate in the popular press.

 In:  No minimum fee obligations

Out:  Minimum fee or minimum approved merchant production requirements

 

In:  Portability premiums (ability to transfer merchants upon payment at a specified amount)

Also In:  Pure portability of merchants after the initial term of the contract with no payment for the privilege

Out:  No portability of merchants placed with the sponsor

 

In:  Termination of residuals limited to specific egregious circumstances, such as ISO fraud

Also In:  No termination of residuals in any instance

Out:  Termination of residuals for breach of contract

 

In:  Multiple acquiring sponsors

Out:  Exclusivity and ISOs maintaining only one sponsor relationship

 

In:  Sponsor authorized to pass through Card Network increases and sponsor required to pass through decreases

Out:  Sponsor authorized to change fees charged to ISO and merchants at any time

 

The number of acquiring sponsors has severely diminished in the last decade.  Even so, the real-world experience of ISOs over the years is resulting in the insistence on more advantageous contract terms.   It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.  It seems there has never been a better time to strike a favorable ISO deal.

Holli Targan

Attorney & Partner

htargan@jaffelaw.com