Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sued Visa Inc. on Tuesday claiming that Visa is trying to make the retailer use signature verification for some EMV debit card transactions and route those transactions over Visa’s network rather than Wal-Mart’s preferred PIN-debit networks.
The suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, essentially claims that Visa is violating the Durbin Amendment to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. As implemented in the Federal Reserve Board’s Regulation II, the amendment requires that a debit card give a merchant a choice of at least two unaffiliated networks for transaction routing, and that the routing choice be up to the merchant.
“Visa, however, believes that Wal-Mart should be required to use the more fraud-prone mechanism of signature verification for certain debit card transactions, which in the case of a Visa-branded debit card would route debit card transactions across Visa’s debit network rather than the competitor networks of Wal-Mart’s choosing,” the lawsuit says.
Visa did not respond to a Digital Transactions News request for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
Redacted in many parts, the publicly available civil complaint does not specifically state how Visa allegedly tried to force Wal-Mart debit transactions onto the Visa network. But it recounts the history of point-of-sale debit card usage in the U.S. and how Visa came to dominate debit before the Durbin Amendment through exclusive deals with issuers. Those pacts had issuers whose cards offered only the Visa network for signature debit and the Visa-owned Interlink network for PIN-debit, but were nullified when Regulation II took effect.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart has long supported PIN debit for its lower fraud and interchange rates than signature debit. Debit cards account for 70% of the dollar value of Wal-Mart’s U.S. card payments.
With the card networks’ EMV liability shifts taking effect last October, Wal-Mart in November instituted a so-called chip-and-PIN protocol in some U.S. stores. The protocol required cardholders with EMV debit cards to insert their cards into the EMV card reader, and then enter their PIN. By early November, the chain had rolled out chip-and-PIN to 3,700 stores.
The chip-and-PIN protocol described in Wal-Mart’s suit apparently removes the signature-debit option—a possible point of contention for Visa. “[Cardholders] could not bypass the PIN requirement by signing a receipt or signing electronically at the POS terminal,” the suit says. “If a cardholder either refused to insert his or her chip debit card or to enter a PIN, then the transaction was declined and the cardholders [sic] was asked to use another form of payment.”
The complaint asks for a jury trial, the awarding of Wal-Mart’s legal costs, and unspecified further relief.
In an emailed statement, a Wal-Mart spokesperson said that “our customers understand PIN verification because it’s required to access their funds at ATM machines, and PIN debit is the most common form of payment used in our stores. And Visa has acknowledged in many other countries that chip-and-PIN offers greater security. Visa nevertheless has demanded that we allow fraud-prone signature verification for debit transactions in our U.S. stores because Visa stands to make more money processing those transactions.”
The spokesperson says the redactions were made “because the complaint included some confidential business information that may need to be held between the parties.”
This lawsuit is just the latest courtroom tussle between the retail and payment card titans, which have clashed in cases involving debit cards, credit card acceptance costs, and network rules for merchants. The nine attorneys for Wal-Mart listed in the new complaint include some prominent names in antitrust lawsuits against the card networks, such as Jeffrey Shinder of Constantine Cannon LLP in New York City and Douglas S. Kantor of Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, D.C.