VISA takes its War on Cash to US Retailers

by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street: Forget “legal tender.”

“We’re focused on putting cash out of business,” Visa’s new CEO Al Kelly said on June 22 at Visa Investor Day. Pushing consumers into digital and electronic payments is the company’s “number-one growth lever.” Visa has been dogged by the stubborn survival of cash and checks, despite widespread government and corporate efforts to kill them off.

Globally, check and cash transactions totaled $17 trillion in 2016, Visa President Ryan McInerney said. Confusingly, that’s up 2% from a year earlier.

So today, Visa rolled out a new initiative on its war on cash. It’s designed “for small business restaurants, cafés, or food truck owners,” and the like. In this trial, it will award up to $10,000 each to 50 eligible businesses (online businesses are excluded) when they commit to refusing cash payments.

Going “100% cashless,” as Visa calls it, means that consumers can only pay with debit or credit cards or with their smartphones.

That’ll be the day. You go to your favorite taco truck, and when it comes time to pay, you pull out a wad of legal tender, only to be treated to an embarrassed nod toward a sign that says, “No Cash.”

I’d walk. But Visa hopes that other folks will pull out their Visa-branded card or a smartphone with a payment app that uses the Visa system. This would help Visa extract its fees from the transaction.

“We have an incredible opportunity to educate merchants and consumers alike on the effectiveness of going cashless,” Jack Forestell, Visa’s head of global merchant solutions, said in the press release, which touted a “study” that Visa recently “conducted” that “found that if businesses in 100 cities transitioned from cash to digital, their cities stand to experience net benefits of $312 billion per year.”

However dubious these “net benefits” may be, one thing is not dubious: Visa gets a cut from every transaction made via Visa-branded cards or digital payment systems that use Visa. The merchant pays the cut and then tries to pass it on to customers via higher prices.

The total card fees normally range between 1% and 3%. Among the entities that get to divvy this moolah up are the bank that issued the visa card and the credit card network – such as Visa, MasterCard, and the like. Visa gets just a small piece of the pie, but if it is on every transaction, it adds up. And payments by cash and check seriously get in the way of a lot of money.

In 2016, Visa extracted $15 billion from processing transactions globally without even carrying any credit risk (the banks have to deal with that).

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