Retailers in uproar over banks’ shift to Visa-backed debit cards and Mastercard’s membership fees.

Retailers have reacted with fury at the prospect of big hikes in the cost of processing card transactions.

They fear being hit by increased banking charges of£100 million annually by 2010, following two big banks’ plans to issue Visa-backed debit cards instead of the Mastercard Maestro variety.

HSBC and RBS will shift about 2 billion transactions a year onto the Visa scheme, which retailers say will cost them an average of 5p more per transaction. About 97 per cent of all debit card transactions will soon be processed by Visa, following the HSBC and RBS move.

Adding fuel to the fire, the BRC on Wednesday accused Mastercard of hiking membership charges by as much as 161 per cent and introducing a new “development” charge without any explanation of what it is for.

The news could not come at a worse time for retailers, as shoppers – partly in response to the banking crisis – curb spending.

DSGi commercial manager for payments Peter Robinson said: “These are clearly commercial decisions by the banks, but the cost will be paid by the merchants and we get no benefits, none at all, just increased costs. It’s another sizeable cost at a time of extreme difficulty for all retailers.”

A Visa spokesman said the 5p figure being quoted by retailers is unfounded. He maintained: “We believe that Visa’s proposition for the RBS and HSBC debit portfolios was the most competitive on the table.” He said that Visa is the cheapest card systems operator.

However, Tesco director of treasury Nick Mourant said: “Card fees are an input cost and, as we don’t discriminate how people pay, we’ll have to reflect the increases in general price levels. The people who will lose out are the cash customers, as they will be cross-subsidising those who pay by Visa debit.”

The Visa spokesman said: “Research this year by Tesco found that over 75 per cent of people prefer paying by card; most feel safer carrying less cash and see paper money and coins as fit only for low-value purchases.”

But BRC director Alisdair Gray was also concerned about the changes. He said: “Retailers will be dismayed at this action by the banks, coming on top of all the bad news about the economy. Visa is simply imposing a new tax on retailers and consumers.”

The BRC said that Mastercard’s costs will ultimately be passed onto retailers and estimates that the increased fees and new charge could add up to£15 million a year.

A Mastercard spokesman said: “We do not comment on pricing, as we consider communications with our customers confidential.”

This latest spat is one of a number of ongoing issues that the retail industry has had with the financial sector.

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