Consumer Payment Card News

Aussie Market

Things are not so quiet “down under” as the Australian credit card market is rattled by a new credit card and embattled over merchant fees. Last week, the flamboyant chief executive of Virgin, Richard Branson, announced the launch of a new MasterCard that he says will stop the “ripping-off” of Aussies. His message got through as 50,000 consumers applied for the new, slightly mishaped “Virgin MasterCard.” The new card offers the combination of a low interest rate, no annual fee, and instant rewards. In January 2002 Virgin launched a credit card in the UK, which has since attracted more than 300,000 cardholders. Meanwhile, VISA and MasterCard were in the Australian Federal Court this week in an effort to undo new credit card rules issued by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Last year, the RBA issued new reforms on the credit card business permitting merchants to recover from cardholders the costs of accepting credit cards. The new standard went into effect January 1st. Also under the new RBA rules, interchange fees, or merchant fees, must be cut 40% by July 1st. VISA and MasterCard both argued that the RBA went beyond its legislative powers in calling them “designated payments systems” under the “Payments Systems Act.” Both card associations as argued that the changes don’t meet the public-interest test required under the Act. MasterCard also noted this week that the RBA was in a rush to make reforms even though a joint study by the Australian Competition and Consumer Association and the RBA provided no basis for sweeping reforms. Australia has 8 million credit cardholders among a total population of slightly more than 20 million. Total credit card debt is about $23 billion for the country.

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