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SYDNEY, Australia – When the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) expressed some worries about a VISA debit card, credit unions, buildings societies and St. George and Bendigo Banks started talking. Together they put together a position paper on the product. “Visa Debit in Australia is a unique product that combines aspects of a typical debit card and of a typical credit card,” Luke Lawler of the Credit Union Services Corporation of Australia, Ltd. (CUSCAL) said. He described the problem as this: “The RBA’s focus is on `interchange fees’, wholesale fees paid between financial institutions. The RBA’s October 2000 Joint Study on Debit and Credit Card Schemes in Australia commented that Visa Debit card issuers are being `overcompensated’ by interchange fees for signature based transactions using a Visa Debit card.” Who pays the fees? The merchants. This is different from EFTPOS and ATM interchange fees paid by cardholders. The position of credit unions, building societies and the two banks is that a review is fine, but it must be done at the same time as EFTPOS interchange fees are reviewed rather than in isolation. Credit unions, building societies and the two bank banks are the major issuers of this product. They want sound economic principles to be applied across all card-base payments, and if necessary to have a transition period to help smaller institutions adjust to any changes. Lawlor said that, “The Visa Debit card was an important means for smaller institutions to overcome the competitive and regulatory obstacles they faced in the 1970s and 1980s.” Over 2.7 million cards are currently in use. Of that credit unions, building societies and the two banks have issued 1.9 million. They represent 7.5 million customers. These institutions have advised the RBA that they are ready to prepare for a voluntary review.

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