Editor's note: This story has been updated since Oct. 19
Although Visa beat MasterCard Worldwide to the punch, MasterCard, which in September announced plans to make its interchange fees available online, was the first to take the step toward fee-transparency.
On Sept. 5, MasterCard announced it would make its interchange schedule available by Nov. 1 at mastercardmerchant.com.
The actions of both companies follow a myriad of antitrust lawsuits filed by U.S. retailers that accuse the card companies of price-fixing.
Visa, which has a market share of about 63 percent, and MasterCard both deny those claims, arguing that fees are not set by the card companies but financial institutions.
According to the Federal Reserve, which also lists interchange rates, the average interchange fee is about 1.56 percent per transaction.
"Being more open about how we operate as a company helps to foster and expand our working relationships with new and existing partners," said Rhonda Bentz, a Visa USA vice president. "By posting our wholesale rates, Visa USA is providing more clarity."
The National Restaurant Association said it is pleased with Visa's actions but says more disclosure is needed.
"While we are pleased that Visa now appears willing to post its fee schedule, we are still asking for full disclosure of all the rules by which merchants must abide, and will be demanding this in the litigation against Visa and MasterCard," said Todd Mann, senior vice president of NRA's business development. "While Visa states that the rules are available, they are only available to those merchants who have already agreed to accept the credit card, and only after that merchant signs a non-disclosure agreement," said Mann.
"Should a merchant be considering whether or not to accept Visa, they should be able to see all the terms of the agreement before signing the contract."
But Visa denies those claims, saying it's been making its operating regulations available to qualifying merchants since July and to third-party agents who participate in the Visa system since September. Visa has been actively fulfilling such requests under a non-disclosure agreement to protect confidentiality.
"Although the Visa operating regulations govern only our members' participation in the Visa system, we believe they also help to demonstrate the complexity of our industry and the lengths to which Visa has gone to effectively balance the interests of our members, merchants, and consumers," Visa said in a statement. "In sharing them, our goal is to provide partners with the information they are interested in, without sacrificing Visa's intellectual property or the security of the system."
MasterCard goes a step further
From an interchange perspective, MasterCard plans to take its efforts to work with merchants a step further, by setting a cap on interchange fees for gasoline purchases.
"Merchants have told us that interchange fees on rapidly rising gasoline prices are a significant concern to them," said Joshua Peirez, group executive for MasterCard public policy, in a September news release. "MasterCard understands this concern. We believe that putting a cap on interchange fees when consumers use their MasterCard cards for gasoline purchases will benefit all gasoline retailers, as well as consumers who recognize that their purchases are faster and more convenient when they use their MasterCard cards at the pump."
Peirez said the cap will apply to gasoline purchases of $50 and more.
Visa and MasterCard long have been accused by merchants and independent sales organizations for favoring banks, especially where interchange is concerned, since both companies had been owned by banks. Going public with interchange rates also is expected to help Visa elevate its image among merchants.