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Big Banks Eye Zelle as Retail Point-of-Sale Option

Big Banks Eye Zelle as Retail Point-of-Sale Option

The move would sidestep Visa and Mastercard, who set swipe fees on merchants that add up to billions of dollars each year.

April 07, 2022

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ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Banks are mulling the idea of letting customers pay by Zelle at large retailers, reports the Wall Street Journal, as the money-transfer service doubled its transactions last year compared to pre-pandemic levels. Zelle had 1.8 billion transactions in 2021 totaling $490 billion.

Zelle is a product of Early Warning Services, which is a Fintech company owned by seven of America’s largest banks, including JPMorgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The banks are debating whether a payment option that directly competes with Mastercard and Visa are in their best interests. Wells Fargo and Bank of America want to expand Zelle to point of sales, but JPMorgan says that a Zelle expansion should wait and thinks the banks should focus on consumer fraud protection first.

Banks earn money on swipe fees, but Visa and Mastercard set the swipe fee amounts and also take a portion of the fees, so if banks allowed Zelle payments, they would be sidestepping the card networks and would set their own rules and fees. This could be beneficial for banks—Bank of America customers made more Zelle payments than wrote checks last year, and pay-by-bank services such as Alipay and WeChat Pay are wildly popular in Asia.

Banks that want to add Zelle to point of sales could try it on their own, but a vote from Zelle’s owners is needed before the service could be activated across all of the banks that use it. The Journal reports that some banks are asking retailers if they would be interested in a pilot program that would accept Zelle for online payment, but the logistics of the service are still being hashed out. An Early Warning Services spokeswoman said the company is “working with financial institutions to explore more opportunities.”

Card payments are by far the most popular form of payment in the U.S., and merchants paid $110.3 billion in credit and debit card swipe fees in 2020, according to a Nilson Report.

In the U.S., credit card swipe fees remain one of the highest operating costs for convenience store retailers after labor, according to NACS State of the Industry data. The increase in consumer prices amounts to more than $700 a year for the average American family. Consumer preferences for more touch-free transactions and the coin circulation challenge in summer 2020 led to record debit and credit card usage at convenience stores. In 2020, 74.6% of all transactions were paid by plastic, and overall card fees paid by the convenience store industry were $10.7 billion, NACS SOI data indicate.

Join NACS at the State of the Industry (SOI) Summit next week, April 12-14, at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, Chicago, to get the first overview of the convenience and fuel retailing industry’s financial performance in 2021 and insights into what’s ahead. Register for the SOI Summit today.

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