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Industry Trends

How are Payment Schemes Responding to COVID-19

What changed with the pandemic?

Written by

Joana Brandão


06 May 2020

No matter where you are in the World, the novel Coronavirus pandemic is part of our reality. Everyone is adjusting faster, to a new way of living, and above all, trying to stay healthy. Businesses included. In this article, we cover the new guidelines for Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Paypal.

Businesses had to come up with new strategies to stay "healthy" too. They have been challenged in different ways. Prompt measures had to be put in place to keep their employees safe and sound, strategies had to be re-designed to maintain the operation going and protect sales volume, and quick and efficient answers had to be given to customers concerning refunds and disputes for online transactions.

The main challenge for the payment industry during this outbreak is to ensure that the payment system remains stable, reliable, and resilient. Cards and alternative payment schemes have sensed this state of emergency and are closely monitoring these events from the beginning. They have mastered plans to maintain and ease service to customers.

Cards schemes have postponed their annual major updated releases, relaxed dispute rules, and timings. Alternative payment schemes have applied special fees for the upcoming months or support the launching of alternative payment flows for brick-mortar shops to avoid the use of cash. It might sound overwhelming to follow and understand all the changes put in place whether you are a consumer or a merchant. Below you can find what you need to know about what payment schemes are currently doing to mitigate the negative impact of this pandemic.

Visa guidelines releases

Visa has posted several short notes about their vision and operational strategy to deal with Covid-19's outbreak. They have decided to:

  • Postpone the implementation of April Business Enhancements Release (BER) to July. Due to general staff working remotely rather than on their usual workplace, Visa believes this is not the time to do a major code release since they are not able to assure the level of expertise and speed required to avoid payment processing disruptions. The content of the April BER will remain the same, which includes the announced interchange changes; and
  • Implemented a COVID-19 Dispute Monitoring Program from April 1st to help maintain the integrity of the dispute process by reducing invalid disputes initiated into the system. The program will: monitor daily dispute volumes, with a focus on consumer-related disputes and, flag any practices that may be inconsistent with current rules, and if necessary, require issuers to reverse invalid ones.

Additional information has been provided to support clients managing and responding to disputes, even though dispute rules have not been changed.

The program monitors daily dispute volumes for Airlines, Entertainment, Lodging, Transportation, and Travel Services and it will flag any issuers that submit more than 50 invalid consumer disputes per day.

The general advice is to have cardholders working directly with the merchant to resolve their issue before a dispute is initiated by their issuer. For issuers and acquirers, Visa recommends them to be flexible in resolving disputes to minimize the impact on cardholders and sellers. Some tips have been advised to be put in place:

  • 15-Day Dispute Rule: Issuers must wait 15 calendar days to initiate a dispute for certain dispute conditions, beginning from either: the transaction date, if the date the services were expected or the delivery date for the merchandise is not specified; or the date the cardholder returned or attempted to return the merchandise if the merchandise was returned due to late delivery; and
  • Verifi Dispute Services: This technology solution is meant to save time and resources by connecting all parties in the dispute management process in near real-time to resolve disputes before they result in chargebacks.

Visa also operates a number of compliance programs that are focused on minimizing the impact that excessive dispute rates may have on the payments ecosystem. Given the current environment, Visa has made the following changes to some programs:

  • Visa Dispute Monitoring Program (VDMP) and Visa Fraud Monitoring Program (VFMP) will be suspended for merchants in the Travel & Entertainment merchant category codes through the July compliance cycle. Visa Risk will not send program identifications to acquirers for these merchants during this time period; and
  • The Visa Acquirer Monitoring Program is suspended for disputes arising from Travel & Entertainment merchants through the July compliance cycle.

Even though all the changes that were announced and put in practice, the Global Brand Protection Program will not be impacted by the temporary policy changes. Merchants and acquirers tied to illegal or brand-damaging activity will not be granted any concessions.

Mastercard guidelines releases

Mastercard also published several messages about how they are facing and responding to the pandemic. Direct guidelines for dispute handling, in the form of best practices, have been provided for issuers and acquirers. The main focus is to encourage a direct and cooperative resolution between the parties. Mastercard states that they are monitoring these events to make sure all necessary steps are being taken to protect their employees and maintain all services up and running.

Mastercard took action by:

  • Postponing the implementation of the Mastercom Collaboration from April 1st to July 18th, 2020;
  • Issuing chargeback alerts through the Ethoca Alert Network for all first chargebacks, as of April 1st. This allows merchants to have the ability to resolve disputes/chargebacks by issuing a refund;
  • Suspending the Excessive Fraud Merchant (EFM) program assessments for 6 months. It will be resumed in November 2020 for violations occurred in October; and
  • Suspending, for the next 4 months, the Excessive Chargeback Program (ECP) for merchants that operate on the airline, cruise line, passenger railway, and travel agent industries due to the high impact and predictable increase of chargeback related to COVID-19. During this period, Mastercard will continue to monitor to determine if additional categories should be included in the list of suspensions. It will also consider the inclusion of other merchants that are identified in ECP if the outcome of the results is directly linked to COVID-19. Acquirers can ask for an extension on compliance, upon submission of well-documented evidence, that a certain merchant has been directly impacted by COVID-19. The due assessments will be put on hold during that extension.

Furthermore, Mastercard released a newsletter advising how to handle Security/Fraud during the outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a notable increase in cyber-attacks as fraudsters look to take advantage of system vulnerabilities and changes in the new working environment. These types of attacks can result in significant losses in a short period of time, without anyone being aware of it. This action calls attention to stay alert, protected, and how to mitigate against large-scale fraud.

American Express guidelines releases

American Express published a dedicated and supportive message for employees, consumers, small businesses, corporate card members, co-brand card members, American Express travel customers, merchants, and the community in general.

From an operational point of view, American Express decided to:

  • Delay the scheduled publication release — U.S. Merchant Regulations, Canada Merchant Operating Manual and Technical Specifications — from April to July 17th, 2020; and
  • Extend the period of time that businesses have to respond to a dispute from 20 to 30 days. The extension will include disputes received from March to May 2020. This meant to help merchants to cope and deal with their volumes and disrupted work environments.

They also made available support pages for a wide variety of matters such as, Managing your Account, Security, Refunds and Disputing Charges, Amex Travel, Entertainment & Events, etc. For travel there is an all-dedicated forum --- Amex Travel COVID-19 Information Hub --- that can be used to modify any travel plans made through American Express Travel, to consult/review American Express' and their partners' travel policies.

Paypal guidelines releases

Paypal is keen to help customers and businesses to go through the outbreak period, too. Along with some of their own operational changes, Paypal is also easing access to customers and businesses for new payment options to avoid the use of cash and allow businesses to apply for Governmental aid support, through Paypal's platform. Some of those actions are the following:

  • In the USA, merchants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can apply, through PayPal, for small business loans made available under the Paycheck Protection Program component of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act);
  • Fees for chargebacks processed between March 26th, 2020 and April 30th, 2020, under certain conditions, are waived;
  • Fees to instantly withdraw money from a PayPal business account to a bank account, Mastercard Debit, or Visa Debit card are waived until April 30th, 2020. It is eligible for debit cards or bank accounts only. Limits and holds may apply;
  • Extended customer dispute resolution period, from 10 to 20 days until April 30, 2020. This doesn't apply to Braintree processing;
  • Partner with Mastercard for doubling the cashback rewards on all purchase transactions with the PayPal Business Debit Mastercard beginning April 1 through April 30, 2020, some conditions apply for eligibility; and
  • Extending seller protection to cover eligible purchases of intangible goods starting on April 13th 2020, with no expiration. Seller Protection limits apply and Braintree merchants are not eligible.

It is clear that payment schemes are proactively working on strategies to support partners and businesses in their response to current and future situations. Their main actions are towards solutions that appeal for collaboration between all the parties involved in payment transactions in order to avoid long and painful dispute processes.

As the state of the pandemic plays out, we will learn more about the depth and duration of the damage arising from the decisions taken so far. What we consider for granted and normal will definitely change and a new norm will be sought and merged into our routines. Definitely, this will impact profoundly the behavior and expectations of customers and businesses. It is critical for the payments ecosystem to develop, today, the payment solutions that will allow economies to emerge from the current crisis efficiently and define the post-COVID-19 future.



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