Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. are close to settling a long-running antitrust lawsuit with merchants. Visa, Mastercard and a number of banks that issue debit and credit cards – JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. – would be required to pay merchants around $6.5 billion. It is still unclear how this payment will be split up among these networks and banks.
According to those familiar with the situation, the lawsuit will actually leave Visa and Mastercard better off than before. But how can being on the paying end of a multi-dollar settlement be viewed as a positive outcome? Visa and Mastercard are worried about more than money.
This lawsuit originated in 2005. It was alleged that networks had colluded when raising swipe and other transaction fees. Many large merchants chose to opt out of the original settlement ($7.25 billion) because the terms would prevent them from filing lawsuits against the networks over future swipe-fee increases. This settlement was then invalidated by an appeals court, which stated that merchants were not adequately represented.
Merchants that agree to this settlement will be restricted for a number of years; the terms do not allow them to suing card …