German Banks Face Suit for Collusion

Customers Pay With Contactless Cards
Many German merchants prefer cash over debit cards due to transaction fees. Source: Bloomberg

The law firm that represented diesel owners in the Volkswagen emissions scandal is now going after Germany’s banking sector.

The U.S. law firm Hausfeld is threatening to sue Germany’s community-run savings banks as well as industry giants such as Deutsche Bank for allegedly colluding to hike the charges that merchants pay for debit card transactions.

“Well-known customers have come to us,” Christopher Rother, Hausfeld’s representative in Germany, told Handelsblatt. “Our clients are seeking a solution outside of court.”

Hausfeld declined to provide specific names. According to the weekly Bild am Sonntag, which first reported the story, Hausfeld’s clients include major retailers and gas companies.

Until 2014, German banks charged merchants a uniform fee of 0.3 percent or at least 8 cents for every debit card transaction. Gas stations paid a reduced a fee.

The banking sector abandoned the uniform fee after Germany’s Federal Cartel Office criticized the practice as anti-competitive. Since 2014, banks and merchants have negotiated transaction fees on an individual basis. This has led to a 40 percent drop in fees, according to the Federal Cartel Office.

The National Association of Cooperative Banks has dismissed Hausfeld’s allegations of collusion. The association, which represents Germany’s community-run banks, claims the uniform fee was approved by the Federal Cartel Office, which never found a violation of competition rules.

Hausfeld was at the forefront of the class-action lawsuits in the United States against Volkswagen for deceiving customers about emissions values. Volkswagen agreed to a $14.7-billion (€14-billion) settlement over the summer.

The U.S. law firm is now trying to force Volkswagen to reach a similar settlement with customers in Europe.


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