Costco Wholesale Corp. has attained a goal that retailers have sought for years: near-zero expenses for credit-card payments.
In a deal with Visa Inc. and Citigroup Inc., Costcos acceptance costs will be about zero, according to people familiar with the arrangement. That compares with the roughly 0.6% of each transaction the retailer pays its current partner, American Express Co. While Costco will still incur small fees on Visa cards issued by other banks, incentives from Citigroup and Visa will offset them, the people said.
The arrangement shows the pressure that Costco, the biggest U.S. retailer that accepts just one brand of card, was able to exert on financial firms seeking one of the industrys most coveted partnerships. Amex has said Citigroup and Visa won because it wouldnt agree to the conditions and risks needed to continue its exclusive 16-year relationship with Costco, which is now set to end in March.
The numbers didnt add up, Amex Chief Executive Officer Kenneth I. Chenault told investors last month. We couldnt accept their financial terms nor their contract terms, some of which would have meant taking on more risk than we were comfortable with.
Incentives are common in these types of deals and it doesnt mean Visa and Citigroup wont profit in the long-run. If customers carry loan balances on Citigroups Visa cards, the bank will reap more interest income. The lender will also benefit when customers use those cards at places where fees are higher, and Visa will get the additional volume.
Costco, Citigroup, Visa and New York-based Amex declined to comment on the terms.
Amexs old arrangement had been lucrative, and the divorce has helped push the lenders stock down 17% this year as of 3:08 p.m. Friday in New York, the worst performance in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Costco, the worlds largest wholesale club, generated more than $100 billion in sales last year and its customers account for 20% of Amexs loans and 8% of spending. On Thursday, the lender reported first-quarter revenue that missed analysts estimates, saying results were hurt in part by an earlier decision to cut ties with Costco in Canada.
Costco announced last month that Visa will succeed Amex as the exclusive card network accepted at its U.S. stores. Citigroup will replace Amex as the issuer of Costco-branded credit cards.