ATM signs come down, just as POS swipe-fee signs go up

Signs on automated teller machines that tell customers how much of a surcharge they'll have to pay are no longer required, according to The Hill. The rule change by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), dated Tuesday (March 26), still requires ATMs to warn customers about any added fees before the customer commits to completing the transaction.

Banks and credit unions lobbied heavily to change the old rule, which required a physical sign on the outside of the ATM disclosing any surcharge. The financial institutions said they had been victimized by thousands of spurious lawsuits from lawyers whose clients would hunt for ATMs whose signs were missing. The banks argued that vandals or, in some cases, lawsuit plaintiffs themselves had removed the signs.

Retailers have to deal with legally mandated signage requirements all the time, of course -- relating to everything from surveillance cameras and Wi-Fi-based customer tracking to shelf tags and merchandise return policies. The risk that someone will remove, deface or block visibility of one of those signs is always there.

There's an irony here, though: The new federal ATM signage rule comes just a similar set of rules kicks in for any retailer who wants to directly charge customers a surcharge for using a credit card. That kind of surcharge was barred by Visa (NYSE:V) and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) in their retailer agreements until Jan. 27, when a class-action settlement made them an option, as long as merchants followed certain rules for disclosing the swipe surcharge.

But while the ATM rule requires fewer signs, the swipe-fee rules requires more signs -- signs at the point-of-sale as well as signs at specified points throughout the store. And those heavy new signage requirements were supported by some of the same banks that were so insistent that ATMs were over-signed. (No word on whether bankers will jump to the defense of any retailer who's caught without enough swipe-fee signs -- even if the signs were stolen by vandals. Somehow it seems unlikely, though.)

For more:

- see The Hill blog post

- see the text of the new rule

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