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Big Tech and the Dutch payment market: tightening of rules needed to maintain a level playing field

Big Tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, Amazon, or Ant Group (Alibaba) must ensure that their platforms or devices are suitable for different providers of payment services. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) argues in favor of a level playing field for all providers of payment services, now and in the future. The current rules can be supplemented by tightened European rules. This is one of the conclusions in the market study into major tech firms on the Dutch payment market. This study was carried out by ACM at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Finance.

Martijn Snoep, Chairman of the Board of ACM, comments: “Big Tech companies can act as a driving force behind competition and, by extension, behind innovation on the Dutch payment market. However, that role does require Big Tech companies to open up their platforms and devices to competing payment services, in the same way that banks do. Only with such a level playing field in place will payment services continue to compete and innovate, and will consumers continue to enjoy freedom of choice. It would be good if the European rules regarding this issue were tightened, before the market is dominated by one or several major competitors.”

Market study into the Dutch payment market

The market study gives an overview of the current and the expected trends and developments regarding Big Tech companies on the Dutch payment market, both online and offline. At the moment, the role of Big Tech companies on the Dutch payment market is still limited, but ACM also sees that Big Tech companies are strengthening their positions on the market through acquisitions and collaborations.

A level playing field for payment services

Big Tech companies increasingly offer their own methods of payment, both online and offline. In brick-and-mortar stores, more and more options for contactless payments are offered, for example using smartphones or smartwatches. According to ACM, such  devices must offer the ability to use various types of payment apps. That is why Big Tech companies must, for example, offer access to other payment services in smartphones or smartwatches.

A popular online platform can refuse competing payment services. They can also make it difficult for competitors to function properly on the online platform. This impedes competition and, as a consequence, it impedes further innovation.

There are two European rules that can help maintain a level playing field for payment services. Big Tech companies that only facilitate payment services currently do not fall under the European rules for open access to payment systems, the PSD2 Directive. ACM recommends amending this Directive, so that Big Tech companies that only play a facilitating role must also comply with it. After all, in that facilitating role, these Big Tech companies are the gateway for payments, and they are able to restrict competition and the options for consumers.

The second amendment is changing the current competition rules, so that conditions can be imposed on dominant platforms in advance. By changing these rules, we can force companies with, for example, a dominant position on an online market to open up their platforms to other market participants, thereby ensuring a level playing field.

ACM, competition, and innovation in the digital economy

ACM gives extra attention to the costs and benefits of the digital economy. Consumers must be able to make their own choices, also online, and be able to purchase products and services with confidence. Online platforms can grow fast, and disrupt existing markets. That creates opportunities for innovation, but it also carries the risk of dominant positions emerging that limit competition and hinder innovation. That would result in higher prices, suboptimal products and services for consumers, and fewer opportunities for competitors. Through enforcement actions, market studies, and education, ACM aims to keep the benefits of innovation in the digital economy, and to ensure that markets work well for people and businesses, now and in the future.

See also:

1-12-2020 ACM Study: Big Techs in the Dutch payment system