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Swiss court upholds SIX Group fine in landmark cartel law case

Six building

SIX is a service provider of the financial industry and operates the Swiss financial center infrastructure. The abbreviation SIX stands for Swiss Infrastructure and Exchange.

(Keystone)

A Swiss court has upheld a fine of CHF7 million ($6.97 million) for a subsidiary of the SIX Group that is responsible for most of the credit card transactions in Switzerland. 

The fine was first imposed in 2010 by Switzerland's Competition Commission (COMCO) on Six Payment Services, a former subsidiary of the SIX Group. The Federal Administrative Court determined on Wednesday that the company had abused its dominant market position between 2005 and 2007.

The court sanctioned both SIX Group and SIX Payment Services, which was sold to French company Worldlineexternal link in November 2018.

COMCO had initiated proceedings against the original owner and the subsidiary; therefore, both companies are named in the judgment. But SIX told the Swiss News Agency Keystone-SDA that it is now up to Worldline to pay the fine as it has acquired all the rights and duties of its former subsidiary.

The decision published on Tuesday evening by the court relates to the transformation of the card payment market in the mid-2000s. The introduction of new security features on cards forced merchants at the time to equip themselves with new terminals to avoid liability in the event of abuse.

New terminals

To promote currency conversion, credit and debit card providers offered merchants the opportunity to enter into complementary contracts. These included special conditions to reduce the fees charged by card issuers.

At the beginning of 2005, SIX introduced terminals that were not only able to work with the latest security systems but also to perform dynamic currency conversions (DCC). The latter process allows the customer to choose whether to pay in local or national currency abroad.

When introducing its new readers, SIX refused to provide other manufacturers with the information necessary to connect their own DCC devices to the SIX processing platform. Until 2007, merchants who wanted to benefit from the DCC function were forced to use the group's terminals.

Case law decision

In its decision of more than 500 pages, the court described this as an abuse of a dominant market position, a behaviour sanctioned by the cartel law.

The arguments put forward by SIX against the COMCO decision led the St Gallen judges to decide some 60 legal questions, around 20 of which establish legal precedents. The judgment thus clarifies several highly controversial points in cartel law, the court concluded.

The decision of the Federal Administrative Court is not final and may be challenged before the Federal Supreme Court.

SIX Payment Services AG told swissinfo.ch it had taken note of the court's decision and that "any further steps will be decided after an in-depth analysis of such ruling."

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