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Regulator investigates Swiss banks over alleged Apple Pay boycott

Switzerland’s competition authority is investigating whether Swiss banks including UBS and Credit Suisse have deliberately boycotted mobile payment systems offered by technology companies such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

The Weko competition authority said it had carried out searches of premises amid suspicions that the financial institutions had agreed to boost Twint, a local payments app, by not allowing their credit cards to be used with rival systems. Weko said it had received complaints about the apparent boycott without revealing who had made them.

“There are suspicions that the Swiss financial institutions have agreed not to allow their credit cards to be used with Apple Pay and Samsung Pay in order to favour Swiss system Twint,” Weko said on Thursday.

The alleged efforts of Swiss banks to frustrate the growth of rival mobile payment systems follows similar resistance from Nordic banks. This contrasts with the more co-operative approach of US and UK banks, which have worked closely with technology groups on launching the new systems.

The use of mobile payment systems has grown in Switzerland but remains modest, accounting for only 0.5 per cent of transactions, according to a report this month by Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts.

Like German consumers, the Swiss remain heavy users of cash, which accounted for 70 per cent of transactions, the study showed. Twint, which also had its premises searched, belongs to Switzerland’s biggest banks, including UBS and Credit Suisse as well as cantonal and co-operative banks. It is Switzerland’s most widely used payment app, with more than 1m registered users. Twint said it had previously asked Weko to investigate “discriminatory behaviour by Apple towards Twint”, claiming that the US company was hampering trouble-free use of its app on iOS devices.

A decision by Weko on the matter was “expected shortly”, Twint said. Credit Suisse said it was “surprised” by Weko’s investigation and “convinced that the allegations will prove to be unfounded”. It said it offered consumers in Switzerland access to Apple Pay and Samsung Pay through Swisscard, a joint venture with American Express. Swisscard was also mentioned by Weko as being under investigation.

Credit Suisse said it had been in talks with Apple, Samsung and Google for several months “to discuss how their mobile payment solutions could be offered to our clients”. UBS declined to comment on the investigation but said that since 2016 it had also sought to reach an agreement on using its credit cards with Apple Pay — without success.

PostFinance said it was co-operating with the Weko inquiry and was “satisfied it has not violated Swiss antitrust law”. Cashless payments company Aduno also said it was co-operating but would not comment further.

Aneta Larkins

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