Against the Odds: Improving Euro Area Commercial Lending Indicators

Over the past several months the European Union has weathered a number of challenges – Brexit, political turmoil, the migrant crisis, and sluggish GDP growth among them. But surprisingly, the latest European Central Bank (ECB) data doesn’t reflect any negative shocks on credit supply and demand.

The latest Euro Area Bank Lending Survey found that competitive pressures are the main factor behind the easing of credit standards on loans to enterprises, including a narrowing of interest rate margins. At the same time, demand for loans by enterprises is increasing, driven by merger and acquisition activities, inventories and working capital, and continued low interest rates. Although demand is strengthening, alternative financing sources dampened demand for bank financing slightly.

Euro Area Bank Lending Survey

Looking at the top half of this chart, there is no question that banks ratcheted up credit standards like pricing, covenants, cash flow, and capital during Europe’s two recessionary periods. At the same time, businesses of all sizes stopped seeking credit. There is just no appetite for companies to take on additional liabilities during a period when consumers aren’t spending and the economy is shrinking.

More recently, in early 2014 both sides of the credit standards and demand equation crossed the middle point. Since then, credit standards have leveled off while credit demand from enterprises has risen slightly, especially for small-to-medium enterprises (SME).

Despite the ups and downs in credit demand and standards, loan outstandings to non-financial corporations has been surprisingly resilient, even during euro area recessionary periods.

ECB Loans to Non-Financial Corporations

The June ECB reflected slight growth over the past quarter, at the end of which the UK voted to leave the European Union. Time will tell whether Brexit and the expected negative impact to eurozone growth will dampen demand and subsequent loan growth for euro area commercial lending.

The Future of Zapp and Other Musings on MasterCard and VocaLink

Yesterday, my colleague Gareth shared on these pages his first thoughts after the announcement that MasterCard is buying VocaLink. I agree with his points, but also wanted to add some of my own observations.

As someone who closely follows the developments in digital payments, one of the questions following the acquisition to me is what happens with Zapp, a solution that VocaLink has been working on for the last few years to bring "mobile payments straight from your bank app." To me, it boils down to two considerations:

  1. Would MasterCard want to kill off Zapp?
  2. If not, can MasterCard help accelerate Zapp's launch?

My view on the first question is a resounding "no". Yet, the question is not as silly as it might seem. At Celent, we have been talking about the "battle of rails" in payments, i.e. between pull-based payments running on the cards infrastructure, and push-based payments, such as Zapp, built on top of new faster/ real-time payment networks. Given the cards' dominance in merchant payments today (at least in the UK, US and quite a few other markets), solutions such as Zapp may be seen as a threat to card-based transactions. Buying off a competitor only to shut it down may be an expensive strategy, but would not be unheard of.

And yet, I believe that such logic would be completely flawed. By buying VocaLink, MasterCard becomes a rail-agnostic payments company, and stands to benefit from cards and non-cards transactions. Furthermore, specifically in the UK, Zapp could be MasterCard's ticket to regaining ground in everyday consumer payments. As I discussed in another recent blog, Visa controls 97% of the debit card market in the UK. I would imagine that a Zapp-like solution would have more of an immediate impact on debit card transactions rather than credit card spend.

So, if that's the case, can MasterCard help accelerate Zapp's launch? Perhaps. We first heard of Zapp in 2013, and even included a case study in a Celent report published in September 2013. Yet, three years later, despite announcing a number of high-profile partners – from Barclays and HSBC, to Sainsbury's and Thomas Cook, to Elavon and Worldpay – Zapp is yet to go live. I don't claim to have any insight knowledge into the reasons for a delay, but I would imagine that changes in the competitive environment had something to do with it, particularly with Apple Pay showing how easy mobile payments can be when paying in-stores or in-apps. While I have no doubt that VocaLink and Zapp have great technologists and User Experience design specialists, I would expect that MasterCard's Digital Enablement Service (MDES) should bring helpful experience of integrating mobile payments into the banks' apps. And MasterCard's relationships with both acquirers and issuers should help convince the remaining skeptics and bring more partners on-board.

Zapp aside, I think the deal is good for both organisations for a number of other reasons, such as for example:

  • Not every payment is particularly suitable for cards (e.g. B2B, government) – now these payment flows become accessible for MasterCard.
  • Visibility to a much broader pool of transactions should be very helpful when developing risk management, loyalty and other value added services.
  • MasterCard's global reach should help bring VocaLink's experience in faster payments to markets which would have been harder for VocaLink to access by themselves.

In closing, I woudl like to go back to another announcement MasterCard made last week – the one about rebranding, the first in 20 years. MasterCard has changed its logo – it still has the interlocking circles in the colours which are widely recognised, but the company's name is spelled "mastercard" (although the company's legal name remains MasterCard):

MC_728x150

According to MasterCard, in addition to a more modern look, there was a conscious desire to reduce the emphasis on "card." That particular announcement was combined with the re-launch of Masterpass, and of course, digital payments will over time reduce the reliance on cards as a physical form factor. However, yesterday's announcement diversifies MasterCard away from card rails, and not just the plastic form factor, and is an important step in the company's journey from a cards network to a payments network.

 

What MasterCards’ Acquisition of VocaLink might mean

Today, MasterCard announced the acquisition of VocaLink  in the UK.

Before I start I should say I have worked for both organisations, and any comments that I make are mine, and nor am I mentioning anything that isn’t in the public domain.

In some ways the acquisition is surprising, given all that is happening – PSD2, the PSR threatening to fundamentally change VocaLinks ownership and the PSF (it’s payments – never too far from an acronym!) talking about replacing the infrastructure altogether.

It’s easy to think this is perhaps MasterCard re-inserting themselves back into the UK market as since their acquisition of the Switch brand, virtually all the cards have flipped to Visa. I think it’s actually more for three reasons.

Firstly, real-time payments. I’ve written about the charge towards real-time, and VocaLink are well positioned. They operate the UK Faster Payment Service in the UK, and the underlying technology is at the heart of the systems in Singapore, Thailand and The Clearing House in the US. In addition, the market is likely to explode. The ECB said at a recent conference that they expect 60-80% of all SEPA CT transactions to migrate to SEPA Inst. Even at today’s volumes, that’s 12 billion transactions in addition to the UK’s 1 billion. That's volume any processor would be eyeing. Coupled with PSD2, where card volumes may well fall, then is rationale alone for the acquisition.

Secondly, look at electronic payments more broadly. The VocaLink core payments engine is award winning. It was built to win business across Europe in the post-SEPA world, and is capable of handling multiple schemes on the same platform. Indeed, part of Sweden’s transactions run on it to today alongside a very different UK scheme. Imagine now the offering that MasterCard has in say emerging markets – the ability to deliver 100% of electronic payments.

The third is when you bang together some of the technologies of the two businesses. These are ideas, and of course they are far harder than they sound but just think about the possibilities:

– Real-time payments + MasterCard global network = true real-time global ACH;

– ACH/real-time + low value debit transactions = decoupled debit on your own transactions;

– ISO20222 remitance data + VocaLink B2B skills+ MasterCard global network + MasterCard analytics + MasterCard finances = Synegra meets Tungsten Network, but on steroids.

There is much still to find out, and yet more to mull over, but the signs suggest some exciting times ahead.

Setting Out a Vision for Customer Authentication

We all know that "passwords suck", as my colleague Bob Meara stated clearly and succinctly in his recent blog. But what's the alternative – is the answer biometrics or something else?

We do believe that biometrics is part of the answer. However, our vision for authentication – security measures banks take when providing customers access to their services – is broader than that. Mobile devices will play a key role, but for them to be effective tools for authentication, a strong binding between customer identity and the device is essential – unless this step is done correctly, all subsequent authentication efforts are pointless.

We also contend that authentication must be risk- and context-aware. It should take into account what the customer is trying to do, what device they are using, how they are behaving, etc. and assess the risk of fraudulent behaviour. Depending on that assessment, the customer could either gain access or be asked to further authenticate themselves. And while biometrics can and will play an important role, the banks' authentication platforms need to be flexible to support different authentication factors.

We outline this vision in more detail in the report published yesterday by Celent, Security, Convenience or Both? Setting Out a Vision for Authentication. In addition, the report discusses:

  • The upcoming PSD2 requirements for strong authentication.
  • The rise of biometrics, including different modalities and device-based vs. server-based implementations.
  • An overview of various standard-setting bodies, such as FIDO alliance and W3C Web Authentication Working Group.

Also, yesterday we launched a new Celent Digital Research Panel survey, this time focused on Authentication and Identity management. The objectives of this survey are to assess amongst the US financial institutions:

  1. Investment drivers for customer authentication and identity management.
  2. Current state and immediate plans around authentication and identity management.
  3. Perspectives on the future for authentication and identity management.

If you already received an email invite, we do hope that you will respond before our deadline of August 8th. If you represent an FI in the US, and would like to take part, but haven't received the invite, please contact us at info@celent.com. We will publish the results in a Celent report, and all respondents will receive a copy of the report, irrespective of whether they are Celent clients or not. We look forward to hearing from you!

Faster Than A Speeding Payment: The Race To Real-Time Is Here

It’s been two years since my last reports on real-time payments, and much has happened, not least of which is the perception and understanding the industry has. As a result, the discussions in many countries that don’t have real-time payments infrastructure are now when they will adopt, rather than why would they adopt. Yet in that intervening period, it’s not just the pace of adoption that has accelerated, but that market and thinking around real-time itself has matured as well.

As a result, I’ve just written a new report titled Faster Than A Speeding Payment: The Race To Real-Time Is Here.

Central to the report is the fact that rather than just being “faster ACH”, it is increasing being seen (and should be seen!) as a fundamentally different payment type than anything that has gone before it. As a result, banks, whether they are about to implement their first system or whether an existing user, need to think about where real-time is heading, and to plan accordingly.

This thinking – and more – is set out in the report, and seeks to explore the following questions:

  1. What is the pace of real-time payment adoption?
  2. Why should our bank plan for real-time payments?
  3. What should a bank do regarding real-time payments?

The pace question is clearly indicated in one of the charts from the report:

table

From the 32 countries identified in the initial report (and the criteria we used, which is important!), in 2 years we’ve gone to 42 countries, cross-border systems, and countries who claimed they didn’t see the reason why they would adopt, at least one (the US) is currently reviewing more than 20 systems, all of which might co-exist.

The report goes in to much more detail, but there is a clear implication. Real-time is firmly here, and it’s increasingly being seen as the payment system of the future. Banks that who try to limit the scope of projects today then may be saving themselves money in the short -term, but they are likely to creating more work, more costly work, in the future. Given that most payment networks have a life span measured in decades, it’s a long time to be stuck with a compromise.

Ultimately, however, it’s about building a digital bank as well. Without doing so, banks will be providing the tools to their competitors, yet unable to use them themselves. Adding a real-time solution to a process that takes weeks, such as a bank loan, makes no difference in terms of the proposition. Fintechs are able to use a real-time payment as the enabling element of a digital experience because all of the solution set is real-time – an instant decision and payment of the loan sum is a game changer.

Digital payments without a digital bank would seem futile.

Unintended Consequences of Regulation, Part “n”

I must admit, I lost count how many times we at Celent have written and talked about unintended consequences of regulation. This is the latest installment.

As most people know, PSD2 has introduced new card multilateral interchange fee (MIF) limits in Europe. Debit card transactions across Europe have been capped at 0.2% of transaction value, while for credit cards, the limit is 0.3%. This is often used as an example of regulators bearing down on the issuers, and in many cases, especially for credit cards, it is indeed a significant reduction of fees charged previously.

However, let's take a closer look at the UK. According to the UK Cards Association statistics, debit card transactions outnumber credit card transactions by 3.3 times (10.3 vs 3.1 billion in 2015), while the purchase value of debit card transactions was greater than that on credit cards by 2.4 times (£439 vs £181 billion in 2015). Furthermore, of nearly 100 milion debit cards issued in the UK, 97% carry Visa brand. In other words, Visa debit cards are the most popular payment cards in the UK.

Visa interchange rates have varied over the years, but immediately prior to March 2015, Visa interchange for consumer debit card chip & PIN transactions in the UK was flat 8p per transaction. In March 2015, those fees changed to 0.2% + 1p, but were capped at 50p. The extra penny could be charged, because the UK Payment System Regulator allowed an interim period where the cap of 0.2% could be applied at an aggregate rather than an individual transaction level. As the individual interchange fees were capped at 50p, that meant that in aggregate they didn't exceed the required 0.2% limit. However, we understand that as of September 1, 2016, Visa UK is removing both the extra 1p and the cap of 50p and setting debit interchange fees at 0.2% per transaction, as required by PSD2.

As the chart below demonstrates, transactions less than £35 become cheaper than 8p set prior to March 2015. At £41.34, which is the latest average debit card transaction value, the current charges are at 9p and new ones post September will be 8p, the same as before. However, transactions above that amount and up to £250 are already more expensive than 8p today and will remain so post September.

MIF1

The real difference is for transactions above £250. The removal of 50p cap and charging at a straight 0.2% means that a £10,000 transaction (for example, when buying a used car) will now cost a merchant £20 in interchange versus the 8p the merchant paid before the regulation came into effect.

MIF2

What about Brexit? Will these European regulations still apply in the future? The answer for domestic transactions is, yes. The interchange caps are now enshrined in the UK regulation and are independent of the UK's status in Europe. More broadly, the Payment Systems Regulator announced immediately following the referendum results that "current payments regulation deriving from the EU will remain applicable until any changes are made, which will be a matter for Government and Parliament." Perhaps a more interesting question is what would happen with transactions between the UK and Europe in the future. If the UK is no longer part of the EU, would the payment networks decide that such transactions should be treated as inter-regional rather than intra-regional? Only time will tell.

So, what are the merchants with larger than average debit card transaction portfolios going to do? In the short term, some might start surcharging to pass the costs on to the customer; longer term, others might start exploring other opportunities presented by PSD2, and consider becoming Payment Initiating Service Providers (PISP) to move customer funds directly from consumer bank account to theirs, shunning cards altogether. Almost inevitably, the most proactive ones will shop around to see which acquirers offer the best deals; remember, these are interchange fees, not the actual merchant charges, and it is up to the acquirers to decide how much they charge their merchants. However, once again, the consequences of a regulation are not quite as originally intended.

Solving the Fintech Vendor Due Diligence Conundrum

Vendor Management GraphicBanks are ultimately responsible for all of the services that they provide, even when they contract with third parties to help them deliver those services. More and smaller banks are partnering with outside providers, and there are more and smaller third parties being formed to meet more specific bank needs. While there’s even a section […]
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Mobile banking adoption growth is slower than you think

1In March of this year the Federal Reserve released the newest iteration of its consumer survey report on mobile banking, Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2016. One fact that sticks out is how slow mobile banking adoption has been over the last few years.  While 53% of smartphone users have used mobile banking in the […]
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Passwords Suck – Bring on Biometrics!

@Pay's Sought After T-shirtNow that I have your attention. Let me be clear: I hate passwords, particularly when they are increasingly required to be longer, more complex and frequently changed. Apparently, I am not alone in this sentiment. At a conference in 2015, a small start-up, @Pay, a low-friction mobile giving platform, offered attendees a free t-shirt in […]
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Brexit. Eventually. Possibly.

What did Britain say to its trade partners? See EU later. It’s been a funny week or two to say the least, so it seemed apposite to start with a joke (and we’re not talking about the England vs Iceland result! – the Icelandic commentator is worth a 30sec listen.) The UK woke up to […]
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