The acutely digital bank

Stephen Greer

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Aug 4th, 2015

A few months ago there was a question posed on Twitter which sparked a pretty intense debate: “What makes a bank a digital bank?” Perspectives varied, but after a reading through many of the responses, it seemed most were answering a different question. How far do incumbent banks have to go in order to adjust to the new age of digital financial services?

At a very basic level, most bankers understand the importance of digital. Many started digital transformation years ago, but the strategies have often been too narrowly focused to make a significant impact. Efforts consisted of stand-alone projects running in isolation within a LoB, too vertical to meet the needs of a real transformation strategy. Simple point solutions and narrowly defined projects in turn produce lackluster results, and the perceived value of Digital decreases, potentially falling out of favor with key decision makers based on a cost/ benefit analysis. Stakeholders might think digital is important, but without a vision they´ll often decide that the risk isn´t worth the reward.

This can be underpinned by an organization´s lack of understanding around what it means to be a digital institution. A Celent report from December of last year, Defining a Digital Financial Institution: What “Digital” Means in Banking, proposed a definition for the industry. Digital banking is:

  • Delivering a customized but consistent FI brand experience to customers across all channels and points of interaction
  • … underpinned by analytics and automation
  • … and requiring a change in the operating model, namely products and services, organization, culture, and skills and IT…
  • … in order to deliver demonstrable and sustainable economic value.

We´ve used this definition quite a bit, but it´s important as institutions develop visions around digital. It´s difficult to develop a clear strategy around a topic so loosely defined within an organization. In a new report set to publish in a few days, The Acutely Digital Bank: Mechanisms for a new Reality, we outline a few of the mechanisms institutions are using to transform. The report will also propose a general model for how many organizations are evolving.

Digital transformation is not an easy proposition. The cultural and business model changes required for some institutions are daunting, and inertia always has a seat at the table. Without orienting the business towards digital, banks risk losing out to more agile and digitally adept competitors, both from within the industry and from nonbank challengers.

How is your institution approaching digital? Feel free to leave a comment.

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Banks are asking the wrong customer engagement question

Bob Meara

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Jul 30th, 2015

I have heard banks ask, “How to we use digital channels to bring traffic into the branch?”

The rational is straightforward. After years of promoting self-service channels, branch foot traffic is declining – along with the sales opportunities that foot traffic represents. It’s a logical question, but the wrong question. A better question would be, “How do we enable effective customer engagement on their terms regardless of the channels involved?

Rather than seeking to influence customer channel preferences, banks should be all about maximizing the effectiveness of each and every engagement opportunity, regardless of channel. They don’t seem to be.

One no-brainer example is digital appointment booking – the ability for customers to book an appointment with a banker at a time and place of their convenience – using the bank’s online or mobile platform. Doing so represents convenience for the customer, a logical indicated action as part of online product research and an opportunity to improve branch channel capacity planning (because of the added visibility the mechanism provides). But, the most compelling reason to offer digital appointment booking in my opinion is because doing so maximizes the effectiveness of branch engagement. How so? Done well, frontline staff know who is coming and for what purpose. Consequently, they’re better prepared for the conversation. Banks that have implemented digital appointment booking are seeing significant improvements in sales results.

Digital appointment booking should be commonplace – but isn’t. In a October 2014 survey of NA financial institutions, just 8% of respondents offered this capability. Most were large banks.

OAB adoptionSource: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156

Even better would be to extend the appointment booking option to digital channels, as a phone or telepresence conversation. Engagement doesn’t have to be limited to face-to-face interactions – but is, in all but the largest banks. In the same survey referenced earlier, just 20% offered text based chat online, 12% offered click-to-call and 2% offered video chat.

Online Channel Engagement CapabilitySource: Celent survey of North American financial institutions, October 2014, n=156

So, while banks offer abundant digital transactional capabilities, engagement remains largely something only offered at the branch. That dog won’t hunt for long!

Paying banks to take your money — huh?

Patty Hines

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Jul 24th, 2015

Corporations have historically parked excess cash in their demand deposit accounts to take advantage of earnings credit allowances. Each month, the bank calculates the earnings allowance for a client’s accounts by applying an earnings credit rate to available balances. The earnings allowance is then used to offset the cost of cash management services. In the United States, corporates got the option of earning interest in money market accounts with the repeal of Req Q by Dodd Frank. The Liquidity Coverage Ratio (LCR) provisions of Basel III and the advent of negative interest rates in some European countries are upending traditional cash flow management for banks and their corporate and institutional clients.

The LCR requires large and internationally active banks to meet standard liquidity requirements. It makes assumptions for deposit runoff in times of financial stress, resulting in a liquidity squeeze. Banks must hold enough high quality, liquid assets (HQLA) to fund their operations during a 30-day stress period. Examples of high quality assets include central bank reserves and government and corporate bond debt.

The phase-in of the LCR started on January 1, 2015. It requires banks to distinguish between two types of short-term (30 days or less) deposits. Operational deposits include working capital and cash held for transactional purposes. Non-operational balances are other cash balances not immediately required and assumed to be investments; such as short-term time deposits with a maturity of 30 days or less and accounts with transaction limitations, such as money market deposit accounts.

Non-operating/excess balances are assigned a 40% runoff rate for corporations and government entities and 100% for financial institutions, making them the least valuable to banks. As a result, corporates with non-operational cash investments may find it difficult to place in overnight investment vehicles. Many banks are reducing their non-operating deposits either by encouraging corporates to place their funds elsewhere, or by creating new investment products such as 31+ day CDs, money market funds and repurchase agreements to avoid the LCR charge on excess balances. Similarly, corporates also face a risk of higher costs for committed lines of credit which also require more Basel III capital to be held by banks.

Bank demand for HQLA in the form of central bank reserves along with European fiscal policy has pushed central bank interest rates into negative territory for the safest monetary havens (Sweden and Switzerland). In other countries with central bank rates hovering near zero, once you take the inflation rate into consideration, those rates are negative as well (ECB and Denmark).

Central Bank Interest Rates

Central banks had hoped that negative interest rates would encourage commercial banks to increase lending, but there’s only been a slight increase in outstanding loan balances.

Financial institution clients are hardest hit by central bank negative interest rates, particularly deposits in Euros, Swiss francs, Danish crowns and Swedish crowns. Many global banks are charging “balance sheet utilization fees” or other deposit fees. For corporate clients, savvy banks are taking a collaborative approach—working with corporate treasurers to educate them on the impact of regulatory and economic forces on their cash management and investment decisions and advising them on the available options.

IBM’s Cognitive Bank: Big Data, bigger problems

Joan McGowan

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Jul 21st, 2015

Last Wednesday I attended IBM’s analyst presentation on Transforming Banking and Financial Markets with Data. The crux of the presentation was the benefits of big data and cognitive analytics for financial markets. The return from better understanding the desires of an individual bank customer are well understood and IBM did a good job of illustrating the up-lift. But what were not discussed are the daunting challenges and complexities a bank will face in implementing and managing a big data project. The implementation and ongoing management of data will make or break the success of cognitive computing.

What I would like to see is an open discussion on the successes and failures of big data implementation programs by the banks, IBM, and other vendors working in this space. How smooth was the implementation process (time/budget/resourcing etc.)? Were your expectations set correctly? Did you get the required support from management? What were the lessons learnt? What value do you see from your big data program?

It’s not easy

Structured data tends to sit in multiple databases housed in silo-ed legacy systems; it is customized, lacks consistency, has incomplete fields, is often latent in nature and is prone to human error. All of which compounds the complexity of managing the data. Add to structured data the volume, variety, and velocity (known as the 3 Vs) of unstructured data and the challenge of implementing and managing information becomes even greater. And, the larger and more complex the bank the more likely its data architecture and governance process will hinder data-based implementations projects. Automating the management of data is time consuming and laborious and scope creep is significant, adding months onto implementation projects as well as extra expense and frustration. Resourcing such projects can be taxing as there is a limited pool of big data expertise and they are expensive. To perform cognitive analytics, massive parallel processing power is required and the most cost-effective operating environment is through the cloud. If you get the data right, cognitive analytics can be very powerful.

Cognitive analytics

Cognitive analytics (also referred to as cognitive computing) is a super-charged power tool that allows data scientists to crunch vast amounts of structured and unstructured data and to codify instincts and learnings found in that data in order to develop hypotheses and recommendations. Recommendations are ranked based on the confidence the computer has in the accuracy of the answer. How you rate confidence was not made clear by IBM and I would argue that this can only come after the fact, when you can use KPIs to validate the scoring and criteria. The modeling techniques include artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing and, unlike us mere mortals, the more data you feed the computer, the higher the quality of the insight.

If you do get it right, the rewards are significant

We continue to leave behind mind-boggling amounts of digital information about our lifestyles, personalities, and desires. A sample of sites where I know I have left a hefty footprint include Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, blogs, career sites, industry associations, search history patterns, buying patterns, geo locations, and content libraries. IBM Watson offers banks a cost-effective way, through the cloud, of scouring such data to build up clues that provide a more in-depth view of what their customers’ desire. Current analytic segmentation is requirements-based and is modeled on past behavior to determine and influence future behavior. The segmentation buckets are broad and all within them are treated the same. Cognitive analytics allow a much more precise and immediate analysis of behavioral characteristics in different environments and, therefore, a more personalized and satisfying experience for the customer.

I’d welcome any feedback from those of you who have been involved in implementing or are in the process of implementing big data in banking. And, if you’re interested, take a look at Celent’s Dan Latimore’s blog Implementing Watson is Hard

On a side note, IBM introduced the term Cognitive Bank and it is not a phrase that works for me. It is disconcerting to describe a bank as having the mental process of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

 

The future: are you excited or scared?

Jul 10th, 2015

As industry analysts, we often comment on the impact emerging technologies and innovations have on our clients’ business. How can a financial institution become more “digital?” Will Apple Pay be successful and how quickly? How can a bank deploy data analysis tools to its advantage? These are questions we and our clients are dealing with on a daily basis.

Many of us have also seen presentations by futurists painting their visions of an increasingly digital future, where everything is connected and always on, where machines have reached human levels of intelligence, and so on. Given the relentless progress of technology, it is probably only a matter of time until such visions become reality.

However, I would argue that what many of us don’t do often enough is pause and reflect on the impact of technology on us as individuals and on the society as a whole, especially in the long term. I recently read a book that made me pause and think: The Circle by Dave Eggers. If you haven’t read it yet, Circle is a fictional internet technology company, sort of an imaginary amalgam of Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. The best and brightest work there bringing to market their latest inventions, such as TruYou, “one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person.” Of course, that also means no more anonymity, so, for example, customer satisfaction survey scores are always close to a 100, and any lower ones are chased by the reps until they are re-scored. Tiny camera devices that can be left anywhere unnoticed and stream high quality video are introduced as an innocuous way for the surfers to check the waves at the remote beaches, but soon turn into a “Big Brother”-type ever-present eye. Some of the characters opt to go for “transparency” and start wearing always-on cameras, with unsurprisingly chilling implications for privacy.

What made the book particularly scary for me is that it is not an outlandish vision. Most of these things already happen today, albeit at a smaller scale. Anybody with a smart phone has a camera ready to shoot and post online, whether you like it or not (just ask Prince Harry!), and of course, we do need a better approach to digital identity, but hopefully not the kind that destroys any right to privacy and anonimity.

It’s not “just” the loss of privacy. If, as predicted, robots take over many of our activities, what are the implications for our societies built around work and jobs creation? And if you are not familiar with the work of Nicholas Carr, take a look at this essay, which warns against dangers of our brains being re-wired as a result of constant exposure to hyperlinks, tickers of “breaking news” and zings announcing a new email. We become easily distracted, always looking for the “next thing”; reading a longer piece or a book becomes a challenge.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a Luddite raging against technology. First, it’s not very original – Socrates warned us about the dangers of writing back in ancient Greece. Second, the progress of technology has brought and will continue to bring wonderful benefits. And I genuinely get excited about new technologies and amazing innovations. Overall, I am also excited and positive about the future. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t be critical, and have to succumb to every new hype or lose sight of what makes us human.

With summer holidays approaching, I will try and disconnect from gadgets. I look forward to spending time with my family and hopefully immerse myself in a book or two. If you are also heading for the beach, you could do worse than taking a copy of The Circle with you. Happy summer!

New banks, new names

Gareth Lodge

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Jul 10th, 2015

Dave Birch over at Consult Hyperion wrote a very interesting article today around the need to better name the stream of new non-traditional banking entrants. Have a read here.

This is something we’ve talked about with Clients in a similar way, but in the context of traditional banks. When you run a brain storming sessions, particularly for innovation, it’s often useful to “blow up” the problem. That is, magnify the problem to its maximum so you look at truly radical solutions rather than incremental ones. One such example was a scenario where traditional banking ended up with two types of banks –

1) IT banks, providing products and services to others. Citi with its co-opertition model might be an example of this. I labelled these manufacturers.

2) The other extreme was banks focusing on the customer, and focusing on providing the best products and services, an agora of things built by the manufacturers. I called this ISO banking.

Dave used iso to define one of his groups but in a very different way. He used iso from the Greek to mean equal. I wasn’t quite so clever – I used ISO as in the US group of card solution providers known as Independent Sales Organisations.

Which leads to a broader thought. The PSD2 introduces the concept of XS2A – essentially any third party can access account level information of any financial institution in Europe and be able to initiate a payment from that account. That muddies the distinctions above even further. For example, Dave’s descriptions imply (I think!) two components – a front end (a mobile app) and a back end (a funding account). In the neo- and iso- flavours, it’s the back-end that distinguishes the two, with neo a traditional platform, and iso with a far simpler account platform (a pre-paid card).

In PSD2, there are numerous variations. Three examples off the top of my head that illustrate what I mean:

  • No-back-end. PSD2 could create a third category where the “bank” provides the front end, but no back-end at all as it uses the platforms of one or more other FIs
  • Every end. This is in some ways an extension of the above, but with a slightly different spin. Bullet 1 reflects that consumers often have products spread across multiple institutions. At its simplest, XS2A allows true PFM for the first time in some countries. But this second point reflects that the lines are blurred already, particularly for a consumer. I suspect many would want to include all their money holding accounts – say your PayPal acount. Most consumers would think that as an non-FI, but, as they have a banking licence I assume they would be included as well under PSD2 (thoughts please!). But what about the true non-FI’s?
  • Front/back weighting. With XS2A, how many will be provider slick but simple skins, and how many will provide functionally rich front-end (and perhaps back-end too) that will far enhance the standard offerings. You can imagine this particularly in the wealth management space. These feel very different beasts, and need distinguishing.

The upshot is that Dave has hit the nail on the head in that we need more/better/different nomenclature. However I wonder if in Europe in particular we probably need a much more fundamental rethink. As the regulator explicitly seeks to disaggregate the payments value chain, this, coupled with technology advances, have much broader implications, and make traditional labels misleading at best.

I’ve only just started really thinking about this – but the more I do, the more I realise the more I need to do.

 

Biometrics: the next generation of corporate digital banking authentication

Patty Hines

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Jun 30th, 2015

Corporate treasury departments initiate and approve millions of dollars in high-value payments on a daily basis. As an example, in May 2015 the average amount of a US Fedwire transfer was $5.7 million. Because of the dollar value of these transactions, banks were early adopters of enhanced authentication for corporate online banking applications. Many banks continue to offer one-time-password authentication (on top of traditional username and password) using RSA SecurID or Vasco DIGIPASS hardware tokens at both login and payment initiation.

When Celent published its report “Corporate Mobile Banking Update: Adoption Conundrums and Security Realities” in September 2014, it highlighted alternatives to traditional two-factor authentication for corporate online and mobile banking applications. Alternative methods include voice, pattern and biometric authentication methods.

As discussed in the Celent Banking Blog “Logging Into Your Bank in a Heartbeat”, several banks have rolled out Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint authentication technology for consumer online banking login authentication. However, as quickly demonstrated by clever hackers, Touch ID is vulnerable to various hacking methods. For this reason, banks are turning to more sophisticated biometric authentication methods for its corporate online and mobile banking applications.

The focus remains on layered, multi-factor authentication, but combines authentication technologies in unusual and unique ways. Barclays Bank’s offering combines biometric and digital signature technology in an offering called “Barclays Biometric Reader.” To overcome limitations with traditional fingerprint scanners, Barclays is implementing Hitachi Europe’s Finger Vein Authentication Technology (VeinID) which reads and verifies the user’s unique finger vein patterns.

The latest authentication announcement comes from Wells Fargo who is combining facial recognition with voice biometrics. Wells Fargo is working with SpeechPro to pilot the new bi-modal security solution (VoiceKey.OnePass) and fine-tune the biometric authentication features. The solution uses a standard smartphone microphone and camera to capture a facial image and voiceprint. Wells Fargo is also working on authentication using eye vein scanning (as opposed to typical retina scans).

Biometrics

New authentication technologies, from a slew of relative newcomers to the financial services space, could eventually replace traditional hardware tokens and eliminate multiple authentication hoops throughout the digital corporate banking experience. Watch this space.

He who hesitates…?

Gareth Lodge

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Jun 29th, 2015

Mining data to create better products and cross-sell opportunities is a perennial topic of conversation with banks. We’re often asked who does it well – in fact, I was asked this just last week. And the answer is…not many, frankly. More the exception than the norm.

Some other industries who have recognised this however have taken action and made significant investments to tackle the problem. One of the more visible ones is perhaps Tesco, the UK retailer. It may have fallen on harder times over the last few years, but we shouldn’t forget the transformation they’ve gone through.

20 years ago they were one of the smaller, more old fashioned supermarkets in the UK, but at their peak became the third largest supermarket in the world, with one in ten pounds in the UK being spent with them.

How did they achieve this? In no small part their loyalty programme, ClubCard, which it launched in 1994. This was backed by initially hiring an analytics company called Dunnhumby. Such was the success of the scheme that Tesco believe that ClubCard paid for itself within 6 months. The then chair said at the first board meeting after the launch: “What scares me about this is that you know more about my customers after three months than I know after 30 years.” In context, the supermarket first to the market in the UK with loyalty, Safeway, abandoned its loyalty card in 2000, with the CEO claiming at the time “people have lost interest in points.”

Tesco bought a 53% share in Dunnhumby in 2001 for £30m, finally buying the business outright a few years later.

So why the post today? A couple of reasons:

Firstly, given the change of fortunes in Tesco, they’ve put up a number of assets for sale, including Dunnhumby. The price tag is believed to be in excess of £2bn.There seem to be a broad range of people interested in buying, so the price is likely to be achieved.

Secondly, it’s not just private equity firms interested, but big technology firms such as Google who are considering buying them as well. It’s not just the data they’re after the skills and techniques. That said, 20 years of data for over 1 billion customers globally (in excess of 40 terrabytes of data), has huge value in itself, which is why the ad agency WPP is one of the other bidders.

The take-away for banks is perhaps a wistful “if only.” If only the banks had stopped worrying about competition from the supermarkets, and had emulated them a little more, they too might have benefitted from the insights from similar companies, and might also have such a prized asset as well.

Banks are fast followers rather than leaders and have been very risk averse. With perhaps the golden age of fintech firms upon us, banks ought to be taking an even more proactive approach. Incubators are all good – but banks need to be more entrepreneurial and take a more speculative approach, or they stand to not reap all the rewards.

 

The new face of digital banking

Jun 26th, 2015

I’m just back from a very interesting week in London at the Marketforce-sponsored “The Future of Digital Banking” forum.  I served as Chairman for Day 1 of the two-day conference and had a front-row view of the proceedings. The theme of the conference was that customer-centricity and innovation need to be the guideposts to a bank’s transformation from a bricks-and-mortar operation into a digital enterprise.

Perhaps my favorite presentation of Day 1 was offered by Dr. Nicola Millard, the Head of Customer Insight & Futures at British Telecom (You mean the phone company? Yes, that BT!). Nicola has a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction, a very hot area of IT these days as the focus is on UI organization and the impact on user experience.

According to Nicola, when dealing with the increasing demands by clients for digital service provisioning, banks should are assume that clients are self-centered (it’s all about me!), believe that all banking services should be extremely easy to use, and yet require quick access to a live person when all else fails (live chat is preferred). One stat that struck me was that 90% of BT’s clients would like the ability to email the customer service agent that they had spoken with on the phone – not sure how this would work out in banking, where phishing is always a concern – but still great food for thought.

On the heels of the conference came news that Atom Bank, a new challenger bank in the UK, had received its full license from the Bank of England.  Sophie Haagensen, Head of Strategy and Planning for the Durham-based bank, had participated in a panel on Tuesday and had indicated that Atom Bank would seek to leverage its position as a legacy-free direct bank (no physical branches) to build a new model for customer engagement.

As if to drive home the point, Atom Bank announced that it will initially be operating in “mobile only” mode, with online banking to be rolled out at a later date. It was also announced that FIS was selected as Atom Bank’s IT outsourcing partner. The specific core banking platform selected was not disclosed, but it’s likely to be Profile, the real-time system that FIS leads with in the international market.

This is certainly good news for FIS, which had been looking to put some points on the board since global rival Fiserv announced in July of 2014 that it was launching a new outsourcing service called Agiliti (based on its well established Signature core banking platform), with Think Money Ltd. as its launch client. With more than two dozen firms having applied for banking licenses in the UK, it appears that the competitive heat of summer has finally arrived in London.

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The next step in European ACH competition?

Gareth Lodge

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Jun 26th, 2015

Yesterday saw very interesting news coming out of Europe regarding a joint venture between 6 European ACHs.  To understand why many of us have sat up and taken VERY close interest in the announcement, we need to review some recent history first. Much of this will be covered in more detail in a forthcoming report on ACHs.

In the very early days of SEPA, the European Commission made many public comments. As SEPA was as much a political goal as anything, many of these were observations on how the Commission thought the market ought to develop. Given the size of the task and the perceived reluctance to the banks to do anything about SEPA, the Commission narrowed down the observations to a set of specific requirements, eventually culminating in the regulations that made migration mandatory in Euro countries. The downside is that some of the initial elements triggered some activity, but they were never fully pushed through. One such item was the Commissions perceiving their to be an over-supply in payments processors. In the Commissions view, a single market would reduce the 50+ processors to between 5 and 7. That would be enough for a competitive market, but not so many for an inefficient market. The latter stance is based on the fact that processing is broadly a fixed cost business and so the larger the volumes processed, the cheaper the cost per transaction is to process.

As a result of this statement was a flurry of activity amongst the ACHs to be one of the “survivors”. It triggered a wave of mergers (Equens is a German/Dutch/Italian merger for example), near mergers (everyone courted everyone else!) and direct approaches to banks and markets to acquire them as customers and boost volumes.

But whilst there were mergers, the market broadly remained unchanged. Indeed, some markets chose to build their own SEPA compliant ACH, rather than use the services of a SEPA-ready ACH. There are many reasons for this, not least ownership and control.

The announcement yesterday therefore was very significant. At face value, 6 ACHs are going to collaboratively process cross-border SEPA payments. Given the tiny volumes, this isn’t exciting.

However, dig deeper, and it becomes clear that Equens – arguably the largest ACH in Europe – is providing all the infrastructure and services to the new company, and the new joint entity company is registered at… Equens HQ. Those other 5 ACHs are considerably smaller – their volumes combined are still dwarfed by Equens.

Secondly – it’s for cross-border SEPA payments today but mentions possibly delivering the real-time payments interoperability that’ll be required going forward. That means more ad more services that will be offered by Equens to these other ACHs. It’s particularly noteworthy as many believe that EBA Clearing has been positioning itself to provide exactly that service, and has been leading the discussions.

The third point is a broader one. There has been considerably more talk in the last few months about processing, given various elements of PSD2. It’s not yet clear whether the scheme/processor split will apply to “just” card companies, particularly when some of the ACHs process cards. A number of organisations have also mooted whether the XS2A provision potentially provides a way to bypass ACHs – that is break the connection between bank and ACH. Given the range of potential impacts, it seems likely that there will at least some impact.

Finally, we are aware of more than one discussion in Europe about the future of that countries ACH, particularly as they ponder on how to deliver a real-time payments solution for that country. All bets are off.

The net result suggests to me that we’re entering new phase for payments processors, particulalrly ACH, which has been a relatively stable market for many years. The industry – and technology – is in a very different place than when the discussions happened in c. 2005. What made sense then may not make sense now. We believe that the announcement yesterday will be just the first of a number over the next 2 years. The phrases exciting times and ACHs can be at last mentioned in the same sentence!