Gareth Lodge

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Celent Model Bank 2017 Awards: The Payments Preview

Celent Model Bank 2017 Awards: The Payments Preview

This is the next instalment of our Model Banking preview blogs, and it’ll come as no surprise that I will focus on Payments.

Reading and evaluating the Model Bank entries is always fascinating. It’s also somewhat frustrating too at times – payments, covering so much territory, often ends up with the tricky task of comparing two very different projects, and trying to decide which is best. This year was no different, with the quality of entries high.

Until we announce all winners publicly on April 4 at our 2017 Innovation & Insight Day in Boston, we’re unable to say too much more – very frustrating! In addition to presenting the award to the winners, we will be discussing broader trends we’ve seen across all nominations and will share our perspectives why we chose those particular initiatives as winners. Unfortunately though, if you’ve not already registered, it’s too late. As with every year, it’s not only sold out, there is a growing wait list too!

So until April 4th, what can we take away from the Payment entries as a whole this year?

First, the entries this year reinforce how hard it is for any single bank to come up with a cutting edge product innovation in payments. As a result, we had a number of entries submitted jointly by multiple FIs describing their initiatives on blockchain, P2P infrastructures, and other collaborative efforts.

We also saw, particularly in the retail space, the adoption of innovations in one market, transposed from another. There were a number of these, particularly in wallets and P2P. Not bad, just not new and often with a very specific market context. For example, one technology had been in place in a different country for at least 5 years, yet the impact will be huge for the bank who submitted it, and is leading edge for their market.

This perhaps serves as a timely reminder that innovation isn’t always about cutting edge technology, but doing something different. Scanning other markets for what they do, and why, is a great source of new ideas, Given that these innovations are, by definition, tried, tested and live, it also has the benefit of being easier to adopt, from the likely business benefits to the actual technology used and lessons learnt.

The second theme is the continued payments back-office renovation story, particularly around the adoption of payment services hubs, which continue apace. Whilst we have defined what is or isn’t a hub, we have always been clear that no two hub projects are exactly the same, and the entries this year reinforce that.

A few things really stood out in particular about the entries. First, some clients still consider hubs to be mainly European, yet we had entries from right around the globe. Second, whilst the details may differ, common to all was the belief that the bank had to re-engineer payments, not just for the future, but to better respond to changes that were imminent. Given the change in the last 10 years, and the likely change in the next 10, perhaps the question for many banks is more about when than if they also undergo their own transformation.

Look out for the case studies being published on April 4th for more detail!

The Evolving ACH Landscape

The Evolving ACH Landscape

We’ve been tracking blockchain, distributed ledgers, etc for a number of years, and we’ve always been enthusiastic with the promise…but pointed out that it isn’t quite there yet, at least for payments. An announcement today caught our eyes:

"The Innovation Engineering team at Royal Bank of Scotland has built a Clearing and Settlement Mechanism (CSM) based on the Ethereum distributed ledger and smart contract platform."

In the Finextra article announcing it it says:

"The test results evidenced a throughput of 100 payments per second, with 6 simulated banks, and a single trip mean time of 3 seconds and maximum time of 8 seconds," states the bank. "This is the level appropriate for a national level domestic payments system."

So first the positives. That’s significantly higher throughput than any other test we’ve seen so far, by a fair margin. It’s also faster than many other systems.

But…

We’d perhaps take issue with “appropriate level” though. Not a criticism of the test or the technology, but more a reflection of the task.

100 payments per second sounds an awful lot to those not in payments. With 86,400 seconds in a day, that’s 8.4m transactions a day. UK Faster Payments in August was running at around 3.2m transactions a day. Yet of course payments don’t flow uniformly through out the day or even day by day. Anecdotally, we’ve been told that c.70% of Faster Payment transactions are sent between the last settlement of the day and the first one the next day, a window of c. 16 hours. But realistically few of those will be made at, say, 3am. The actual window is therefore closer to 8 hours or less for those 70%. That means, even if they are running evenly, it's approximately 110 transactions per second.

The system will be scalable, so it would seem feasible for Faster Payments to be replaced by what was tested. However, in fact it perhaps highlights the real issue. On an average day, it would cope. It’s planning for the unaverage day that’s the issue. The UK ACH system, BACS, highlights this well.

BACS processes on an average day roughly 15m transactions. Given the operating window for the actual processing (10pm to 4am), that’s actually c. 700 transactions a second, significantly higher that the test through-put. But systems have to be designed to cope with worst case scenarios, referred to as peak days. These occur when month ends meet quarter ends meet various other things such as Public Holidays. The BACS record peak day to date is 103.7m. That’s a staggering 4,800 transactions a second.

What do we learn from this?

The technology being tested has evolved rapidly, and is continuing to do so. The volumes now being processed are rising rapidly. Yet today the technology probably isn’t ready for a national payment system quite yet, with the exception of some smaller countries or for specific lower volume systems such as high value. Furthermore, it's important that the systems are tested from a peak day plus a comfortable amount of head room on top (nobody wants to operate at 99.99% capacity!)

But compared to as little as 18 months ago it, the conversation has shifted noticeably from could it replace to should it replace, signifying the very real possibility that it will happen in the near future. Coupled with APIs and PSD2, the payments industry could look radically different in less than a decade.

 

 

Cash isn’t dead..and unlikely to be either

Cash isn’t dead..and unlikely to be either

My first post in this focussed on a survey from the US which suggested that cash would be dead in the US within a generation. And as my blog points out, that is highly unlikely for many other reasons, not least because millions of US citizens can only use cash currently.

This second post was triggered by a report hosted on LINK’s website, (the UK ATM operator) that had some interesting numbers in it. Some of the data was incorrectly reported in places as signifying the death of cash in the UK. To be clear, that isn’t what LINK or the report claim.

I think we need to step back from the figures first, and see what they’re actually saying.

By volume, cash represents 45% of all transactions in the UK. That is a significant shift, in a relatively short period of time – indeed, a drop of 6% last year, around 1 billion transactions lower than in 2014. This is what caught the eye of many people, and why they made their predictions.

But let’s look at the figure another way – at 17 billion transactions, that’s both more than nearly all the other payment types added together, and 70% more than the payment type with the second highest usage (debit cards).

That's not to say we shouldn’t dismiss the changes. In 2005, cash accounted for 64% of transactions by volume. By 2015 that had dropped to 45%; by 2025, the forecasts suggests just 27%. I think that's a triffle low, but we're only differing by a percentage point or two.

However, we still have to put that number in context. With a forecast drop of over 1/3rd over the coming decade, it would still leave the volume of cash transactions with a greater combined total of Faster Payments, CHAPS, Direct Debit and Direct Credit that we see today. It's therefore as much that the other payment types are growing as payment types falling.

Once you scratch below the surface, it becomes clearer.

One concept I have talked about in my reports  Noncash Payments: Global Trends and Forecasts, 2014 Edition is that of payment occasions and payment frequency. The occasion is why you make the payment – utility bill, mortagage payment etc – and the frequency you make it.

One of the reasons for the large decline in share of payments has been in the growth of contactless payments, and in particular, their usage for the London Transport system. This is a good example of how occasion and frequency make an impact. Until recently, most commuters in London would use an Oyster card, with cash rarely used (and indeed, banned on many buses). This took a large volume of cash transactions out of the mix – previously that saw 2 transactions a day, times every day commute, equalling approximately 550 cash transactions a year.

With Oyster, that became a card transaction to top up the balance on the oyster card, rather than a per journey transaction. Even estimating topping up once a week (more likely to be monthly I would imagine), that’s 52 transactions a year maximum.

The difference today is that many people now use their contactless debit cards instead of an Oyster card, resulting in a card payment every day – so from 52, to more than 200 a year.

The net result is cash usage drops significantly, with a corresponding smaller increase in card volumes, followed by a larger increase in card volumes. Yet still just one payment occasion.

The point in highlighting this? Reducing cash will have to be done on an occasion by occasion basis. There are some big wins out there – even just making all transportation cashless for example – but the challenge is that there is a very long tail of occasions that rely on cash.

The second challenge is whether the Government even allows cash to die. The case for removing cheques is much easier to make, and far easier to do, yet the Government has told the industry that it can’t. On that basis, it’s difficult to see under what circumstances that the Government would ever allow even a discussion about cash retirement.

Cash lives. Long live cash.

Cash is Dead! No. It isn’t! Pt 1

Cash is Dead! No. It isn’t! Pt 1

There is an old Christmas tradition in the UK of going to the panto . It's silly, it's fun, and it's all about children. Audience participation is part of the experience, including calls of "He's behind you!" (or "Look behind you!"), and the audience is always encouraged to hiss the villain and "awwwww" the poor victims. Another convention is "arguing" with a character – "Oh, yes it is!" and "Oh, no it isn't!"

Survey: Cash is dead!

Rest of the world: "Oh, no it isn't!"

Two announcements caught my eye this week, both seeming to proclaim cash is dead, or will be, in our lifetimes. I think this is great news – it means I’m going to live to be hundreds of years old ;-).

I'm splitting the blog in two, as the sources and claims are very different.

The first is a survey by Gallup of US citizens. The headline is 62% of them thought it likely or very likely that we would be a cashless society in their lifetime.

That would be a massive shift. The Federal Reserve estimate that 40% of all transactions in 2014 were in cash. At a crude estimate, that’s somewhere in the region of 70 billion transactions that would need to convert in the next 30 years or so.

Second, the same Fed research shows that if they were unable to use their preferred payment type, 60% chose to use cash as their second choice.

Most importantly, there are significant social issues to address first. FDIC research shows that c. 7.7% of the US population are estimated to be unbanked, with a further 20% underbanked. That means, crudely, over a quarter of the US population rely on cash. They use it for budgeting (known as "jam jarring"), and they may not even qualify to have a form of electronic payment. Even if they do, such as a prepaid card, the fees and breakage on the card make the card far less attractive than cash, which is free.

This is why most discussions use the term less cash, rather than cashless, and why places like Sweden have actively ensured that cash will remain an option, rather than accelerating its demise.

In short, despite what consumers might think or say, the chances of cash dying in the US is far, far lower and further away than the survey suggests. Removing cash from certain use cases is going to be tricky as it would be perceived as penalising lower income families. Even barring cash for higher value transactions will be difficult, as Germany found earlier this year.

Cash isn't dead. It's not even mildly unwell 😉

What MasterCards’ Acquisition of VocaLink might mean

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.

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

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.

Brexit. Eventually. Possibly.

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 find that it was leaving Europe. Given the legendary British reserve, stiff upper lip, etc., it is quite incredible just how divided the country has become, and how everyone has an opinion. As a result, there has been a lot said before, during and after the campaign that needs to be sifted very carefully. This is a genuine attempt at a factual look at quite what this means as many of the facts are very definitely not facts.

What's actually going to happen? Frankly, the short answer is nobody actually knows. No country has ever left before. Greenland did but is both smaller and was leaving for other reasons. Nor did they invoke Article 50 (more of which in a second) which has never been used. Whilst there are some legal guidelines and processes, given that the European Union is an economic union governed by politicians, it’s fair to say that the process will be very political in nature. Particularly as Article 50 is not very precise.

The first step is for the UK to activate Article 50 which effectively formally starts the process. The UK has two years from informing the European Parliament that it intends to leave and actually signing article 50. Given other European elections, and despite some public calls from Europe to get on with it, some believe that it is likely to be later rather than sooner.

Until Article 50 is signed, the UK is still in Europe, and everything continues as they do today. What is less clear is when Article 50 is signed, what happens next, and how long the process will take. UK Government analyst suggests 5 years, yet others say at least a decade.

Nor is it yet clear what the UK will choose to negotiate on. For example, it may choose, voluntarily to adopt regulation such as PSD2. We (or, to be clear, Gareth) believe that the UK will push ahead with the PSD2, as many of the rules are either in place in the UK already, or reflect the way the Government is thinking e.g. the Open Data Initiative arguably is far wider reaching that the Access to Accounts element of the PSD2.

It’s not clear quite what is or isn’t the European Union necessarily. For example, passporting, the rule that allows financial services firms to be licenced in one country and operate in another, is actually (according to the Bank of England website at leastother reputable sites even disagree on this!), an European Economic Area (EEA) initiative, and even countries outside of the EEA, such as Switzerland, have negotiated deals. This is particularly key for card acquirers, many of whom use their UK licence to negate the need for local ones across Europe.

So, as they saying goes, the devil will be in the detail. And that’s going to take time to unravel, and to negotiate even on the things that need negotiating.

Over the coming months, banks will need to scenario plan on multiple dimensions. They will need to identify key regulations that impact their business, how that might be regulated, and how long it would take the bank to respond. Yet many, if not most banks, will have done some of this risk profiling before the vote took place.

Until there is clarity, the reality is that it’s the political fall-out is going to have the most impact in the short-term, itself creating a degree of additional economic turmoil.

Money20/20 Europe – a new addition to the circuit

Money20/20 Europe – a new addition to the circuit
One of the key parts of being an analyst is attending conferences. At first it may seem like an ideal job, swanning around the world attending them (and to be frank, we’re not complaining!). In reality, they’re a very busy and critical part of our job, and choosing the right one is key. Firstly, we get to meet people. With global coverage, we spend much of our time talking to people on the phone. Yet nothing beats meeting people face to face still. Conferences then are as much about who you meet as anything. Secondly, the content. Our job is making sure we have the finger on the pulse of what is happening, and what matters. To be truthful, we often don’t get chance to attend many sessions as we’d like, but the conversations, whether formal or the casual catch-up in the corridors are just as vital to us. With so many conferences to choose from, it’s vital that we pick the right ones to attend. It could be a full time job just visiting them all, and every year at least one conference clashes with another. One recent conference that seems to have almost instantly established itself on the circuit is Money20/20. Celent analysts have attended the first three in Las Vegas, and seen it grow rapidly. It’s therefore no surprise that we’re watching the inaugural European version with interest. Cunningly titled Money20/20 Europe, it takes place in Copenhagen April 4-7. As with any event, it’ll take a little while to settle into its on rhythm but already the agenda is attracting some well known names from the banking industry. We suspect that this will become one of the mainstays of the European banking calendar. If you plan to attend but haven’t registered yet, feel free to use our Celent discount code CEL200, worth €200 off of your ticket. We hope to see you there!

Banks are dead? Long live banks!

Banks are dead? Long live banks!
A few weeks ago, Zil blogged about the recent set of reports that he and I wrote on reimagining payments relationships between banks, retailers and Fintech. They were commissioned by ACI Worldwide, and the reports took a perspective of each party. Given the current focus on the topic in the industry, we highly encourage you to read them. But it’s worth just summarising our thinking in a few sentences. Contrary to what many people think, we don’t believe that Fintechs will replace banks, but that all three parties will co-exist, and rather than Fintech being a wedge between bank and client, they will become the glue, and an increasingly important part of the ecosystem. Whilst I trust our insight was unique, the topic certainly isn’t. It seems mandatory to have Fintech in every press release and every conference! What is interesting though is that many people seem to see Fintech in isolation, and that there are many other things happening that are not just enablers, but perhaps multipliers of the impact that Fintech will have. Take PSD2 and the XS2A provision. We’ve covered this numerous times in reports, but in short, is a mandated requirement to allow third parties access to account level information, and the ability to initiate a payment from that account. In theory then, a Fintech can now access your data at your bank and, with your permission, pay anyone directly from your account. In the context of above, what is interesting is the responses we’ve seen from the industry. A few banks have seen the opportunity. Most see it as a threat and/or a regulatory burden they have to fulfill. Few Fintechs seem yet to have publicly declared any interest – or indeed, knowledge! – of the PSD2 at all. The most interesting conversations seem to have been coming from the merchants. They’re exploring the potential to bypass cards. The appeal is obvious – if they become a third party provider, they can get the consumers to push payments directly, with no fees payable by the merchant. Given the growth in real time payments, these will be increasingly good funds, with instant value. One scenario then sees the merchants dramatically impacting the business model of the banks, with card revenues plummeting, with the merchants benefiting from improved cash flow. Yet there are other implications in that scenario. For example, can those merchants actually handle the volume of payments? Is their ERP system real-time, and able to reconcile at the same speed? Are they sophisticated enough to cope in the change in their cash management profile? Yet central to this change remains the bank. Those merchants will need the banks more than ever, not less. The services might change, the business model might change for most of the parties involved, but the requirement remains as strong as ever. Banks are dead? Long live banks!

You can lead a horse to water…

You can lead a horse to water…
A story on Finextra this week caught my eye. It’s a survey carried out by YouGov on behalf of ACI Worldwide, with these headline stats. Of 2000 UK adults, the survey found that:
  • 88% have no intention of switching bank accounts within the next 12 months.
  • 82% never use mobile payment services such as PayM or PingIT during an average month,
  • 59% never use mobile banking within this same time frame.
It struck me that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t necessarily make it drink. Or rather, becoming digital doesn’t mean your clients will be. The first bullet has been extensively discussed in previous blogs. Consumers perceive no value in swapping, with a view that banks pretty much offer the same thing. The second bullet for me, is actually surprisingly high. PingIT is not yet 4 years old and PayM not even 3 years old, making an 18% “market share” pretty impressive. It’s also for one-off payments primarily, usually P2P, and given how (relatively) few transactions of those take place each month, it’s even more impressive. The last bullet to me is the most interesting, and perhaps is a reflection of the UK market as much as anything. Given my job, I suspect it’ll come as a surprise to some that I am in that 59% – I don’t use mobile banking, and nor do I necessarily have plans to. There are a few reasons. In the UK, Direct Debit rules. 71% of household bills are paid by Direct Debit, with an average household having 7 direct debits. Therefore, the same transactions happen the same way every month at the same time. This means I have to only actively make a few payments a month, which typically fall at the same time every month. The rest of my spending is primarily on my credit card – which isn’t issued by my bank. Another theme from previous blogs is that consumers typically hold their financial products across a range of banks – as a result, the mobile banking app will never tell me my financial position. I rarely even use my card providers app either – with the alerts I’ve set up, I get a text when I near the limits I set. As a result, there is little need then to check my spending on the app. But perhaps the most simple reason is that the UK has had mobile banking for over a decade. And whilst it is good to be cutting edge, equally consumers will give up quickly on something if it doesn’t work or value from day 1. And if you’d try using WAP banking back in the day, or the app of even a few years ago, you too would be thinking there is little point. The light at the end of the tunnel hopefully is PSD2 and the XS2A (access to account) proposal. Perhaps finally a good software designer will think through the customer experience differently, will have access to all my accounts and be able to deliver something that is truly revolutionary. It will be fascinating to track what impact the PSD2 has.