EBAday 2016: A Brave New World for Payments

EBAday 2016 LogoHosted by the European Banking Association and Finextra, EBAday attracts payments professionals from leading financial institutions and technology providers. This year’s event was held in Milan Italy with the theme, “A Brave New World for Payments.” Sessions focused on the dilemma facing the payments industry – enhancing existing payment models while preparing for alternative payments and technology.

I had the honor of moderating day two’s strategic roundtable discussing future challenges and opportunities for banks. The panelists were Paolo Cederle, CEO, UniCredit business integrated solutions; Christophe Chazot, group head of innovation, HSBC; and Damian Pettit, RBS head of payment operations.

EBAday 2016 Day Two Panel

The panelists felt that there is a disconnect between the limitations of legacy bank infrastructure and the promise of new technologies. With the majority of bank IT budgets spent on maintenance, the challenge is for banks to keep existing systems running while investing in the future. For customers, there is too much complexity, especially in cross-border payments, and customers want an easy experience at minimal cost.

Discussing Faster Payments in the UK, the panelists said the introduction eight years ago has revolutionized payments, completely changing customer behavior and paving the way for new mobile-based services such as Paym, the UK’s mobile payments service offered by seventeen banks and building societies. For countries having implemented immediate payments, real-time is the new norm and with that comes expectation and demand from customers.

With the EU PSD2 payment services provisions looming on the horizon, the discussion turned to the prospect of disintermediation of banks by third-party providers. The panelists were optimistic about the future, and feel that the regulation is helping to steer the banks toward new initiatives and innovation in services, and is a great opportunity to better service customers and push banks up the value chain.

Regarding the question of whether emerging payment models and technology represent an escalating threat, the response was that instant payments brings security challenges. But the panelists overwhelmingly agreed that convenience and speed cannot come at the cost of security–safety and security is absolutely paramount.

The discussion then moved onto the theme of disruption — are payments in a revolutionary or evolutionary phase? The panelists felt it was a bit of both. Revolutionary technologies such mobile and artificial intelligence are pushing payments along an evolutionary path. And banks have an advantage. The Fintech startups entering the market don't have the direct customer interaction and track record that banks have in safety and security. The banks are running hackathons and open to working with startups while improving legacy systems and simplifying the customer proposition.

All of the panelists’ banks are members of the R3 blockchain consortium. Blockchain is bringing a new way of working together for banks and technology providers. Each of the panelists is watching the technology closely and one area of opportunity cited was the last mile of the payments chain and in the trade finance arena.

My take-away from the roundtable was that the global payments industry is transforming. The “brave new world” is one with an imperative to be nimble, keeping your eye on all of the opportunities both for existing payment models as well as alternative technologies. Collaboration is key whether through acquisitions, consortiums, partnerships or open source projects.

Taking the ‘Madness’ out of Customer Onboarding

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on the topic of omnichannel customer onboarding sponsored by Kofax. It was a heavyweight panel, including:

  • Jim Marous, Co-Publisher/Author, The Financial Brand
  • JP Nicols, Director, Next Bank
  • Brant Clark, Sr. Director, Mobile Solutions, Kofax, Inc.

March Madness

Kofax is making a recording of this informative panel here.

It’s worth a listen. Why?

Customer acquisition is obviously important because it is a prerequisite to top line sales growth. Offering a low-friction digital capability is increasingly important because customers are becoming increasingly digitally-driven. Omnichannel customer acquisition matters because multiple channels – digital channels in particular – are influencing consumer’s choice of banking relationship. Banks therefore need to close the deal whenever and wherever customers make the decision to onboard. To do otherwise is inconvenient for potentially profitable prospects, and disadvantageous for institutions wanting them as customers.

The problem is, omnichannel customer acquisition remains largely aspirational for most North American financial institutions.

I’m looking forward to sharing two forthcoming research reports devoted to this important topic in the coming weeks.

Are You Ready for Cardholder Transaction Alerts?

Quite a few issuers around the world already offer transaction alerts to their cardholders. They find them a helpful tool to reduce fraud, reduce false positives (i.e. unnecessary card declines), and strenghten their engagement with customers.

However, in a few months, this will no longer be optional for issuers in the US. Effective October 14, 2016, Visa is mandating all the US issuers to offer their cardholders an option to enroll into transaction alerts. In other words, customers still have the opportunity to decide whether to use the alerts or not, but the issuers must make the option available to them. The mandate applies to consumer Visa credit, debit and reloadable prepaid cards; currently, commercial cards and non-reloadable prepaid cards are exempt. MasterCard has similar requirements – dual brand issuers also must comply by October 2016; MasterCard-only issuers have until April 21, 2017. Importantlly, unlike EMV deadline, which was a liability shift, these are real mandates which the issuers must comply with.

Alerts via email or SMS are the easiest but also the most basic option. In our view, issuers should look beyond the "compliance" requirements and take the opportunity to deploy notification, alert and control platforms that are integrated into their channels of customer engagement, such as mobile banking or payment apps. Advanced solutions in this space offer a range of alert delivery options, as well as ability for consumers to control their cards (e.g. turn off their use for certain transactions, such as e-commerce) and deliver other types of notifications, such as various offers.

Issuers must decide how they will be delivering the service. They can develop it in-house, deploy a third party solution or rely on their processors to offer the service on their behalf. The networks also offer their own solutions. In fact, in order to pursue any of the above options, the issuers had to notify Visa by April 29 this year that they wish to opt out of Visa-branded alerts service.

Visa itself offers a few alternatives and has just announced this week a "Visa Digital Commerce App, an issuer-branded mobile commerce solution that enables financial institutions to offer their own mobile app to customers with valuable card management services." In addition to the card management features, including the alerts, the issuers can also build HCE-based contactless payments into their apps. While a number of large US issuers (e.g. Capital One, Wells Fargo) have either launched or announced their HCE-based wallets, Visa's offering should help increase adoption of cloud-based payments and issuer-branded apps with contactless payment functionality.

Of course, there are a number of other vendors offering card control platforms or tokenised cloud payments, as well as processors with their capabilities. As an issuer, you have to make sure your choice fits your broader payments strategy. Whatever the decision, you have to make sure you can offer your cardholders the option to receive alerts by October.

A Tale of Two Cities (Conference Season)

Spring is usually the season for conference travel, and this season has been no exception.  While my colleagues were spread out across the US covering conferences in Boston, New Orleans, and other locations, I spent four days in beautiful Barcelona covering the Temenos TCF 2016 Conference, followed by another three days in sunny Orlando covering the FIS Connect 2016 Conference.  The fine warm weather was not the only thing that these two conferences had in common, as Temenos and FIS each took the opportunity to showcase their recent investments in new enabling technologies.

Barcelona

In Barcelona, CEO David Arnott kicked off TCF 2016 — themed Solutions For a Connected World — by examining the Company's strategic expansion from what has traditionally been a narrow focus on banking software.  Temenos's transition to its broader focus on financial services was signaled by its acquisition in March, 2015 of Multifonds, a provider of software and services to the third-party fund administration business that supplies many of the large players in the fund administration market, including large global FIs like JP Morgan, Citigroup, BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse.

David Arnett TCF2016

Temenos's strategic expansion makes sense in that its flagship core banking platform T24 has traditionally been aimed at the universal banking market, so fund administration represents somewhat of a contiguous market for them.  Speaking of T24, I was a bit surprised at how far T24's re-architecture has come, with John Schlesinger (Chief Enterprise Architect) sharing that an architectural overhaul of T24 will be complete by Release 17 (the solution is currently on R15).

By the time R17 is complete next year, T24 will have been refactored to create a series of frameworks that will facilitate customization of the platform by client banks, allow easier integration with third-party services, and make the transactional data held by T24 more accessible for data analytics.  While most of the work here was under the hood and did not impact T24's existing features and functionality, the overhaul was much needed to expand the solution's reach into larger banks, where architectural flexibility is very important.

The T24 overhaul appears to have already borne fruit, with the Swedish retail bank Nordea Bank signing up last September to implement T24 across its regional base of 10.8 million retail and 500,000 corporate customers in several Nordic countries.  Clearly one of the benefits of the architectural upgrade is to improve T24's run-time performance, and John shared that T24 has been benchmarked to support 40 million accounts within an end-of-month processing window of only 2 hours and 56 minutes — an impressive result given that T24 operates on IBM's pSeries server running Windows or Linux, not on the mainframe systems that continues to dominate within large banks.

Orlando

In Orlando, the theme of FIS Connect 2016 was Empowering the [Financial] World, and it was clear that FIS hopes to leverage some of the new products and technologies from SunGard last November in enhancing the traditional banking and payments offerings aimed into the larger banks that were in attendance.  (FIS's community banks had their own conference called InfoShare back in April.)

Gary Norcross FIS Connect 2016

While traditional cash management products like CashExpress (data exchange in support of cash concentration activities) had their familiar place on the Connect 2016 exhibit hall, new services like Ambit Treasury Management for bank treasury departments and FIS's new SWIFT Service bureau offering rounded out the already comprehensive set of solutions FIS has assembled for the corporate banking needs of its clients.

Fiserv drove consolidation in the bank technology outsourcing market in the 1980s and 1990s before handing the baton to FIS in the new millennium, starting with the acquisition of Alltel Information Services in 2003 and continuing with the addition of Metavante Corporation in 2009 and SunGard in 2015.  With each acquisition, FIS has generated financial and operational synergies aimed at creating shareholder value, so it was interesting to see how FIS's now multi-year enterprise technology initiative is now beginning to create technological synergies for the benefit of its bank clients.

The exhibit hall showcased some of the first fruits of FIS's program to create new technologies that can support its bank clients across the range of core banking platforms, from the community banking oriented platforms like Horizon and BancPac to larger bank systems like IBS and Systematics.  FIS's Enterprise Customer Experience suite and the new version of its TouchPoint sales and service platform (supporting the branch and call center) were both built to be core platform agnostic and both represent a functional upgrade from the "native" CIF/CIM and sales/service modules associated with FIS's individual core platforms.

By creating new functional upgrades on an enterprise basis rather than through individual core platform enhancements, FIS is hoping to get more bang for its R&D buck, push out new product enhancements to its bank clients more quickly,  and redeploy precious IT funding into long-term banking service innovation.  Even ten years ago, FIS's strategy would have been inhibited by the relatively inflexible programming tools available to bank IT developers.  Today, with the advent of micro-services and standardized banking APIs, FIS has learned that product and services differentiation can finally be made compatible with a single code base.

That looks to be a win-win for FIS and its clients, but as with all things in life execution is key as the enterprise technology initiative grows in scope to cover other important parts of the banking IT system.  Stay tuned!

 

Blockchain: Beware the Hype

At Celent, we just published a new research report with the same title as this blog – Blockchain: Beware the Hype. Why such a title? Isn't blockchain the coolest technology out there at the moment?

It is. At Celent, we firmly believe that blockchains and other shared ledger platforms will be a powerful catalyst for change in financial services and other industries for many years to come. There are some very promising use cases, particularly in cross-border payments, corporate banking, and capital markets, and even outside of financial services, in identity management, trade logistics, healthcare, and many other sectors. Even if “blockchain” ends up being a small component of the ultimate solutions, it facilitates new thinking that forces organisations to reimagine how they work, both internally and externally. And that can only be a good thing.

However, we do caution against succumbing to the hype, which is inevitable for any new exciting technologies. Blockchain hype is particularly acute, given the complexities of the underlying technologies. Nobody wants to be left behind when proclaiming the benefits of blockchain, but not everybody truly understands how those benefits can be achieved.

Luckily, the investment going into shared ledger technologies is resulting in a growing number of individuals and organisations lending their collective resources to explore deeply how financial services can benefit from these technologies. Their efforts are directed at exploring practical use cases (e.g. Everledger, Ripple, Shocard), developing new technology and tools (e.g. Ethereum, Intel, Multichain) and building out infrastructure for blockchain initiatives (e.g. IBM, Microsoft), with a number of firms engaged across the board. And the collaborative efforts such as the Hyperledger project or R3 are also bearing fruit – for example, R3 recently announced Corda, a new distributed ledger platform specifically designed for financial services.

We do think that is the way forward: thinking carefully about suitability of technology for the business problem at hand, and deconstructing blockchain technology to its fundamental components only to assemble the most attractive features in a way that makes sense for financial services. That is what will ultimately help us all move beyond the hype.

Celent research clients can access the full report here.

Security, fraud, and risk Model Bank profiles: Alfa Bank and USAA

Banks have worked hard to manage the different risks across their institutions. It has been and will remain costly, time consuming and a top priority. Celent profiles two award-winning banks who have modelled excellence in their use of risk management technologies across their banks.

They demonstrated:

  1. Degree of innovation
  2. Degree of difficulty
  3. Measurable, quantitative business results achieved
(Left to right, Martin Pilecky, CIO Alfa-Bank; Gary McAlum, SVP Enterprise Security Group USAA; Joan McGowan, Senior Analyst Celent)

(Left to right, Martin Pilecky, CIO Alfa-Bank; Gary McAlum, SVP Enterprise Security Group USAA; Joan McGowan, Senior Analyst Celent)

ALFA-BANK: SETS THE STANDARDS FOR BASEL COMPLIANCE IN RUSSIA

Alfa-Bank built a centralized and robust credit risk platform to implement Basel II and III standards, simultaneously, under very tight local regulatory deadlines. The bank decided to centralize all corporate credit-risk information onto a single platform that connected to front office systems and processes. Using Misys FusionRisk, Alfa-Bank was able to implement a central default system with a risk rating and risk-weighted asset calculations engine. The initiative is seen as one of the most important initiatives in the bank’s history. The successful completion of the project has placed Alfa-Bank at the forefront for setting standards and best practice methodologies for capital management regulations for the Russian banking industry and Central Bank.

USAA: SECURITY SELFIE, NATIVE FINGERPRINT, AND VOICE SIGNATURE

The game-changer for USAA is to deliver flawless, contextual customer application services that are secured through less intrusive authentication options. The use of biometrics (fingerprint, facial and vocal) to access its mobile banking application positions USAA to be able to compete with Fintechs across the digital banking ecosystem and offer exceptional service to its military and family members.

USAA worked with Daon Inc. to provide biometric solutions paired with its “Quick Logon” dynamic security token technology, which is embedded in the USAA Mobile App for trusted mobile devices. Biometric and token validation focus on who the user is and who the verifiers are and it addresses increasing concerns around the high level of compromise of static user names, passwords, and predictable security questions from sophisticated phishing attacks, external data breaches, and off-the-shelf credential-stealing malware.

For more information on these initiatives, please see the case study abstract on our website.     

The diversity of payments in the US

As a payments geek, I am always curious about payment experiences in various parts of the world. In the last month I had a couple of trips to the US – to New York and to New Orleans – and they just reminded me how diverse the US payments environment is. And I am only talking about the physical POS; I haven't really ordered anything online or in-app while I was there.

First, a few observations around EMV. As I live in the UK, all my cards are Chip and PIN, and the US market has been migrating to EMV for a while now. Of course, the migration can't happen overnight – some merchants have already upgraded their terminals, but many haven't yet. Also, there is no mandate in the US to use offline PIN, so "chip and signature" EMV cards are common amongst the US issuers. As an end-user, I experienced a full gamut of payment scenarios:

  • Majority of merchants would simply take my card, swipe it and give it back to me straight away. Not one of them checked if my card is even signed, let alone if the signatures matched…
  • On a few occassions, I was asked to insert the card into an EMV terminal and enter my PIN. And then we waited. And waited more. And a bit more. I knew EMV transactions take longer in the US, but I didn't realise just how much longer… Not surprisingly, the networks had to do something about it and have announced software updates (e.g. Visa's Quick Chip for EMV and MasterCard's M/Chip Fast) to speed up transaction processing.
  • Not a single eating establishment I visited had a handheld EMV terminal. All of them just took my card and disappeared for a while in the "back of the room" – a practice that sends shivers down the spine for most Europeans 🙂
  • On at least one occassion, I entered the PIN, yet the salesperson was still looking for a signature box on the receipt and wanted me to sign it. I had to explain that PIN replaces the need for signature; of course, these things will disappear once merchants learn more about the EMV cards.

A number of merchants in New Orleans had a Clover POS station. It looked really sleek on retailer desks and transactions seemed fast and easy. I asked a couple of them what they thought of it, and they all said they were very happy with the device, its looks and ease of use.

As a side note, American Express cards seem to be far more widely accepted in the US. In Europe, I got into a habit to double check at new places if they take Amex; in the US, that seems unnecessary.

Of course, it's no longer just cards. US was the first market in the world to see the launch of Apple Pay, Android Pay and a number of other digital wallets. The challenge for many of these wallets is the lack of places where they can be used, as contactless terminals remain relatively rare, albeit growing. However, when they can be used, they work very well. The biggest advantage that I can see as the UK user of Apple Pay is that in the US I can use Apple Pay for any transaction, whatever the amount (as long as my issuer is happy to authorise it). I had no problem paying for a taxi ride from New York's JFK airport to downtown by Apple Pay ($70+ fare with the tip). In the UK, Apple Pay and Android Pay (which has just launched this week) are subject to the same contactless card transaction limits and can only be used for transactions of £30 or less. Again, we expect this to change, as contactless terminals get upgraded.

I was also intrigued to see a PayPal acceptance badge at one of the POS terminals. I asked the cashier if it was a popular payment method amongst their customers. The cashier said that it seemed new to him, and that he personally had yet to see anyone trying to use it. I must admit, I am a fan of the PayPal wallet and use it whenever I can, but nearly all of my transactions are online/ via a mobile app. This time, I only noticed the PayPal sign after I already started paying by card, so can't quite report on the actual experience…

And yet, cash remains hard to beat, with many places only accepting cash. I refrained from visiting any of the dodgier establishments on New Orleans' Bourbon Street, but I didn't even had to in order to experience the power of cash. Most sellers in the French Market clearly prefer cash; getting into (jazz) Preservation Hall is "cash only" at the door, and while not every place has the sign as artistic as the one in the picture below, "cash only, one drink minimum" was a common mantra of many bars with live music.

cash only

Clearly, there is a lot of payments innovation in the US. Various wallets and innovations in POS contribute to the diversity of end user experiences. Such diversity is a good thing and if anything, it will only increase, as customers will have increasingly more ways to pay. And as the migration to EMV continues, the undesireable kind of diversity should reduce as well.

Citi’s geolocation move

American Banker just ran an interesting article about Citi’s foray into the use of geolocation (beacons) as it pilots several use cases in its “smart branches.” Several thoughts immediately came to mind as I read Tanaya Macheel’s well-written article:

  • The use of beacons for cardless access to branch ATMs after business hours was the lead use case cited in the article. But, that’s just one of a growing number of potentially very useful applications for beacons in retail financial services.
  • Banks have barely scratched the surface in more usefully integrating digital and physical channels as they seek to maximize customer engagement.
  • Geolocation, in particular, is under-utilized by retailers (especially banks) and remains largely experimental.

My hat is off to Citi for its purposeful investment in developing expertise in this area and to American Banker for writing about Citi’s work. In my view, the most impressive aspect of this initiative isn’t so much Citi’s pushing the technology envelope; it’s the organizational effort that was likely required. Getting its branch operations, mobile product management, IT and LOB leadership aligned represents real commitment to innovation.

How far ahead of the industry is Citi?

Here’s one data point. In Celent’s inaugural Branch Transformation Research Panel survey in (June 2015), we sought to establish a benchmark on just how far and how fast NA institutions were pursuing branch channel transformation. Of course, several questions addressed planned technology usage. Out of a dozen examples of technology usage, geo-location ranked dead last in terms of the liklihood of usage in future branch designs – just 27% of surveyed institutions thought the use of beacons would be "somewhat likely" or "very likely".

Branch Tech Usage

Pretty far I'd say!

Why are credit unions changing vendors at a higher rate than banks?

Credit unions are almost twice as likely to change vendors as banks, with competitive churn rates of 7.6% compared to 2.7% for banks.  Churn Rate measures the number of institutions in a given time period that either change or drop a vendor contract.  Churn is broken down into two components: competitive churn, which measures the rate at which institutions are opting to change vendors, and consolidation churn, which measures uncontrollable factors like acquisitions or liquidations. The figure below (powered using data from FI Navigator) references total churn for the year ending March 31st, 2016.

FINPic

The figure reveals significant differences in churn between banks and credit unions.  But why is this difference so large? There are two possible drivers:

  1. Customer centricity: A focus on the customer could be a driver for higher churn. Banks and credit unions operate differently, and Celent has explored the variations in blogs and publications.  The mission statement of the credit union market has historically revolved around extreme customer centricity.  Over the last decade, mobile has become a critical component in quality customer service.  Emphasizing the needs of the customer could be driving credit unions to take more concerted efforts to maximize mobile/ digital, exploring competitive options more frequently than banks. Credit unions are low margin businesses that often give higher interest rates for products like auto-loans or deposit accounts through non-profit tax breaks.  Being member-owned, most of the smaller profits also go back into the business.  This creates a natural incentive to streamline the back-office, and credit unions have adopted cost effective technologies at higher rates. Thin margins combined with a focus on customer service could mean credit unions are more likely to evaluate provider options more frequently.
  2. Solution providers: Another perspective is that it’s the vendor market, not the CUs that are driving the churn. The vendor spectrum for credit unions in the US is much more diverse, with 43 vendors compared to 22 selling to banks.   This would reinforce the argument that competitive dynamics are more intense, and it would be reflected in sales cycles. With cost pressures that originate from their smaller size and lower margins, credit unions are more likely to look for alternative ways to provide products and services, leveraging mechanisms like Credit Union Service Organizations (CUSOs) to enhance the business.  Other similar joint ventures leverage cooperative arrangements to develop homegrown software products.  Consortiums not present in the banking market would introduce more competitors into the market, and as a result impact competitive dynamics.

Credit unions skew much smaller than banks (the mean credit union asset size is  $200 million vs. banks with around $2.5 billion), leading to a noticeably higher consolidated churn. Celent examined the pressures on credit unions here. As minimum viable institution size continues to get bigger, smaller institutions will be challenged to stay afloat. Vendors will face the risk that their customers are becoming targets for M&A activity resulting in more vendors competing for a shrinking demographic.

Credit unions need to think about how to best streamline their operations to remain viable.  This includes a mix of cost-effective customer service technologies like mobile banking.  Vendors need to have a better understanding of the competitive landscape into which they sell, as competition is intense.  Better data and detailed benchmarks can help vendors plan their strategy.

Celent is collaborating with FI Navigator to analyze the mobile banking market in financial services (in fact, FI Navigator wrote a great piece about credit unions and banks last year).  FI Navigator assembled a platform that leverages a proprietary algorithm to track every financial institution offering mobile in the US, as well as nearly 50 vendors.  Beginning with the first report at the end of April, Celent will be releasing a biannual examination of the mobile market. FI Navigator will also be making the platform available for further custom reporting and data analysis.  For more information on the nature of the collaboration and availability of data, go here.