Same-day ACH: is anyone excited?

Same-day ACH: is anyone excited?
This week’s NACHA vote in favor of mandatory rules changes enabling same-day ACH settlement is no surprise. Some of the press coverage suggests this represents some sort of significant achievement. Really? By March 2018 (when the network is currently expected to be able to fully support systemwide changes) I predict there will be industrywide consensus on the inadequacy of the measure. Even proponents of the measure suggest the vast majority of ACH traffic will remain the next-day float-neutral type – for good reason. The majority of payments will not see a change for the same reasons the ACH has served the industry so well for so long. Specifically: • Dependability • Low-cost With this vote, we’re now going to burden this lowest cost of payments networks with perpetual, systemic cost increases for all participants. And we’ll do so for a very small percentage of network volume. NACHA’s own estimates predict that by 2027 (I don’t make predictions that far into the future) a whopping 1.4 billion same-day payments. That’s 6% of 2014 ACH network volume – presumably a much smaller percentage of 2027 volume. NACHA estimates industrywide implementation costs of $118 million initially and $49 million annually. So, by 2027, the industry will have spent nearly $500 million so banks can offer customers a premium priced same-day payment option using the ACH when other, faster options already exist. I think the NACHA volume estimates are optimistic and find the characterization of same-day ACH as “modernizing the payment system” curious. What’s modernizing about running the same batch system a few times each day instead of once each day? If demand is for real-time payments, this initiative will be found sadly lacking. It’s like installing more pay phones as a way to compete with mobile devices. Am I missing something?

Reflections on Nacha Payments 2015

Reflections on Nacha Payments 2015
As many of you know, I’ve been on something of a world tour, which started with Nacha Payments in New Orleans in mid-April. Expect a flurry of blogs as I pass on my impressions from my travels, starting with the Nacha show. Whilst I may live in London, I have global coverage. Payments is an interesting business – whilst its perhaps one thing that unites all businesses and consumers in all countries, and we are moving increasingly to global standards, the finer details show that it is still a parochial business. I don’t mean that negatively, more that payments have evolved over decades, if not centuries, to address specific local needs. That’s why the SEPA project was so difficult – even what we meant by certain terms turned out to be not straight forward. Nacha Payments this year was in New Orleans. For those not familiar, it’s a long standing show focused primarily on the ACH business. It has a very active conference schedule – I was on a panel with Dwolla and BBVA talking about real-time payments – and an exhibition floor. The US is the single largest payments market, so it’s not surprising that the show is very US in focus. What still surprises me, even now, is the fact that in a shrinking list of exhibitors each year, every time I attend there are vendors I’ve never even heard of, let alone am familiar with their products. This demonstrates the size of the market rather than my lack of knowledge! Take-aways for me: What a difference a year makes. Last year, one senior banker said real-time payments wouldn’t happen in the US in his lifetime. This year, it’s seen as a when, no question about if. Indeed, all the talk was about the “secret” (so secret that every meeting I attended asked me about it!) meeting the key Clearing House banks were having to build out the requirements for the Clearing House solution. The general opinion is that the Clearing House is seeking to go live long before the Fed working groups even get close to having a plan for requirement gathering. More on this soon. Business is alive and well. At first glance, the exhibition floor looks notably smaller than the previous year. One thing to note is that the conference is often attended by more junior people, who also get re-certification credits for attending sessions – with so many sessions to choose from, the exhibition hall is often very quiet. Yet all the vendors reported greater numbers of good meetings, with tangible next steps – in short everyone was happy. Which several said wasn’t the case of some of the new sexier shows as Money2020. It strikes me that they’re very different events. Looking overseas. Payments are largely domestic in nature and what works in one country doesn’t always work in another. For example, check technology from the US (which writes 2/3rds of all checks globally) won’t be of interest in Finland (as checks were abolished in 1993!). As such, payment conferences tend to be very domestic in focus. Not a criticism, just pragmatic. Given the changes the US is facing, and given that many other countries have already faced many of the challenges, it was interesting to see such a noticeable increase in conversations seeking an international viewpoint. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to a global market – but the US seems to have taken a significant swing from “not invented here=not relevant” to “don’t re-invent the wheel”. See you next year, in Phoenix!

NACHA Payments 2014 Roundup

NACHA Payments 2014 Roundup
After attending IPS, NACHA Payments is always a slightly strange experience. Not bad, just quite a different set-up. IPS is very international – if anything the UK is under represented – and more senior. NACHA offers much to the more junior member of staff, particularly those seeking to renew their AAP accreditation. This means that the attendance is much, much higher, but that there is a real mix of people. As a result, some of the sessions are detailed, nitty-gritty discussions, great for learning about areas I don’t usually cover. The main topic of conversation for me was real-time payments. I’ve spoken a couple of times in the past at NACHA on the topic, partly because of my involvement in the UK Faster Payments scheme, and clients will know about my forth coming series of reports on the topic. Real-time was also mentioned in numerous places across the agenda, with several friends and former colleagues speaking. The focus of my first report was also the starting point for many of my conversations – addressing the many myths that seem to pervade about real-time. These include:
  • that it’s only in the UK and Singapore (it’s not – there are at least 35 other systems globally)
  • that its new and leading edge (its not – at least one system is 40 years old)
  • that it’ll canabalise wire revenue so should only be a p2p proposition (multiple examples proving that this doesn’t have to be the case!)
Shortly before NACHA Payments, NACHA announced it’s enhanced Same Day ACH proposals which also came under great debate. It’s my belief, and shared by a growing number of people, that the Fed has decided the US *will* have a real-time payments system. As such, one group of people saw this announcement as being a response to ensure that NACHA is not bypassed in some way. Jan Estep, the CEO, of NACHA, was on one of the panel sessions, and was asked about how this attempt will be any different to the previous NACHA proposal. The vote on that proposal received a Yes from the majority of banks, but not the 75% voting majority to pass it. It’s widely believed a handful of big banks effectively blocked the proposal. To my point at the beginning about there being a large operational audience, Jan gave an excellent and detailed explanation of how this proposal differed from the last. But a number of the audience suspected that the question was rather more pointed and was really asking why the blocking banks would suddenly vote for this now. That specific question was never addressed. By the time the conference finished, I was left with the impression that the debate had turned a corner, or at least moved into a new phase. Over the last year, I’ve increasingly found that people have formulated their opinions on the subject. But as my discussions highlighted, there are a lot of misconceptions, and I’m not always sure some of the people contributing to the debate aren’t muddying the waters further. I think the next step for the Fed is to address that, and even if it stops short of compiling a list of requirements, a view on what isn’t the solution would be helpful. I understand the logic of the NACHA proposal, but I fear it’s a short-term solution to a long term problem.

Is the ACH the Best Path to Faster Payments?

Is the ACH the Best Path to Faster Payments?
Yesterday, NACHA issued a press release announcing initial steps towards same-day ACH. This is a second attempt at accelerating ACH payments. Rather than a “big bang”, this second attempt advocates a phased approach, inviting banks to invest in three projects instead of one. The sentiment seems worthwhile, but I’m not convinced that this is a good idea. In considering faster payments, there are many considerations. Among them: what exactly needs to be faster and who is the customer? Who stands to benefit from faster payments? What Needs to be Faster? Particularly in the case of real-time payments, it is important to distinguish: 1) Notification of payment 2) Payment guarantee/ funds availability and, 3) Settlement In my view, accelerating 1 and 2 are more important than 3 and less costly to bring about. Who is the customer? Who would stand to benefit the most? Many assert strong and growing consumer demand for faster retail payments. We see more interest than demand, particularly if costs are factored in. Celent surveyed over a thousand US consumers in August 2013. In part, we explored payment expectations. With little variation across age demographics, more consumers expect instant confirmation of payment (59%) than expect real time gross settlement (42%). Other factors weigh more heavily than speed. When I Pay Source: Celent survey of US consumers, July 2013, n=1,053 In my view, merchants and regulators are more invested in faster payments than are consumers. Faster payments mean earlier access to funds (retailers) and less systemic risk (regulators). That’s why most systemically important payment systems are RTGS. Faster payments are a certainty – in time. What’s far from certain is how it comes to be – what rails are used. Some advocate using the ACH. I disagree. Moreover, I find the current dissatisfaction with the ACH amusing. Designed as an efficient, electronic, float-neutral payment system, the ACH is highly effective at fulfilling its designed purpose. More recent demands on the ACH, while not without efficacy, have also resulted in increased cost and complexity. Same-day ACH, in my opinion, is simply not compelling. If enacted through a rules change and offered optionally at a premium price, it may succeed, but would result in precious little use. Real-time ACH would be altogether different – a fool’s errand in my opinion. The ACH works splendidly when used as designed. An analogy if I may. The NACHA press release stated: “The Network has always served as a foundation upon which we can build and innovate to meet the growing needs of today’s users and those of tomorrow.” That sounds a bit like inviting telco’s to build more phone booths in response to consumer’s demand for mobility. The “square peg in a round hole” analogy may work as well. I’d love to hear your views.

NACHA Payments – Trends and Thoughts Related to Online Banking

NACHA Payments – Trends and Thoughts Related to Online Banking
I got back late last night from the NACHA Payments conference in Orlando. It was a good event, although not surprisingly, it was apparent that attendance was down. Sessions seemed to be well attended, although exhibit hall traffic was light (and much smaller this year to boot). I spent most of my time at the conference in meetings with our clients – a mix of banks and software vendors. Most of my meetings centered around online banking and payments, particularly for small businesses and large corporates. A few noticeable trends emerged:
  • Web 2.0 is finally arriving to the business online banking space. Almost all the vendors I met with either talked about or showed me fresh GUIs with better navigation and layout. This is long overdue. A couple of the vendors have been working on this for a little while, and their advances made it into my upcoming online cash management vendor evaluation report (the report is complete. It’s now time for it to be edited and for the vendors to review their profiles prior to publication). Bank of America had an interesting but basic presentation on next generation Web 2.0 cash management solutions. I was quoted in the presentation, and it’s nice to see a bank thinking about the next generation of solutions.
  • Dashboards are a key component of next generation online banking solutions. This was definitely the buzzword. I discussed this at length in my report, Web 2.0: A Quantum Leap for Wholesale Banking .
  • Banks still don’t get the importance of PFM for small business. I seemed to be the one asking the questions about this. I would have liked to see greater emphasis on PFM, particularly with the Web 2.0 demos and discussions.
I also gave a presentation together with Bremer Bank and Fiserv called, Courting a New Kind of Customer: Serving Small Business Online. The session was well attended and there were a few good questions at the end.