The Mobile Banking and Payments Summit – Impressions from Day 2

A couple weeks ago I attended the Mobile Banking and Payments Summit in NYC for the first time.  There was an impressive list of experts from institutions such as JPMC, Barclays, Citibank, BNP Paribas, the Federal Reserve, USAA, Capital One, BBVA, and Moven, among others. I was only able to attend the final day, but it didn’t disappoint.  The day focused mostly on mobile wallets, with a few main points shared below:

  • Mobile wallets have been challenged by industry barriers:  The old rule of thumb with a payments scheme is that it needs to please three parties: the merchant, the bank, and the consumer.  These products and solutions have traditionally fallen short of one or more of these objectives, essentially stalling a lot of the progress.
    • There’s still plenty of fragmentation in the market:  Android is an open system utilizing Host Card Emulation (HCE), while Apple is a closed system using a secure element.  There are others beyond that, but it’s largely contributed to a lack of standardization and unimpressive overall adoption.  We know this is largely understood by banks and merchants, and many are willing to play along for the time being.
    • Consumers can misunderstand mobile wallets: Many users of Apple Pay, for example, have a poor understanding of how the system actually works, with many assuming Apple is in control of their card details.  While the system is safer than traditional cards, the perception that it’s less safe is keeping many users from adopting it.
    • Getting the marketing right is tough: Often, the mobile wallet really isn’t about the payment so much as the experience around the payment.  It might be easier or there might be a whole host of incentives like rewards wrapped around it.  The potential is there, but until recently the market hasn’t been.
  • But many barriers are beginning to fall away, and there’s hope for adoption: For years, the industry has been declaring that FINALLY this year will be the year mobile wallets take off.  The industry has been crying wolf for a long time, but there are some promising developments that hope to make mobile wallets a larger share of the payments universe.  Currently in the US, 55% of merchants have updated their payment terminals, and 70% of consumers have chip cards.  The chip card does a lot for security, but the argument is that it adds friction to the checkout experience.  With the card dip taking away from the user experience, the expectation is that mobile wallets will finally offer enough UX improvement over traditional cards that consumers might opt for them during payment.  It’s also reported that more than 50% of millennials have already used a mobile wallet at least once.  This includes Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.  The growth in adoption with younger consumers is a good sign that broader adoption might not be too far behind.

My colleague Zil Bareisis has written about this quite a bit, and agrees that adoption could be driven by the emergence of EMV as well as an increase in handsets that support wallet payments.Wallets are also striking partnerships to add value, including introducing merchant loyalty, coupons, etc.The launch of Walmart Pay is a great example of a retailer applying these concepts internally, facilitating even greater adoption. For more information see any of the number of reports Zil has written on the topic.

  • Midsize institutions have a few paths to follow implementing a mobile wallet: Banks want to be a part of the adoption, but have so far taken a wait and see approach, unsure about the potential of existing wallets, and still trying to figure out what it means for them as the issuing bank. There are three primary ways a midsize or smaller bank can try to launch a wallet:
    • Building an internal wallet: This provides the most control, customization, flexibility of functionality, and control over the release schedule.  The drawbacks are that it can be a complicated task, a large investment is required, the institution needs sufficient subject matter expertise in-house, and there would be no Apple NFC support.
    • Buying a turnkey white label wallet: A turnkey solution would have the benefit of being plug-and-play, there would be some customization options, functionality would be built in, fewer resources would be involved, and the vendor would provide some subject matter expertise.  There would, however, be less control over the product, the wallet could be processor dependant, and the roadmap wouldn’t be controlled by the institution.
    • Participating in an existing wallet: For many this is the road that will result in the largest adoption.  The options are fairly universal, with Samsung, Apple, and Android offering networks here.  Its plug and play, easy to get traction, includes a lot of choice, and frictionless.  The drawbacks are mainly the lack of customization options or control over the direction of the wallet.

We often say that we go to these conferences so that our subscribers don’t have to.  This is just a short summary of the day, and obviously there was much more detail shared. We encourage all of our readers to attend these events, but will be there in case they can’t make it.

Where Will We See You Again?

When the leaves start falling, it usually means one thing for Celent analysts – the conference season is getting into full swing and it’s time for us to hit the road big time.

The team is already busy at SIBOS this week, with BAI and AFP coming in a few weeks. Personally, I am looking forward to speaking on customer authentication at Mobey Day in Barcelona on October 5-6, as well as attending Money20/20 in Las Vegas on October 23-27.

Such high profile events are always great places for catching up with our clients and other industry experts. They are also perfect for getting up to speed with the latest developments in the industry, or, as my colleague Dan Latimore says, “soaking up the zeitgeist”. Dan will also be joining me at Money 20/20.

This year, we will be keeping an eye on (amongst many other things):

  • Which of the latest initiatives look most promising to (re-)invigorate mobile payments? Will it be Apple Pay and Android Pay on a browser, the networks’ partnerships with PayPal, 'Merchant' Pay, or something new that will get announced at the events?
  • Adoption of and developments in payments security technologies, from EMV to biometrics, and from 3DS to tokenization.
  • Innovations that drive commerce and help merchants, from bots to APIs that enable deep integration of payments into the merchant’s proposition. Also, creative application of analytics, whether to help merchants increase conversation rates, extend a loan, or deliver the most relevant and timely offer to the customer.
  • Where will blockchain fit into payments world? Ripple continues to gather momentum with cross-border payments, the UK is exploring the use of distributed ledger technologies as backbone for a domestic payments system, while IBM is partnering with China's Union Pay around loyalty. What other payments-related innovations can we expect from the blockchain community?

What will you be looking for? If you’ll be in Barcelona, Orlando, Chicago or Vegas, we look forward to seeing you. If you haven't registered, now's the time. And because of your relationship with Celent, you are entitled to an additional $250 discount off the Money20/20 registration fee. Combined with the Fall Final special you save a total of $725. Simply enter promocode Celen250 when you register here.

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.


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

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

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 😉

The Future of Zapp and Other Musings on MasterCard and VocaLink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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:


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.

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.

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.

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!