Customers getting in control of their cards

Customers getting in control of their cards
In my last blog post, I talked about a Lloyds TSB Airmiles Duo card, which gives the customers a choice of using either MasterCard or American Express card for their purchases. I believe this is an example of a broader trend in card issuing – giving the customers more control. Here are a couple of other examples of card issuers giving customers more control: – Control of funding and settlement timing. Chase Blueprint card is a product combining a traditional credit card with debit, installment loan and financial planning functionality. It allows the customer to bucket payments into different categories – for example, everyday payments to be cleared in full or large one-off items to be paid off over time. It also offers tools to assist the cardholder in managing finances, such spending trends analysis and ability to set goals and set up payment plans. – Control of spending patterns and limits. Barclaycard and Orange have implemented the MasterCard’s inControl technology for their contactless card – the first deployment of this functionality for consumer cards. It lets cardholders set personalised controls, such as blocking a transaction made abroad. The customers can also set spend budgets and choose to receive instant SMS alerts or e-mails when these are exceeded. Regulation is also pointing in the same direction – Reg E in the US requires banks to let their customers choose whether they want to use the overdraft facilities on their ATM and one-off debit card transactions or not. I expect to see customers taking more control over their cards in the coming months and years.

Growth Trend in Outsourced Payment Processing: Is this a Good Thing?

Growth Trend in Outsourced Payment Processing: Is this a Good Thing?
In April 2009, JPMorgan Chase announced an agreement to outsource its retail lockbox business to Regulus Group, a unit of 3i Infotech. More recently, Citibank announced it sold its retail and wholesale lockbox business to RemitCo, a subsidiary of First Data Corporation. Is declining consumer check writing at the root of both moves? Sure, but I think there’s more to it than that. These two moves are a reflection of a more strategic evolution in financial services. Financial institutions are revisiting all aspects of their operations with an eye toward efficiency and long-term competitive advantage. Celent observes accelerating outsourcing trends elsewhere. For example: • More than half of US financial institutions outsource their core banking systems. • Three quarters of financial institutions have RDC solutions using SaaS/ASP models. • More banks are outsourcing the operation of their ATM channel. • A growing number of banks are outsourcing loan origination and other back-office business processes to BPM firms. And the list goes on. Is this a good thing? It can be, particularly when the processing entity demonstrates a true core competency in the relevant business process. BPM firms are increasingly pricing services based on a share of cost savings realized. And deals are won not based on old notions of labor arbitrage alone, but demonstrable expertise in delivering world class performance in select business processes. Where the work gets done may be becoming less important. FIs considering further investment in back-office processing should ask themselves four questions: 1. Is this (e.g., item or remittance processing) a core competency? 2. Will maintaining an in-house operation be a source of sustainable competitive advantage? 3. Will the requisite investment generate an adequate ROI both short and long-term? 4. Will this be the best use of available capital? I suspect that for most financial institutions, the answers would be an easy “no”.

American Express customer in a small village? Lloyds TSB might have just the answer

American Express customer in a small village? Lloyds TSB might have just the answer
It was my wife’s birthday this last weekend, so as a special treat, I arranged a romantic getaway, just for the two of us, without the kids. On the way to our weekend destination, we stopped for lunch at a rural ‘gastropub’, a very nice place with some excellent if slightly exotic dishes (haggis cottage pie anyone?). At the end of our lunch, I wanted to pay with American Express. Now, I do have a few cards in my wallet, but my Amex card collects points with Nectar, one of the UK loyalty schemes, so I quite like using it when I can. However, the owner of the place who came to collect my payment said, “I am sorry sir, we don’t take Amex. They still charge us for taking their cards”. The fact he wasn’t accepting Amex was not too surprising – while the gap is narrowing, there are still quite a few more places accepting Visa or MasterCard than American Express, especially among the smaller merchants. What I did find interesting was the phrase “they still charge us”, as if it was something unique in the market. I challenged that he surely got charged by his acquirer for accepting other cards as well, but he said it was a lot less, and generally sounded as if he has fully accepted that charge as a cost of doing business. Given the occassion, I wasn’t in the mood for an impromptu market research on MSC rates across different schemes, so I just simply paid the bill with my Visa. Lloyds TSB, one of the top UK banks, have an interesting solution for situations such as this – Airmiles Duo Credit Card. Anyone signing up for this card gets in fact two cards – one American Express and one MasterCard. What’s interesting is that the rewards the customer gets from spending on Amex is five times better than the ones on the spend through MasterCard. In other words, the customer is incentivised to use his/ her Amex card wherever it is accepted, yet they have a MasterCard as a fall-back option in those places where it’s not. Both cards are linked to the same account, one credit limit and one statement. And both cards do earn rewards, albeit it at different rates. I might have to consider getting one myself next time.

Payment infrastructures – do we care enough about their risks?

Payment infrastructures – do we care enough about their risks?

This week I attended one of The Financial Services Club events in London – a debate on whether payments infrastructure risk has been largely forgotten. The debate’s outcome was “no, it hasn’t been”, but the discussion raised some interesting points and provided a lot more colour to the answer.

The general consensus was that operational risks are well understood and mostly well managed. At least in the UK, the interbank infrastructures for BACS, CHAPS and Faster Payments schemes are very resilient with glitch events extremely rare. The very fact that the payments infrastructure works so well can lead to complacency and the impression that the risks they pose might be forgotten.

Layered resiliency is certainly one way of managing business continuity risk; the other is to have multiple providers with easy interchangeability between them – currently, that’s not the case in the UK, as the schemes are too different to just simply redirect say BACS traffic to Faster Payments infrastructure and vice versa. Could and should these schemes converge going forward?

On the other hand, liquidity risk certainly can generate shocks in the system. Do banks know how to manage counterparty risk from the operational perspective? What happens if one party cannot settle intraday? How do you know if and when to pay out? In crisis situation, is straight through processing (STP) really that good or would you rather approve outgoing payments manually?

Again, the participants were confident that banks would know what to do, but all agreed that many of them would rely on individual rather than institutional knowledge, i.e. on those deeply experienced people that all banks have somewhere deep in their payments and risk departments. But will this enough to satisfy FSA and other regulators? Banks have to take stress testing seriously and put their payments infrastructures through challenging but realistic scenarios to increase confidence in the whole system.

If My Phone Was My Wallet: Reflections from NACHA Payments 2010

If My Phone Was My Wallet: Reflections from NACHA Payments 2010
It’s hard to imagine a business trip without a Smartphone. This week at NACHA Payments 2010, an embarrassing event caused me to consider the practical risks of overreliance on mobile devices. Mobile payments were a hot topic in Seattle this week. Multiple sessions argued the coincidence of factors that will bring about the ascent of mobile payments in North America. Few need convincing that mobile devices are increasingly becoming the primary point of contact for a growing segment of the population. Most nod in agreement that mobile devices would be a great mechanism for P2P convenience payments for example – but wholesale replacement of plastic? Is this really a good idea? While assertions about the superior security and convenience of mobile payments abounded at the conference, I didn’t hear much discussion about a rather obvious risk. What happens if one’s phone stops working? Perhaps I’m a bit of a curmudgeon about this trend, but I’m reluctant to place even more dependence on mobile devices than we already have. Consider airline electronic check-in for example. Like many, I find it convenient to check-in from the office and print boarding passes ahead of time in return for faster navigation once at the airport. But, I’m not yet ready to trust my next business trip to an eBoarding pass for its incremental convenience. Once again, what happens if your phone stops working and the boarding gate is about to close? The first evening at Payments 2010, I was scheduled to meet a colleague at a reception event. The room was large and crowded and I was unable to find him. Sending him a quick text seemed like a reasonable next step. This posed a modest problem for me, however because I had just graciously accepted a glass of fine Washington State Merlot and there was no convenient place to set it down in order to operate my device. (My fine motor skills aren’t advanced enough to operate the HTC device without using a stylus. It therefore takes both hands for me to send a text message.) Unwilling to risk the fine wine, I simply tried to hold both the wine and my HTC for the quick text. Be forewarned – it’s not a bright idea. My device ended up in the glass and most of the merlot onto my previously white shirt. Three days later, my phone still hasn’t recovered. All this has been both an embarrassment and inconvenience. Heck, I stopped wearing watches long ago since phones keep decent time. Mine used to. But, if my phone was my wallet, I might be sleepless – and stranded in Seattle.

AFP Conference Highlights and Review

AFP Conference Highlights and Review
I spent most of last week at the AFP conference in San Francisco. Although attendance seemed to be rather dismal (I am still waiting to hear some actual figures), it was a great conference for me with very productive meetings. Most of my meetings were centered around online corporate banking and payments – hot topics these days. It did give me great satisfaction to learn that the estimates we came up with for IT spending earlier this year are on the money. IT spending on wholesale/corporate banking is skyrocketing (see the report, IT Spending in Banking: A North American Perspective) and some of the figures shared with me are staggering. I will actually be hosting a webinar on Bank IT spending on Oct 29th for those of you who are interested. Aside from IT spending growth, I noted several trends:
  • Next generation online cash management solutions are here. Bank of America, Citi, and some of the software vendors showed off some great online cash management solutions. For more info see my recent blog post, Peeking Out From Under The Hood – Next Generation Online Cash Management.
  • Online cash management will continue to evolve. Analytics, social media (primarily closed groups for corporate clients), interactive online training/education, desktop and online widgets, and MUCH more will start to peek out in 2010. I will cover some of these trends in the next iteration of our IT Spending report (due out in January 2010) as well as a future cash management report.
  • Payment hubs are transitioning from concept to reality. There has been lots of talk about payment hubs over the years, with few compelling live examples. Solutions that clean up the mess of back-end systems coupled with clean, simple and intuitive front ends are on the horizon.



Any other trends worthy of noting? Please feel free to chime in, your comments are welcome.

Corporate Banking in Asia is Heating Up

Corporate Banking in Asia is Heating Up
The press seems to focus a lot of its coverage on competition for retail banking business in Asia, but from where I sit it looks as though the corporate banking side is at least as hot, if not more so. One reason is that retail products and services are already fairly well developed in the region, leaving much of the action on the retail side to the marketing and branding of increasingly commoditized offerings. Corporate banking services, on the other hand, are still developing. There is a lot of room for improvement in the way banks in Asia are packaging and delivering their corporate banking services. This is particularly true for transaction banking services, including cash management, treasury, trade finance and supply chain management products and services. The large global banks have been investing heavily in developing comprehensive suites of services, often on a worldwide basis; many banks in Asia are now starting to see the value in developing a full range of transaction banking services for their corporate customers. I was recently invited to speak at an event in Hanoi, Vietnam for Asian banks organized by Citi, where this trend was readily observable. The venue was packed with managers from banks throughout Asia, large and small. They came to see what Citi had to offer in the way of web-based delivery, global payments solutions, trade finance and supply chain finance services, etc etc, and to think about how to offer these services to their corporate clients. Many banks in the region are likely to use the white labeled services of global banks such as Citi, ABN AMRO or HSBC, to name a few. Banks will be faced with choices in what mix of services, both outsourced and home grown, to offer in their particular market. I was struck by the number of banks I spoke with at the conference that were feeling challenged in developing their strategies for corporate banking services. Celent has followed developments and strategies in transaction banking for some years, and is now covering the market from the corporate side as well with our new corporate treasury research service. I look forward to working more closely with banks in Asia as they consider their options in this rapidly developing area.

Financial Technology Startups: Giving Banks a Run for Their Money

Financial Technology Startups: Giving Banks a Run for Their Money
At the end of April I had the opportunity to attend Finovate Startup in San Francisco. I already blogged about my experience the day after returning. I also decided to writeup a report on financial technology startups – that report will be coming out next week. I decided to produce the report because much of the competition (to banks) and innovation in the financial services sector is coming from non-banks. The report singles out the innovative startups that Celent believes will have an impact on the banking space and/or the consumer market (many of these startups bypass the bank channel and market their products directly to consumers). Celent has selected the following companies to profile in this report: I am curious to hear your comments on these firms as well as your thoughts on innovation in the banking industry. Please feel free to post your comments and interact!

2009 Banking Innovation & Insight Day Roundup

2009 Banking Innovation & Insight Day Roundup
Celent held its 2nd Banking Innovation and Insight Day last Wednesday. The event was a great success, and attendance was up 10% over the 2008 event. That’s a mighty impressive feat given current economic conditions. The Celent/Oliver Wyman team delivered very interesting and captivating presentations:
  • We opened up with a great presentation by Celent SVP, Bart Narter, who gave a comprehensive summary of the top technology trends in the banking space.
  • Celent Senior Analyst, Red Gillen, captivated the audience with his review of the healthcare banking space. This was no easy task as Red’s presentation was just after lunch
  • Oliver Wyman Partner, Aaron Fine, gave the audience a fresh perspective on deposit gathering
There were also 2 interactive panel discussions. Both had a great set of panelists
  • Alternative Payments Go Mainstream, moderated by Bart Narter. This eclectic group provided an innovative take on the payments space and explained how the market is evolving:
The event concluded with the Model Bank Awards. I had the honor of handing out awards to the 18 banks who were selected for our recent Model Bank Report. We would like to thank those that attended, and we look forward to seeing you all next year! If you would like to submit a nomination for the 2010 Model Bank Report, we invite you to visit www.celentmodelbank.com

PSD: Payment Services Directive or Payment Services Distress?

PSD: Payment Services Directive or Payment Services Distress?
I have recently attended a European conference on the Payment Services Directive (PSD), the legal foundation for the creation of an EU-wide single market for payments. As stated on the European Commission’s site, the PSD “aims at establishing a modern and comprehensive set of rules applicable to all payment services in the European Union. The target is to make cross-border payments as easy, efficient and secure as ‘national’ payments within a Member State”. Impressions from the conference Although all the major European PSD experts were in the room, there still was plenty of uncertainty, confusion, and open items I supposed were to be already resolved. The PSD has principally focused on consumer protection. For this market sector it is not too problematic for banks to adapt their rules to the Directive’s mandatory guidelines. Different story is when it comes to corporations. The PSD does not provide clear provisions and guidelines on how to deal with issues that have emerged since the Directive principles have been brought to the public. Bank representatives have argued about the difficulty of implementing some provisions into local legislation. In all response I heard, more than once, legislators saying that “the law is the law, and cannot be changed”. Looks like regulators and banks have for all this time worked in parallel without sharing views and without committing themselves to find the right compromise. This impression was further on validated after I heard regulators in the room lament they were “surprised” of the negative comments they heard from banks. Would banks have “raised the issue before, things could have been worked out”. Bottom line Although all parties claim this not to be the case, the Payment Services Directive is still perceived as a compliance exercise. The European Commission is completely missing the point of providing a clear business case for adoption. On their side, banks are still in a guilty “wait-and-see” mode. In either case, distress seems to be the right sentiment that surrounds the PSD program.