Thoughts from American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015

Thoughts from American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015
This last week the American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015 was going on in Austin, TX. As expected, it was a great way to read the temperature of the banking industry. The conference was well attended, with broad representation from all institution sizes and markets. There were a couple of overarching themes throughout the event. Competitive pressures on smaller institutions were top of many bankers´ minds. The conference was full of community bankers discussing evolving business models and the pressures its placing on their ability to gather deposits. Customer centricity is forcing a convergence of traditionally segregated value propositions. Large banks are now trying to compete on serving the customer and they´re positioning themselves to look and feel like a community experience. New entrants and delivery models are also opening up the competitive landscape. Consumers are no longer limited by geography when choosing a bank, and they have a growing number of alternative financial options from which to choose. Smaller institutions are finding it hard to overcome some of the barriers of resources and marketing that arise as the competitive landscape broadens. Many presenters discussed developing non-traditional revenue streams. With interest rates low and new regulations following the financial crisis, banks are running incredibly thin margins, and traditional revenue sources are no longer viable. Presentations focused on targeted marketing for “moneyhawks”, new P2P models (e.g. P2P lending), and new payment schemes. A few thoughts on some of the talking points:
  • Breaking down omnichannel applications for financial services: Omnichannel within banking was a popular talking point between attendees and among presenters, and it´s obvious there´s still more than enough ambiguity around its application in the context of banking. One of the presentations used non-FI examples to look at how banks can approach integrating omnichannel into customer interactions. Home Depot was an interesting case study. The retailer combines the in-store and app experience to enhance the customer buying process. Customers can browse the app and make a list of the materials they need. The app shows only what´s in stock at the nearest physical location, and each item is given a corresponding aisle number for easy location on arrival. While in the store, customers can scan QR codes on each product to bring up specific measurements and statistics. This is the essence of an omnichannel experience. It´s not about doing everything from every channel—it´s about optimizing the customer experience across the variety of methods used to interact with the retailer (or bank).
  • Community banks differentiating from large institutions: This was a common thread running throughout the presentations. How do community banks grow deposits in a climate of shrinking deposit share? Presenters proposed some solutions. One spoke of the need to market correctly. A recent study found that despite problems with megabank perception, 73% of those asked said a recognizable brand was important in choosing a financial institution. A regional bank poll of millennials found that not one could name a community institution in their area. These institutions find it hard to inform consumers about the value they provide, and often lacking the resources and experience to do so. A few small institutions spoke about shifting towards serving small businesses. Despite only having 20% of deposits, community banks are responsible for 60% of small business loans. Focusing on small businesses could be a way for small institutions to remain viable, without having to drastically alter their businesses.
  • eCommerce and Merchant Funded Rewards (MFR) through mobile banking to help consumers save:  During one of the sessions, a banker made a good point: consumers don´t need help spending, they need help saving.  The comment reflected a number of discussions about the role financial institutions can play in helping consumers save money, but was echoed across a handful of presentations on digital commerce. US Bank discussed Peri, its eCommerce app developed in cooperation with Monitise, while other presenters spoke about card-linked and MFR propositions.  These initiatives are definitely innovative, but is conflating the ideas of saving and driving commerce shaping the conversation around a fundamentally misaligned approach?  First, will a bank´s eCommerce app be able to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google?  Banks often do not have the customers, data, or pricing competitiveness to match big online retailers, and they seldom win on brand favourability. Second, even when these initiatives are successful, do they really help people save?  For many, the data isn´t targeted enough for banks to offer deals on purchases a consumer was going to make anyway.  For example, based on one bank´s demo, a customer would go to make a purchase at a retailer and the bank app would push out a geo-located card-linked offer for a nearby restaurant. This requires additional spending.  Without the right data, these programs are mostly playing off impulse purchasing, not saving.
Do these themes resonate with your experience? Feel free to leave comments about how your institution is tackling these challenges.

Capgemini, the 40-40 Rule, and the rise of the robots

Capgemini, the 40-40 Rule, and the rise of the robots
Capgemini recently hosted a few dozen consultants and industry analysts to Chicago for their two-day Analyst and Advisor Day event. The presentations were held at the firm’s very impressive Accelerated Solutions Environment facility, with its dramatic curved glass exterior and prime views across the Chicago River to the famous Merchandise Mart.  Unfortunately, it was typical Chicago winter weather with sub-zero windchills and snow flurries, but for those who braved the conditions it was a very interesting and informative event. Things appear to be going well at Capgemini. Even though organic growth in revenue was only 3.4% in 2014 (to EU 10.5B), bookings were up 13%, operating margins were improved by 70 basis points (to 9.2%), and profit jumped by a full 31%.  The financial services business (covering banking, insurance, and the securities industries) provided Capgemini with significant sales momentum into 2015, with Q4 growth of 9.2% (second only to the firm’s public sector services business).   In the financial services sector, Capgemini’s business theme was digital transformation, which in their view would be driven by the replacement of knowledge workers by automation and algorithms. During Q4, Capgemini signed an important deal with First Data Corporation (FDC) to take over application management responsibility for its VisionPLUS card processing platform. VisionPLUS is FDC’s international card platform and serves over 180 clients in 70 plus markets in Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.  John Elkins, FDC’s Chairman of International, came to Chicago to talk up the new partnership, and it appears that FDC is very pleased that Capgemini is taking over responsibility for maintaining and expanding the functional coverage of VisionPLUS. Essentially, Capgemini will work with FDC to continue the build out of the platform, FDC will use the software to drive its own processing business, and the partners will share certain license and managed services revenues for new bank clients. Paul Nannetti’s made an interesting key note presentation covering emerging trends in Capgemini’s business, and several times he mentioned the “40-40 Rule”.  This was a new buzz word for me, so I was happy when another analyst asked Paul what he meant by the 40-40 Rule.  According to Paul, the 40-40 Rule says that 40% of the scope of new outsourcing contracts will be suitable for digitization (automation), and that within this realm, digitization will drive out 40% of existing labor content. In other words, global outsourcing companies like Capgemini will need 40% less FTEs to process the same work load due to the introduction of automation to its business processes. This brings us to the issue of robots.  A few weeks ago, I had read an article about the opening of a futuristic hotel in Japan called Henn-na Hotel (apparently translated as “Strange Hotel”) that will be almost entirely staffed by robots. The hotel will employ robots to clean rooms, staff the front desk, and run the bag room, and guests will be able to unlock their rooms through facial recognition.  Hotel president Mr. Hideo Sawada was quoted in the Japan Times as saying “We will make the most efficient hotel in the world. In the future, we’d like to have more than 90 percent of hotel services operated by robots.” Capgemini’s Global CTO Lanny Cohen shared that indeed robotics and artificial intelligence technologies were under close scrutiny at the firm, and the firm maintains a global network of 40 innovation labs to investigate this and other areas of emerging technologies. For a firm like Capgemini whose financial success over the past 10 years has been in large part based on managing a very large off-shore workforce, this is indeed a bold strategy. And that’s also very good news for Mr. Roboto, who may have a future in banking and insurance if he ever tires of his current gig at the Henn-na Hotel. Stay tuned. You can follow the conversation about the day on Twitter here.

Cashless Britain – not coming to a town near you soon

Cashless Britain – not coming to a town near you soon
There have been a number of reports in the UK since the beginning of the year heralding a cashless Britain, suggesting that cash “dies” this week. Of course, I’m being somewhat tongue in cheek, but it was suggested that February 2015 would be the last month that cash was king. That’s true in many ways – the share of cash on a total transactions basis will drop below 50% for the first time in the UK this year. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Firstly, “not cash” isn’t a single payments type of course. There are debit and credit cards, ACH payments,  still (shudder) some cheques. Fact 1 – by volume of transactions, cash is by far the most dominant, as at 50% share, it’s obviously the same size as all the other payment types …combined. So cash isn’t dead, and not even mildly under the weather! Secondly, the decline isn’t quite as dramatic as it may first seem. There are lots of new payment occasions being created (iTunes, mobile phone subscriptions, cable TV etc) that are electronic only. And conversion from cheque to direct debit generally sees an increase in payment volumes (ie quarterly cheques becoming monthly direct debit). Fact 2 The net result is significant growth in the overall size of the pie, biased to electronic payments – yet the share of cash has only decline by a few percentage points rather than the significant drop implied. This is particularly important to remember in the coming months. Early indications suggest a significant increase in contactless is coming. Fact 3 It’s a migration from Oyster that will drive massive contactless growth this year, rather take-up of contactless. This is important as Oyster had already forced a conversion from cash, with individual cash transaction (ie for each journey) into a single top-up transaction. The switch to contactless is unbundling this back into individual transactions, albeit applying a daily cap. We’re not saying that contactless isn’t going to grow impressively, just we mustn’t simply look at the headline numbers and draw conclusions. It’s not all negative. That Oyster habit converted to cards will help create a contactless habit which will spread. Coupled with the raising of the limit of £30, and with many cash payments being below that value, there is the possibility to see some levels of cash replacement that could move the needle. Cash is far from dead but we are certainly moving into a LessCash rather cashless world.  

A preview of Innovation and Insight Day

A preview of Innovation and Insight Day
Celent’s Innovation and Insight Day is about a month away, and I couldn’t be more excited. We have great external speakers bookending the day, and we’ll be exploring exciting technology implementations with 18 Model Banks in five categories (plus Celent’s Model Bank of the Year):
  • Digital
  • Omnichannel
  • Legacy and Ecosystem Transformation
  • Innovation and Emerging Technologies
  • Payments
Our first speakers, Betsy Hubbard and Debra Jasper, are from Mindset Digital, an online social media training firm. As financial firms grapple with their approaches to social media, Betsy and Debra’s perspective, delivered in a completely different style than what most banks are used to, will provide ample food for thought and some concrete next steps. Suresh Ramamurthi, Chairman (and CTO!) of CBW Bank, will tell the story of how a fintech entrepreneur bought a small ($13 million in assets, 7 employees) bank in Kansas and is in the process of turning it into a bank of the future. You may have seen the bank profiled in this story in the New York Times. Registrations are running well ahead of last year, and our Carnegie Hall venue may well get to Standing Room Only (although you won’t be able to buy tickets at TKTS on Monday morning). We hope to see you there on March 23rd; to learn more and to register, please visit our I&I day site.  Model Bank Logo

P2P lending makes it to main street?

P2P lending makes it to main street?
Can old dogs learn new tricks? What about banks? Banks are trying; not only by making interesting bets around digital but also social. On the social aspect of banking, Banco Colpatria in Colombia offers credit cards to individuals using Lenddo’s social scoring. Lenddo has created and extensively tested an algorithm that analyzes the connections of people in their social networks to determine their character and willingness to pay. Lenddo is leaving behind its start-up origins as a micro-lender and entering into partnerships with financial institutions to take advantage of this scoring which can extend the traditional loan customer base to include new segments with no credit history (college students for example). In this same line, Banco Galicia in Argentina has a very interesting offering – Galicia MOVE – aimed to college students based on a totally digital proposition, underpinned by the use of digital channels and a targeted marketing strategy. Galicia MOVE includes a savings account, a debit card and a credit card. Jumping into social based propositions is just around the corner for them. Clearly, digital and social are terms that go together and could certainly benefit those banks that want to bet on these. Another look at the same issue is that it seems inevitable that banks begin to incorporate business models that otherwise threaten their own business from the periphery. Change or die. Peer to Peer (P2P) lending is one of those situations and banks have started to experiment with it, taking P2P lending to main street. Santander Bank through a lead generation model in partnership with Funding Circle’s and RBS using a 3rd party platform are perhaps the most significant cases right now, but we are aware of more movements in this direction. Banks are certainly not playing hide and seek with P2P lending. In our research, our conversations with key financial industry stakeholders and as collaborators at bringing together banks, fintech start-ups and VCs, P2P lending appeared as an area that banks should explore to attract customers through a different value proposition. P2P lending provides a way for the bank to acquire customers not covered by their traditional offering while making some money in the process and retaining a customer that can eventually move into financial products from traditional banking as their business / financial condition makes them a subject fit for bank credit. Regulation is an important issue for banks to get into P2P lending and depending the country, there may be restrictions. Perhaps the P2P lending company that has best understood and dealt with this issue so far is Afluenta; working with regulators in each country to adapt its model and operate under authorization of the financial regulator. For example in Argentina it was the first P2P lender to operate with the approval of the regulator, under a trust structure where Afluenta administers the trust and the money is out of its estate. Money is owned by lenders (peers), which is in the spirit of the P2P proposition. From my point of view in order for banks not to get trapped between their traditional business model, processes and restrictions imposed by the regulator there are some models that banks can explore before deciding to dive into P2P lending all by themselves: lead generation as Santander, a partnership to use the platform of an existing player or possibly an acquisition of an existing player (as BBVA did with Simple to speed up in the digital race). The end game will have banks incorporating services based on digital and social, leveraged by the use of data. I believe it will have them as main actors, therefor competing directly with the fintech-startups, such as the P2P lending companies. In the meantime, coexistance may be possible. Because I also wanted the view from someone working in the heart of this business I spoke with Alejandro Cosentino, a seasoned financial services executive and founder of Afluenta, who until now remained very skeptical about banks entering into the P2P lending space. Nevertheless he believes in its potential: since launching, Afluenta started to transform personal finances into the greatest and most participating peer-to-peer lending community across Latin America with AR$ 25M, 1300 loans, +90,000 investments transactions and covered +1,000 in social networks, blogs, news and traditional media. Afluenta originates loans at a cost which is 25% of the cost incurred by a bank. In Mexico he believes that loans could have a return of 12% against 3% which is the return for money invested by an individual in a bank. Following some of his impressions, which he gently accepted to share with you and me. P2P lending is first and furthermost a financial business and only then a technological business. Many P2P companies approach it the other way round and that is why they fail. P2P lending has to be played in a (highly) regulated and complex environment where you need to understand what risk management is about. This is why he works on 3 key issues (in order of importance):
  1. Regulation
  2. Credit
  3. Technological
He recognizes having been recently contacted by banks looking to enter the P2P space but in his opinion central banks, regulators and securities commissions will not easily allow banks to enter directly into this market. Authorities are not concerned about the systemic risk; their main concern is banks’ responsibility regarding delinquent or bad credit. In the heart of this issue is who owns the risk? who owns the money? the bank or the peers? Authorities’ view, he says, is that if a bank is in the business it will have to take the risk of delinquency or bad credit because they are trustees of that money. This is the view in Mexico, where P2P lenders have to constitute SOFIPOs (micro-finance institutions), not representing the true spirit of P2P lending because risk is taken by the financial institution and not the peer. With such a framework of legislation it is understandable that banks don’t find P2P lending attractive. The Mexican regulator is expected to review the legislation to provide a better framework to operate P2P lending by August 2015, though he believes it will take some more time than that. The issue of addressing the business without financial expertise, including poor risk management, has some P2P companies working with credit delinquency over 26 % (100 loans over 350 loan portfolio with debt for more than 90 days), making it unbearable . Afluenta instead has less than 3% with a much larger volume of loans. They have analyzed loan portfolios from banks and there have been cases where, based on their P2P lending underwriting, they would have not granted loans (which subsequently became delinquent), showing the level of intelligence and accuracy in risk analysis capable of being used in P2P lending. From his perspective banks are tepid regarding P2P lending. It is not a general trend or something that comes as a strong directive from top management, even though some banks are engaging for the sake of innovation or because they still have doubts about the future of P2P lending but don’t want to just watch the ship sail out of the harbor, in case the journey ends being successful, with them not on board. Alejandro believes that the way to go for banks interested in taking a shot to this market is through a model where they act as an online trading agent, going from lead generation to a more stronger partnership where they can direct their own institutional investments through the P2P platform. An Argentinean insurance company for example has agreed to use his P2P platform as a vehicle to directing investments, having a preferred option to finance the cases submitted by peers. An acquisition by a bank is possible if the P2P entity stays separate from the bank, otherwise it will face the regulation problems he described above. You can believe banks are still tepid about P2P lending as Alejandro does, or that it is already hitting main street, which is what I believe. Whatever you choose to believe, rest assure that banks will not play hide and seek about P2P lending. The time to get this bull from the horns has come.

Highlights from Money 20/20

Highlights from Money 20/20
I’m on my flight back from Las Vegas and thinking about how to encapsulate the highlights of Money 20/20. Its third year was the biggest yet, capped at 7,500 people (not counting the Fire Marshals patrolling the hallways). At many conferences I’m able to distill several distinct themes; this time, the overwhelming impression was the emphasis on … PARTNERSHIP Celent’s been talking about the need for banks (and others in the ecosystem) to partner better for quite a while. At Money 20/20, the word was on everyone’s lips. Discover, Visa, and a host of others mentioned their eagerness to team with other members of the ecosystem to drive more activity in ways that are better, faster, and/or cheaper. Some other random observations:
  • The big four U.S. banks sent an average of 40 attendees, with the high being 55 and the low being 30.
  • MCX said that CurrentC is in pilot with merchant employees in several cities, but missed the chance to show us a demo. And as an interesting counterexample to the partnership theme, Visa told us that they “look forward to MCX presentations so that they can learn what’s going on.” I’ll stop there.
  • Customer Experience continues to be a big theme
  • There was way too much emphasis on Point of Sale terminals – and why does every POS terminal still look like it came from 1985 (Poynte and Clover being two exceptions)?
  • What happens when there is no Point of Sale, like with Uber? (Incidentally, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has used Uber as an example over the last twelve months – I’d be on my way to Tahiti)
  • Facebook is doing some really interesting things on the commerce side: if they identify a group of profitable customers who have a certain profile (e.g., mid 30s, likes dogs and hiking), they can go find other Facebook users with the same profile.
  • Security, as always, was a hot topic
One of the things we do is attend conferences so that you don’t have to. If you’ve got questions about this or other events, please let us know.

The Clearing House and Real-Time Payments

The Clearing House and Real-Time Payments
The game is afoot! The announcement from The Clearing House regarding real-time payments last week came as no surprise – indeed, it felt inevitable. The Federal Reserves’ significant work around the topic, and their clear determination that it would happen, seems a clear indication that they wouldn’t rest until it was delivered. The question then is how will it be delivered. The Feds conclusion from its consultation was that new infrastructure would be required, rather than re-using existing infrastructure. This posed two questions 1) would the Fed build it themselves? Or 2) do they would expect someone else to build it, and how would that actually happen? We dismissed question 1 pretty quickly – it would have created a monopoly (just about the only in US payments), and the experience of the Fed Same Day service perhaps highlighted they weren’t perhaps best placed to deliver. Who does that leave? Having already nailed their flag to the mast with their Same-Day proposal, and stating that they believed that this was adequately fast and would complement a real-time solution, Nacha was unlikely (at least at this juncture) to put themselves forward. Some seem to have considered the Fed comment about not re-using debit card infrastructure as something of a swipe at PayNet. Given the number of banks already connected to it, and the work around the rules and business model, we think that this rather underestimates what PayNet can do. CME look to have thrown their hat in the ring, with their investment in Dwolla. Whilst CME claim Dwolla is real-time, it isn’t as the chart on Dwolla’s own website even says itself. Yes, in some instances, but equally, it can take up to 4 days. Unless, of course, there is exciting news coming from Dwolla soon….! There are a few other names being mentioned as waiting in the wings – we’ve certainly heard lots of rumours about who else is preparing to announce, though have seen no hard evidence so far. So does this mean that this is a slam dunk for The Clearing House? Not quite. First, to the point around monopolies, we don’t believe the Fed will be satisfied with just one infrastructure, unless it also has a significant shift in policy in mind. Secondly, the Clearing House proposal is very high level. Whilst we’re not saying it won’t be suitable, we’ve yet to see enough to be confident that it will be. The Clearing House has a strong track record in this regard, so we think its just a timing issue. Thirdly, as the proverb suggests, whilst you can lead the horse to water, you can’t necessarily make it drink. We’d define success in this instance as wide-spread uptake. We’re less clear as to how that will happen – will Clearing House Members be mandated to use? Incentivised? As my recent report on real-time payments sets out, the success is in large dependent on how well it is positioned in relation to other payment choices, and how well it is product managed. One thing is for certain though. This won’t be my last blog on the topic – there will be plenty more to happen yet!

Busy Few Weeks in the Payments World

Busy Few Weeks in the Payments World
It has been busy few weeks in the payments world. Not surprisingly, reaction to Apple Pay’s announcement is the hottest topic in payments. It even manages to dominate European conferences with no specific agenda items dedicated to Apple. We at Celent added our own voice to the debate by publishing a new report on Apple’s entry into payments, in which we describe Apple Pay and assess its prospects. Celent clients can download the report here, and all are welcome to join me at the webinar next Monday, October 20th. By then, Apple Pay should be up and running – the iOS upgrade which would launch Apple Pay is expected over the weekend. In the meantime, PayPal announced that it would separate from eBay and its core auction business, and would get a new CEO, Dan Schulman, a seasoned payments executive from American Express. Arguably, both companies will be able to better focus and compete as stand-alone businesses. However, it’s difficult not to think that the separation also makes them both more “in play” in the industry consolidation. Immediately, rumours started swirling around who might buy/ merge with PayPal; some of the loudest noises concentrate around Square, although so far those rumours have been denied by Jack Dorsey via Twitter. Autumn is traditionally a conference season, and this year again, many of us are attending the leading events from Sibos and EFMA to Money2020, AFP, and BAI. My colleague Stephen and I were last week at Mobey Day in Barcelona, as usual an excellent event; many thanks to Mobey Forum for their cordial invitations! As a sign of its growing presence and influence, Mobey Day became two days this year. It focused on two major themes – Host Card Emulation (HCE) and biometrics. While the latter was brought to the forefront by Apple Pay, the former can certainly be an alternative strategy for banks looking to deploy NFC solutions for Android devices. Dan Latimore and I will soon be attending Money 2020, and are very much looking forward to spend a few days immersed in payments innovation and meeting our clients. Our diaries are filling up fast, but if you are going to be there and would like to meet, let us know or reach out to your Celent account manager. However, as much as we all get excited about innovation in payments, we can’t afford to forget what makes it all work in the back office. We have been conducting extensive research this year into card management and transaction processing (CMTP) market and the vendors that serve that market. Our report offering “a dozen observations” on the market trends has been out for a couple of weeks now and I will be hosting a webinar on this topic next week on October 22nd – join us if you can.

Zapp makes progress

Zapp makes progress
Clients following our payments research will know of our interest in Zapp. Zapp is a new UK payment method that utilises the Faster Payments scheme. Zapp is a way for the merchant to create a Faster Payment in the consumers device (mobile/tablet/laptop) using a wide variety of methods (bar code, SMS, QR code, etc). This provides all the relevant data – value, account details, etc. The consumer then just authorises the payment. We’re interested for a number of reasons. Firstly, as mentioned in my first real-time payments research report, there seems to be a myth that real-time payments are P2P payments primarily. Zapp is very much a way for consumers to buy things both online and offline. Secondly, there has been a move to thinking about real-time payments enabling other products, rather than just being a standalone payment method. These are known as overlay services, and a number of initiatives (Australia, Finland) have explicitly stated their desire for overlay services to be created. A few overlay services have been created for Faster Payments – PingIt and PayM for example – Zapp is by far the biggest, most ambitious, and potentially, disruptive. Thirdly, Zapp state that is cheaper than the alternatives. Implicit in this, is cheaper than cards. Zapp are very careful to ensure the language they use doesn’t imply its card like (and therefore potentially subject any regulation around fees that could be considered interchange). Yet the route to market includes using large merchant acquirers. With any new payment method, adoption is slow. Payments are a 2-sided market. You need sufficient numbers of consumers to have adopted to interest merchants – yet consumers won’t adopt something that they can’t use. Zapp has potentially half the equation solved, with large banks signed up and Faster Payments reaching 100% of UK current accounts. It was interesting to see then the announcement this week that Zapp have signed some major retailers to take part. Furthermore, these are big, household names – Sainsburys and Asda are two of the largest supermarkets in the UK. With official launch in 2015, there is still a long way to go, but the chances of success seem to improve daily.

Braveheart or need a brave heart?

Braveheart or need a brave heart?
A somewhat topical post, if mildly parochial, but which serves to highlight something more broadly. On September 18th , a new nation could be born, as Scotland goes to the polls to vote whether it should become independent from the rest of the UK. The debate has raged for months, if not years. The latest polls suggests a Yes win, with a flurry of activity now from the No camp. Why blog about this? Well there are some interesting questions that would be raised in relation to payments that are worth highlighting here. Note that this is based on the hard line being stated primarily from the No camp before the vote, but one assumes compromises would be made if there were a Yes vote. Currency Whilst Scottish banks print and issue their own money currently (I have a Scotland-only £100 bank note on my desk), the Bank of England has categorically stated that there cannot be a shared currency. Debate rages about how quickly Scotland could join Europe, so equally the Euro is out as well Central bank Scotland would require a central bank to be able to issue a currency. The creation of one is not necessarily a technical challenge, but the funding of it in the short term might be. Big business Many big banks have already pledged to move their head quarters out of Scotland should there be a Yes vote – Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds (owners of Bank of Scotland) and National Australia Group (owners of Clydesdale). Note that this isn’t moving out of Scotland altogether – however, at least one unnamed source has hinted doing business in Scotland will become harder and less attractive. A new currency also means that every business doing business in or with Scotland would need to make the appropriate changes, and an equivalent changeover to the Euro switch would be required.   So what does this mean for payments? Well, nobody quite knows. On day 1, systems could keep running. But longer term, it poses some interesting questions. The options crudely are: Keep as is – people continue to clear and settle in Sterling, regardless of location. Given the hard line on currency union (or lack of), this seems unlikely Shared infrastructure – the infrastructure remains, but is dual currency, with an additional settlement site at the new central bank of Scotland. That works for Scotland-Scotland, and UK-UK (the sort codes could be mapped to allow this). This doesn’t address the cross-border issue. Parallel infrastructure – Scotland recreates all its own systems. This would allow Scotland to plan the ideal system, and with low volumes, it would be relatively cheap to buy. However, it would require every bank and every corporate to change how they process paymenst as well… very expensive! So what does this mean for payments? The fate of a nation is a big thing, and we shouldn’t trivialise it for the thing I’m interested in – payments. But it does serve to highlight how embedded payments are and how critical they are, yet the debate hasn’t mentioned them once. Without a payment system, any country would collapse in hours. Nobody is suggesting that this will happen of course – but then nobody is actually suggesting *anything*. Because payments are rarely thought about by anyone outside of payments, it’s pretty safe to assume that no-one has considered this fundamental part of how a country functions, and it will need to be addressed rapidly. I best go dust off my passport and get some Scottish visas I think!