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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

Take On Payments

August 17, 2017


Are Our Wallets About to Get Thinner?

In February 2011, I was in Salt Lake City for the annual Smart Card Alliance conference, and a representative from the now-defunct Isis Mobile Wallet was delivering the keynote address. As part of the keynote, the speaker played a video clip from the Seinfeld show that famously depicts the "Costanza wallet," a wallet so overstuffed that it gave George a backache from sitting on it. The conference speaker had us imagining a world where our mobile phones replaced our physical wallets. Six-and-a-half years later, that world remains a dream. But are we closer to it, with private-label cards possibly leading the way?

As I was paying for my coffee this morning through a mobile phone app, it dawned on me that I haven't used a physical card for this specific retailer in at least three years. The retailer's mobile app has replaced my physical card, a private-label prepaid card, as my payments credential. I no longer have a need for the card at this retailer, nor do I want one—I'd prefer to keep my wallet from becoming a "Costanza wallet." And while my example describes a prepaid card, I believe that this retailer's model is indicative of what's on the horizon for private-label store credit cards as well.

I usually quickly turn down any offers for private-label credit cards at retailers. Even though these cards come with some sweet deals and benefits, I just don't want more plastic in my wallet. But what if this credential could be issued directly within the retailer's mobile application without ever issuing a plastic card? Sign me up!

I remain skeptical about the future of the so-called "pay wallets," but continue to believe that the future of mobile payments will be driven by retailers' mobile apps. And I think these mobile apps present these retailers the ideal opportunity to drive their private-label prepaid or credit adoption and usage without ever having to issue a plastic credential. If the credential that retailers issued were in electronic form, such as a token or virtual card, it could disrupt the plastic card industry—approximately 360 million credit and 4.5 billion prepaid cards in 2015, according to the Nilson Report. Plus, merchants would benefit by avoiding the cost of issuing and distributing cards.

So back to my original question: Are we closer to a world with thinner wallets, and with private-label cards possibly leading the way? I don't think our physical wallets will ever go away, but I do believe that they will slim down as we witness a substantial rise in the issuance of private-label virtual credentials in the future on a wide range of connected devices. In fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest that these credentials will eventually overtake the number of physical cards. What do you think on the future of plastic in the private-label space? And what new challenges, if any, will the virtualization of plastic have on the personalization and authentication of payment credentials?

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

August 17, 2017 in cards , innovation | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

August 14, 2017


Extra! Extra! Triennial Payments Data Available in Excel!

In countless old black-and-white movies, street newspaper vendors would shout out the latest sensational news from hot-off-the-press special editions. The Fed is no different in that we want to shout out that it is no longer necessary to mine the PDF-based Federal Reserve Payments Study report to extract the study's data. For the first time, we are offering our entire aggregated data set of estimated noncash payments in an Excel file. The report accompanying the data is here.

The data set is very rich and covers the following categories:

Accounts and cards
Private-label credit processors
Checks Person-to-person and money transfer
ACH Online bill pay
Non-prepaid debit Walk-in bill pay
General-purpose prepaid Private-label ACH debit
Private-label prepaid issuers & processors Online payment authentication
General-purpose credit Mobile wallet
Private-label credit merchant issuers  

Here is another table that is just one extract from the non-prepaid debit card portion of the extensive payments data available.

To get a taste of what this data can teach us, let's look closer at the cumulative volume distribution by payment dollar value threshold for non-prepaid debit cards (the data are shown above) along with general-purpose credit cards. The number and value of both types of payments grew substantially from 2012 to 2015, the last two survey periods. The chart compares these distributions, showing more vividly how this growth affected the relative proportions of payments of different dollar values.

Chart-two

For example, debit card payments below $25 accounted for 59.1 percent of all payments in 2012 versus 61.8 percent in 2015—evidence that debit card purchases are migrating to lower ticket amounts. The trend is even more dramatic over the same time span for general-purpose credit cards.

Because this is a distribution, increases in the relative number of small-value payments must be offset by decreases in the relative number of large-value payments. Unfortunately, our previous survey capped the payment threshold at $50 in 2012. Otherwise, we would see the dashed 2012 lines crossing over the solid 2015 lines at some payment value threshold above $50. In brief, the results suggest cash payments are continuing to migrate to debit cards, while credit cards may be garnering some share at the expense of both cash and debit cards.

The challenge is on for you data analysts out there. Please share your findings.

Photo of Steven Cordray  By Steven Cordray, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk  Forum at the Atlanta Fed

August 14, 2017 in ACH , cards , checks , debit cards , mobile payments , payments study | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

August 7, 2017


Are Business Payments Directories Coming to the Fore?

Financial institutions (FIs), service providers, and particularly businesses have been dreaming of a ubiquitous payments directory for business-to-business (B2B) payments over the last five years or so. Payments directories give payers the ability to quickly look up accurate account and routing information to originate payments of all types to payees. Directories reduce friction and time needed to efficiently and accurately make payments and accelerate the transition away from checks.

That the dream is getting closer to reality became obvious to me in April, when I attended a NACHA Payments Conference that included the panel discussion "Can a B2B Directory Service Advance e-Payments?" Significantly, one of the panelists was the chair of the Business Payments Directory Association (BPDA), a nonprofit initiative to advance an open, nonproprietary B2B directory for small and large businesses. The independent BPDA has the support of the Business Payments Coalition comprising banks, industry associations, service providers, and businesses.

Businesses wanting to pay other businesses have a variety of payment instruments to choose from—check, ACH credit, wire, and card—with consequential differences among them such as costs, payment reconciliation, and funds availability. Though ACH has made significant inroads into B2B payments, particularly for large businesses, checks are still the fallback payment method when payers are not sure if the payee is willing to accept anything else. Checks are still widely accepted, and attaching associated remittance information with the check is straightforward. The ease of paying by check contrasts with the potential difficulty of determining whether the payee is willing to accept electronic payments and of getting accurate account and routing information.

Essentially, any B2B directory should contain all the information a payer needs to specify the payee’s payment account and route the payment electronically. Typically, directories by themselves do not clear and settle payments. The idea behind the BPDA initiative is that each payee in the directory is provided an electronic payment identity (EPI). That EPI uniquely identifies a payee and supports multiple payment accounts. It also specifies the payee’s preferred way to be paid, the type of remittance information needed, and preferred remittance delivery methods. A payee owns its EPI, which is portable across multiple subdirectory providers. As envisioned, a central node would link multiple subdirectories containing EPIs, each managed by a subdirectory provider that validates payee information so that it can be trusted. Subdirectory providers can include FIs, service providers, and payment networks. All of this is managed by the BPDA that sets rules, credentials subdirectory providers, payees and payers, and oversees the central node.

The image illustrates the process. Payers query the system to retrieve account and routing information from payees. They can then use this information to originate a payment through existing payment rails.

Chart-one

The BPDA lists several advantages of this approach, including these:

  • Payees can centrally communicate preferred payment methods and the information needed to effect payments by payers.
  • Payers can centrally retrieve accurate payee payment and remittance content and delivery preferences.
  • Friction for noncheck payments between payees and payers is reduced.
  • Minimizes misdirected payments.

One lingering concern about having a centralized directory is the risk that fraudsters could gain access to account numbers of large businesses for producing counterfeit checks or unauthorized transactions. In addition to the need for robust credentialing, one mitigant the system offers is that account information can be made private and restricted to specific payers.

It will be interesting to see how this nascent service shakes out given hurdles in governance framework, garnering industry support, developing a funding model, and, of course, getting businesses to enroll and participate. What are your views on the future of B2B directories?

Photo of Steven Cordray  By Steven Cordray, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk  Forum at the Atlanta Fed

August 7, 2017 in ACH , banks and banking | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

July 28, 2017


Are Consumers Out of Touch?

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), 791 data breaches occurred in the first half of 2017, an increase of 29 percent over the first half of 2016. This rising incidence of data breaches is a continuation of a trend, as the 1,093 data breaches tracked by the ITRC in 2016 represented a 40 percent increase over breaches in 2015. As data breaches continue to proliferate, I would expect consumers to be very concerned that their payment credentials (credit, debit, and bank account numbers) are at risk of being compromised. Apparently, my expectations are a bit off, which is both puzzling and alarming.

In a just-released report on a survey conducted in May, Transaction Network Services found that only 46 percent of U.S. adults believe that a data breach may have exposed their credit or debit card information. In 2015, 60 percent of the respondents had that fear. So evidence exists that data breaches are on the rise, yet consumers have less fear today than they did in the past.

In its review of the 2017 data breaches, the ITRC found that only 13 percent resulted in the exposure of card data. However, this figure is up from 10 percent in 2016. Social Security numbers appear to be the prime target, with 60 percent of breaches exposing them. Small wonder, as this information is critical for committing identity theft. Why steal a card number when you can steal a Social Security number and apply for any number of credit cards?

I would like to think that, because the industry is making great strides in improving both transaction security, with initiatives such as EMV, and data security, with encryption and tokenization, consumers are feeling that their card data is more secure than it used to be. But the pessimist in me believes that consumers may be a bit naïve about the risks associated with data breaches, and may have also been inured by the proliferating occurrences. Or maybe because of limited liability protections, consumers just don’t care about their card data falling into the wrong hands from breaches. But now is not the time for consumers to drop their guard as data breaches—more specifically, breaches of card data—are on the rise. They must continue to take steps to protect themselves from falling victim to card breaches, such as keeping debit card PINs private and examining credit card and bank statements regularly for fraudulent transactions.

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

July 28, 2017 in data security , EMV , identity theft , theft | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

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