Take On Payments

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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.

January 19, 2016


Mobile Wallets: Is This the Year?

In our 2015 year-end retrospective post, we commented on the slow pace of adoption of mobile payments despite the introduction of several major mobile wallets. While some consumer research continues to point to widespread consumer usage of mobile wallets in the coming years, we have seen similar projections from past research fail to materialize.

So what have been the major barriers to adopting mobile wallets? And for those who have adopted them, what functions are the most important? As I have noted before, I am a firm believer in former Intel CEO Andrew Grove's 10X rule: a new technology experience must be at least 10 times better than the previous method to achieve widespread consumer adoption and usage. A number of different elements—speed, cost, convenience, personalized experience, ease of use, and so on—can all contribute to achieve that 10X factor. Another critical element is the consumer's trust in the security of the wallet to ensure that payment credentials and transaction information will not be compromised in some way. The market research and strategy firm Chadwick Martin Bailey (CMB) conducted mobile wallet research in March–April 2015 on a nationally representative sample of smartphone owners and specifically asked mobile wallet nonusers what were their particular security concerns. As the chart shows, identity theft and the interception of personal information during the transaction were the top two reasons given.

Chart-1

The tokenization of payment credentials goes a long way to providing a higher level of security, but a major educational effort is required to relay this knowledge to consumers to increase their level of confidence. The CMB study found that 58 percent of nonusers would be somewhat or extremely likely to use a wallet if tokenization of their payment account information were performed.

But is it enough to convince consumers that mobile payments are more secure to significantly speed up adoption and usage? Mobile wallet proponents have been saying for years that the mobile wallet must deliver more than just a payment function, that it should include incorporate loyalty, couponing, identification, or other functions.

So if the desired end state is known, why is it taking so long for the mobile wallet providers to achieve that winning solution? The retailer consortium MCX is going into its fourth year of development and has just recently begun a pilot program of its CurrentC wallet in the Columbus, Ohio, market. Two of MCX's owners and major U.S. retailers, Walmart and Target, have announced in the last couple of months their plans to develop and operate their own mobile wallet. While these companies still profess their support of the MCX program, have they concluded that a common mobile wallet solution among competing retailers doesn't meet all their specific needs? Or is it a desire to offer their customers a wider choice of shopping experience options and differentiate their experience? Or is it another reason altogether? Only time will tell.

So do you believe that 2016 will be the year of the mobile wallet? Let us know what you think.

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

January 19, 2016 in consumer fraud, contactless, identity theft, mobile payments | Permalink

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January 4, 2016


The Year In Review

2015 marked the end of the era for my favorite late-night talk show host. In his 33 years of bringing laughter to late-night audiences, David Letterman is perhaps best known for his nightly Top 10 list. During the last several years, the Risk Forum's last blog for the year has included our own list of top 10 payments events. Our efforts clearly didn't match Letterman's entertaining Top 10s, and we have decided to retire our Top 10 blog in favor of a year-end review blog.

2015 can easily be characterized as "The Year of Deals." We witnessed two established payment processors, Worldpay and First Data, become publicly traded entities, with IPOs during the year. Following these IPOs, Square became the first "Unicorn"—a tech start-up with a valuation in excess of $1 billion—to test the public markets with its IPO. Beyond the IPOs, there were ample other noteworthy deals in 2015, including Ebay spinning off PayPal as its own entity; Visa acquiring its former subsidiary, Visa Europe; Global Payments' acquisition of Heartland; and a host of mergers such as the one between Early Warning and ClearXchange. On the venture capital and private equity side, indications suggest that 2015 will top 2014's nearly $10 billion investment in financial technology in the United States with payments-related investments leading the way.

Near and dear to the Risk Forum, notable risk-related stories will also make 2015 memorable. The long-anticipated initial EMV liability shift took place on October 1 with mixed reviews from different participants in the payments ecosystem. Data breaches that included the compromise of payment credentials and personally identifiable information seemed to be an almost-weekly event during the year. In response to the increasing incidence of data breaches and anticipated increase in card-not-present fraud, the buzz surrounding tokenization, which began in earnest with the launch of Apple Pay in 2014, intensified within the payments industry.

Mobile proximity payments might be the most frequent payment topic over the past five years, and 2015 was no different. While many have labeled each year over the last five as the "Year of Mobile Payments," mobile still has a way to go before the Risk Forum is willing to give this title to any year, including 2015. However, momentum for mobile proximity payments remained positive with the launch of Apple Pay rivals Samsung Pay and Android Pay. We witnessed a well-known and early established mobile wallet, SoftCard (originally branded as Isis), exit the playing field after being acquired by Google. The Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a consortium of retailers, launched a pilot of its mobile wallet—CurrentC—and has also partnered with Chase and its Chase Pay service with entrée to 94 million cards; and two large Financial Institutions, Chase and Capital One, both announced new mobile wallet initiatives. In December, Walmart and Target announced their own mobile payment applications. While mobile proximity payment usage remains minimal, it is becoming increasingly clear that consumers are using their mobile phones to shop online. According to holiday shopping figures from Black Friday through Cyber Monday 2015, mobile shopping accounted for approximately one-third of total e-commerce sales.

Finally, in 2015, the payment industry witnessed the launch of a comprehensive, collaborative effort to improve the speed and security of payments in the United States. In January, the Federal Reserve issued its long-anticipated Strategies for Improving the U.S. Payment System followed by the formation of two task forces, Faster Payments and Secure Payments, seeking to turn these strategies into actionable payment improvements. Related to improving the speed of payments, NACHA membership approved a same-day ACH service after a similar measure failed to gain approval in 2012.

As those in the payments industry have come to expect excitement and innovation, 2015 did not disappoint. And while it's certainly fun to look back, we must always keep looking ahead. Perhaps the most famous late-night talk show host, Johnny Carson, understood this best with his beloved great seer, soothsayer, and sage Carnac the Magnificent persona. Be on the lookout for our upcoming blog where the Risk Forum will channel our inner Carnac with some predictions and expectations for payments in 2016.

By the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

January 4, 2016 in cybercrime, data security, mobile payments, payments study | Permalink

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August 31, 2015


A Swing and a Miss

"Keep your eyes on the ball." I'm guessing my son heard those words at least 20 times a game this past baseball season. If you can't follow the ball, then your chances of a successful plate appearance are pretty slim.

Departing from the usual risk-related prose and taking a signal from the blog's name Take On Payments, I want to offer my thoughts on mobile payments. This topic floods my payments news feeds and is the subject du jour at nearly every payments-related event. Mobile payments can mean many things to many people, but one of the hottest areas is mobile at the point of sale (POS), also known as proximity payments—that is, what Apple Pay, Starbucks, and Samsung Pay among others all offer.

And this is where I think the payments industry is taking its eyes off the ball. Why do consumers want to use mobile phones to replace cash or cards at the POS? A key barrier cited by consumers who have not adopted mobile proximity payments is their satisfaction with current payment methods. So what is the best way to get consumers to use their mobile devices to replace cash or cards at the POS?

The mobile phone has significantly changed the way people interact. It's almost comical to me that the device has retained the word phone. While there will always be people who want to hear a voice or interact directly with another person, the mobile device is turning us into a society that prefers messaging over speaking and interacting through the device rather than face to face. (My nieces text each other while sitting in the same room!) Furthermore, we have come to expect information to be readily available to us whenever and wherever we desire it. People don't like waiting, and the mobile device has intensified this impatience. To understand consumer behavior in light of this mobile revolution, we don't have to look any further than the reduction of bank branches and staffing coupled with the rise of mobile banking solutions.

Yet the proximity payment solutions don't address consumer behavior with their mobile devices. I understand merchants valuing the ability of proximity payments to provide loyalty programs and targeted offers, but do these extra services really address consumers' core needs and wants? It seems to have worked for Starbucks in a closed-loop environment but has yet to be replicated in an open-loop environment. (Closed loop means that the payment is usable only at a provider's place of business, as for the Starbucks app. Open loop means the payment, like Apple Pay, is usable anywhere that has the infrastructure to read the app.)

By keeping the focus on the consumer, it seems to me that the mobile payments industry can work on reducing the physical interaction of payments and current wait times associated with the payment process. Uber, Chipotle, and the Starbucks mobile app are evolving to address these consumer needs. These apps essentially remove the payment from the POS (some would say that they make the payment invisible) and allow for minimal personal interaction and waiting times.

Hence, I predict the growth of mobile payments will come not from the POS but rather through mobile in-app payments. That's where I'd be setting my sights on the mobile payments diamond. Perhaps this will create a healthy discussion (hopefully not a bench-clearing brawl), but I think mobile at the POS is a swing and a miss. What do you think?

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


August 31, 2015 in innovation, mobile payments | Permalink

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July 6, 2015


Growing, Growing, Gone!

As we've blogged before, check writing has been steadily declining as electronic payments have grown. For example, the number of checks written in 2012 was 21 billion, down from 27.8 billion in 2009, according to the 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study. We may be writing fewer checks than ever, but more than anything, we want the convenience of depositing our checks with mobile devices. A 2013 survey by ath Power Consulting found that mobile remote deposit capture (mRDC) is the "most sought-after mobile banking feature" among consumers. And financial institutions are answering this demand. According to 2014 surveys from Federal Reserve Banks (the Dallas Fed's, for example), about 48 percent of responding institutions are currently offering mobile capture and another 41 percent are planning to offer it within the next two years.

With mRDC in such demand, solutions providers and financial institutions should be investing in risk management strategies. But if check writing is a declining business, will mRDC risk management investments end up on the disabled list? Financial institutions must look at the potential losses and how they occur, evaluate the means to minimize these, and carefully weigh these factors against the dwindling check industry.

The mRDC channel faces two primary loss challenges: fraudulent items and duplicate check presentment. A fraudulent item might be an altered, forged, or counterfeit check; it can also be an intentional duplicate presentment. The other challenge occurs when a customer unintentionally presents a deposited item a second time. Research and anecdotal evidence suggest many duplicate presentments result from customer errors. These represent a growing customer education need. Financial institutions must find room in the allocated lineup and spending cap for fraud and duplicate detection enhancements.

Handling duplicate check presentments landed an all-star position on the agenda at most payments operation conferences this past year. Duplicate check presentments mean returns and adjustments, which in turn mean time and money for the financial institutions. When duplicate presentment involves more than one bank of first deposit, losses are often sustained from misunderstanding holder-in-due-course rights and return-versus-adjustment processes. Financial institutions often need to reconstruct what happened, analyze the facts, and possibly consult legal counsel.

But rather than handling these risks with expensive roster moves, considering the declining use of checks, financial institutions can meet the threat at the origin, through customer education and enforcement policies. Financial institutions that offer mRDC can make disclosed stipulations. For example, they can require that the original check be destroyed after confirmation, or that checks have a specific restrictive endorsement that includes "for mobile deposit only." Ultimately, if a consumer deposits a check twice, financial institutions can charge a fee or suspend service. In general, customers want to avoid fines, so they tend to play within the rules when fines are looming. If training customers is a home run in mitigation, then the grand slam is having detection systems that support the stipulations and rules put into place.

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

July 6, 2015 in checks, consumer protection, mobile banking, mobile payments | Permalink

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June 29, 2015


The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

As I write this blog on the screened porch of a North Alabama lake house, the cicadas are constantly buzzing in the background. I am fascinated by the life cycle of this species—namely, the emergence of the periodical cicadas from belowground every 13 to 17 years. This life cycle got me thinking how the world has changed since the last time the 17-year cicadas emerged. And while in this neck of the woods, some things have changed—new houses have been built and personal watercraft are now constantly buzzing on the lake—some things have remained the same. The nearest grocery store is still 30 minutes away and the iced tea is as sweet as it ever was. Is this mixed scenario really any different for payment card fraud?

Certainly a lot has changed in card payments during the last 17 or so years. We've witnessed the enormous growth of debit card transactions, the continued growth of credit card transactions, the emergence of the e-commerce and mobile payments channels, and the almost global adoption of the EMV (chip) card. As card payment usage has evolved, so has the fraud landscape. Lost and stolen card fraud fell out of vogue while counterfeit card fraud took off only to see stolen card fraud re-emerge when the issuance of EMV cards in most markets thwarted counterfeit card fraud. Point-of-sale (POS) fraud is occurring less often across the globe because of EMV and PIN verification, driving the fraudsters to the Internet to commit card-not-present (CNP) fraud.

But what hasn't changed is the global rate of fraud. An article in the August 2013 Nilson Report estimated that the annual cost of card fraud worldwide in 2012 was 5.2 cents for every $100 spent, resulting in $11.27 billion in losses. This figure compares to Nilson's estimate of fraud losses in 1998, which ran approximately 4.8 cents for every $100 spent and resulted in a little less than $2 billion of fraud. Perhaps a fraud rate in the 5 basis points range is the industry-wide acceptable rate, but with billions of dollars being invested to mitigate fraud, I would like to think that over time the rate would be reduced (though I must admit that I am not sure what the acceptable rate should be).

Maybe this speaks to the tenacity of the card fraudsters. As we in the Retail Payments Risk Forum have often stressed, once one door is fortified, the fraudsters find another door to enter. And if we could dive deeper within the figures, I am certain that is what we would find, according to various estimates of fraud and anecdotal evidence. For example, the emergence of EMV and the use of PIN verification instead of signature verification have reduced POS fraud. Today, CNP fraud rates are significantly higher than POS fraud rates and many industry risk efforts are focused on mitigating CNP fraud.

When the cicadas reappear, undoubtedly the payment card usage and fraud landscape will look different. Perhaps mobile payments will have taken off and the use of biometrics as a method of verification will be commonplace. I feel confident that in 17 years the industry will make substantial strides in reducing e-commerce CNP fraud rates—but also that new areas of fraud will appear. Is the industry prepared to fight the next generation of fraud or will it just continue to Band-Aid the past? Should we expect a 5 basis points rate of fraud when the cicadas emerge in another 17 years? I'd like to think the rate will be lower. At a minimum, hopefully, it will remain as consistent as the sweet iced tea in this neck of the woods.

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


June 29, 2015 in cards, chip-and-pin, EMV, fraud, innovation, mobile payments | Permalink

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May 4, 2015


Keeping Up with the Criminals: Improving Customer Authentication

The interesting thing about authenticating customers for checks and PIN-based debit transactions is that the customer's authentication credentials are within the transaction media themselves—a signature, a PIN. But for the rest of the transaction types, authentication is more difficult. The payments industry has responded to this challenge in a few different ways, and may be turning increasingly to the use of biometrics—that is, the use of physical and behavioral characteristics to validate a person's identity.

Improving customer authentication in the payments industry has been a focal point for the Retail Payments Risk Forum since its formation. After all, authenticating the parties in a payment transaction efficiently and with a high level of confidence is critical to the ongoing safety and soundness of the U.S. payments system. We have intensified our focus over the last two years, including holding a forum on the topic in mid-2013. The Forum has also just released a working paper that explores the challenges and potential solutions of customer authentication.

The working paper examines the evolution of customer authentication methods from the early days of identifying someone visually to the present environment of using biometrics. The paper reviews each method regarding its process, advantages and disadvantages, and applicability to the payments environment.

Much of the paper looks at biometrics, an authentication method that has received increased attention over the last year—partly because smartphones keep getting smarter as folks keep adding new applications, and as manufacturers keep improving microphones, cameras, accelerometers, touch sensors, and more.

The table lays out six key characteristics that we can use to evaluate a biometric system for a particular application.

New_characteristics_table

The use of biometrics will be the subject of an upcoming forum hosted by the Retail Payments Research Forum later this fall, so stay tuned as we finalize the date and agenda. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions about the working paper, please let us know.

Photo of David Lott By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

May 4, 2015 in authentication, biometrics, emerging payments, innovation, mobile banking, mobile payments, risk management | Permalink

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April 20, 2015


Fed Survey Shows Mobile Banking on Rise in Southeast

In August 2014, the Retail Payments Risk Forum conducted a mobile banking and payments survey of financial institutions in the Sixth Federal Reserve District. (The Sixth District comprises Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.) The Federal Reserve's Board of Governors has annually conducted a national survey of mobile financial services for the last four years from the consumer perspective. We conducted this inaugural survey to determine the level and type of mobile financial services offered by financial institutions (FIs) in our region. (At the same time, the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston, Dallas, and Richmond conducted an identical survey of the financial institutions in their districts. (So far, only the results of the Dallas District's survey are available.)

Of the 189 validated responses, 75 percent were from banks and 25 percent from credit unions (CUs). Six of the respondents (five banks and one CU) indicated that they did not currently offer nor had any plans to provide mobile banking services. The two most important reasons given by the FIs for not offering the service were security and regulatory concerns.

The full survey report is available on the Retail Payments Risk Forum website, but some of the key findings from the survey include:

  • While mobile banking was first launched in the United States in 2007, it is a relatively new service for many FIs in the Sixth District. Almost 23 percent launched it within the last year, and an additional 15 percent are planning to offer mobile banking within the next two years.
  • The primary reason FIs selected for offering mobile banking was to retain customers. Some saw it as an opportunity to gain new customers.
  • There is very little difference in the basic mobile banking functions that banks and credit unions offer.
  • Sixth District FIs use more than 30 mobile banking application vendors, although there is a large concentration with three of these providers.
  • Despite the current headlines, the respondents expressed little to no interest in using biometrics and tokenization. (But note that the survey was conducted before the Apple Pay rolled out.)
  • Security concerns related to identity theft, data breaches, malware, and poor customer security practices remain primary concerns of FIs.
  • With the possible exception of the remote deposit capability, FIs do not expect to charge customers for mobile banking or payment services.
  • The mobile payments environment is nascent and highly fragmented in both the number of vendors and the wide range of technologies. This fragmentation has created some inertia while the FIs wait for the environment to sort itself out.

The Retail Payments Risk Forum plans to conduct this survey every two years in order to measure changing penetration and attitudes. If you have any questions concerning the survey results, please contact me via e-mail.


April 20, 2015 in mobile payments | Permalink

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March 9, 2015


Who's to Stand in for Mom?

You have likely heard about the fraud that's clouding one of the newest mobile payment solutions. Credit where it is due, the security underpinning the mobile payments themselves represents an amalgamation of strong advances including such things as tokenization, biometric authentication (at the time of the transaction), encryption, and on-device secure storage. The problem that's generating the latest buzz pivots around a gap in authentication—specifically, verification of the legitimacy of those registering the cards that will be used to effect subsequent transactions. Truth is, this isn't a misstep by a singular entity. We've seen this trouble pop up in any number of payment channels.

Some institutions have put a lot of thought into enrollment authentication while others may have felt a need to rush to market at the expense of developing a fully effective authentication process. In November 2014, First Annapolis Consulting/M & A Advisory Services documented various approaches in use by issuers and followed up this past February with emerging best practices and recommendations.

To tack in the way I want for this topic, I will quote a thought provided in one of our recent forums that was given by Peter Tapling, president and CEO of Authentify Inc.: authentication is proving "you are who your mother says you are." This could be key to the best practice of all. But if moms everywhere prove disinclined to authenticate all of us rascals at the provisioning stage (and let's be frank, they're a little busy) can another stand for Mom in this place?

Since we're talking about payments, banks seem a logical option. Consider these highlights of their responsibilities related to "customer due diligence" (CDD) as detailed by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council:

  • The concept of CDD begins with verifying the customer's identity….
  • The cornerstone of a strong… compliance program is the adoption and implementation of comprehensive CDD policies, procedures, and processes for all (emphasis added) customers…
  • CDD policies, procedures, and processes are critical to the bank because they can aid in:
    • Avoiding criminal exposure from persons who use or attempt to use the bank's products and services for illicit purposes.
    • Adher(ing) to safe and sound banking practices….
    • Provid(ing) guidance for resolving issues when insufficient or inaccurate information is obtained.

The context of the excerpt above is BSA/AML—or Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering—compliance and is generally applied to customers in the business space. However, it seems reasonable to think the skill set might be brought to bear wherever there is need. Banks are clearly best positioned to determine who is setting up a payment and whether or not that person should be. Yet the responsibility is a broad one. Those party to any payment solution, including innovators, provisioning banks, and consumers, should demand that new and extant solutions include enrollment authentication that is well considered and properly coordinated using the best techniques for thwarting fraud. To get the best authentication, it's about who you know—and also, who knows you, besides your mother.

Photo of Julius Weyman By Julius Weyman, vice president, Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed


March 9, 2015 in authentication, mobile payments | Permalink

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December 22, 2014


Top 10 Payments Events in 2014

As the year draws to a close, the Portals and Rails team would like to share its own "Top 10" list of major payments-related events and issues that took place in the United States this year.

#10: Proposed prepaid rule. After a long wait, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued its proposed rules on general reloadable prepaid cards in November. While the major players in the prepaid card industry had already adopted most of the practices included in the proposed rule, the proposal allowing overdrafts and credit extensions is likely to generate differing perspectives during the comment period before a final rule is adopted in 2015.

#9: Regulation II. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the Federal Reserve Bank's rules regarding interchange fees and network routing rules, reversing a 2013 decision. Notice of appeal on the interchange fee portion of the ruling has been given, but resolution of the network routing rules has cleared the way for the development of applications supporting routing on chip cards.

#8: Payment trends. The detailed Federal Reserve Bank's triennial payments study results were released in July 2014, continuing the Fed's 15-year history of conducting this comprehensive payments research. Cash usage continued to decline but remained the most-used form of payment in terms of transaction volume.

#7: Card-not-present (CNP) fraud. With the growing issuance of chip cards and the experience of other countries post-EMV migration—with substantial amounts of fraud moving to the online commerce environment—the payments industry continues to search for improved security solutions for CNP fraud that minimize customer friction and abandonment.

#6: Faster payments. Continuing a process it began in the fall of 2013 at the release of a consultative white paper, the Federal Reserve Bank held town halls and stakeholder meetings throughout the year in preparation of the release of its proposed roadmap towards improving the payment system.

#5: Virtual currencies. Every conference we attended had sessions or tracks focused on virtual currencies like Bitcoin. While there was some advancement in the acceptance of Bitcoin by major retailers, the number of consumers using the currency did not rise significantly.

#4: Mobile payments. The entry of Apple with its powerful brand identity into the mobile payments arena with Apple Pay has energized the mobile payments industry and brought improved payment security through tokenization and biometrics closer to the mainstream. (Apple Pay's impact on mobile payment transaction volume will likely be negligible for a couple of years.) Additionally, the use of host card emulation, or HCE, as an alternative contactless communications technology provides another option for mobile wallet development.

#3: EMV migration. The frequency and magnitude of the data breaches this year have spurred financial institutions and merchants alike into speeding up their support of EMV chip cards in advance of the October 2015 liability shift.

#2: Third-party processors. Regulators and law enforcement escalated the attention they were giving to the relationships of financial institutions with third-party processors because of increased concerns about deceitful business practices as well as money laundering.

And…drum roll, please!

#1: Data breaches. The waves of data breaches that started in late 2013 continued to grow throughout 2014 as more and more retailers revealed that their transaction and customer data had been compromised. The size and frequency of the data breaches provided renewed impetus to improve the security of our payments system through chip card migration and the implementation of tokenization.

How does this list compare to your Top 10?

All of us at the Retail Payments Risk Forum wish our Portals and Rails readers Happy Holidays and a prosperous and fraud-free 2015!

Photo of Mary Kepler Photo of Doug King Photo of David Lott Photo of Julius Weyman



Mary Kepler, vice president; Doug King, payments risk specialist; Dave Lott, payments risk expert; and Julius Weyman, vice president—all of the Atlanta Fed's Retail Payments Risk Forum.


December 22, 2014 in chip-and-pin, cybercrime, data security, EMV, innovation, mobile payments, prepaid, regulations, third-party service provider | Permalink

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November 10, 2014


Virtual Currency Environment Still Fluid after Latest Rulings

The end of October was filled with multiple news-grabbing headlines reflecting the growing fears of Ebola, the exciting seven-game World Series, and the release of the first-ever college football playoff rankings. The launch of ApplePay also saw its fair share of headlines, but one piece of payments-related news might have flown a bit under the radar. On October 27, the United States Department of Treasury's Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued two virtual currency administrative rulings stemming from its March 2013 guidance on regulations to persons administering, exchanging, or using virtual currencies.

The first administrative ruling involves a virtual currency trading platform that matches its customers' buy-and-sell orders for currencies. The company requesting this ruling stated that they operated the trading platform only and were not involved with money transmissions between it and any counterparty. FinCEN determined that money transmission does, in fact, occur between the platform operator and both the buyer and seller. Consequently, FinCEN said that this company and other virtual currency trading platform operators should be considered "exchangers" or "operators" and required to register as money transmitters subject to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requirements.

The second administrative ruling involves a company that enables virtual currency payments to merchants. This company receives payment in fiat currency from the buyer (or consumer) but transfers an equivalent amount of virtual currency to the seller (or merchant) using its own inventory of virtual currency to pay the merchant. This particular company asserted that it wasn"t an "exchanger" since it wasn't converting fiat currency to virtual currency because it was using its own reserve of virtual currency to pay merchants. However, FinCEN determined that this company, and similar companies, is a money transmitter because it accepts fiat currency from one party and transmits virtual currency to another party.

These two rulings confirm that if a virtual currency-related company's services allow for the movement of funds between two parties, that company will be viewed as a money transmitter and will be subject to BSA requirements as a registered money transmitter. As financial institutions consider business relationships with these types of companies, they should make sure that these companies are registered as money transmitters and have BSA programs in place.

The virtual currency regulatory environment continues to be fluid. For example, in his recent comments at the Money 2020 Conference, Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, suggested that his office will soon be releasing its second draft of a proposed framework for virtual currency business operating in New York. Portals and Rails will continue to monitor this regulatory environment at the state and federal level.

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

November 10, 2014 in currency, mobile banking, mobile payments, transmitters | Permalink

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