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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

April 22, 2019


The Prepaid Rule: All Jokes Aside

A payments compliance rule took effect this year on April Fools' Day, and it occurred to me that when a compliance deadline is approaching, you might not feel like joking around. The Prepaid Accounts Final Rule was issued a few years ago, in 2016, but after a number of postponements, its effective date is finally behind us.

The rule standardizes disclosures, error resolution procedures, consumer liability limits, and access to records. These changes are intended to provide comprehensive consumer protections for prepaid accounts under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, or Regulation E. The rule is fairly comprehensive, but for the sake of brevity, I'm going to look at only a couple areas of the rule—those that stand out to me.

Consumers can now expect protections over their transaction accounts regardless of whether the account is offered directly by a traditional financial institution or by a third party, such as a fintech or merchant, as they make electronic payments (debit, prepaid, ACH). Also, fintech companies that allow consumers to store funds or are thinking about adding that ability may want to prepare themselves to be designated as prepaid services providers and therefore subject to the regulatory and licensing requirements that go along with that designation. To that point, I am not surprised to see several big names recently listed on the FinCen Money Service Business Registration as "Providers of prepaid access." (To see the list, scroll down the web page to the MSB registration form; on the MSB ACTIVITIES field, click the down arrow to open the dropdown list; select Provider of prepaid access and click the Submit button.)

Established prepaid issuers have long been preparing for the new prepaid rule despite the stops and starts of an effective date and the uncertainty about some of its key provisions. Because consumers open prepaid accounts in a variety of ways—from starting a new job to purchasing prepaid cards at a retail checkout lane—it can be difficult to accommodate the disclosure requirements, such as those for listing fees, that the prepaid rule prescribes. Most issuers have changed product packaging to accommodate the new disclosures. These changes required complicated logistics coordination for the prepaid supply chain to replace old, noncompliant inventory with new, compliant card packages. Some issuers are still grappling with how to list types of fees that may not apply to their particular account program.

Many issuers had already been providing some level of consumer protection from unauthorized transactions before the rule requirement took effect. Now there will be a standard expectation. Limited liability and error resolution benefits need apply only to customers who have successfully completed the identification and verification process, if there is one for their particular program. Regulation E's error resolution and limited liability requirements do not extend to prepaid accounts (other than payroll or government benefit accounts) that have not completed the verification process, one of the key revisions after the rule's initial issue.

The rule will change the way we categorize prepaid services. For instance, in the past, discussion around prepaid products focused on whether the product was open- or closed-loop, and whether it was reloadable or nonreloadable. While those characteristics still exist, they are not necessarily a determinant as to whether the rule applies to a particular product or not. There are clear exclusions for certain products like those that are marketed and labeled as gift cards, health care savings cards, or disaster relief cards. However, even if a product doesn't have "prepaid" on its label, it may still fall under Regulation E. Coverage extends to asset accounts that consumers can use to conduct transactions with multiple, unaffiliated merchants for goods or services, to pull cash from automated teller machines, or to make person-to-person transfers.

For both incumbents and those finding themselves new in prepaid, it has been no joke to prepare to comply with the new rule. Despite the extra burden, do you think we will look back on this milestone favorably in the future? I think the new prepaid rule will lead to strengthening trust and confidence in these products. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) pledges to be vigilant in evaluating new rules. Moreover, the CFPB is required to submit a formal evaluation five years following a rule's effective date. The industry should be ready to help measure the rule's impact.

Photo of Jessica Washington By Jessica Washington, AAP, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

April 22, 2019 in fintech , prepaid , regulations | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

April 15, 2019


For Customer Education, Map Out the Long Journey

Financially savvy consumers are good customers for financial services. They save for retirement and pay back loans. Those are among the findings of research looking into the effects of formal financial education. And, as readers of this blog already know, customer education is central to risk management.

Using data from the National Financial Capability Study, researchers at the University of Nebraska found that financial education encouraged positive behaviors in the long run, such as saving for retirement or setting up an emergency fund. For short-run behavior, which the researchers defined as tasks that "give continual feedback," the evidence was mixed. They hypothesized that, in the short run, people learn good behavior better from getting negative feedback like late fees.

A paper by researchers at the Federal Reserve Board looked at three states (including Georgia, Idaho, and Texas) that began requiring financial education in 2007. Students in school after the requirement was implemented had higher relative credit scores and lower relative loan delinquencies than young people in bordering states without financial education. The effects lasted for four years after high school graduation. Among the goals of the Georgia curriculum is one that says students should be able to "apply rational decision making to personal spending and saving choices" and "evaluate the costs and benefits of using credit." Through age 22, the researchers found that the students who studied personal finance were better off than peers who had not, as measured by relative credit scores and delinquency rates.

What this means: if I learn in middle school that cost should factor into college choice, perhaps I'll decide to take on less student loan debt when it's time to choose a college. If one of my college professors stresses the importance of saving for retirement, perhaps I'll be more likely to make sure I participate in my employer's 401(k) and qualify for its full match. If I receive regular reminders about phishing attacks, perhaps I would be less likely to reply to or open a link in a phishy email.

April is Financial Literacy Month. For parents, teachers, and financial institutions, it's encouraging to know that split-second timing is not necessarily critical to effective financial learning. Financial education need not be delivered at life's crossroads, but everyone should have an overview of the route before getting on the road.

Finally, let me share some tips:

  • For parents of young children: Use these parent Q & A resources during story time. They are designed to help you talk about the importance of making careful decisions when saving versus spending and other personal finance topics related to their daily lives.
  • For teachers: The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta offers professional development programs for teachers, designed to enhance classroom instruction of economics and personal finance, including a free webinar on April 16, "Personal Finance Basics: Classroom Resources."

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

 

April 15, 2019 in consumer protection , risk management | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

April 8, 2019


Insuring Against Cyber Loss

Over the last few months, my colleagues and I have had multiple speaking engagements and discussions with banking and payments professionals on the topic of business email compromise (BEC). Generally, these discussions lead to talk about a risk management strategy or approach for this large, and growing, type of scam. One way some companies and financial institutions are mitigating their risk of financial loss to BEC and other cyber-related events is through a cyber-risk insurance policy. In a recent conversation, someone told me their cyber-insurance carrier mandates that they get an outside firm to audit and assess their cybersecurity strategy and practices, or they risk losing coverage.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, some large insurers are even going a step further and collaborating with each other to offer their own assessments of cybersecurity products and services available to businesses. Their results, which they will make publically available, will identify products and services they deem effective in reducing cybersecurity incidents and potentially qualify insured companies with improved policy terms and conditions if they use those products or services.

Cybersecurity vendors who would like their products and services to be assessed must apply by early May. They are not required to pay any fees for the evaluation. In light of the rising number of cyber-related events and increasing financial losses, along with the growing number of legal cases between companies and their insurance providers, this move by the insurance companies makes sense as a way for them to potentially reduce their exposure to cyber incidents. But it will be very interesting to see just how many cybersecurity vendors apply for participation in the program and how effective the insurers are at assessing the vendors' products and services. Moreover, for businesses, just using cybersecurity solutions helps them meet only part of the challenge. How they implement and maintain these solutions is critical to an effective cybersecurity approach.

Also of note in the Wall Street article is a graph that depicts the percentage of a particular global insurance company's clients, by industry, that have purchased a stand-alone cyber-insurance policy. Financial institutions, at 27 percent, rank last. Perhaps they are more confident in their cybersecurity strategies than are other industries, or perhaps insurers have no attractive stand-alone policies for financial institutions.

The cyber threat today is serious. In fact, Federal Reserve Board chairman Jerome Powell in a recent CBS 60 Minutes interview, when asked about a possible cyberattack on the U.S. banking system, responded that "cyber risk is a major focus—perhaps the major focus in terms of big risks."

As the Risk Forum continues to also focus on and monitor cyber risks, we look forward to the public findings from the insurers' collaborative assessment of cybersecurity products and services and will be interested to see if, over time, more financial institutions obtain cyber-risk insurance policies. I suspect the cyber-insurance industry will evolve in the products they offer and will continue to grow as companies look to mitigate their risks in the event of a cyber event.

What are your thoughts on this collaborative effort by the insurers? How do you see the cyber-insurance industry evolving? And do you think more financial institutions (or perhaps your own) will acquire cyber-insurance policies?

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

 

April 8, 2019 in banks and banking , cybercrime , cybersecurity | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

April 1, 2019


Contactless Cards: The Future King of Payments?

Just over two years ago, my colleague Doug King penned a post lamenting the lack of dual interface, or "contactless," chip payment cards in the United States. In addition to having the familiar embedded chip, a dual interface card contains a hidden antenna that allows the holder to tap the card on or wave it near the POS terminal. This is the same technology—near field communications (NFC)—that various pay wallets inside mobile devices use.

Doug is now doing his daily fitness runs with a bigger smile on his face as the indicators appear more and more promising that 2019 will be the year of the contactless card. Large issuers have been announcing plans to distribute dual interface cards either in mass reissues or as a cardholder's current card expires. Earlier this year, some of the global brand networks launched advertising campaigns to make customers aware of the convenience that contactless cards offer.

So why have U.S. issuers not moved on this idea before now? I think there have been several reasons. First, for the last several years, financial institutions have focused a lot of their resources on chip card migration. Contactless cards will create an additional expense for issuers and many of them wanted to let the market mature as it has done in a number of other countries. They were also concerned about the failure of contactless card programs that some of the large FIs introduced in the early 2000s—most merchants lacked terminals capable of handling the technology.

The EMV chip migration solved much of the merchant terminal acceptance problem as the vast majority of POS terminals upgraded to support EMV chips can also support contactless cards. (While a terminal may have the ability to support the technology, the merchant has to enable that support.) Visa claims that as of mid-2018, half of POS transactions in the United States were occurring at terminals that were contactless-enabled. Another factor favoring contactless transactions is the plan by major U.S. mass transit agencies to begin accepting contactless payment cards. According to the American Public Transportation Association's 2017 Ridership Report, there were 41 transit agencies in the United States with annual passenger trip volumes of over 20 million trips.

Given that consumer payments is largely a total sum environment, these developments have led me to ask myself and others what effect contactless cards will have on consumers' use of other payment forms—in particular, mobile payments. As my colleagues and I have written numerous times in this blog, mobile payments continue to struggle to obtain consumer adoption, despite earlier predictions that they would catch on quickly. There are some who believe that the convenience of ubiquity and fast transaction speed will favor the dual purpose card. Others think that the increased merchant acceptance of contactless will help push the mobile phone into becoming the primary payment form.

My personal perspective is that contactless cards will hinder the growth of in-person mobile payments. There are those who claim to leave their wallet at home and never their phone, and they will continue to be strong users of mobile payments. But the reality is that mobile payments are not accepted at all merchant locations, whereas payment cards are practically ubiquitous. While I am a frequent user of mobile payments, simply waving or tapping a card appeals to me. It's much more convenient than having to open the pay application on my phone, sign on, and then authorize the transaction.

Do you believe the adoption of contactless cards by consumers and merchants will be as successful as it was for EMV chip cards? And do you think that contactless cards will help or hinder the growth of mobile payments? Let us hear from you.

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

 

April 1, 2019 in card networks , cards , emerging payments , EMV , innovation , mobile payments | Permalink | Comments ( 0)

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