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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.

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November 9, 2015


Is the Payment Franchise Up for Grabs?

I have lost count on the number of discussions at payment conferences over the last few years on this topic of financial institutions (FI) losing the payment franchise to various new payment start-ups and business models. This very topic was the focus of a session at the Code/Mobile conference in October that featured executives from Chase and PayPal debating "Will Banks Eat Payments, or Will Payments Eat The Banks?" This idea was stuck on my mind while I was recently reading Fidelity National Information Service's 2015 Consumer Banking Index Report. This report reveals the findings from a survey of a thousand household decision makers who ranked 18 attributes according to their importance and according to the respondents' perception of how well banks perform. I readily admit that one shouldn't read too much into the results of a single survey, but the results in the payments and product-related category really grabbed my attention.

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Consumer expectations for their financial institution to provide digital payment options through more innovative products than other financial institutions scored extremely low in the importance category. Digital payments ranked as the 14th out of 18 attributes in importance, and delivering leading-edge products was the least important attribute surveyed. Though the importance of these two attributes was significantly lower than security and reliability attributes, consumers rated the performance of their financial institution on these two attributes favorably.

My interpretation of the survey is that consumers aren't expecting much from their FI when it comes to delivering digital payments and innovative products yet the FIs are exceeding these light expectations. The survey does not cover whether consumers place importance on others—say, non-bank payment providers—offering innovative products and payment options and how they are delivering on consumers' expectations.

If consumers expect non-FIs to provide digital payment options, then perhaps FIs are in danger of losing the payments franchise. Maybe consumers don't place a lot of importance on digital payment options because they are satisfied with the options their FIs provide and so the risk to FIs losing the payment franchise to non-FIs is low.

It's possible that the consumer falls somewhere in the middle of the two scenarios above. They may be pleased with the offerings of their FIs, which offer ubiquity and are not highly differentiated, so their expectations for options are low. The non-FI payments space is fragmented with new payment options being developed and deployed at a rapid pace that will take time for consumers to digest. Should consumers realize that any of these offerings present a significant improvement in the payments experience, they may raise their expectations for their FIs. This would suggest that the non-FI providers haven't fully delivered on a compelling, ubiquitous, and widely adopted offering yet.

I believe FIs remain firmly entrenched in the payment space today. However, the level of investment and innovation taking place in the industry should capture the FIs' attention. Consumers, me included, are a finicky bunch when it comes to expectations, and these expectations can change almost instantly with the amount of innovation occurring today. I see no reason why the digital payments arena would be any different, and FIs that fail to realize this as they consider future payment options risk a declining share of the payment franchise.

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

November 9, 2015 in banks and banking , innovation , payments | Permalink

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