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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

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May 29, 2018


Laurel or Yanny? Cash or Card?

The latest and greatest trend on the Internet is the debate over whether you hear a recorded voice say "Laurel" or "Yanny." While I don't intend to get into the science of the phenomenon, I do find it fascinating (and completely ridiculous) that anyone would hear "Yanny." As I was thinking about this current crazed conundrum, the payments geek in me started to relate the Laurel-versus-Yanny debate to the payments industry.

It seems that we in the Retail Payments Risk Forum get asked at least monthly when the United States will become cashless. Our short answer is "never." Some people still prefer to pay with cash for many items, especially small-dollar purchases. In fact, a hamburger chain launched a cashless location during the past year only to find out that some of its customers were not happy that they were unable to pay with cash. And a large online retailer just announced a partnership that will allow its customers to use cash for purchasing gift cards to use on its website.

On the flip side, there are those (and I am smiling at one of my Risk Forum colleagues) who wince at the thought of making a paper-based payment, including cash, for anything. Here in the United States, we have embraced payments choice for consumers. And while I might be someone who prefers to pay with a credit card, I have close friends who prefer debit cards. I even know a few people who prefer to use their mobile phones.

Science can explain why people might hear a word differently. Perhaps we also need science to understand the factors that have a role in driving payment preferences—factors that might include past behavior and experiences, socioeconomic status, and incentives. Nevertheless, the fact remains that you will have your Laurels and your Yannys in payments, and oftentimes the two sides won't understand why the other would ever want to pay with their preferred method.

Research can get caught up in the hysteria that surrounds emerging payments and fintech and overlook established forms of payments. But let the Laurel-and-Yanny debate serve as a reminder that differences among consumers in payment preferences will always exist. Let's not lose sight of those established forms of payments that remain vitally important to commerce, even as the industry races to implement new technologies and systems.

To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, be on the lookout for the June 1 launch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's new consumer payments web pages that house a variety of surveys, studies, and research reports on the topic.

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

May 29, 2018 in cards, fintech, mobile payments | Permalink

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May 21, 2018


Heading toward A New Era of POS Portability?

At recent conferences I've attended, exhibitors in the point-of-sale (POS) terminal and acquiring business were all showing off their portable devices. With one of these, a restaurant server could take a payment at the table or a retail employee could conduct a transaction in a store aisle. The exhibitors said that these devices allow for a more high-touch, personalized customer experience than traditional counter-top POS devices. In fact, while walking the exhibit floor, I noted that countertop POS devices were extremely hard to find.

The theme of POS portability was also evident in the session rooms. Multiple panel discussions and keynote speeches focused on the Payment Card Industry's (PCI) PIN-on-glass security standard, which would give already-in-the-marketplace devices for using mobile phones and tablets as card readers the ability to use PIN-based authentication. In essence, the standard allows customers to enter their PINs on merchants' commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) devices—such as bring-your-own-device tablets or phones—rather than on PCI-certified devices that a merchant owns or leases through its acquiring relationship. PIN on glass has been widely implemented in Australia and, based on what I've heard at these conferences, it is probably one to three years from making any headway here in the United States.

I first wrote about portable POS devices in the restaurant industry nearly six years ago. Since then, I can count on my hands the number of times I've swiped or dipped my card at a portable POS terminal (and several of these interactions occurred in Mexico). Most experiences were positive. On numerous occasions, I've used my card with a COTS device, also with mostly positive experiences. I have honestly never envisioned using or yearned to use a PIN for these transactions.

Little has changed in the way of mobile POS adoption since I wrote that post. So, do I believe we are moving towards a new era of POS mobility? Yes, but very slowly. With the proliferation of independent software providers and their mobile-based solutions for payment processing, I think the industry is now better positioned than it was six years ago for a change. However, I learned from speaking with others in the industry that the conversion process remains time consuming and costly. As far as PIN on glass goes, will the consumer be an obstacle to adoption? I'm not convinced that consumers will be comfortable entering their PIN on someone else's mobile device.

What is your take on the future of POS portability?

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

May 21, 2018 in biometrics, card networks, cards, debit cards, emerging payments, mobile payments | Permalink

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May 14, 2018


Is My Identity Still Mine?

I'm sure you've seen the famous cartoon by Peter Steiner published in the New Yorker in 1993. That cartoon alluded to the anonymity of internet users. Twenty-five years later, do you think it's still true? Or is the cartoon by Kaamran Hafeez that appeared in the February 23, 2015, issue of the New Yorker more realistic? Is online anonymity a thing of the past?

Cartoon-image

Having just returned from three days at the Connect: ID conference in Washington, DC, my personal perspective is that numerous key elements of my identity are already shared with thousands of others—businesses, governmental agencies, friends, business colleagues, and, unfortunately, criminals—and the numbers are growing. Some of this information I have voluntarily provided through my posts on various social media sites, but hopefully is available only to "friends." Other bits of my personal life have been captured by various governmental agencies—my property tax and voter registration records, for example. The websites I visit on the internet are tracked by various companies to customize advertisements sent to me. Despite the adamant disavowals of the manufacturers of voice assistant devices, rumors persist that some of the devices used in homes do more than just listen for a mention of their "wake up" name. And, of course, there is the 800-pound gorilla to consider: the numerous data breaches that retailers, financial institutions, health care providers, credit reporting agencies, and governmental agencies have experienced over the last five years.

The conference exhibit hall was filled with almost a hundred vendors who concentrated on this identity security issue. There were hardware manufacturers selling biometric capture devices of fingers, palms, hands, eyes, and faces. Others focused on customer authentication by marrying validation of a government-issued document such as a driver's license to live facial recognition. Remote identification and authentication of end users is becoming more and more common with our virtual storefronts and businesses, but is also becoming more challenging as the fraudsters look for ways to defeat the technology or overall process in some way.

I have yet to have my identity stolen or compromised, but notice I said "yet," and I have probably just jinxed myself. Unfortunately, I believe my identity is no longer just mine and is out there for the taking despite my personal efforts to minimize the availability of personal information. Do you agree?

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

May 14, 2018 in cybercrime, data security, fraud, identity theft, privacy | Permalink

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May 7, 2018


Evidence of the Digital Age

Are you one of the estimated 90 percent of Americans who have shopped online over the past year? According to the most recent data published by the Federal Reserve Payment Study, remote payments grew faster than in-person payments by both volume and value. For example, from 2015 to 2016, remote general-purpose credit card payments grew at the rate of 16.6 percent, compared to 7.9 percent for in-person credit card payments. (See the chart.) Remote spending drove almost all of the growth of the general-purpose prepaid card during 2015–16, according to the study. If we had any doubts before, this growth shows us clearly that we're in the digital age, a time in history when digital technology has become ubiquitous.

General-purpose-card-payments-growth-rates

The shift from in-person payment to remote payment is certainly telling a story that will affect our future conversations and research. We need to take into consideration that as remote payments grow, they will become less and less connected to a physical card. Eventually, consumers may stop considering them to be card payments at all. They will likely start thinking first of their ability to make a payment with a digital account, with subsequent transactions eligible to ride a number of different payment rails, like ledger transfers, ACH, or other faster payments models.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that total ecommerce sales for 2017 were about $453.5 billion, an increase of 16 percent from the year before and accounting for 8.9 percent of total sales in 2017. Last year the Department of Commerce reported ecommerce sales have been growing nine times faster than traditional in-store sales since 1998. And remote payments will continue to accelerate. Consider the top retail trends of the year, according to research from the National Retail Federation:

  • Online purchase, store pickup: Stores are adding lockers for easier pickup.
  • Talking tech: Virtual assistants are rapidly growing in popularity and are ready and able to help customers make purchases.
  • Showrooms without inventory: Stores offer browsing, testing, and fitting, with the customer subsequently making the purchase online. This approach helps showrooms reduce their overhead and give consumers customized options.
  • Membership clubs: Stores collect customers' money upfront (sort of like prepaid) and send merchandise later, depending on what analytics have taught them about their customers and consultative sales touchpoints.

Future Federal Reserve Payment Studies will continue to track shifts in payments. However, we may need to adapt the ways we discuss these types of payments as the digital-first age leads to innovative transaction accounts with subsequent remote payments untethered from plastic cards.

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

May 7, 2018 in cards, debit cards, prepaid | Permalink

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