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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

June 3, 2019


Hitting the Brakes on the Cashless Society

"Reverse ATMs" is a term I learned from reading my colleague Oz Shy's new working paper, "Cashless Stores and Cash Users." At venues that don't accept cash at the register, the patron puts cash into the reverse ATM and a loaded prepaid card comes out. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, for example, is one of the latest venues to adopt this practice.

Speaking of "reverse," I'm sure you know that some states and municipalities are seeking to reverse what may—or may not—be a trend toward brick-and-mortar retailers not accepting cash. Refusing to accept cash has been illegal in Massachusetts, where I live, since 1978. More recent developments:

  • Philadelphia will ban cashless stores beginning in July.
  • In March, New Jersey outlawed cashless restaurants and stores.
  • In May, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to require brick-and-mortar businesses to accept cash.
  • Also in May, Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the Cash Buyer Discrimination Act, which would require businesses all across the United States to accept cash.

These and other proposed laws are predicated on the idea that people without access to payment cards or digital payments are harmed when they cannot make purchases using their payment instrument of choice: cash. Oz's paper adds to the conversation by examining the choices consumers make at the point of sale, depending on their access to different ways to pay.

Using data from the 2017 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice, Oz found that consumers who own different mixes of payment instruments use cash with different intensity to make in-person purchases:

  • Diary respondents who own neither a credit card nor a nonprepaid debit card made almost 9 in 10 of their in-person payments with cash, on average. The median share of cash purchases was 100 percent.
  • Diary respondents who own at least one credit card and one nonprepaid debit card make about one-third of their in-person payments with cash, on average. The median share was 20 percent.

Oz goes on to calculate the cost to the cash payers who do not have credit or nonprepaid debit cards of switching from cash to a prepaid card. He finds that, all things being equal, for some consumers, using cash would have to cost twice as much as using a prepaid card for the cash users to be indifferent to switching. Oz's conclusion: "A complete transition to cashless stores imposes a measureable burden on consumers who do not have credit or [nonprepaid] debit cards." For perspective, 8.5 percent of respondents with household income below the U.S. median ($61,000) did not have a credit card or nonprepaid debit card in 2017, according to the diary.

As this research shows, cash is important to some consumers. The cashless society could be on a collision course with reality.

June 3, 2019 in cards, consumer protection, credit cards, currency | Permalink

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March 18, 2019


The Patriots of the Payments Landscape

Last February, the New England Patriots and their future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, won their sixth Super Bowl title since 2002. Over this 17-year period, they have played for the National Football League title nine times. In college football, a similar scenario has emerged, with two teams (the University of Alabama and Clemson University) winning seven out of the last 10 collegiate football national titles. It is proving to be very difficult to upend the dominant players in this sport, and many football fans and pundits believe that such domination makes the overall sport less interesting (especially if your favorite team isn’t Alabama, Clemson, or the Patriots). They think it’s bad for the sport and argue it would be better to see more variety in championship teams. As I think about that perspective, my mind drifts to a payments conversation that I am often a part of in both business and social settings: Where are payments going to be in the next three to five years?

While it would be much "more entertaining" in my social settings to be able to discuss some great shift in payments on the horizon, the fact is that right now payments is in a place similar to football’s. Card-based payments are sitting on top of the non-cash-based payments world and will be difficult to dethrone anytime soon. According to the Federal Reserve Payments Study 2016 (the last report that provided annual estimates for both automated clearinghouse (ACH) and check payments), card payments, by number of transactions, made up 72 percent of noncash payments. Now the latest figures from the payments study’s 2018 Annual Supplement report reveal that there were 123.5 billion card transactions in 2017, a figure representing robust growth of 10.1 percent from 2016. The report also highlights that, during this 2016–17 period, the number of network ACH payment transactions grew at an accelerated pace of 5.7 percent while large-institution check payments declined in number of transactions at an accelerated pace of 4.8 percent. The Federal Reserve is currently conducting its triennial payments study, which will provide updated national estimates on all noncash payments for 2018.

In the future, we might be dipping cards more often, tapping contactless cards, or even tapping our phones more, but it’s hard to envision a new payment channel making much headway in the next three to five years. Cards just have too big of a share and are experiencing accelerating growth. Consumers are not only accustomed to using them, but they also find that cards work very efficiently for them. And just like the football fans and pundits who talk or write about the need for different champions in the football world, payments professionals and pundits are enamored with writing about and discussing how blockchain, distributed ledger technology, faster payments, or some other brave, new technology are going to be the next frontier in payments. And you know, they might be right one day, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, certainly not before Mr. Brady finds his way into the Hall of Fame.

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

 

March 18, 2019 in credit cards, debit cards, emerging payments, fintech, innovation | Permalink

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February 4, 2019


So, How Often Do You Dip?

Remember how s-l-o-w dipping your payment card seemed when you were shopping back in 2015? Molasses? Honey? The dregs of the ketchup bottle? These days, I'm dipping more—that is, inserting my card into a chip reader—and complaining about it less. (I don't have a contactless card, so tapping isn't yet an option for me.) I still think swiping is faster, but familiarity means that dipping bugs me less. And it's become rare for me to encounter a jerry-rigged chip reader with the insert slot blocked by cardboard or duct tape, forcing me to swipe instead.

Turns out my shopping experiences—dipping more—line up with new data released by the Federal Reserve Payments Study in December 2018. The study reports some information on how in-person general-purpose card payments were authenticated in the United States in 2017.

For the first time, more than half of these payments by value were chip-authenticated in 2017. In contrast, just three percent of general-purpose card payments used chips in 2015—hence, my lack of familiarity with dipping back in the day. Because contactless chip cards were in use before the EMV-based dipping method began to take off in 2015, these data are an approximation of the increasing use of dipping, not an exact measure.

The chart below is based on figure 8 in the Federal Reserve Payments Study: 2018 Annual Supplement; it shows the substantial uptake in chip authentication at the point of sale from 2016 to 2017. (Check out the supplement for more detail.)

By-value-shares-of-in-person-general-purpose

Note: Chip payments were a negligible fraction in 2012.
Source: Federal Reserve Payments Study data (available here and here)

By number, more than 40 percent of general-purpose card payments were chip-authenticated. By card type, credit card payments are most likely to be chip-authenticated and prepaid card payments are least likely to be chip-authenticated (see the chart below). Prepaid cards are less likely to be chip-enabled, certainly a factor in the low shares of chip authentication, in part because of a business decision not to go to the expense of adding chips to low-value cards.

Shares-of-in-person-general-purpose-card-chart

By this time next year, my view of dipping could have changed again. A large card issuer has announced that all its credit cards will be tap-to-pay (that is, contactless) by mid-2019, so it's possible that my dipping will go the way of swiping.

For me, it feels more natural and faster to insert a chip card than it did a year ago. How about you?

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

 

February 4, 2019 in authentication, cards, chip-and-pin, credit cards, debit cards, EMV, payments study | Permalink

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January 22, 2019


Why Are Millennials So Risk-Averse?

Although millennials have been known to be the most charitable age group compared to earlier generations, they are, ironically, holding their money very close when it comes to taking financial risks. According to a recent study from the Federal Reserve, millennials are less well off than previous generations of young adults. They tend to have higher levels of student debt, lower incomes, and fewer assets to their name. In addition, millennials have grown up watching various financial crises in the United States and around the world, including the bursting of the housing bubble, the dot-com collapse, and the Great Recession. The last crisis was unfortunately around the time this generation began entering the workforce. Dealing with these financial obstacles has negatively impacted their attitude towards financial risk-taking, including investing and even opening up a new credit card. A 2017 survey, for example, found that millennials are more afraid of credit card debt than of dying or war.



Source: credible.com, "Survey: Millennials Fear Credit Card Debt  More Than Threat of War and Dying"

Millennials’ tend to see credit cards—mistakenly—only as one more way to take on additional debt. But are they doing themselves a disservice by not taking advantage of an opportunity to quickly build up or improve their credit? Doing so could better enable them to qualify for a loan to purchase a home or start a new business. Furthermore, using credit cards wisely could actually help millennials save money in the long run through rewards and cash-back programs. And when it comes to investments, millennials are opting out of long-term investments like mutual funds, preferring instead to spend their money on immediate experiences, such as traveling and going to concerts, where they can see the "return on their investment" instantly.

The misconceptions and overall distrust in the financial system from this generation speak to a need for more millennial-focused financial education tools and advisers, especially those who understand the struggles of this generation as they navigate through mounds of student debt. Tools and advice that are more dedicated to millennials’ specific needs—whether it’s through a millennial-focused financial management gaming app or a generation Y robo adviser—would go a long way toward helping millennials increase their financial literacy and begin to trust the financial system. The Federal Reserve has many financial education tools. For example, the Atlanta Fed offers financial tips, updated monthly, in the Atlanta Fed’s digital magazine Economy Matters. And check out these resources from the St. Louis Fed:

With some financial education, this generation might gain greater confidence and take more risks with their money so they could build more wealth.

Photo of Catherine Thaliath By Catherine Thaliath, project management expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

 

January 22, 2019 in credit cards, debit cards | Permalink

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