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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

October 15, 2018


An Ounce of Prevention

Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and after attending late September's FinovateFall 2018 Conference in New York City, I find this aphorism as relevant today as it was in 1735. The conference showcased 80 demonstrations of leading-edge financial technology over two days with presenters representing five continents. Demos touched on a wide range of technologies and solutions, including game-based marketing and financial education; "lifestyle" mobile banking applications that integrate social media, news, e-commerce, and financial management to deliver personalized recommendations; lending and home buying; and integration with intelligent personal assistants. What stood out to me most were the many possible technologies offered to authenticate users, cards, and mobile transactions, each with the potential to prevent payments fraud.

As card payments continue to dominate consumer transactions in the United States, usage is increasing in other countries, and remote purchases gather steam, the demand for fast, reliable identity and payment authentication has also grown. So has the even greater demand from consumers for frictionless payments. But how does technology reward the good guys, keep out the bad ones, and prevent cart abandonment or consumer frustration? Here are just a few examples of how some of the fintech companies at the conference propose to satisfy these competing priorities.

SMS—While one company proclaimed that SMS was designed for teenagers and never intended for use as a secure messaging means, another proposed a three-factor authentication method that combined the use of a PIN, Bluetooth communication, and facial recognition via SMS sent to account holders to identify a possible fraud event in real time. Enhancing this technology was artificial intelligence that analyzes facial characteristics such as smiling or frowning.

Biometrics—Developers demonstrated numerous biometrics options, including those using unique, multifactor, non-gesture-based biometric characteristics such as the speed and pressure we use to swipe our mobile devices. Also demonstrated was the process of linking facial recognition to cards for both in-person and e-commerce purchases, as well as "liveness" tests that access the mobile phone's gyroscope to detect slight physical movements not present when a bot is involved. Another liveness test demonstrated was one in which people use their mobile devices to shoot videos of themselves reciting a number or performing randomized movements. Video content is then checked against identity verification documents, such as driver's license photos, that account holders used at setup. The developers noted that using video for liveness testing helps prevent fraudsters from using stolen photos or IDs in the authentication process.

Passwords—Some developers declared that behavioral biometrics would bring about the death of the password, and others offered services that search the corners of the dark web for compromised credentials. Companies presented solutions including a single, unique identification across all platforms and single-use passwords generated automatically at each login. One of the most interesting password technologies displayed involved the use of colors, emojis, numbers, and logos. This password system, which could be as short as four characters, uses a behind-the-scenes "end code," where the definition of individual password characters is unique to each company employing the technology, rendering the password useless in the event of a data breach.

As I sat in the audience fascinated by so many of the demos, I wished I could go to my app store to download and use some of these technologies right away; the perceived security and convenience, combined with ease of use, tugged at the early adopter in me. Alas, most are white-labeled solutions to be deployed by financial institutions, card networks, and merchant acquirers rather than offered for direct consumer use. But I am buoyed by the fact that so many solutions are abiding by the words of Ben Franklin and seek to apply an ounce of prevention.

Photo of Ian Perry-Okara  By Nancy Donahue, project manager in the Retail Payments Risk Forum  at the Atlanta Fed

 

October 15, 2018 in biometrics, cards, cybersecurity, emerging payments, fintech, innovation | Permalink

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September 24, 2018


Racing Ahead in the Wireless Space

This past Sunday, Eliud Kipchoge smashed the marathon world record at the Berlin Marathon, with a time of 2:01:39, shaving 1 minute 22 seconds off the previous world record. Though some running experts claim a marathon under two hours will never happen, I think elite runners will continue to push the speed envelope and we will witness a sub-two-hour marathon one day.

The marathon isn’t the only area where the speed envelope is being pushed. Another area, and the focus of today’s blog, is in the wireless space.

It was in 2002 when the first commercial 3G network launched in the United States. 3G made it possible for our phones to run applications using a global positioning system (GPS) or using videoconferencing, among other things. The second half of 2010 marked the first commercial launch of 4G in the United States, with many of the mobile network operators launching this service. 4G expanded on the speed of 3G and made it possible for consumers to access the web with their mobile devices, stream high-definition video, and connect Internet of Things devices.

Now, as we approach the fourth quarter of 2018, we are on the cusp of 5G networks, which will be 10 times as fast as our 4G networks. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article on 5G that sparked my interest in the topic, the speed of 5G networks will allow the proliferation of applications such as self-driving cars, virtual reality, and remote surgery. And this got me thinking, what impact will 5G have on the future of commerce, payments, and security?

I haven’t spent any time researching that last question, but no doubt there will be significant benefits and risks that 5G networks will introduce into retail payments. I can draw inspiration from one of my favorite cartoons, the Jetsons, and think ahead to what a Jetson house might look like in 2025: one that is filled with connected devices that communicate with not only us but also each other. Close your eyes and imagine a house with a robotic vacuum that communicates with a virtual home assistant when it needs new bags—and zero human interaction is needed in the process. Or imagine a vehicle that drives itself to the nearest gas station when the low-fuel light appears. Undoubtedly, this new faster-speed wireless world will create security threats that we have yet to face.

So as we at the Risk Forum think about the possibilities and new risks of a 5G world and its impact on commerce, payments, and security, what should we be paying attention to?

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

September 24, 2018 in data security, emerging payments, innovation | Permalink

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June 25, 2018


Down but Not Out

As I noted in my last post, consumer habits are sticky when it comes to cash. Despite the many ways to pay, consumers make almost one-third of payments (by number) in cash. But sometimes cash just isn't an option. You can't use cash to buy a snack on an airplane, for example. This week, I look at factors about merchants that constrain consumers' payment options, including their unwillingness to accept cash for in-person payments or their inability to accept cash for online payments. (My colleague Doug King touched on cashless locations a couple of weeks ago.)

At the in-person point of sale, merchants' willingness to accept a payment instrument could affect the prevalence of cash. Consumers obviously cannot use cash when merchants will not accept it. Recent headlines (here and here) suggest that some quick-service restaurants, coffee shops, and food trucks may be growing reluctant to accept cash. As an example, here's a picture of a sign on a San Francisco food cart in late May.

20180612_RPO_TOP_Cashless_image The flip side of a merchant's unwillingness to accept cash is the merchant's willingness to accept card payments for ever-lower dollar values. And indeed, the average dollar value of card payments is dropping. For instance, the average dollar value of an in-person, non-prepaid debit card purchase fell from $35 in 2012 to $32 in 2016 (Federal Reserve Payments Study: 2017 Annual Supplement). This trend could indicate that merchants are increasingly agreeable to accepting cards for small-dollar transactions.

Consumers show they are aware of evolving merchant acceptance. The 2017 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice reported that consumers rate credit and debit cards highest for acceptance, with cash coming in third. The survey asked respondents to rate how likely each payment method is to be accepted by stores, companies, online merchants, and other people or organizations.

At the online point of sale, cash is not an option. (However, Doug mentioned in that same post that at least one online retailer is trying to make cash possible.) The share of purchases made online is still small—just about 12 percent of retail goods and services by number (2017 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice). Yet over the past four years that share has steadily increased. Data about remote card purchases in the Federal Reserve Payments Study (2017 Annual Supplement ) show the growing importance of online purchases. As Jessica Washington noted in her post in early May, remote card purchases grew more rapidly from 2015 to 2016 than did in-person card purchases, measured by both number and value.

Despite these developments, cash continues to dominate quick purchases. In October 2016, consumers paid for about half of their fast food purchases with cash. They used cash for 62 percent of convenience store purchases (2016 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice).

Cash has had staying power over decades of technological innovation. It may be down, but it isn't out.

To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, visit 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 Claire Greene By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

 

June 25, 2018 in cards, currency, debit cards, emerging payments, mobile payments, online retail | Permalink

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June 18, 2018


Thinking about My Grandmother and Future-Proofing Payments

I often reminisce about times I spent with my grandmother. She passed away when I was only nine years old, but fortunately left me with a host of memories that I cherish. How I loved our trips to Walden Bookstore in the Hickory Ridge Mall whenever she'd visit us in my hometown of Memphis. We'd pick out a book or two and then return home to read them together. I often wonder what she would think about my family's book shopping and reading habits today. Online bookstores, e-readers, and audiobooks downloaded or streamed onto mobile phones would be completely foreign to her as the technology behind these was not even around during her lifetime! How could she ever have known how the world of books would evolve?

And this brings me to the notion of future-proofing payments. Mobile payments just might be the hottest topic when payment professionals get together to discuss the future of payments. It makes sense to think that maybe one day our mobile phones will replace our debit and credit cards and maybe even cash. But to date, the mobile phone has not done for cards and cash what it has done for mp3 players, digital cameras, and portable navigation devices, to list just a few things. Perhaps we need more time for mobile phones to transform payments—or could it be that payments as we know them today will be made over by a technology or device that is not yet widely available or even conceived? Is it possible that the primary payment methods we use today can withstand the test of time and remain our primary methods for many more years? Thinking about my grandmother and books, maybe future-proofing payments is a losing proposition and we should be nimble, ready to adapt to whatever changes come our way.

Join me for the Atlanta Fed's Retail Payments Risk Forum's latest Talk About Payments webinar on Thursday, June 28, from 1 to 2 p.m. (ET), when I will explore the future of mobile payments at the point of sale by first considering the debit card's long rise to prominence. Participation in the webinar is complimentary, but you must register in advance. After completing registration, you will receive a confirmation email with all the log-in and toll-free call-in information.

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

June 18, 2018 in banks and banking, emerging payments, mobile banking, mobile payments | Permalink

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June 11, 2018


Consumer Habits and Cash Use

As my colleague Doug King pointed out last month, cash is not going away anytime soon, Yanny/Laurel notwithstanding. By number, almost one-third of U.S. consumer payments were made in cash in 2017. Every year since 2008, the Survey of Consumer Payment Choice has found that cash is consumers' most popular or next-most-popular way to pay.

Many factors underlie cash's resilience, including access, current shopping habits, consumer ratings, and demographics.

Universal access. Paypal's chief financial officer commented to the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, "I don't think we will ever be entirely cashless, maybe in large part because I don't know if we will ever be in a world that every person has a smartphone or a mobile device."

Shopping habits. Most purchases—nine in 10—are made in person, not online (2015 Survey of Consumer Payment Choice). And when shopping in person, consumers prefer cash for small-dollar transactions. Two-thirds of U.S. consumers report that they prefer cash for in-person payments of less than $10 (2016 Dairy of Consumer Payment Choice). Forty percent prefer cash for in-person payments between $10 and $25.

Consumer ratings. Consumers say cash is the most cost-effective way to pay. The Survey of Consumer Payment Choice asks respondents to rate the cost of using a particular payment method, taking into account that fees, penalties, interest paid, etc. can raise the cost of a payment method, while discounts and rewards can lower it.

Demographics. People with fewer payment options use cash. That includes low-income people who have less access to credit cards as well as people without bank accounts who have no access to non-prepaid debit cards. It also includes millennials, who used cash for almost 30 percent of their payments in 2016 (Diary of Consumer Payment Choice).

You probably already know that card payments dwarf cash payments—almost 60 percent of consumer payments are made with some type of card, whether it's debit, prepaid, or credit. Yet cash persists. Recently, a new acquaintance told me he "never" uses cash. As evidence, he reported that he had no cash in his pocket, explaining "that's because I used my last $2 to buy coffee this morning."

Hmm. What does this say about the health of cash? What Dave Lott wrote in 2016 is still true today: not dead yet.

Next post: Merchant acceptance and the use of cash

To learn more about consumer payment choices and preferences, visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s new consumer payments web page that houses a variety of surveys, studies, and research reports on the topic.

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

June 11, 2018 in cards, currency, debit cards, emerging payments, mobile payments, 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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November 27, 2017


How Intelligent Is Artificial Intelligence?

At the recent Money20/20 conference, sessions on artificial intelligence (AI) joined those on friction in regulatory and technological innovation in dominating the agenda. A number of panels highlighted the competitive advantages AI tools offer companies. It didn't matter if the topic was consumer marketing, fraud prevention, or product development—AI was the buzzword. One speaker noted the social good that could come from such technology, pointing to the work of a Stanford research team trying to identify individuals with a strong likelihood of developing diabetes by running an automated review of photographic images of their eyes. Another panel discussed the privacy and ethical issues around the use of artificial intelligence.

But do any of these applications marketed as AI pass Alan Turing's 1950s now-famous Turing test defining true artificial intelligence? Turing was regarded as the father of computer science. It was his efforts during World War II that led a cryptographic team to break the Enigma code used by the Germans, as featured in the 2014 movie The Imitation Game. Turing once said, "A computer would deserve to be called intelligent if it could deceive a human into believing that it was human." An annual competition held since 1991, aims to award a solid 18-karat gold medal and a monetary prize of $100,000 for the first computer whose responses are indistinguishable from a real human's. To date, no one has received the gold medal, but every year, a bronze medal and smaller cash prize are given to the "most humanlike."

Incidentally, many vendors seem to use artificial intelligence as a synonym for the terms deep learning and machine learning. Is this usage of AI mostly marketing hype for the neural network technology developed in the mid-1960s, now greatly improved thanks to the substantial increase in computing power? A 2016 Forbes article by Bernard Marr provides a good overview of the different terms and their applications.

My opinion is that none of the tools in the market today meet the threshold of true artificial intelligence based on Turing's criteria. That isn't to say the lack of this achievement should diminish the benefits that have already emerged and will continue to be generated in the future. Computing technology certainly has advanced to be able to handle complex mathematical and programmed instructions at a much faster rate than a human.

What are your thoughts?

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

 

 

November 27, 2017 in emerging payments, innovation, payments | Permalink

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November 20, 2017


Webinar: Key Payment Events in 2017

This year has been an exciting one for the payments industry. Topics such as block chain and distributed ledger, card-not-present fraud, and chip-card migration continued to be in the news, and new subjects such as behavioral biometrics and machine learning/artificial intelligence made their way into the spotlight.

In the past, the Retail Payments Risk Forum team has coauthored a year-end post identifying what they believed to have been the major payment events of the year. This year, we are doing something a little bit different and hope you will like the change. Taking advantage of our new webinar series, Talk About Payments, the RPRF team will be sharing our perspectives through a round table discussion in a live webinar. We encourage financial institutions, retailers, payments processors, law enforcement, academia, and other payments system stakeholders to participate in this webinar. Participants will be able to submit questions during the webinar.

The webinar will be held on Thursday, December 14, from 1 to 2 p.m. (ET). Participation in the webinar is complimentary, but you must register in advance. To register, click on the TAP webinar link. After you complete your registration, you will receive a confirmation email with all the log-in and toll-free call-in information. A recording of the webinar will be available to all registered participants in various formats within a couple of weeks.

We look forward to you joining us on December 14 and sharing your perspectives on the major payment events that took place in 2017.

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

November 20, 2017 in banks and banking, biometrics, emerging payments, EMV, innovation | Permalink

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November 6, 2017


My Fingertips, My Data

I am not a user of old-style financial services. While I remember learning how to balance a checkbook, I never had to do it, since I never had checks. Recently, my financial adviser suggested several mobile applications that could help me manage my finances in a way that made sense to me. I researched them, evaluated a few, and decided which one I thought would be the best. I'm always excited to try new apps, hopeful that this one will be the one that will simplify my life.

As I clicked through the process of opening an account with my new financial management app, I entered the name of my financial institution (FI), where I have several accounts: checking, savings, money market, and line of credit. The app identified my credit union (which has over $5 billion in assets and ranks among the top 25) and entered my online banking credentials—and then I was brought up short. The app was asking for my routing and account number. As I said, I don't own any checks and I don't know how to find this information on my credit union's mobile app. (I do know where to find it using an internet browser.) I stopped creating my account at this point and have yet to finish it up.

I later discovered that if I banked with one of the larger banks, for which custom APIs have been negotiated, I would not have been asked for a routing and account number. I would have simply entered my online login details, and I'd be managing my finances with my fingertips already. I started digging into why my credit union doesn't have full interoperability.

In the United States, banking is a closed system. APIs are built as custom integrations, with each financial institution having to consent for third parties to access customer data. However, many FIs haven't been approached, or integration is bottlenecked at the core processor level. It is bottlenecked because if they deny access to customer data (which some do), the FI has no choice in the matter.

New Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) guidance on data sharing and aggregation addresses the accessibility and ownership issue. The upshot of the CFPB's guidance is that consumers own their financial data and FIs should allow sharing of the data with third-party companies. But should doesn't equal will or can.

The CFPB guidance, though not a rule, is in the same vein as the European Union's PSD2 (or Directive on Payments Services II) regulation, whereby FIs must provide access to account information with the consumer's permission. This platform, which represents an open banking approach, standardizes APIs that banks can proactively make available to third parties for plug-and-play development.

While open banking is a regulatory requirement in Europe, market competition is driving North American banks to be very interested in implementing open banking here. An Accenture survey recently found that 60 percent of North American banks already have an open banking strategy, compared to 74 percent of European banks.

It is no surprise that bankers are becoming more comfortable with the shift-in-ownership concept. FIs have been increasingly sharing their customers' data with third parties. Consumer data are what fuel organizations like credit agencies, payment fraud databases, identity and authentication solutions, and anomaly detection services, to name a few. As these ownership theories change, we will also need to see new approaches to security. What are your thoughts about open banking?

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

 

 

November 6, 2017 in banks and banking, data security, emerging payments, innovation, mobile banking | Permalink

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September 25, 2017


Fed Payments Webinar Series Launching

One of the comments we consistently received when we conducted the Mobile Banking/Payments Survey last fall was the desire for the Atlanta Federal Reserve to provide more educational opportunities on current payment technologies and issues. Not only have small and mid-sized financial institutions expressed this need, but so have consumer advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies. Educational efforts, along with research, on payment risk issues are at the core of the Retail Payments Risk Forum's overall mission.

In response to these requests, the Risk Forum is launching a webinar series called Talk About Payments (TAP). The TAP webinars will supplement this blog, forums and conferences we convene, and other works we publish on the Forum's web pages. The current plan is for the webinars to be presented once a quarter. Financial institutions, retailers, payment processors, law enforcement, academia, and other payment system stakeholders are all welcome to participate in the webinars. Participants can submit questions during the event.

We will have our first webinar—titled "How Safe Are Mobile Payments?"—on Thursday, October 5, from 1 to 2 p.m. (ET). The webinar will cover such topics as mcommerce growth, mobile wallets, tokenization, fraud attack points, and risk mitigation tools and tactics.

Participation in the webinar is complimentary, but you must register in advance. To register, go to the TAP webinar web page. After you complete your registration, you will receive a confirmation email with all the log-in and toll-free call-in information.

We hope you will join us for our first webinar on October 5, and for our future webinars. If there are any particular topics you would like for us to cover in future webinars, 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

 

 

September 25, 2017 in emerging payments, mobile banking, mobile payments, payments risk | Permalink

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