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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 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

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December 17, 2018


Card Fraud Values Often above Average

Recent data from the Federal Reserve Payments Study remind me of my first experience with payments fraud as a 20-something college grad freshly arrived in Boston. I left my wallet in a conference room, and someone lifted my credit card. I still remember the metaphorical punch to the stomach when the telephone operator at the card company asked, "Did you spend $850 at Filene's Basement?" $850! That was more than twice my rent, and far more than I could conceive of spending at Boston's bargain hunters' paradise in a year, let alone on a one-night spree.

Decades later, the first thing I do to check my card and bank statements is to scan the amounts and pay attention to anything in the three digits. For noticing high-value card fraud, this is a pretty good habit.

That's because, on average, fraudulent card payments are for greater dollar values than nonfraudulent card payments. In 2016, the average value of a fraudulent credit card payment was $128, almost 50 percent more than $88 for a nonfraudulent credit card payment. For debit cards, the relationship was more pronounced: $75 for the average fraudulent payment, about twice the $38 average nonfraudulent payment, according to the Federal Reserve Payments Study.

Chart-average-value-per-payment-2016

Even to the noncriminal mind, this relationship makes sense: get as much value from the card before the theft or other unauthorized use is discovered. For a legitimate user, budgetary constraints (like mine way back when) and other considerations can come into play.

Interestingly, this relationship does not hold for remote payments. In 2016, the average dollar values of remote debit card payments, fraudulent and nonfraudulent, were the same: $68. And the average value of a nonfraudulent remote credit card payment, $151, exceeded that of a fraudulent remote credit card payment, $130. Why the switcheroo?

A couple of possibilities: Remote card payments include online bill payments, which often are associated with a verified street address and are of high value. So that could be pushing the non-fraudulent remote payments toward a high value relative to the fraudulent remote payments. Another factor could be that fraud detection methods used by ecommerce sites look for values that could be outliers, so perpetrators avoid making purchases that would trigger detection—and thus average values for remote fraud are closer to average values for remote purchases generally. But this is speculation. What do you think?

The relationships described here are depicted in figures 21 and 28 of the recent report of the Federal Reserve Payments Study, Changes in the U.S. Payments Fraud Landscape from 2012 to 2016. You can explore other relationships among average values of payments, and more, on the payments study web page.

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

December 17, 2018 in cards, cybercrime, cybersecurity, data security, debit cards, mobile banking, mobile payments, payments study | Permalink

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November 19, 2018


Smaller FIs Weigh In on Mobile Financial Services

I have previously written several posts on the Sixth District's 2016 Mobile Banking and Payments Survey results as well as the consolidated results of the 2016 survey involving financial institutions (FIs) in the Atlanta Fed's district and six other Federal Reserve districts. Readers will recall that the primary goal of the survey was to allow the Federal Reserve and industry stakeholders to better understand the status of financial institutions' strategies with regard to mobile banking and payments products and services.

As a follow-up to this work, the Federal Reserve districts of Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Richmond conducted a "quick-hit" survey in June 2018 of the FIs that did not respond to the detailed 2016 survey. The survey consisted of just five questions pertaining to mobile financial service offerings. It also gathered some demographic data. A total of 565 FIs responded, representing an 11.7 percent response rate. You can find a report that the Payment Strategies Group at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston prepared on the Boston Fed website.

As a group, the FIs responding to the 2018 survey were smaller in asset size than were respondents to the 2016 survey.

Chart-one

Some of the key takeaways in the report include:

  • Of the 2018 respondents, 88 percent of banks and 81 percent of credit unions currently offer mobile banking services or plan to offer them by the end of 2018.
  • Fifty-five percent of the respondents reported that more than 20 percent of their customers were active mobile banking users.
  • Surprisingly, 14 percent of the respondents indicated they have no plans to offer mobile banking services. All but one of the FIs that have no plans to offer mobile banking had assets under $500 million. These FIs were almost evenly split between credit unions (33) and banks (36).
  • Not tracking or being unwilling to reveal customer usage levels of mobile banking services remains an issue; 29 percent of the respondents did not answer the question. My opinion is that it's the latter reason, given that a standard reporting option of mobile banking systems is to be able to track enrollment and unique sign-on activity.
  • Offerings of mobile payment services continue to lag significantly behind mobile banking. Of the 2018 responses, 57 percent currently offer or plan to offer them, while 43 percent have no plans to offer them or were undecided.

We will be conducting the detailed Mobile Banking and Payments survey in early 2019 and look forward to sharing the results with you.

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

 

November 19, 2018 in mobile banking, mobile payments, payments study | Permalink

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October 29, 2018


Remote Card Fraud: A Growing Concern

Where's the money in card payments? Despite all we hear about e-commerce and other kinds of remote payments, in-person payments remain strong. The total dollar value of in-person card payments exceeded the total dollar value of remote payments in both 2015 and 2016. In-person payments were 56 percent of all card payments by value in 2016, and 58 percent in 2015. By number, the race is not even close: 78 percent of card payments were in person in 2016.

Graph-one

Looking at change from 2015 to 2016, however, another story could be emerging. When we consider the growth in the value of card payments, remote payments grew by 11 percent from 2015 to 2016, compared to about 3 percent growth by value for in-person card payments. By number, in-person card payments increased 5 percent and remote by 17 percent.

It wasn't only remote payments that grew from 2015 to 2016—so did remote fraud. In fact, it grew faster than remote payments did overall. Remote fraud by value grew more than three times faster than the value of remote payments—35 percent compared to 11 percent. By number, remote fraud grew about twice as fast—32 percent compared to 17 percent.

In contrast to the mix of remote and in-person card payments overall, where in-person payments still are the majority, fraudulent remote card payments were more than half of all fraudulent card payments by both value and number in 2016.

Graph-two

These data suggest that remote card payments fraud is likely to be of increasing concern for the U.S. payments system going forward. Additional data are included in the report at www.federalreserve.gov/paymentsystems/fr-payments-study.htm.

To learn more about payments fraud, you can sign up for the Talk About Payments webinar on November 1 at 11 a.m. (ET). This webinar is open to the public but you must register in advance to participate.

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

 

 

October 29, 2018 in cards, consumer fraud, debit cards, fraud, identity theft, mobile payments, online retail, payments study | 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 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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March 26, 2018


Convenience Always Wins, In One Form or Another

My colleagues and I often write about the frustration that security professionals have that consumer convenience will almost always win over the adoption of more secure practices. We've seen this over the decades with poor password and PIN management and the often lackadaisical approach consumers take to keeping their payment devices safe and secure. This post will take a slightly different tack—it will explore the influence convenience has on the payment card issuance strategy of U.S. financial institutions (FI) and how convenience always seems to win, though sometimes in unexpected ways.

When the various mobile pay wallets were being launched, many observers speculated that they might be the beginning of the end for plastic payment cards. Some, presuming that mobile was a more convenient way to pay, opined that the day would come when FIs would have no reason to continue issuing cards since everyone was going to be using their phones. Although adoption has been increasing, the reality is that mobile payments at the point of sale have been slow to gain traction. Recently released results of a survey of FIs in seven of the Federal Reserve Bank districts revealed that 75 percent of respondents thought it would be at least three years before consumer adoption rates of mobile payments would exceed 50 percent; 40 percent said it would take five years or longer. Consumer surveys consistently indicate that consumers aren't adopting mobile payments because they find their plastic payment card more convenient. So for mobile devices, convenience still has a ways to go.

Some financial-institution-owned ATM operators, continuing efforts to provide alternatives to plastic cards, have recently begun supporting cardless ATM transactions. With this service, you use your FI's mobile banking application to set up or stage an ATM withdrawal, identifying the account and amount to be dispensed. The details of the various technologies differ, but they all work like this: you go to the FI's ATM, select the cardless ATM function, and use a smartphone to either scan a QR bar code or enter a one-time transaction code. (Sometimes you may have to use a PIN.) Nice and convenient! And you don't have to worry about damaged or forgotten cards, or getting your card skimmed. We'll have to wait to see how consumers react to this feature's convenience.

Some FIs currently issue, or plan to issue, dual interface cards when it's time for customers to replace their existing chip card. While costlier to the FI, the new cards include a contactless feature that allows an NFC-enabled terminal such as an ATM or point-of-service device to read the data on the chip when you pass the card within a couple of inches of the reader. Contactless transactions, which are quite popular in Canada and Europe and greatly desired by mass transit systems in the United States, are faster. And we all know that faster means more convenience—right? Like cardless ATM transactions, contactless offers some security benefits. But merchant terminal acceptance remains a concern, just as it has been for the various pay wallet applications.

So it seems that convenience comes in different forms, and it appears that many FIs are betting that, like currency and checks, the plastic payment card is going to be around for quite some time. Perhaps that is the best strategy: offer a wide range of options and let the customers decide for themselves which are the most convenient.

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

March 26, 2018 in cards, debit cards, mobile banking, mobile payments | Permalink

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