Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Payments in Their Sights: How Banks Can Stay Relevant in the High-Stakes Payments Game

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Payments in Their Sights: How Banks Can Stay Relevant in the High-Stakes Payments Game

Article excerpt

There is big money at stake in small digital payments. The annual transaction value of online, mobile, and contactless payments will reach $4.7 trillion by 2019, up from just over $2.5 trillion this year, predicts Juniper Research, and nonbanks are taking a slice of the payments pie.

Every second, PayPal transacts $7,001 in payments. The dollar amount loaded onto the Starbucks mobile payment app as well as Starbucks' prepaid gift cards is more than the combined dollar amount of deposits in the smallest 1,000 U.S. banks, according to Richard Crone of Crone Consulting LLC.

But there is even more at stake than transaction values. In addition to losing out on potential revenue, banks face disintermediation from new payments system entrants that effectively insert themselves between the financial institution and its customers. Google Wallet, Apple Passbook, and PayPal allow customers to make payments without ever pulling out a bank-issued credit card. And a surprisingly high percentage of consumers (80%) recognize that digital wallets can replace other payments methods, according to Thrive Analytics.

Many banks are questioning where exactly they fit into the digital payments ecosystem and whether they can take back ground they lost to nonbanks. While it is likely that banks will retain their position as the keeper of deposits, they wonder if they will be able to engage with their customers pre- and post transaction.

And perhaps most important: Can banks continue to play a leading role in facilitating the adoption of new payments, setting security standards, and leveraging customer data to improve the customer experience as they have in the past? Finally comes the related question: How can regulated banks compete on a level playing field with less regulated nonbanks?

Jeff Plagge, president and CEO of $1.6 billion-assets Northwest Financial Corp., Arnolds Park, Iowa, warns bankers to be vigilant to new payments providers endearing themselves to bank customers.

"We need to pay attention not just to the dollar amount of payments traveling through nonbank players, but to whether or not these payment options bypass the bank in the eyes of the customer," says Plagge, who is ABA's 201314 chairman

Some industry watchers believe banks should strategically partner with third-party payments systems innovators to stay relevant. Other aren't convinced that banks actually need to partner with payments players outside the banking industry.

"We don't have to jump in with these other folks to be innovative," Plagge notes. "Leveraging our existing partnerships with bank technology vendors will ensure that innovations are secure and protect our customers."

Innovation vs. regulation

Few would disagree that banks are under more regulatory scrutiny than nonbanks, and that regulatory reality requires banks to perform a balancing act between supporting innovative payments solutions that consumers want, yet ensuring consumer protection.

"Our fear is that if nonbank payments systems go off the rails, the blowback will be on banks," says Steve Kenneally, vice-president of ABA's Center for Regulatory Compliance. "We want to make sure everyone is protected no matter what payment system they are using."

The ABA isn't trying to restrict payments innovation, notes Plagge, but is trying to ensure that new payments players are held to the same high standards as banks, including capital requirements. "If consumer protection is important, then it should be important to every participant in payments," contends Plagge. "We're all for innovation, but it can't be a one-way street."

Kenneally echoes Plagge's sentiment. "Banks provide a very important safety net in the payments system. Similar protections should apply to emerging payment systems as well." He adds, "Consumers need to know they have recourse in case something goes wrong."

Indeed, there is a major component of trust in the payments system, asserts Spencer Jones, head of digital channels at $235 billion-assets TD Bank. …

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