Navigating the Wild West of Payments - From a Community Banking Perspective

Chris Slane, Vice President of Cards & Payment Services, Robins Financial Credit Union

Chris Slane, Vice President of Cards & Payment Services, Robins Financial Credit Union

The pace of payment innovation has never been more profound and intense as it has been in the last ten years. Consumers today benefit from an array of choices from tapand-go using their mobile device and secure tokenization to next-generation contactless readers that send RFID signals to POS terminals. And investments in mobile-based P2P payments through the likes of Zelle and Venmo are getting a foothold. Think about it. Just a dozen years ago, these enhancements weren’t even in production, much less having EMV-chip-enabled cards. Payment technology has undergone a paradigm shift and is poised to unsettle the status quo.

What is equally profound is the changing mix of players in this space. A handful of networks and processors has long dominated payments in the US, but that model is slowly evolving. Alternative payment providers are springing up with new payment technology that poses risks to the tried-and-true payment rails. Consider that, according to Statista, there are nearly 5,800, so-called financial technology startups in the Americas. And guess which categories are getting most of the attention? Mobile wallets and payments. 

Analysts estimate that FinTechstartups can eat up to $280 billion in bank payment revenue by 2025, according to Accenture. That should raise some eyebrows. Companies like Ripple are developing blockchain-based global settlements, and startups like Plaid connect multiple payment apps to consumer’s bank accounts driving payments across the ACH rail.

 Seek those applications that provide members with greater transaction detail combining simplified GUI interfaces with frictionless payments. Your form factor should be crisp, clean and simple 

So here’s the dilemma. How does a community bank or credit union compete in this new age? The top 10 banks can undoubtedly make substantial investments in payment technology, and in many cases, they are building some of that future technology or acquiring it right now. For community financial institutions with smaller war chests, the playbook looks different. The days of giving great service (while still important) cannot fully counter the need to keep pace with change. Here are four things community financial institutions need to consider. 

• Deepen Relationships with Partners. Startups are incubating great technology, but are having challenges cracking into markets. As a former executive in a payments startup, getting a handful of clients willing to test your solution isn’t easy. Take the time to influence your current partners, and if innovation isn’t their priority, there are several consortiums to plug into, such as FintechAccel and ICBA to help connect you to best-of-breed FinTech. Keep in mind that many large processors are FinTechs themselves, so get their product roadmaps and influence their investment decisions.

• Pivot on Things that Matter. Let’s be honest. Payment innovation doesn’t always produce a positive ROI since consumeradoption takes time. Keep your eye on the end-user and not the flashy new widget. Consumer usage patterns, as evidenced in your transaction data, will tip you off on how they’re testing new payment channels; track it regularly. Meet consumers where they are headed, and be prudent enough to discern what has legs and what does not. Pivot on enhancements to the cardholder experience, reduced friction, efficiency gains, or improved spend behavior.

• Self-Source the Golden Nuggets. Open banking is revolutionizing the industry. Application Program Interface (APIs) creates efficiencies with how software programs communicate, thereby enabling two different platforms to interact. In the years ahead, many FinTech companies and long-standing payment processors will have APIs that link their respective technologies giving community financial institutions access to a broader array of platforms and functionality. Open banking is leveling the playing field and driving competition. Source new and great technology, then push your partner to integrate with APIs. 

 Invest in Data Analytics. Nothing is more nebulous in its interpretation than ‘data analytics.’ A report or flat-file should not be confused with analytics. Finding patterns in your data that create new learning, leveraging data to predict cardholder behavior, or conducting cardholder segmentation to identify new product opportunities are classical analytical use cases. Big banks are doing this today and delivering best-fit payment solutions to customers. A robust analytics solution will keep you well-informed of shifting payment trends from your own transaction data, and help you know what investments to make. This isn’t cheap. Expect a large investment, but plan appropriately to maximize the return.

• Enhance Digital Offerings, but Protect Service. There’s the right balance between improving your digital footprint and enhancing your tried-and-true customer service. Both are equally important, and a good digital strategy that rules out improvements in branch operations or call centers is doomed to fail. Instead, choose an integrated path that allows your brick-and-mortar teams to enhance service with expanded digital offerings. Seek those applications that provide members with greater transaction detail combining simplified GUI interfaces with frictionless payments. Your form factor should be crisp, clean, and simple.

In the end, we cannot resist change, and good service alone won’t shield against the pace of innovation and shifting consumer behavior. Blockbuster is the poster child here – the self-serve kiosk killed them. Keep your eyes on what matters, and what matters to your cardholders. Raise your head above the operational day-today and see where your cardholders and the market are headed. Just because you’re working in a smaller geographic footprint doesn’t mean you won’t feel the effects. Imagine what the next dozen years will bring. Do you have a plan? 

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