The shift in how people want to pay: Why the movement from cash to card is accelerating

PaymentEye spoke exclusively with Mark Collins, MD of Europe at TNS, on how the payments ecosystem varies between borders in Europe and why the use of cash is still prevalent for several businesses.

Tell us about your role as MD of Europe for TNS’ Payments Division.

The key objective of my role is to enable and facilitate business growth across all our European businesses. We have an extensive network with offices based in the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain and Germany, and our reach includes customers in the Nordics, Benelux and Eastern European countries as well as in places such as Greece, Switzerland and Austria. This creates an active and varied role in selling, customer relationships, and in supporting the sales effort across the region.

I also oversee financial compliance and work closely with our delivery and operations teams to make sure that everything we sign up to do is achievable. This ensures that our actions are accretive and beneficial to our business and clients, as well as being in line with our global strategic plan.

What challenges do you see in the European payments infrastructure?

I enjoy working across the varied European market as there can be  new payments-related regulatory or compliance challenges every day. Sometimes these requirements are subject to different points of view, for example, take consumer payment habits.

If you are looking from the acquirer’s point of view, there’s a definite shift in how people want to pay. The movement from cash to card is accelerating, yet there’s still a lot of cash in the system. People are always looking for convenient ways to support their payment activity and we see increasing adoption of mobile payments, wearables and even biometrics.

TNS’ role is to make it easy not only for the service providers, but also the consumers to adapt to new technologies. One of the biggest challenges in the European payments infrastructure is that there isn’t much uniformity between borders. Uniformity would allow the same solutions to be deployed with the same business partner in various regions, giving rise to significant efficiency gains, a consistent level of customer service and improved speed of delivery.

How does TNS combine both innovation and technology?

We have always created our capabilities on what we call a seamless and borderless network. One of the unique aspects of working with TNS is that we have no geographic barrier to where we ultimately provide the service.

In other words, by contracting with us customers can manage services in any jurisdiction. Working with TNS removes the burden of establishing multiple relationships in different countries, which is not only critical for businesses serving customers who quickly and easily cross the internal borders of the European Union, but is of increasing importance as the global population becomes more mobile and we welcome significant numbers of visitors from North America and Asia. European businesses need to be able to capitalize on this custom by being able to accept foreign payments cards and handle transactions which need to route back to a growing variety of banks, acquirers and processors in other countries.

TNS does not seek to be a technology pioneer or set the agenda for the payments industry when it comes to evolving technologies – we focus our creativity and innovation on allowing businesses to work with us and successfully grow. We strive to smooth the path to technology change and international expansion by taking the pain points away when a company is trying to work in different technologies and in different jurisdictions.

We’re referred to as an agnostic provider of services: You tell us how you want to deliver the message from your terminal or host, how you want the message delivered to its destination and we do everything in between.

The UK and Ireland markets are quite mature in the payment ecosystem; does this have an impact on any other European regions?

The UK and Ireland are certainly very mature markets, but both are still very heavily cash dominant business environments.

If you look at other parts of Europe, for example the Mediterranean, cash is even more prevalent. When you look at markets like Benelux, they are much more advanced in terms of their use of cards and driving cash out of circulation. Sweden is making great strides to be a cashless society. I think these countries will be the ones to watch over the coming years.

Cardholder penetration in the UK has certainly increased, and cardholder usage is continuing to grow. Adoption of contactless has been very high in England, albeit driven regionally.

Maturity is not the only influencer. Some change is driven by technology, some driven by consumer behaviour, and some of it is driven by regulation. It’s also important to remember the impact of culture. For example, every market has new entrants, all of which are different and these can easily change market dynamics, particularly in a region such as Europe where cultural habits also vary between countries.

Take Greece: capital controls have driven significant consumer and business behaviours. This has become obligatory rather than something that stores choose to do. That’s driving a huge increase in traffic in that market.

What makes TNS stand out in the payments industry?

Our basic ethos is that TNS works to make life easier for the retailer and acquiring community. Every retailer that accepts electronic payments, either in a face to face or eCommerce environment, needs to have a partner to manage those services on their behalf, so we get to sit in the middle essentially providing an ecosystem with connections to all sides.

That can be from a terminal to an acquirer; it can be from an acquirer to a partner; it can be from an acquirer to a scheme; it can be from a scheme to a scheme. Our sole focus is to support growth of the payments ecosystem, by providing services which drive efficiency and availability.

We can bring a lot of value by enabling different partners to work seamlessly with each other, regardless of jurisdiction. We’re always looking beyond just the core payments area to see where else we can use our technologies to leverage our capabilities.

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