Innovation and commoditisation: extracting value from the new era of payments

Consumers now expect easy and immediate payment services, no matter where they are or what they are buying, whatever the payment method. It may be symptomatic of the ‘age of instant gratification,’ but it also demonstrates how people value financial agility. This was highlighted by a recent system failure  with the UK’s Faster Payments System that caused mass inconvenience and frustration among consumers. Whether paying a friend back for last night’s dinner or sending emergency funds to family travelling overseas, the offerings of digital banks such as Monzo and Starling are testament to the industry’s efforts to keep up with rapidly evolving consumer expectations. This trend has now also filtered into the business world.

As global business and cross-border transactions have proliferated, there are significant implications for commercial customers who rely on banks and payments providers to provide a flawless service faster than ever. The technological saturation of the financial services industry has been met with an increasing affinity for risk amongst business customers. Churn has never been easier. If one bank cannot meet their needs, customers can leave, and it has never been easier for them to switch financial providers in a congested market. In essence, the evolution of the payments ecosystem encompasses much more than innovation targeted at consumers.

Understanding the value of payment data

Of course, there are some interesting examples of innovation in consumer payments. Gemalto’s biometric bank card, for example, highlights that the area is steadily advancing, despite scepticism that there will be mass consumer acceptance.

However, the pace of change is accelerating rapidly in terms of offerings. For instance, blockchain is being harnessed by banks and technology vendors as a prime enabler of an instant B2B payments infrastructure. Industry players realise that the methods that can derive benefits today are largely based on a better understanding of the value of payment data.

While such data has mostly been used to create a hyper-personalised customer experience for consumers, it is increasingly being harnessed in services to businesses, even outside the financial services sector with companies such as Google recently purchasing Mastercard credit card information to track users’ spending to create an additional revenue stream.

This evolution of B2B product consumption is emerging as a key theme across the broader financial services market and is increasingly allowing businesses of all sizes to ‘window shop’ for the products and services they want the most. Providers are racing to commercialise the increasing amounts of account information, a trend that has increased in the wake of regulation such as PSD2 (the Second Payment Services Directive). By doing so, they can position themselves as the customer’s ‘digital front door’ to a wider range of services such as financial advice, merging the dimensions of ‘fast money’ (a consumer’s daily spending) and ‘slow money’ (future spending, saving and investment).

Adopting innovations such as automation, means that banks and card providers can help their commercial customers transform payments into a process that can add real value and allow the integration of additional services. By making financial reporting much easier, organisations can glean better insights into data showing purchasing trends among their customer base. The emergence of machine learning and self-learning systems will make this process much more efficient, even incorporating features like automated financial advice or fraud detection to become commonplace.

Consumption models are changing

Therefore, as payments processors and providers realise the opportunities in the business payments ecosystem, innovation accompanied by a commoditisation of payments services is on the increase, characterised by providers trying to add more value in the supply chain. Although currently most relevant to the SME market, companies of all sizes are being targeted with added value payments services such as reporting, to help them make better decisions. For example, retailers working with Barclays have access to add-ons and third party apps via the bank’s SmartBusiness Dashboard, including basic analytics to see what customers are spending their money on. This information can then inform marketing schemes that tailor product promotions to specific customers.

Ultimately, the more choice the customer has and the more informed they feel, the more likely they are to return to the same bank to take out a loan or use other services.

With so many contributors to the payments ecosystem, and an increasing number of organisations using the analysis of payment data as a key differentiator against competitors, it is crucial that banks, regulators and payments processors co-ordinate their efforts and use the best technology available to create an efficient system. And with the Faster Payments Service deal up for renewal, a system that underpins most of the UK’s banks and building societies, perhaps it is time for the government to consider how it can best support a payments infrastructure that works for all.

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