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November 26, 2012

Highlights from a Conference on Technology and Payments

The retail payments landscape is rapidly evolving as technological advances promote new electronic payment methods. On October 15–16, the Risk Forum convened at the Atlanta Fed a diverse gathering of stakeholders in the payments industry. Industry representatives were from telecommunication firms, airlines, standards bodies, payments processors, and coffee house retailers, as well as the more traditional players.

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President and CEO Dennis Lockhart kicked off the event. His opening remarks focused on the Federal Reserve System's role as a central bank in the country's retail payment system, both as a payments operator and as the country's guardian of financial stability. In the latter role, the Fed aims to preserve the integrity of both the retail and wholesale payments systems. Lockhart stressed that although this role has national strategy overtones, it is not intended to stifle innovation and competition but rather to support a market-oriented approach to payment developments. By noting the vulnerabilities that the fast pace of change and innovation in the industry create, Lockhart set the stage for the day's session, the highlights of which we are sharing here. You can find the complete presentation materials on the Atlanta Fed website.

Technology developments in card-based payments
Legacy plastic cards are likely to remain important for some time. Nevertheless, significant changes are under way. These technological changes were the focus of this panel. The U.S. payments industry is struggling to collectively shift from magnetic stripe-enabled card payments to a more secure and interoperable environment. Panelists discussed the challenges posed by the planned U.S. migration to chip-enabled cards and to the EMV standards already adopted in most of the globe's major developed countries. They discussed the potential shift in fraud to card-not-present payments in the shift from mag-stripe cards. Panelists said that fraud mitigation in the future U.S. EMV environment will require additional data analysis tools, including the use of better encryption methods and tokenization. They also touched on the benefits of PIN versus signature authentication.

The evolution of technology standards in retail payments
Technology standards provide the cohesion to ensure the critical mass needed for successful payment network adoption. At the same time, the myriad of new market solutions, patent issues, and even standards bodies themselves challenges industry cooperation and consensus building, slowing the standards development process. Panelists discussed the activities of various standards bodies that touch retail payments today. They also talked about how they are working to galvanize industry stakeholders to agree and employ standards that foster security and interoperability.

Mobile payment developments at the point of sale
This panel of experts reviewed technological developments in the mobile channel for payments at the merchant's point of sale (POS), including the rollout of several mobile wallet initiatives. Panelists discussed the challenges associated with the highly dynamic nature of the technologies. They noted that new complex business models are resulting in many different types of payment solutions, creating a confusing ecosystem for mobile proximity payments.

Panelists noted that the many new, thought-provoking products out in the market place today create many unknowns, not only with respect to security, but also future viability. They agreed that it is hard to predict which solutions have true scalability. An interesting discussion took place on the success of new payments such as Square, which changed the proverbial game by expanding the population of merchants that can accept card payments and by repurposing the mobile handset into a payment acceptance device. The panel also discussed how Starbucks unwittingly assumed the role of a payments pioneer when they moved to the mobile channel. Their original aim was not to adopt a new payments method but rather to increase customer loyalty and convenience.

The merits and challenges with the upcoming EMV migration were also top of mind for the panel.

Technology trends in mobile payment transfers
U.S. mobile payment developments have generally centered on payments at the POS. However, remote mobile payments, or person-to-person mobile transfers, are also taking form as a business model. Panelists discussed how nonbank players are entering the money transmission space hoping to leverage new mobile technologies. They explored the current environment for domestic and cross-border mobile transfer payment activity, analyzing the changing roles of payment service providers and the subsequent regulatory and policymaking considerations.

Panelists noted that we are seeing a huge paradigm shift in mobile money, with prepaid airtime credits looking more and more like currency in developing countries. Some countries permit payment service providers to provide airtime cash-out; Kenya's M Pesa is one of these providers. The lack of system interoperability across borders and liquidity management considerations are barriers to a global, scalable airtime transfer system. Panelists also noted, however, that airtime transfers are increasingly becoming a natural complement to traditional remittances.

In addition, traditional remittance providers are partnering with telecom firms to deliver services in emerging markets. These providers also work with banks in more developed countries, like the United States, to use the mobile channel in more efficient ways.

Technology threats and mitigants in electronic payment systems
Whether through scams such as “Obama Will Pay Your Bills” or corporate account takeovers, criminals are increasingly using electronic payments networks to perpetrate fraud. Panelists stressed that industry stakeholders must themselves become more sophisticated in order to develop solutions to better detect and mitigate these risks. Future fraud detection will require more sophisticated approaches to address growing vulnerabilities in web applications. Panelists also stressed that financial institutions must validate transactions to enforce rules and limits and to manage fraud.

Conclusion
The Risk Forum uses events such as this to encourage dialogue and share critical business intelligence among participants. We can then use information that comes out of such discussions to inform our work with the payments industry as we collectively work on better solutions to detect and mitigate risk. Expect to see more discussion in future posts. As always, we value your responses.

Cynthia MerrittBy Cynthia Merritt, assistant director of the Retail Payments Risk Forum

November 26, 2012 in chip-and-pin, collaboration, cybercrime, emerging payments, innovation | Permalink

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