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About


Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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May 2, 2022

Taking the Long View: A Visit with Retail Payments Risk Forum Founder Rich Oliver

Rich Oliver, the founder of our Retail Payments Risk Forum (RPRF), paid a visit to our team recently and shared his vision when creating the forum, the challenges facing the payments industry, and the future direction our team could consider as the payments landscape continues to evolve.

In addition to founding our RPRF, Rich's payments expertise goes back to the 1970s when he led the effort to utilize the fledgling US Automated Clearing House (ACH) system to electronically deliver the first government payrolls and social security payments.

Drawing on his expertise, Rich wrote a book with George Warfel Jr. about the payments industry, The Story of Payments: How The Industrialization of Trust Created the Modern Payments SystemOff-site link, that "tells the story of how payments—between people, merchants, employers, and governments—emerged from the ancient system of barter and grew, through various technological implementations ranging from coins and paper money to checks, wire transfers, and credit cards, to today's entirely electronic local and international payment systems."

In a wide-ranging conversation about the history of payments and Rich's role in many areas with the Fed, each of us in the RPRF took away some highlights to share with you.

Scarlett Heinbuch: Rich reminded us of the need to be bold in our thinking about the future of payments. We discussed advances in biometrics and how these initiatives could address identity and security concerns and make payments easier for all while also presenting other risks and challenges.

Nancy Donahue: One comment that made me go "hmm" was: "Do we have too many retail payments products that are trying to solve the same problem? Do they all make money? Do they all need to?"

Catherine Thaliath: What resonated with me was when Rich talked about potential risks of Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL). While viewed as a credit offering, it is nevertheless using a payment instrument in ways not previously done.

Claire Greene: "When it comes to product design, you can't assume you know what someone wants without doing the work." This was a humble statement from an innovator that applied in the 1970s and remains relevant today.

Dave Lott: Rich discussed the evolution of the current consumer banking product market where many of the explicit services (on-us ATMs, online banking, mobile banking, pay wallets, etc.) are provided free of charge.

Sally Martin: It resounded with me how much collaboration went on with the payments players in the industry. Also, the amount of time spent brainstorming on what the needs were and how to fill them, and in moving toward new offerings rather than replays of existing products. Rich's talk focused on moving into new territory—he was "agile" before it was cool.

Jessica Washington: We still need to collaborate on fraud mitigation at the strategic level. In the United States, we implemented chip credit cards but not so much chip-and-pin, plus we still have the magstripe, which is a major source of weakness, and we still have much work to do on card-not-present transactions.

As the RPRF founder, Rich challenged each of us to remember its mission: to be a source for non-biased thought leadership, to do original research, challenge norms, and push the envelope to move the payment system forward. Sometimes looking back at history can bring the future into sharper focus, which is what our chat with Rich did for us. As you look to the future of payments and payments risk, what stands out to you?

By the Retail Payments Risk Forum Team: Jessica Washington, Dave Lott, Scarlett Heinbuch, Claire Greene, Nancy Donahue, Catherine Thaliath, and Sally Martin.

November 9, 2020

Cheering on the Team—Go ACH!

Did you see the commercial during the last SuperBowl about ACH payment innovations? No? Me neither. Of course, that's because there wasn't one. In fact, it doesn't appear there needs to be public advertisements for ACH payments. Why? With value processed on the network having increased more than $1 trillion over the past seven years Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link, ACH doesn't have to be a household name. What you do need to know is that there is lots of growth and innovation happening with ACH behind the scenes these days, and I am an ACH cheerleader.

According to Nacha, the organization responsible for administering the ACH network and its private-sector Operating Rules, the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network processed 34.7 billion transactions valued at $55.8 trillion in 2019. That's, respectively, 7.7 and 8.9 percent growth over 2018. That's also 47 times more than the combined 2019 net sales of Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, Costco, and Walgreens, which was $1.186 trillion, according to National Retail Federation rankingsOff-site link. As for the number of transactions, the total volume of U.S. ACH payments in 2019 translates to approximately 75 payments per person. Any way you count it, it's hard to deny that, as with a line of scrimmage, there's action around ACH.

Innovation, too, has been burgeoning. The Federal Reserve System's Retail Payments Office, which is located at the Atlanta Fed, is one of two ACH network operators, so we have a front row seat. We're seeing lots of fintech creation, including, for instance, mobile apps and voice-activated or conversational paymentsOff-site link. Much of this innovation takes place through a democratic rule-making process, whereby stakeholder work groups study recommend opportunities for modernization. These groups have been extremely busy.

October 30 was the deadline for all depository financial institutions participating in the ACH Network to register their primary representative in the ACH Contact Registry. Nacha will maintain this database on behalf of registry members, making it easier for them to contact one another. For them to have fast access to live humans managing ACH operations can be critical, especially when mitigating time-sensitive fraud events such as business email compromise.

In the never-ending fight against fraud, three changesOff-site link will take effect in 2021. First, Supplemental Fraud Detection for WEB Debits (WEB debits are also known as internet-initiated entries). With this change, ACH originators will be required to include account validation within a commercially reasonable fraudulent-transaction detection system for the first use of new account information. This validation will help block ineligible receivers. Second, security requirements for stored data will be enhanced. Third, a new return-reason code will be created for unauthorized returns, allowing financial institutions to immediately differentiate unintended mistakes from suspected fraud.

Next spring, another highly anticipated ACH change will occur. A new Same Day ACHOff-site link processing window deadline of 4:45 p.m. goes live on March 19, 2021, which will expand access to same-day processing, especially beneficial to financial institutions in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific Time zones.

ACH was the very first payments system I studied, and I've been an ACH cheerleader ever since. I'm very excited for all the changes that are in play. And while my family and friends—well, most people for that matter—don't exactly celebrate the innovation wins with me, my payments teammates know how much work goes on around the ACH network to continue to make forward progress.

Go, ACH!

December 23, 2019

New Data Posted for Federal Reserve Payments Study

If you're looking for payments reading during the holidays, take a look at a new report, the Federal Reserve Payments Study 2019, which was published last Thursday on the Federal Reserve's websiteOff-site link.

The report finds that growth in card and ACH payments has accelerated.

Here are some key findings:
  • The number of ACH credit and debit transfers grew by 6 percent a year between 2015 and 2018, exceeding the 4.9 percent per year growth rate recorded for the period from 2012 to 2015.
  • Debit and credit card payments grew at an accelerated rate of 8.9 percent a year between 2015 and 2018, up from the 6.8 percent yearly rate of increase from 2012 to 2015.
  • For general-purpose cards overall, the value of remote payments in 2018 nearly equaled that of in-person payments.
  • More than half of in-person general-purpose card payments were chip-authenticated, up from 2 percent in 2015.
  • Payments made by check fell 7.2 percent a year from 2015 to 2018.

The 2019 Federal Reserve Payments Study covers card (credit, non-prepaid debit, and prepaid debit), ACH, and check payments and ATM withdrawals. In these days of fintech and new ways to pay with a phone or fingerprint, these core noncash payment types are used not only in traditional ways but also to make possible alternative payment methods and services.

We look forward to continuing the payments conversation with you on January 6, 2020, when I will be challenging you to a game of pay-with-your-phone bingo.

November 25, 2019

We Are Thankful For...

Several years ago, I began the practice of making a list around Thanksgiving of things I am thankful for. I was pondering what I might include on my list this year while I was stuck in traffic behind an awful wreck I was thankful I wasn’t involved in. And then the idea hit me that maybe we at the Risk Forum should create our own list focused on what we are thankful for in payments.

To keep the list at proper blog length, I asked each Risk Forum member to name just one item. Without further ado, the Risk Forum presents to you our 2019 Thanksgiving week "What we are thankful for in payments" list.

  • Nancy Donahue, project manager: I’m thankful that my debit card has only been breached once this year and although the criminal lived it up at several fast food restaurants and c-stores, it was less than $100 total and I got my money back!
  • Claire Greene, payments risk expert: I am thankful that direct deposit lets me put my finances on autopilot. I’ve split my paycheck into different accounts: one for retirement, one for the mortgage, one for saving, and one for everyday expenses.
  • Douglas King, payments risk expert: I am thankful for the ability to pay via self-checkout at my local grocery store and receive cash back when using my debit card.
The Retail Payments Risk Forum folks: Pictured from left: Jessica Washington, Douglas King, Nancy Donahue, Dave Lott, Catherine Thaliath, Julius Weyman; Not pictured: Claire Greene

Pictured from left: Jessica Washington, Douglas King, Nancy Donahue, Dave Lott, Catherine Thaliath, Julius Weyman; Not pictured: Claire Greene

  • Dave Lott, payments risk expert: I am thankful for law enforcement and other security professionals who work diligently to protect the integrity of our payments system.
  • Catherine Thaliath, project management expert: I am thankful for credit card rewards programs. It is nice to get rewarded with cash back or even a free plane ticket just by using your credit card for everyday purchases!
  • Jessica Washington. payments risk expert: I am thankful for payments industry collaboration. This year I have seen improvements in fraud information sharing across stakeholders; partnerships between fintechs, financial institutions, and payment networks to promote financial inclusion; and working groups embracing emerging payment innovations.
  • Julius Weyman, vice president and forum director: I am thankful that I can write a check where it makes sense; pay online where it makes sense; get paid via ACH (no choice in that, but wouldn’t choose otherwise); pull bills from a real wallet (not the fake kind) and pay that way, where it makes sense; and use a card (and get rewards), which almost always makes sense and is the one I use the most.

And we are thankful for YOU: our readers of Take On Payments and supporters of the Risk Forum. We sincerely appreciate your comments, kudos, and criticism, and hope that you all find value in the information we provide and share. As we enter into these crazy last weeks of 2019, we wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season.