Preparing for Institutional Risks as Cryptocurrencies Expand

Two words that highlight why digital assets — in particular, cryptocurrencies — are a valuable addition to the financial services ecosystem are “speed” and “access.” However, banks and other organizations that transact in cryptocurrency need to be aware of, and prepare for, unique risks inherent to the digital asset ecosystem.

The technology that supports cryptocurrencies has accelerated the speed of clearing financial transactions. Over the last 25 years, financial institution technology has progressed significantly, but transfers can take several days to clear; international wire transfers take even longer. Cryptocurrency transaction clearing is immediate.

Cryptocurrencies are also increasingly adopted by individuals who have been previously unbanked or “underbanked” and have had difficulty accessing traditional banking systems. Transaction speed, customer experience and an expanding market of digital asset users make cryptocurrencies attractive for more institutions and organizations to adopt, but they need to think about and prepare for a number of risks.

Current State of Regulation
One of the reasons the traditional banking industry is trusted by the public is because of the regulatory environment. Regulations, including those within the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), outline the customer identification program and know-your-customer requirements for onboarding new customers. While the cryptocurrency ecosystem is often panned for its perceived lack of regulation, there are layers of regulation that some crypto companies must comply with. For example, the BSA applies to money transmitters, like crypto exchanges. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler recently noted, when prompted about large crypto exchanges, “It’s a question of whether they’re registered or they’re operating outside of the law and I’ll leave it at that.”

Does that mean that crypto is regulated as strictly as financial institutions? No, but regulation is progressing. President Joe Biden’s March 2022 executive order included a provision requesting the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) convene and report on the risks of digital assets to the financial system and propose any regulatory modifications needed to mitigate the risks posed to the financial system by cryptocurrency. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has been tasked with convening the FSOC, has been a vocal proponent of crypto regulation.

The Treasury Department also released a fact sheet outlining how the United States would work with foreign governments in regulating digital assets.

What does that mean for crypto companies? Considering digital assets were mentioned over 40 times in the FSOC 2021 Annual Report, and since the total market cap of crypto has fallen from $3 trillion in November 2021 to $900 billion as of June 28, 2022, it’s likely regulators will propose new requirements.

Risk Management
Emerging or evolving regulation over large exchanges may not be the panacea that enables financial institutions the carte blanche access to offer all cryptocurrency products. However, it is a step toward being able to offer new products or access to products within the confines of a regulatory framework, and it creates a standard against which banks can measure their offerings.

However, risks remain. Retail banking customers still interact with virtual asset service providers that operate under innocuous-sounding names and decentralized crypto exchanges run by decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) without the corporate governance or regulatory requirements of financial institutions. As regulation evolves, institutions wishing to participate in this market will still be responsible for monitoring and mitigation activities. The good news is that as these risks have evolved, so have the tools used to monitor and mitigate them.

When it comes to risk, adding a new category of services requires changes throughout the organization that include people, process and technology. The digital asset ecosystem requires a different skill set than traditional banking and capital markets. The lexicon is different, the technology is different and the market is more volatile. Trusted information sources have transitioned from global business publications to social media. Institutions looking to participate are going to need to partner with different service providers to help facilitate programs, build infrastructure and provide access to the knowledge, skills and expertise to be successful. These institutions are also going to need to reassess their strategy, how and where digital assets fit, the organization’s new risks resulting from this strategic shift and how they plan to mitigate those risks.

The crypto market has garnered the attention of the current presidential administration, the regulatory environment is continuing to evolve, retail participation continues to increase and the technology supporting the marketplace has the potential to become more efficient than traditional infrastructure. Banks that aren’t assessing their strategy as it relates to digital asset risk will be left behind. Institutions planning on participating should understand the people, process and technology needed to execute their strategy, as well as the potential risks to the organization. Regardless, the cryptocurrency marketplace has given institutions and those charged with governing them a lot to consider.

What’s New in Payments?

Following a number of rollouts and innovations, 2022 could finally be the year where the speed of digital payments equals their convenience.

A number of developments, combined with the coronavirus pandemic and changing consumer habits, could hasten changes to the payments landscape — as well as banks’ ability to participate. Altogether, they could address some of the payment pain points for community bank customers.

“The pandemic may have helped to spur growth of innovative payment methods, such as in-person contactless card, digital wallet and [person-to-person] payments,” the Federal Reserve Board wrote in a December 2021 payments study, adding that payment behavior “changed sharply” in 2020.

Digital payments are becoming the primary way that customers interact with their bank, and the number of such payments is accelerating, says Jason Henrichs, CEO of Alloy Labs Alliance. But for all its convenience and security compared to cash and checks, digital payments suffer from two major problems: they are slow and fragmented. Two innovations are making headway on addressing those problems, allowing for greater convenience for customers in timing and directing payments.

“There’s a huge opportunity and overlapping need from bank customers who aren’t in the digital payment world yet, and from those who are but are frustrated because it’s a series of closed networks,” he says. “What if, from your bank app, you could push money to anyone? And they don’t have to subscribe to anything, they don’t have to download an app, they don’t have to create an account?”

A community bank consortium brought together by Alloy Labs is attempting to solve that with CHUCK, an open peer-to-peer payments network. At the end of January, Reading Cooperative Bank, a $661.7 million bank based in Reading, Massachusetts, went live on the network.

CHUCK’s open nature simplifies sending and receiving digital payments. In most payment networks, both a payer and payee often need to use the same platform to send and receive funds. For example, customers can only send money over Zelle to other participating banks, and a Cash App user can’t send money to someone’s PayPal account. With CHUCK, a customer can log into their bank mobile app and send money to one of their contacts using the person’s phone number or email; the recipient, who does not have to belong to a CHUCK bank, is notified they have received money and selects where to deposit it.

CHUCK is in beta testing at several other banks in the consortium and is available nationwide to banks that are not members of Alloy Labs. Henrichs says its per-transaction pricing is designed to be cheaper for small banks than Zelle; smaller banks tend to have fewer P2P digital payments and pay more per transaction done over Zelle compared to biggest banks.

Another area of payment innovation is the continued adoption of instant payments, and subsequent customizations. The first instant payments system in the U.S., Real Time Payments or RTP, was introduced by The Clearing House in November 2017. There are now more than 190 financial institutions that offer RTP and all federally insured U.S. depository institutions are eligible to use it. The network processed 123 million real time payments in 2021, almost double what it processed in 2020. This growth comes as the Fed continues to work on FedNow, its own instant payment capabilities, ahead of its slated 2023 launch.

Already, RTP has powered a number of payment innovations, says Steve Ledford, senior vice president of products and strategy at The Clearing House. He lists faster insurance payments and mortgage closings, disbursements from digital wallets from nonbanks, employers that pay employees outside a traditional pay cycle and industries like transportation and trucking that have long invoicing periods. All incorporate RTP functionality in their payment processing. RTP can be used in digital invoicing called “Request for Pay,” which could make it easier for consumers to pay bills when they have funds available and reduce overdraft fees associated with misaligned timing and deposits.

“Folks are expecting payments to move now in real time; now that you can, you’re going to seeing more of it,” he says.

These innovations and continued adoption could solve some payments problems for customers. Payments remains an area of experimentation and innovation for banks and nonbanks alike, and groups like The Clearing House and Alloy Labs are continuing to chip away at these issues.

“I don’t know if CHUCK solves the problem of payments, but it gets us on a path that has a shot,” Henrichs says.

The Tremendous Opportunity Hiding in Plain Sight

There is a tremendous opportunity for community and regional banks to enhance the international payments, receipts and foreign exchange services they provide their commercial customers.

In 2021, the total amount of U.S. imports and exports totaled $6.5 trillion. In fact, 27.9% of U.S. gross domestic product was imports and exports. What other “new” product line has such an addressable market? According to the census, 76% of U.S.-based companies that import or export have less than 20 employees; 97% have less than 500 employees. These are businesses that community and regional banks are already servicing. But these institutions are hindered by the belief that they lack the size, sophistication and resources to confidently capture the opportunity.

The good news for banks is that there are technology solutions that can enhance their offering to customers that require international payments, receipts and foreign exchange services. These solutions provide more opportunities for sales and service on the bank end and help their business customers mitigate risks more effectively.

Quantifying this opportunity will vary for each institution, and location and asset size alone are not accurate predictors. Cross-border activity occurs across the U.S., not just in the most obvious international trade areas. Financial institutions should start by looking at their existing volumes to determine the opportunity. Within outbound and inbound payments, banks need to examine the number of transactions that took place, the total notional volume, the U.S. dollar and foreign currency split, what origination and destination countries are included and whether these are commercial or consumer payments. This initial analysis leaves out the potential for future growth through enhanced capabilities.

Many financial institutions are surprised to see that this is an opportunity hidden in plain sight. Frankly, it doesn’t take much activity — as little as $1 million a month of international payments going in foreign currency — to make this an interesting capability for executives to consider. That’s because banks can leverage technology to capture it more effectively.

Enhancing international payments capabilities doesn’t mean banks have to give up cultivating the experience that their customers expect. Controlling the customer experience here starts with offering the capability via multiple channels while retaining flexibility and control on pricing. This can lead to capturing more of the customer wallet, which provides additional insight into customer activity and, ultimately, a stronger and deeper relationship.

Community and regional banks that enhance their international capabilities can sell with more confidence, better retain existing business customers and potentially attract new ones in the face of others competing for the same business customers. They can even extend the product offering by offering risk management solutions.

Once a bank decides to take more control over the customer experience in international payments, the defining characteristic of success is how quickly it can produce revenue from these enhanced capabilities. It starts at the planning stages. The foundation of any transition is a detailed implementation checklist and, as importantly, a timeline that maps out the process.

All bank areas need to be in full support and aligned on the changes. You need both an executive sponsor and a product champion as part of this. Once implemented, institutions that properly incentivize their bankers should generate significant improvements versus the rest of the industry landscape. But it is critical for banks to engage an experienced and trusted partner to accompany them during this journey and guide implementation.

The opportunity for community and regional banks to enhance their international payments, receipts, and foreign exchange services they provide their commercial customers remains one hidden in plain sight. Leveraging technology to capture the value associated with both existing and prospective activity provides benefits to the bottom line and the customer experience. Don’t be surprised by the size of the opportunity, the activity with business customers, and the relative ease with which it can be captured and enhanced.

How One Midsized Regional Bank Separates Itself From the Competition

When Ira Robbins took over in 2018 as CEO of Valley National Bancorp, one of his highest priorities was to broaden the bank’s strategic focus into new product and customer segments where it could be a meaningful player.

“When we started changing the organization’s direction five years ago, we said we weren’t going to be everything to everyone,” Robbins says. “We were going to be everything to someone and understand who that someone was and what the overall relationship looked like.”

Diversification and differentiation is a two-pronged strategy that should be on the minds of all bank CEOs and their boards of directors today. Continued pressure on the industry’s net interest margin is a threat to the banking industry’s long-term profitability that’s not going to ease anytime soon. Unless banks are able to develop new sources of revenue to counteract that pressure, “We’re left to think about cost reductions as opposed to building things because as the revenue side of the balance sheet comes down, all you’re able to do is focus on contracting expenses,” Robbins says.

And cutting costs is never as much fun as building a new business.

Robbins offered his views on the importance of diversification and differentiation to Bank Director Editor-at-Large Jack Milligan in advance of a panel discussion session Monday at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired Conference. The conference runs Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, 2022, at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix.

The core niche at Valley National, a $41 billion asset regional bank headquartered in Wayne, New Jersey, is commercial real estate. “That’s who we are,” says Robbins. “And I think as an organization, most of the balance sheets that we understand are from a relationship perspective. People aren’t coming to us because we’re the cheapest in town. We have an ability to execute unlike any other organization that’s embedded in who we are from a credit perspective.” In other words, borrowers go to Valley National because they know their deals will get done.

Robbins wanted to replicate this approach in other customer segments, and in recent years the bank has diversified into auto lending, as well as banking for homeowners’ associations and cannabis businesses. But moving into a new customer segment or product line isn’t enough. Banks also have to find ways of differentiating themselves from their competitors in that niche. Increasingly, that is through the customer experience — with technology as the point of the spear.

A good example is Valley National’s push into cannabis banking, an initiative that began about three years ago. The bank spent the first year and a half studying the market from a strategic and operational risk perspective before it finally launched a treasury platform solution focused on marijuana-related businesses including dispensaries, cultivators, wholesalers and testing labs. The program is currently available in 13 states, and Valley National worked closely with several regtech companies to understand — from “seed to sale,” as Robbins puts it — the regulatory compliance requirements in each jurisdiction.

“We’ve been in the business for about a year and a half,” Robbins says. “It’s getting to be a decent-sized business for us. And it’s one that we think aligns with our risk appetite. It’s an opportunity in an industry that really isn’t being served today.”

But merely entering an underserved market doesn’t guarantee success if you’re not providing a differentiated customer experience. The cannabis business tends to be cash intensive. Producers and sellers need ways to get that cash to their bank, so Valley National set up a separate armored car service to handle collection. The bank also developed a mobile app called “ValleyPay” that is linked to a Valley National debit card and can be used to make purchases in a dispensary or retail store. “It’s the first ability to have a digital payment come in,” Robbins says. “And we’re the only bank in the country that’s beginning to offer it, so that’s pretty neat.”

Providing a differentiated customer experience is very much at the heart of Valley National’s diversification effort.

“To be honest with you, it’s…understanding what the customer experience looks like,” Robbins says. “What was the customer challenge? And what was the experience that we wanted to create?” While other banks are in the cannabis space as well, “ours is a specific niche [that is] focused on an experience that really isn’t being delivered.”

[You can read more about Valley National Bancorp and cannabis banking in the Q3 2021 issue of Bank Director magazine, available to subscribers.]

Why the Time is Right to Enable Payments on Real-Time Rails

Despite strong adoption worldwide, U.S. financial institutions have been slow to embrace real-time payments.

This reluctance is largely due to the complexity of the financial landscape, established consumer payment habits and lack of a federal mandate driving change. But the coronavirus pandemic fueled greater demand for real-time payments, as consumers and businesses increasingly transact digitally. As the share of real-time payment transactions in the U.S. doubled in 2020, financial institutions have an opportunity to launch real-time services that meet demand and enhance the customer experience.

Real-time payments are irrevocable, account-to-account payments that can be initiated through any device — laptop, mobile, or tablet. Because they are cleared and settled nearly instantly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the funds are available to the recipient immediately. This has significant cash flow and liquidity advantages over traditional payment options.

More than 60 countries are live with real-time payment systems today, and real-time payments grew 41% globally from 2019 to 2020. The U.S. ranks ninth worldwide with 1.2 billion transactions; well behind real-time leader India, which had 41 million real-time transactions per day in 2020.

The Clearing House was an initial driver of real-time in the U.S., launching its RTP® network in 2017. Currently reaching more than 60% of U.S demand deposit accounts, RTP is open to any federally insured depository institution. The Federal Reserve’s FedNow, which is now live with a pilot program, will drive further adoption when it launches in 2023. 

Real time payments have been primarily driven by person-to-person (P2P) and consumer-to-business (C2B) uses cases. Services like Zelle®, which was introduced in 2017 by Early Warning Services (EWS), have propelled adoption by making it easy for consumers to pay digitally; for example, paying a friend for dinner or making a rent payment on the day it’s due. In late 2020, Zelle® was integrated with RTP, making these transactions truly real time.

EWS reported a 51% year-over-year increase in Zelle® transactions in the third quarter of 2021, noting growing use of its service by businesses. Having the flexibility to pay rent, process payroll or pay for supplies in real time has particularly strong benefits for small businesses with liquidity challenges.

Disbursements also represent a growing use case, with businesses taking advantage of the ability to efficiently send refunds and make other payments in real time. An insurance company paying claims following a car accident or hurricane could avoid the overhead associated with processing paper checks. At the same time, real-time disbursements boost customer satisfaction by making funds available immediately. Payroll is another example, with the gig economy companies particularly benefitting from the ability to pay workers instantly.

Nowhere has the need for real-time payments been more apparent than in issuance of pandemic stimulus checks. As Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard said, “The rapid expenditure of COVID emergency relief payments highlighted the critical importance of having a resilient instant payments infrastructure with nationwide reach, especially for households and small businesses with cash flow constraints.”

Request for Payment
Popular in countries like India, Request for Payment is emerging as a convenient tool to facilitate real-time payments on a mobile device. A push notification and short series of prompts detail the payment request, and the payee can authorize payment from a banking app within a few clicks.

Businesses using Request for Payment benefit from immediate funds availability and a more efficient, cost-effective billing process; consumers gain convenience and control. Consumers issuing Requests for Payment can use it to avoid awkward reminders to friends or colleagues by simply sending a request digitally when money is owed.

Establishing a Real-Time Strategy
As financial institutions look to broaden their real-time payments offering, it’s important to consider the technological infrastructure needed to support them. As transactions and use cases continue to grow, both consumers and businesses will come to expect real-time options from their financial institution, and availability of well-established services like Zelle® and newer tools like Request for Payment will become table stakes.

A partnership with a digital banking provider that not only prioritizes real-time payment offerings today, but also has plans for future integrations with real-time focused fintechs, will prove critical to long-term success.

Small Business Checking, Repositioned

This is part two of a two-part post diving into the future of small business checking. Read part one, Small Business Checking, Reimagined.

Increasingly, small businesses see digital payment solutions as both a way to get paid faster and to satisfy customers who now prefer to pay that way. Indeed, this capability has become indispensable for most small businesses. And for banks, it is the key to capturing even more small and medium-sized business relationships moving forward.

However, there is one problem: Banks don’t offer a simple solution to help their small business customers meet this fundamental need. As a result, small business owners have had to resort to outside options (four of which we explored in part one). Over time, this reliance on fintech challengers can lead to disintermediation for the bank, as the non-banks begin to replace the financial institution with their own offerings.

At this point you may be wondering: Does my bank already offer this kind of solution, or something that’s similar enough? The answer, most likely, is no — or not yet.

The reality is that the ideal solution for a small business owner is a steep change from the small business accounts of today. Current accounts are built on transactional functionality. The many supporting, and sometimes dizzying, features that go along with it, such as transaction fees, minimum balances and item allowances, may be important to the bank, but miss the mark for a small business.

Simply put, small business owners need bank accounts designed for a very specific reason: to receive digital payments and easily track their critical cash flow in the process.

To be truly relevant, this reimagined small business checking account needs to include the following three crucial components:

  • Digital payment acceptance, including credit cards, and online invoicing, set up and ready for the small business owner to start getting paid faster into the very same account.
  • Manage and track customer payments, ranging from incoming, coming due, and past due, right inside the digital platform that’s comprises their checking account.
  • Expertise and high-touch support that a business owner can expect from a longstanding and trustworthy institution. This is an important differentiator, and one that fintech challengers can’t come close to matching.

This checking account product offers two significant benefits. For a small business owner, it represents exactly what they have been searching for: a complete small business solution that features receivables functionality, offered by the same trusted institution that they’ve come to rely on for so many other needs.

And for banks, this new account allows them to embrace a mindset focused on customer workflows and solving real-world challenges. It could even signal a way forward, and open the door to many more opportunities. Promoting such a markedly different product, however, would require some care. Unlike a typical account, with its mandatory list of bulleted features, a reimagined solution like this one requires positioning that highlights its problem-solving capabilities.

A generic framework for our hypothetical account, organized by customer need first and benefit(s) second, could go:

Get paid, the way they want to pay
Make it easy for paying customers. Accept online payments and credit cards, or send personalized digital invoices. Either way, get paid directly into your bank account for easy access to funds.

Better control of your cash flow
Track and manage it all automatically: incoming, coming due and past due customer payments. Know exactly who has paid and when, and get an up-to-date view of your cash flow.

Do it all, all in one place
More than a checking account. Everything you need for your small business is included with your account. And there’s no need to set up multiple accounts across multiple platforms — one easy enrollment is all you need.

You don’t have to go it alone
Because a great digital experience is only the beginning. Every successful business needs an accessible financial partner — your bank is available and ready to help.

Of course, a reimagined small business checking account needs to be designed and launched with supporting capabilities in mind. Look for partners that can help your institution go to market with a proven solution — inclusive of the product capabilities and go-to-market services — that enable small business owners to get paid, while staying ahead of the competition.

Learn more about Autobooks and download your free small business resources here.

Reimagining Small Business Checking

If you could start your own bank and design it from the ground up, what would it look like?

And if you’re a business banker with a focus on small business clients, how would your reimagined bank, and its core product offerings, differ from your current ones?

This is the challenge plaguing banks today. For the most part, business banking products have become a commodity — it’s virtually impossible to differentiate your bank’s offerings from the ones being sold by your competitor down the street. For that matter, it may be hard to draw meaningful differences between your various accounts, such as with your retail and commercial offerings. That’s one reason why 27% of business owners rely solely on a personal account. And it’s also why only 38% of small to medium business owners believe that business banking services offer extra benefits compared to their personal account.

One way for banks to break out of this current dilemma may be to shift their focus. This approach is already working for fintech challengers. Instead of focusing solely on transactional products or in-person services, they worked on understanding customer workflows and solving digital pain points. In the process, they have captured the imagination and the pocketbooks of small business owners.

If your bank has prioritized small business customers, or plans to, the best way to make this shift is by focusing on the business owner. Start with this simple question: What do you need from your bank to make meaningful progress with your business?

Their response likely won’t have anything to do with your existing products or services. Instead, they may share a problem or pain point: I need help tracking which customers have paid me and which have not.

There’s no mention of products or account features like fees, balance requirements and e-statements. A response like this reminds us of the quote popularized by Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

In our case, it goes something like this: Business owners don’t want a list of transactional ranges, fees or digital banking tools. They want to know if their bank can help them better track and accept customer payments, so they can maximize their time running their business.

Increasingly, the process of accepting payments is moving from in person to online. But when small business owners turn to their financial institution for assistance, the bank lacks a simple solution to meet this fundamental need.

This leaves the business owner with four options for moving forward — options that require either minimal involvement or no involvement from a bank.

  1. If a small business decides that it’s not worth dealing with cards, they can simplify their receivables by only accepting cash and checks, closing themselves off to customers who prefer to pay in other ways.
  2. If a small business decides to accept credit cards, it can accommodate more paying customers, but must now track payments across bank statements (for checks) and external payment tools (for credit cards).
  3. If a small business relies on external invoicing or accounting tools, it can invoice and accept digital payments, but must now track payments across multiple platforms and reconcile those funds back to its bank account.
  4. If a small business consolidates all of its financial needs with one provider like a fintech challenger, they can resolve the complexity of dealing with multiple tools and/or platforms but lose out on the expertise and high-touch support of a business banker.

The two middle options involve a bank at the outset but can often lead to reduced deposits over the long term. Over time, fintech challengers may disintermediate banks by offering similar, competing products like integrated deposit accounts. The fourth option, born out of frustration, removes the bank entirely from the relationship.

Clearly, no option listed above is ideal. Nevertheless, it is still possible to help the business owner make progress with accepting digital payments. And, even better, there is an emerging  solution for small business owners that may lie with your most straightforward business product: your small business checking account. Watch out for part two to learn more.

How Digital Tools Can Create Consumer Confidence

The coronavirus’ challenges offer banks an opportunity to reassure shaken consumers and help them reestablish a sense of control.  

Consumers are concerned about protecting the health of themselves and their families and, increasingly, the impact Covid-19 could have on their financial well-being. Unemployment is at its highest level since the Great Depression; approximately 50 million U.S. workers have filed for unemployment since March. One survey found that 38% of individuals report checking their account balances more frequently than before the pandemic — a clear sign of anxiety around finances.

Banks are uniquely situated, as already-trusted partners, to provide the peace of mind and assurances that consumers desperately seek during these anxious times. Consumers will build loyalty toward those institutions that help them feel aware and in control of what’s happening with their money, even in virtual spaces.

A few ways that banks can increase confidence as consumers increasingly rely on digital payments include transaction alerts, increasing contactless payment limits and giving spending insights, including recurring transactions.

Alerts and insights help consumers feel more in control of their financial situation. Consumers have shifted their spend toward debit cards and checking accounts as they seek to limit accidental overspending and avoid debt. Monthly insights can give them a quick view of their spending by merchant type and location. Making it easy to see where card data is stored online, and with which merchants, allows consumer to review their recurring transactions and easily remove cards from accounts and merchants they are no longer using. 

Increased credit limits help consumers feel like they have more options for safe and contactless payments. With rising infections, lockdown and social distancing causing a drop-off in travel, social events and eating out, online commerce and contactless transactions are increasingly replacing cash transactions.

While Covid-19 accelerated the uptick in the use of these digital payment methods, many Americans may continue these new habits post-pandemic. As many consumers remain reticent to venturing out of their homes for errands, visits to branches for service requests have migrated to bank contact centers. To manage this increase in the number of requests to call centers, banks should encourage consumers to handle everyday requests themselves through online and mobile self-service tools. Doing so will allow phone support to prioritize in-depth items that require personal support.

For example, providing precise and detailed transaction information to consumers on their mobile apps will reduce the numbers of queries and false disputes raised with contact center staff through misunderstandings or confusing transaction details. Other digital capabilities that banks can offer range from simple card controls — like turning a card on and off, or resetting a PIN — to more advanced features, such as disputing a transaction or applying for a new account.

Consumers now tend to expect similar easy-to-use experiences across all of their apps. With tech companies like Amazon.com and Google setting the bar high, it is essential that financial institutions also offer robust features and intuitive design. The past six months have brought with them a dramatic acceleration in digital payments, and financial institutions should grasp the opportunities to continue to be the trusted and reliable pillar on which their account holders lean.

Staying Relevant In The Payments Revolution

A tremendous level of disruption is occurring in the payments space today — and few banks have a strategy to combat this threat, according to Michael Carter, executive vice president at Strategic Resource Management. In this video, he explains how smart home technology like Alexa and Google Home is changing how consumers interact with their financial institutions. He also outlines three tactics for banks seeking to achieve top of wallet status.

  • Today’s Payments Landscape
  • Technologies to Watch
  • How to Keep Wallet Share
  • Threats to Community Banks

 

How And Where Blockchain Fits in Traditional Banking


blockchain-12-26-18.pngMany banks haven’t found an efficient way to deal with issues like payment clearing inefficiencies, consumer fraud, and the general limitations of fiat currencies.

Blockchain, however, may be the go-to solution for many of these challenges.

Issues Traditional Banks Face Today
Traditional banks and financial institutions have faced some challenges for decades, but we have yet to see the technical innovations to mitigate or eliminate them, including inefficient payment clearing processes, fraud and currency options.

Inefficient Payment Clearing Processes
One of the biggest roadblocks that banks face today is how to quickly clear payments while complying with regulatory procedures. The number of payment clearing options available in 2018, is not different from the options available in 2008 – a decade ago.

In the U.S., for example, same-day ACH is likely considered to be the biggest improvement during this decade. Only in recent years have cross-border fintech applications emerged that reduce payment clearing costs and wait times. For the most part, we are still stuck with old architectures that lack innovation, efficiency and the data to make a meaningful impact on money laundering and fraud reduction.

Inability to Stop Fraud
Fraud has always been notoriously difficult to stop. Unfortunately, this remains the case even today. Fraud costs are so high in the US, that interchange fees paid by merchants are some of the highest in the world. Despite an increase of available identity fraud detection systems, banks are still unable to make a material improvement in fraud reduction.

For banks, this leads to financial losses in cases where funds are paid to the fraud victim. For customers, this can reduce trust in the bank. For merchants, it means higher fees for facilities, which creates higher costs for customers. Additionally, customers often wait to receive a new bank card. In 2017 alone, the cost the data lost to identity theft totaled $16.8 billion.

Limited Number of Currency Options
Fiat currencies are limited by geography and slim competition.

When we think about fiat currency around the globe, we have seen a steady move towards standardization. This presents risks for banks and consumers. For example, a heavy reliance upon a single national currency relies upon factors like economic growth and monetary policy.

Twenty-eight nations have experienced hyperinflation during the past 25 years. Not only did banks fail in some cases, but entire economies collapsed. Because there were no currency choices, the problem could not be easily avoided.

This process continues to happen in many locations globally.

Benefits of Blockchain Over Traditional Systems
There are ways blockchain can reduce or eliminate these issues for financial institutions.

More Efficient Approval Systems
When compared to traditional payment approval processes, many blockchains are already more efficient. Instead of waiting days for payments to go through clearinghouses, a well-designed blockchain can complete the verification process in minutes or seconds. More importantly, blockchain also offers a more transparent and immutable option.

With innovations like KYC (Know Your Customer) and KYT (Know Your Transaction) transactions conducted via blockchain, banks can be more capable of preventing finance-related crimes. This means traditional finance can more effectively comply with laws for AML (Anti-Money Laundering), ATF and more.

In addition, legitimate transactions can be approved at a lower cost.

No More Fraud
While fraud seems like a pervasive issue in society, this can be reduced using technology. Blockchain can change how people prove identity and access services.

Instead of having to wait to stop a case of fraud, blockchain can stop transactions before they ever occur. The Ivy Network will have smart contracts which will allow banks and financial institutions to review a transaction and supporting KYC and KYT before accepting the deposit. Because blockchain transactions are immutable, we could see a reduction in counterfeiting of paper currency and consumer products.

Increased Digital Payment Options
While blockchain has many use cases, this is one example of how technology can change finance and the global economy. In the early days of cryptocurrency, there was really only bitcoin. Now, there is a range of coins and tokens like Ivy that serve important purposes within existing regulatory and legislative frameworks.

One of the biggest misconceptions is crypto and fiat payment systems have to be direct competitors. By creating a blockchain protocol that links fiat and cryptocurrency, businesses and consumers can have more, better market choices and use cases for cryptocurrency.

At the same time, financial institutions can serve an important role in the future of digital payments and fiat-crypto currency conversions.

As financial institutions look to solve many challenges they face around payment clearing inefficiencies, consumer fraud, and the limitations of fiat currencies, blockchain is a viable solution. Financial institutions that fail to embrace blockchain’s potential will face heightened monetary and reputational risks, and miss opportunities for growth and innovation.