Can Banks Afford to Be Short-Sighted With Real-Time Payments?

The industry’s payments ecosystem is developing rapidly in response to increasing consumer demand for faster, smarter payments.

The need for real-time payments was accelerated by the global pandemic — but most banks are moving far too cautiously to respond to market demand, whether that is P2P, B2B, B2C or other segments. Currently, The Clearing House’s RTP® network is the only available real-time payments platform, while the Federal Reserve’s instant payments service, FedNow℠, is in a pilot phase with plans to launch in 2023. FedNow will equip financial institutions of all sizes with the ability to facilitate secure and efficient real-time payments round the clock.

For most banks, operating on core legacy technology has created a payments infrastructure that is heavy-handed, disjointed, costly and difficult to maintain, with no support for future innovation. Most banks, fearing the cost and effort of modernization, have settled for managing multiple payment networks that connect across disparate systems and require the support of numerous vendors. With the introduction of real-time payments, can these new payment rails afford to be a mere addendum to the already-byzantine payment architecture of banks?

Answering “yes” begets more questions. How resilient will the new offering be on the old infrastructure? Can banks afford to be myopic and treat real-time payments as a postscript? Are short-sighted payment transformations elastic enough to accommodate other innovations, like the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) that are in the offing?

Preparation starts with an overhauling of payments infrastructure. If banks are to place themselves at a vantage point, with a commanding perspective into the future of payments, they should consider the following as part of the roadmap to payments modernization:

  1. From transactions to experience. Payments are no longer merely functional transactions; they are expected to provide qualitative attributes like experience, speed and intelligence. Retail and business customers increasingly demand frictionless and intuitive real-time payments, requiring banks to refurbish the payment experiences delivered to clients.
  2. The significance of payment data. The ISO20022 data standard for payments is heavier and richer compared to legacy payments data, and is expected to be the global norm for all payments by 2025. Banks are under increasing pressure to comply, with players like SWIFT already migrating to this format and more than 70 countries already using ISO20022. Payment solutions that can create intuitive insights from centralized data stored in ISO20022 format, while also being able to convert, enrich and validate legacy messaging into ISO20022, are essential. Banks can benefit from innovative services like B2B invoices and supply chain finance, as Request for Payment overlay services is a key messaging capability for customers of real-time payments.
  3. Interoperability of payment systems. The interoperability between payment systems will be an imperative, especially with the ecosystem of different payment rails that banks have to support. Interoperable payment rails call for intelligent routing, insulating the payer and payee from the “how” of payment orchestration, and paving the way for more operational efficiency. Operating costs account for more than 68% of bank payment revenues; centralizing the management of multiple payment networks through an interoperable payment hub allows bankers to minimize these costs and improve their bottom lines.
  4. Streamlining payment operations. Work stream silos lead to fragmented, inefficient and redundant payment operations, including duplicated fraud and compliance elements. This is where payment hubs can add value by streamlining payment operations through a single, consolidated operation for all payment types. Payment hubs are a great precursor for subsequent modernization: intelligent payment hubs can handle omnichannel payments, as well as different payment types like ACH, Fedwire, RTP and FedNow in the future. This takes care of the entire payment lifecycle: initiation, authorization, clearing, settlement and returns.
  5. Future-proofing payment systems. Following the path of trendsetters, banks have to equip themselves with future-proof solutions that can adapt to real-time domestic and cross-border payment systems processing multiple currencies. As open-banking trends gain traction, it is important to consider that the winds of change will eventually find payments, too. It is imperative that banks are cloud based and API driven, so they can innovate while being future-ready.

The opportunity cost of not offering real-time payments is becoming more evident for banks, as they wait for their core providers to enable real-time payments. Calls for banks to modernize their payments infrastructure are swelling to a roar; now is the time for banks to define their payments modernization strategy and begin to act.

Adding Value With Merchant Services

Leading with merchant services can help a bank acquire new customers, according to a recent Accenture study commissioned by Fiserv. On average, these accounts are more profitable: Compared to other business accounts, merchant account holders generate 2.6 times more revenue. In this video, Michael Rogers of Fiserv explains how these accounts help banks grow and offers considerations for how bank leaders can enrich this valuable product.

  • Leading With Payments
  • Building Relationships
  • Strengthening Your Offering

To access Fiserv’s study, “From Revenue to Retention: Growing Your Deposits With Merchant Services,” click HERE.

Designing an Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed

With more businesses choosing fintechs and neo-banks to address their financial needs, banks must innovate quickly and stay up-to-date with the latest business banking trends to get ahead of the competition.

In fact, 62% of businesses say that their business banking accounts offer no more features or benefits than their personal accounts. Fintechs have seized on this opportunity. Banks are struggling to keep up with the more than 140 firms competing to help business customers like yours manage their finances.

Narmi interviewed businesses to identify what their current business banking experience is like, and what additional features they would like to have. To help banks better understand what makes a great business banking experience, we’ve put together Designing a Banking Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed, a free online resource free for bank executives.

A banking platform built with business owners in mind will help them focus on what matters most — running a successful company. In turn, banks will be able to grow accounts, drive business deposits and get ahead of fintech competitors encroaching on their market share.

Understanding How Businesses Bank
No business is the same. Each has different financial needs and a way of operating. Narmi chose to talk with a range of business owners via video chat, including an early-stage startup, a dog-walking service, a bakery, a design agency and a CPA firm.

Each business used a variety of banks, including Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., SVB Financial Group, Bank of America Corp. and more.

A few of the questions we asked:

  1. How is your current business banking experience?
  2. Which tools do you most frequently use to help your business run smoothly?
  3. How often do you log in?
  4. What are the permissions like on your business banking platform?
  5. What features do you wish your business banking platform could provide?

We conducted more than 20 hour-long interviews with the goal of better understanding how business owners use their bank: what they liked and disliked about their banking experience, how they would want to assign access to other employees, and explore possible new features.

We learned that businesses tended to choose a financial institution on three factors: familiarity and ease, an understanding of what they do and competitive loan offers. Business owners shared with us how their experience with the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program factored into their decision about where they currently bank.

They tended to log into their accounts between once a day and once a week and oscillated between their phone and computers; the more transactions they had, the more frequently they checked their accounts. They appreciated when their institution offered a clean and intuitive user experience.

We also uncovered:

  • How do businesses handle their payments.
  • What do businesses think of their current banking features.
  • How do business owners want to manage permissions.

Want to read more? Download a free copy of Designing a Banking Experience that Empowers Businesses to Succeed.

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

 

Defending Commercial Deposits From Emerging Risks

The competition for commercial deposits has become fiercer in the new decade.

The rate of noninterest deposits growth has been declining over the last three years, according to quarterly reports from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The percentage of noninterest deposits to total deposits has also dropped over 250 basis points since 2016. This comes as the cost of funding earning assets continues to rise, creating pressure on banks’ net interest margins.  

At the same time, corporate customers are facing changes in their receipt of payments. Emerging payment trends are shifting payers from paper-based payments to other methods and avenues. Checks and paper-based payments — historically the most popular method — continue to decline as payers’ preferred payment method. Electronic payments have grown year-over-year by 9.4%.

Newer payment channels include mobile, point of presentment and payment portals. However, these new payment channels can increase the cost of processing electronic payments: 88% of these payments must be manually re-keyed by the accounting staff, according to one study. This inefficiency in manually processing payments increases costs and often leads to customer service issues.

Treasurers and senior corporate managers want automated solutions to handle increased electronic payment trends. Historically, banks have served their corporate customers for years with wholesale and retail lockbox services. But many legacy lockbox services are designed for paper-based payments, which are outdated and cannot handle electronic payments. Research shows that these corporate customers are turning to fintechs to solve their new payment processing challenges. Payments were the No. 1 threat that risked moving to fintechs, according to a 2017 Global Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Corporate customers are dissatisfied with their current process and are looking to use technology to modernize, future-proof, and upgrade their accounts receivable process. The top five needs of today’s treasurer include: enterprise resource planning (ERP) integration, automated payment matching, support for all payment channels, consolidated reporting and a single historical archive of their payments. 

Integrated receivables have three primary elements: payment matching, ERP integration and a single reporting archive. Automation matches payments from all channels using artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to eliminate the manual keying process. The use of flexible business rules allows the corporate to tailor their operation to meet their needs and increase automated payments over time. A consolidated payment file updates the corporates’ ERP system after completing the payment reconciliation process. Finally, integrated receivable provides a single source of all payment data, including analytics and reporting. An integrated receivables platform eliminates many disparate processes (most manual, some automated) that plague most businesses today. In fact, in one recent survey, almost 60% of treasurers were dissatisfied with their company’s current level of AR automation.

Banks can play a pivotal role in the new payment world by partnering with a fintech. Fintechs have been building platforms to serve the more-complex needs of corporate treasury, but pose a threat to the banks’ corporate customers. A corporate treasurer using a fintech for integrated receivables ultimately disintermediates the bank and now has the flexibility to choose where to place their depository and borrowing relationships. 

The good news is that the treasurer of your corporate customer would prefer to do business with their bank. According to Aite Research, 73% of treasurers believe their bank should offer integrated receivables, with 31% believing the bank will provide these services over the next five years. Moreover, 54% of the treasurers surveyed have planned investments to update their AR platform in the next few years. 

Many fintechs offer integrated receivables today, with new entrants coming to market every year. But bankers need to review the background and experience of their fintech partner. Banks should look for partners with expertise and programs that will enable the bank’s success. Banks should also be wary of providers that compete directly against them in the corporate market. Partnering with the right fintech provides your bank with a valuable service that your corporate customers need today, and future-proofs your treasury function for new and emerging payment channels. Most importantly, integrated receivables will allow your bank to continue retaining and attracting corporate deposits.

Preparing Cards for the Next Era in Payments


credit-card-9-3-19.pngAdvancements in payments technologies have forever changed consumer expectations. More than ever, they demand financial services that stay in step with their busy, mobile lives.

Financial institutions must respond with products and services that deliver convenience, freedom and control. They can stay relevant to cardholders by enabling secure and easy digital transactions through their debit and credit cards. Banks should digitize, utilize, securitize and monetize their card programs to meaningfully meet their customers’ needs.

Digitize
Banks should develop and deploy digital solutions like wallets, alerts and card controls, to provide an integrated, seamless and efficient payments experience. Consumers have an array of choices for their financial services, and they will go where they find the greatest value.

Nonfinancial competitors have proven adept at capturing consumers via embedded payment options that deliver a streamlined experience. Their goals are to gather cardholder information, cross-sell new services and extract a growing share of the payments value chain. Financial institutions can ensure their cards remain top-of-wallet for consumers by developing a digital strategy focused on driving deep cardholder engagement. Digital wallets are the place to start.

The adoption curve for digital wallets follows the path of online banking’s early years, suggesting an impending sharp rise in the use of digital wallets. A majority of the largest retailers now accept contactless payments, according to a 2019 survey from Boston Retail Partners. And one in six U.S. banking consumers reported paying with a digital wallet within the last 30 days, according to a 2018 Fiserv survey. Almost three-fourths of cardholders say paying for purchases is more convenient with tokenized mobile payments, a Mercator Advisory Group survey found.

Financial institutions can deliver significant benefits to consumers and reap measurable returns by leveraging existing and emerging digital tools, such as merchant-based geographic reward offers.

Utilize
Banks need to provide their cardholders with comprehensive information about how digital solutions can meet their expectations and needs. Implementing digital tools, providing a frictionless financial service experience and helping customers understand and use their benefits can empower them to transact in real-time on their devices, including mobile phones, computers and tablets. Banks’ communications programs are important to encourage adoption and use the implemented digital products and services.

Securitize
Banks will have to balance digital innovation with risk mitigation strategies that keep consumers safe and don’t disrupt transactions. Digital payments are highly secure due to tokenization — a process where numerical values replace consumers’ personal information for transaction purposes. Tokenized digital wallet transactions are an important first step toward preventing mobile payments fraud.

Mobile apps that enable cardholders to receive transaction alerts and actively manage card usage also significantly improving card security. Fiserv analysis shows use of a card controls app may reduce signature fraud by up to 53%, while increasing card usage and spending.

Banks need strategies focused on detecting and preventing fraud in real time without impacting card usage and cardholder satisfaction. This can be a significant point of differentiation for card providers. A prudent approach can include implementing predictive analytics and decision-management technology. And because consumers want to be involved in managing and protecting their accounts, they should have the option to create customized transaction alerts and controls. Finally, direct access to experienced risk analysts who work to identify evolving fraud threats can significantly improve overall results.

A recent analysis from the Federal Reserve indicated debit fraud is running at approximately 11.2 basis points, which compares the average value of fraud to total transaction dollars. In comparison, Fiserv debit card clients experience only 5.08 basis points of fraud.

Card issuers balance risk rules that help mitigate fraud against cardholder disruption stemming from falsely-declined transactions. These lost transaction opportunities can reduce revenue and increase reputational risk. An experienced risk mitigation partner can help banks strike the right balance between fraud detection and consumer satisfaction to maximize profitability.

More Engaged Users Are

Based on these average monthly debit transactions: Gray = Low 12.6, Blue = Casual (medium) 18.3, High = High 21.4, Orange = Super (highest) 28.4
Net Promoter Score = Measure of cardholder loyalty and value in institution relationship
Cross-Sold Ration = Percentage of householders with a DDA for longer for longer than six months but open to a new deposit or loan account in the most recent six months
Return on Assets = Percentage of profit related to earnings

Monetize
Banks can turn digital solutions into engines of growth by creating stronger, more lasting consumer relationships. A digital portfolio can be more than just a set of solutions — it can drive significant new revenue and growth opportunities. By delivering secure, frictionless digital services to consumers when and where they need them, banks can maintain their positions as trusted financial service providers. Engaged users are profitable users.

Digitize. Utilize. Securitize. Monetize. Achieving the right combination of innovative products and exceptional consumer experiences will enhance a bank’s card portfolio growth, operational efficiency and market share.

The Myth that Binds Banks to Their Payment Processors


payment-7-22-19.pngBanks are losing a heavyweight fight, one in which they did not know they were participating. Their opponent? The ever-growing giants of debit card processing in an ever-shrinking ring of industry consolidation.

Over the past few years, interchange income has surpassed all traditional types of deposit-based fee income, making it the number one source of deposit-based non-interest income. But in order to maximize that income, interchange network arrangements must be effectively managed and optimized. Executives must sift through misinformation to consider several critical issues when it comes to protecting interchange income.

Many bankers aren’t aware they can choose which vendors process their customers’ debit card transactions from the point-of-sale and believe they are forced into selecting the PIN-based debit card transaction network provided by their core or EFT processor. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Debit card transaction networks have varying negotiable switch fees, increasingly complex expense structures and several types of incentive offerings for transaction routing loyalty or priority. Most importantly, these vendors offer differing interchange income pay rates; some even support PIN-less routing, which negatively affects the interchange income bank card issuers can earn for certain transaction types. This means bankers must thoroughly evaluate their options to find a partner that can generate above-average interchange profit.

Oftentimes a bank’s core or electronic funds transfer (EFT) processor offers the least-competitive option when compared to other PIN networks. Since the Durbin Amendment awarded merchants the power of the card transaction network choice, EFT processors are negotiating with merchants to get as many transactions on their network as possible. The processors do this by offering lower PIN and PIN-less rates than their competitors.

Of course, if a merchant can divert less of the purchase amount in interchange with the bank, then they absolutely will. The merchant simply chooses the transaction-routing options that are less expensive to them, and pays less to the bank. In this type of situation—where it appears that banks have little control—what can a banker do?

One way for bankers to exert influence is by limiting network choices on their debit cards. Banks should limit the PIN networks available for routing their debit card transactions to a maximum of two. At the same time, banks must select the best two-network combination to force the merchants’ hands, providing the best rates possible. This tactic tips the power scales back toward the card issuers.

Some processors are creating networks to compete with Visa and Mastercard for routing dual-message, or signature transactions. These signature-routing networks, being rolled out by PIN network processors, will likely be structured to appeal to merchants in attempts to win as many transactions as possible. As one might guess, this will further pressure bank income.

Most recently, it’s also been observed that several networks setup for ATM-only routing by their participating issuers were gaining PIN point-of-sale transactions from merchants. They did this by allowing PIN-less routing and simply being present as a network option on the issuers’ debit card network arrangement. Both of these tactics create confusion for banks, and build a case for closely monitoring network performance.

Banks participating in their core or EFT processor’s PIN network should take a close look at how their PIN-based interchange income has performed over the past two to three years. They should compare their current PIN income rates to the rate averages in the FED Interchange Study, fully considering the historical trend being reviewed. This can be a great first step for banks to regain some control of their interchange income.

The Great Payments Opportunity


payments-5-20-19.pngBanks have an opportunity to deepen relationships with their corporate customers facing payment challenges. One promising product could be integrated receivables solutions.

While most business-to-business payments are still done through paper check, electronic payments are growing rapidly. Paper checks remain at about 50 percent of business-to-business payments, according to the 2016 Electronic Payments Survey by the Association for Financial Professionals. But Automated Clearing House payments grew 9.4 percent in 2018, according to the National Automated Clearinghouse Association — a trend that is forcing businesses with high receivables volumes to look for ways to process electronic payments more efficiently.

Electronic payments create unique challenges for bank corporate customers. While the deposit is received electronically at the bank, the remittance and detailed payment information are typically sent separately in an email, document or spreadsheet. The corporate treasurer must manually connect, or re-associate, the remittance information to the deposit, which creates delays in crediting the customers’ account. As electronic ACH volumes increase, treasurers solve this problem by hiring more accounting staff to reconcile these payments.

Corporates also face added complexity from payment networks, which are becoming a more common way for large companies to pay their suppliers. While more efficient for the payer, this process requires treasury staff to log onto multiple payment network aggregation sites and download the remittance information. These downloaded files require manual re-association to the payment in order to credit the customer’s account, which requires adding more staff.

Corporates are also using mobile to accept field payments, like collecting payment on the delivery of goods or services, new customer orders or credit holds and collections. However, mobile payments again force treasurers to manually reconcile them. Moreover, most commercial banking mobile applications are designed for the treasurer of the business, with features such as balances, history and transfers. Collecting field payments needs to be configured so that field representative can simply collect the payments and remittance.

The corporate treasurer needs increased levels of automation to solve these challenges and problems. Traditional bank lockbox processing was designed for checks and relies on manual entry of the corporate’s payments and delivery of a reconciled file. This paper-based approach will be insufficient as more payments become electronic.

Treasurers should consider integrated receivables systems that match all payments types from all payment channels using artificial intelligence. A consolidated payment file updates the corporate’s enterprise resource planning system once these payments are processed. The integrated receivable solution then provides the corporate with a single archive of all their payments, rather than just a lockbox.

Right now, corporate customers are looking to financial technology firms for integrated receivable solutions because banks are moving too slowly. This disintermediates corporate customers from the banks they do business with. But almost 73 percent of corporate treasurers believe it is important or very important for their bank to provide integrated receivables, according to Aite.

This is an opportunity for bankers. The integrated receivable market offers many software solutions for banks so they can quickly ramp up and meet the needs of their corporate customers.

Bankers have a wide range of fintech partners to choose from for integrated receivables software and should look for one with expertise and knowledge of the corporate market. The solutions should leverage artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to process payments from any channel, include security with high availability and be easy for the bank and corporate customers to use.

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.

Zelle Costs Bankers Money, Venmo Can Make Bankers Money


payments-11-29-18.pngZelle, the personal payments platform developed by a consortium of large banks, is poised to become the most used P2P app by the end of the year—outpacing PayPal’s Venmo service, according to the market research company eMarketer.

But does that make Zelle a must-offer capability for the banking industry? Not necessarily.

eMarketer projects the personal payments market to grow nearly 30 percent in 2018, to 82.5 million people—or about 40 percent of all smartphone users in the U.S.

Zelle was developed by the likes of JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. to compete with Venmo, Square Cash, also known more simply as just “the Cash app,” and other up-and-coming third-party P2P services.

You can think of Zelle as the banking industry’s containment strategy—just like France’s vaunted Maginot Line in World War II that was supposed to keep out the German army.

The network of banks offering Zelle has grown to 161, but is a closed system where consumers at participating banks can send personal payments—for free, and in real time—to anyone at another Zelle bank.

One factor that probably accounts for Zelle’s fast growth was the decision to include it in each participating bank’s mobile app. So, if a customer’s bank belongs to the Zelle network, they are automatically a potential user.

While Zelle is a weapon that banks can use to beat back Venmo and Square Cash, the third-most frequently used P2P app, it does have its drawbacks. While Zelle is both free to the user and instantaneous, it costs the participating bank between $0.50 to $0.75 per transaction. So as Zelle’s transaction volume increases, so will each bank’s costs.

Charging users a transaction fee to offset that cost probably isn’t realistic since Venmo and Square Cash are free, although Venmo does charge $0.25 for instant transfers. A good analogy is online bill pay. It costs banks something to offer that service, but most banks don’t charge for it. They offer it for free because all their competitors do, and because it’s a hassle for customers to disentangle their finances from one bank’s online bill pay service and connect with another bank’s service, which can be a disincentive to switching.

Free online bill payment has become table stakes in retail banking, and P2P may go that way as well. But P2P transaction volume has yet to build to such levels that there’s a sense of urgency for all banks to offer Zelle today, lest they find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

“Urgency means I immediately need to get Zelle. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case,” says Tony DeSanctis, a senior director at Cornerstone Advisors. “Why am I better off offering a product where I’m going to pay 50 to 75 cents a transaction to move money … and also pay the fixed costs to [integrate] it?”

There is, in fact, an argument to offering Zelle and Venmo, or maybe just Venmo. If a bank allows its consumers to include the Venmo app in their digital wallet and prefund the account, Venmo will pay them an interchange fee on every transaction. So while Zelle costs its participating banks money, Venmo offers them a small revenue opportunity to offset their costs.

Zelle is also a private network (which means other people can’t see your transactions) that is marketed to all demographic groups. Venmo, on the other hand, is a social payment network popular with younger generations who are among its biggest users. Richard Crone, CEO of Crone Consulting LLC, says banks are missing out on an important opportunity in social payments.

“A social network is not about [being] social,” says Crone. “It’s a marketing platform and it’s the most effective marketing out there because it’s word-of-mouth. It’s a referral. It’s peer pressure. And that’s how Venmo grows virally.”

Embracing Zelle and other non-bank payments options like Venmo, Square Cash, Apple Pay Cash and Google Pay could be described as a ubiquity strategy. Both DeSanctis and Crone argue that banks should accommodate a variety of payment options within their mobile apps that are linked to their debit and credit cards, just to stay relevant in the evolving payments space.

The problem is that when it comes to payments, most banks really don’t have a strategy. And hiding behind a virtual Maginot Line probably isn’t going to work.

Indeed, history is instructive. The invading German army easily flanked the Maginot Line, which now serves as a metaphor for a false sense of security.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that transfers sent over the Zelle app do not occur in real time. This is incorrect. We regret the error.