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.

Unlocking Smartphone Secrets


mobile-apps-9-4-15.pngSoon, your bank may know more about you than you could imagine. Bank Director recently spoke with Stephen Burke, chief operating officer for Context360, a startup firm in San Mateo, California. Context360 uses a smartphone’s sensors to track user location and behavior, including what other apps the person is using on the phone and when. There are a variety of potential fraud and marketing applications for the technology. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. earlier this year awarded the company seed money to develop its platform for potential banking uses.

Tell me what Context360 does.
We started out three years ago focused on game developers trying to solve the problem called retention and engagement. Unlike the web, where web sites know where you came from and where you went [by] using cookies and various devices, apps are very much siloed. You don’t know where [users] came from when they open your app or where they go when they close your app. What if we could provide insights into what users do outside your app?

How does it work?
All smartphones have sensors. Once it’s installed and the user has accepted the permissions, it runs in the background. It collects changes in the phone’s state, like the phone moving, or logging in. If you open your mail app, that gets registered. Our license terms explicitly require our customers to get informed consent from the end users. I want to be very clear. We don’t have your contact lists, email content and we are not looking at SMS [text message] content. We just know that someone is spending two hours per day texting, but we don’t know the content of those texts.

I understand that Wells Fargo is interested in this as a way to prevent fraud, by knowing the customer’s location through the sensor in their smartphone and comparing that to where the credit card is being used, for example.
If you use the United app in the last few hours, that is a good indication that you might be traveling soon. We don’t know if it’s you. We know it’s your phone. If you have opted in to be directly recognized, if you are traveling a lot, you may opt to link your bank user profile with your smartphone profile.

So the bank app would know that I was doing something in an airline app, or that I had downloaded a boarding pass, so they don’t have to block my credit card when I travel to that city?
Yup. Or you could check into the Four Seasons hotel in London and because your phone is logged into the wifi there, we know it’s you. At the end of the day, your phone is you. It is the single most ubiquitous personal device ever. Similarly, if you travel back and your credit card continues to be used in London but your phone is in Tennessee, that’s a signal those charges should be blocked. We are in the middle of three weeks of testing for another use case, which is lead generation or cross selling. The example here is you suddenly have an interest in real estate apps such as Trulia or Zillow, and that’s a sign you might be in the market for a house. If I’m Wells Fargo, I have a new loan rate and I have 6,000 people in Tennessee who have been looking for real estate, so why don’t I send them a message right now that they should come in and talk to a loan officer now?

As a user, do you know what I’m searching for on the web?
No. We see the broad category, such as she just downloaded an app. But we don’t see what you’re searching for on the web.

But Wells Fargo is not actually using this with customers yet?
It is only being done with Wells Fargo employees in a trial. We’ve raised about $1 million to date including the seed funding from Wells Fargo. We have several other clients using our software and about 7 million active users on our platform right now, ranging from real estate apps, retail, to voice over IP and banking. We have about six game developers in the U.S. using it. We are in discussions with a large bank in the U.K. to do something similar to what we’re doing with Wells Fargo.