CEO View – Battle of the Cloud Part 5

There is a payment cluster war going on right now and it is the subject in the C Suite in Banks and the Payment industry. The battle is happening at every level. I’ll be leading a panel at Money 2020 which addresses several of these items, with participation from V/MA… should be interesting. Here are a few updates.

22 July 2013

This post is a continuation/update to my post back in March Network War – Battle of the Cloud Part 4. Sorry for typos.

There is a payment war going on right now and it is the subject of C Suite strategy talks. The battle is happening at every level. I’ll be leading a panel at Money 2020 which addresses several of these items, with participation from V/MA… should be interesting. Here are a few updates.

Network Clusters

Network/Routing/Rules

  • $8B Revenue Impact. I apologize to my EU readers for my constant US focus. Let me break the mold now to emphasize the earth shaking changes going on in the EU (See today’s NYT blog, and today’s WSJ). Going from 250bps + cross border fees to 30 bps will be tremendous, and may set a precedent for the US litigation between Visa/MA and top retailers.
  • EU provides a glimpse at what a world of payment “dumb pipes”  and least cost routing looks like (see Blog Payments Innovation in Europe).  Canada and Australia also follow these lines in debit (see Blog). Also see my favorite case study in Europe  Sofort – ECB analysis, and Push Payments.
  • Networks, and their members are reacting to regulation and positioning themselves (individually) to “push” their respective vision of innovation in order to protect their brand and network (see Visa Money Transfer, and Visa Portfolio Manager). I don’t mean to limit this to just Visa and Mastercard (see picture, and blog).
  • New networks are forming (see Blog on Clusters)
  • Large issuers like JPM have successfully forced Visa to break/segment its Visa net, and run under unique JPM/CMS rules with new capabilities. Visa’s CEO comments to investors: “rules must be consistent with Visa”..  My view is that this is a major crack in Visa’s network ownership (see Golden Goose on the Menu).payments pyramid
  • From a wallet perspective the rules on “wrapping” are killing much innovation (see don’t wrap me). Top issuers are actively working to inhibit wrapping of their payment products (ex Mastercard’s staged digital wallet fee of 35bps on PREVIOUS years volume of over $50M..  which only impacts paypal).  Similarly Amex and Visa are working to ensure their cards are not wrapped.
  • Rules are being issued and ignored, from Visa Money Transfer to EMV (see below). Banks tell Visa “do you want me to write the waiver or will you send it over… as we are not going to do this”.. which is one reason JPM just created its own unique rule set. Similarly US merchants face a liability shift (on to them) if they do not accept EMV cards (chip and pin). All are playing a game of chicken as no one wants to re-issue plastic. Visa has created a new type of EMV, chip and SIGNATURE, which makes absolutely no sense at all, but helps them keep customers away from PIN (which Visa despises, but everyone else loves).
  • Cross boarder fees (see blog). As 20%-30% of network revenue moves to these fees, it is becoming a substantail pain point for global banks like Citi, HSBC, Barclays, .. A big topic I can’t fully cover here

Issuance

  • US Banks are spending 90% of their time in innovation around Credit Cards. Exception is Bank of America and to some extent my old team at Wells. In either case the banks have hit a wall, and recognize that innovation can’t happen in a 4 party network. American Express is 5 years ahead of them and they can’t catch up.. they must change.
  • The NATURE of card completion is changing in both credit and debit. Traditional Payment revenue is being REGULATED AWAY as payments become “dumb pipes”. The goal most have recognized is that the real value to be unlocked is in commerce data, particularly Payment Enabled CRM (see blog). Examples of just how focused this effort is: 22 Banks working in Secure Cloud, ~$1B in Google Wallet Investment,  ~$500M in ISIS investment,  JPM just hired Len Laufler (former CEO of Argus Data) to be the new CEO of Data in Chase.
  • Banks thus need to build a network which can accommodate both payments and “other data” which they own and control (like Amex)… hence “tokenization” (see Blog, and TCH Announcement).
  • Tokenization is currently going nowhere.. but it is “impacting” the industry and many start ups as banks and networks position themselves (see JPM/Visa Blog, Start up implications).
  •  Visa and MA also have their own secret token efforts. Merchants have a much better short term win in this approach with a liability shift and reduction in interchange, but they also know from past experience that if the issuers are not on board, there will be a much broader business impact in declines (see VBV post, and Visa’s Token Strategy).
  • Retailers are attacking from below. Bottom 40% of mass market customers are not profitable for banks (Durbin related items ranging from NSF fee changes, to debit interchange) . These customers are profitable for retailers like Walmart, Tesco, Target, .. (see Blog).
  • Telcos have a chance to own a new payments network, as they have both physical distribution, customer relationship, connectivity and device.. but they are focused on controlling a handset in a walled garden strategy. To succeed they must refocus efforts on COMMERCE, which means partnering with all participants to construct a value proposition (see blog).

Acquiring

  • The first hurdle of any “New” network is to get the merchants and acquirers on board.
    1. This is NOT going well for companies like Paypal … hence the complete failure of their DFS partnership (see blog). Specifically, there is at least one major acquirer which is refusing to route traffic on any of these new Discover/Paypal BINs, as well as at least 2 major retailers. Although Discover is a 3 party network, they only acquire directly for their top 100 merchants. Therefore Paypal must “incent” and negotiate with every single other acquirer AND merchant.
    2. Chase is working to build a new CMS acceptance brand, which will be different from Visa.
    3. Retailers are building their own network (MCX), and have hired Dekkers Davidson, a tremendous executive, to lead it.
  • Roughly 60% of acquiring profits come from bottom 30% of merchants. There are small independent merchants that are paying over 5% in acceptance fees thanks to the poor transparency within the ISO sales process. Companies like Levelup and Square are changing this (2.75% flat, or free if you commit to marketing). I’ve eaten my shoe on Square, as I never fully understood how badly the ISOs were treating small independent retailers. Their solution solves a short term pain point and also improves customer experience.
  • Acquirers are making POSITIVE headway in merchant friendly services (see blog), particularly helping merchants “merge” consumer data to gain new insights for loyalty and incentives. They are challenged to quickly ramp up this services revenue, in order to overcome the new aggregators acting on the side of small independents (ie Square).

POS Acceptance

  • Has anyone seen the graph of Verifone’s stock? Market cap of under $2B. A hardware company that could not adapt to a software world. At the bottom end they are being eaten by free Roam/Square dongles at the top end are facing integrated POS Terminals from IBM/Toshiba and Micros. Dedicated payment terminal are commodities, and thus suffer from commodity like competition. Grand hopes for re-terminalization with EMV and NFC are not happening (see blog). New dongles and mobile acceptance infrastructure is developing even in the complex EMV space (see Tedipay.com )stand
  • POS strategy centers around data as well. Google’s Zave purchase has given them opportunity to help retailers focus advertising and eliminate paper coupons independent of payment network. Other leaders like Fishbowl and Open Table in Restaurants have integrated into the POS. The BIG idea here is to integrate the POS to the cloud and Google is now 5-7 yrs ahead of everyone (2 yrs engineering, 2 yrs IBM Certification, 3 yrs to sell and test w/ retailers, +++ yrs in content/ads/targeting).
  • Square’s new Stand is an integrated payment, POS, inventory management, CRM, marketing and loyalty system.. all on an iPad.
  • Payment Terminal “software”. Verifone’s Verix architecture and equivalent schemes have failed. Idea was to allow 3rd party developers to create “apps” for a non-secure space in the payment terminal. For example, 2 years ago, Google’s first version of wallet leveraged NFC to communicate “coupons” to the payment terminal, which then relayed to the POS.  Problems are obvious..  A grocer like Safeway has 2,000 person development team around their IBM 4690 POS, guess how many engineers support the payment terminal? NONE. They don’t want apps on a PCI compliant payment terminal.. it goes beyond question of who will manage them. Also note that payment terminal interaction with the POS is simple today (payment request and authorization).  There is also significant development work to RECEIVE coupons from a PAYMENT Terminal.

Services

  • This section could fill a book, so I will make this brief. All network participants are working to deliver services. The 4 party networks cannot innovate. For example, take a look at my very first blog, topic was Googlization of FS. Visa built an offers services with Monitise and Clairmail 3-4 yrs ago, but the large issuers refused to use it, preferring to innovate themselves. Another example is V.me, a topic which makes Card CEOs red faced. These points exemplify the dynamic w/ V/MA and the large issuers.. Issuers want to dumb down the pipes and limit services, V/MA want to grow them and relationships with consumers.
  • Current state is myopia.. everyone is working as if they uniquely own the customer. Banks and Card Linked offers are top example. When you go into a bank branch, do you want to buy socks? dog food? Of course not! Banks have great data but they are in no position to run an advertising campaign. I’ve run 2 of the largest online banks in the world (Citi and Wachovia) and can tell you retail customers spend about 90 seconds with me, they log on check their balance make a payment and leave. They don’t stay around to click on coupons. Commerce, and retail, is in the midst of a fundamental restructuring as online and off line worlds converge in new ways (beyond show rooming).
  • Payments are just a small part of the overall commerce value chain, yet they have by far the highest cost. The proposed 30bps EU fee cap may occur in other markets, thus banks are working feverously to build services to replace this revenue (primarily around credit cards), with CLOs largely failing to deliver value (see blog). Yesterday we say Ally Bank discontinue Card offers, following Amex last week.

Payments – Wrapping, Rules, Acquiring and Tokens

if Google had challenges pulling off POS innovation (after ~$1B in investment), rest assured you will too. Banks are well positioned to throw sand in your gears … focus on delivering value within merchant –consumer relationship.

18 June 2013 (sorry for typos)

Thought it was time for blog this week. Primary objective is to inform the venture community of changes which may impact payment related start ups. Sorry that the title isn’t a little more polished (you can tell I’m rather left brained). The exec summary of this blog: don’t ever bet your business on someone else’s rules… particularly if they themselves don’t own them.

Background

All Networks are working on unique token schemes (as I outlined in: Payment Tokenization, “New” ACH System, Visa’s Token Plans and Business Impact of Tokenization). The business drivers here are: #1 Control, #2 Mobile Payments. The US Banks have gotten together in The Clearing House (TCH Tokens) and are in the midst of piloting with 2 providers. In this TCH token initiative, the banks have logically determined that if a customer doesn’t need to see their Primary Account Number (PAN), then they will provide a number which they can uniquely resolve. For example, in mobile payments Citi could put in a unique Citi 16 digit number that is not a MasterCard, not a Visa card, not an ACH account number.. its just a Citi “token”.  Citi can decide how to resolve this number adaptively.. based upon what the customer wants, or what products they have with them.  There are MANY benefits to this approach:

  • Banks control account
  • Banks control DATA (transactional and account information)
  • Banks own network rules
  • No fees to other networks
  • Set unique (NON DURBIN) pricing for a NEW payment product.
  • No restrictions on “Routing”
  • Enables banks to “switch” providers of any payment service or network clearing
  • more detail here…etc

This is a BRILLIANT move by banks. I believe that this central bank “facility” within The Clearing House will be their centerpiece for consolidating all of Debit, in addition to the mobile play.

TCH Tokens are not the only game. Visa, Mastercard and Amex (through Serve) are also in this token game, and others like Payfone (through phone number as token at VZ/ATT), Google (through TXVIA) are also on the periphery. My view is that the BEST tokens are ones you don’t have to issue (ie Square/Voice, Apple/Biometric, Google/Facial Geometry, Payfone/Phone #…).  I outlined dynamics of the strategies in my blog last year “Directory Battle Part 1 – Battle of the Cloud”.  Its amazing that this topic is not covered more broadly in the mainstream… of course most of these efforts above are not discussed at all, and sometimes denied.

Of all the token initiatives, I believe Visa is most likely to succeed. This is not a typo… I’ve been very negative on Visa in the past.. as they have alienated everyone. But Charlie has started to change the culture, he has pulled the JPM relationship out of the toilet and has made a tremendous hire with Ryan. Why do I like Visa’s token prospects? They failed in their first initiative (non 16 digit PAN required big changes by everyone), and learned their lessons. However, most importantly, they can change the rates through rules on CNP and risk “ownership” creating a “new” version of VBV, with the best payment brand.

Wrapping

Currently the networks are at war with anyone attempting to wrap their product and add incremental value. As I outlined in Don’t Wrap Me, and Battle of the Cloud Part 3

The threat to banks from “plastic aggregation” at POS from solutions like Amex/Serve, PayPal/Discover, Square/Visa, MCX, Google is real. Make no mistake, Banks have legitimate concerns surrounding ability support consumers and adjust their risk models. But the real business driver here is to “influence” mobile payment solutions that do not align to their business objectives. Key areas for bank concerns:

  • #1 CUSTOMER DATA
  • Top of wallet card (how does card become default payment instrument)
  • Credit card ability to deliver other services (like offers, alerts, …)
  • Ability for issuer to strike unique pricing agreements w/ key merchants
  • Brand
  •  …etc

Visa, MA, Amex, DFS are in a great position to “stop” wrapping. What does this mean? They have initiated new rules, fees, cease and desists, threats of litigation …etc. Banks are thus looking to circumvent these restrictions by placing their “token” with the customer. This token is thus a new quasi acceptance “brand”.

Acceptance is therefore the new battle arena (who can convince merchants to accept their tokens, rules, rates, …). eCommerce may have slipped away from the banks and networks (PayPal), but they are determined not to let this happen in mCommerce, or at the POS.  JPM has structured its new agreement with Visa  to give them the flexibility on rules in acquiring and network routing for a new acceptance brand (Chase Merchant Services – CMS).

Retailers

Retailers are not the dumb mutts that banks assume. The MCX consortium realizes that greater bank control does NOT benefit them unless the Visa ratesservice is ubiquitous and standard so that banks can compete against each other, with no switching costs. Analogy here is internet traffic routing…They just want the payment cleared, with transparency/control in price, speed, risk.  Retailers also want the death of bank card rewards schemes, and if they can’t kill them instantly, want the ability to deny “preferred” cards. I told a major retailer yesterday that they should offer an “X Prize” to anyone that can make sense of Visa’s rate structure in a youtube video.

Many Retailer’s also have a “token” in form of a loyalty card.. with Target’s Redcard, and Starbucks demonstrating the model in which a retailer led payment scheme could work. For retailers, their loyalty program is fundamentally about selling data, and trade spend.

As a side note, the “big” secret in acquisition is that most (~60%) of profits come from the bottom third of retailers.. specifically the small independents that don’t know enough to negotiate (hence the ISO business). Companies like Walmart negotiate heavily with the top issuers to reduce rates from “standard”.. and still end up paying over $1B a year.Square fees

I see a substantial opportunity for acquirers to participate in what I would discussed within Payment Enabled CRM. This would change their profitability from one driven by small merchants to data/analytics. This is undoubtedly what JPM sees within CMS. Retailers know that they can’t further empower the big bank with their data, but rather need an independent party to run the CRM platform for them.

Summary

I’ve already spent a little more time than I was anticipating here. For start ups my message is quite simple, if Google had challenges pulling off POS innovation (after ~$1B in investment), rest assured you will too. Banks are well positioned to throw sand in your gears … focus on delivering value within merchant –consumer relationship. The Mobile-retail interaction is greenfield, and there are 1000s of different flavors.. no one company will be the centerpiece here. Avoid POS payments.. or be the “arms provider” to the big institutions as they duke it out. My view is that the key for MNOs, Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung’s future value is

#1 Authentication (Linking the Physical and Virtual World)

#2 Orchestration (Coordinating Virtual and Physical World Processes, Data and Value Chain)

Payment Tokenization

Banks don’t really want consumers to choose… not really… they will make their favored option seamless and ensure friction with everything else. This is normal business behavior, but payments are a networked business. Banks SHOULD be neutral here.. they DO NOT direct commerce but support it.

From blog yesterday I had several friends ring me. Turns out the card networks and individual banks are SEPARATELY pushing Token ideaS..  unfortunately none of the token schemes has individual adoption, no less interoperability.

Per my blog yesterday, ACH debit tokens can work, particularly if the consumer doesn’t have to enter them. Also in ACH, banks are in a position to influence acceptance.  Consumers could even go to the online bank to permission the payment instrument in the first place. This is the model of V.me and Google wallet (w/ the new Saveto API). In this model the consumer never enters anything.. the BANK enters the customer information in the wallet. Of course banks DO NOT want consumers to use ACH.. there is no revenue here.

Therefore Banks don’t really want consumers to choose… not really… they will make their favored option seamless and ensure friction with everything else.  This is normal business behavior, but payments are a networked business which supports Commerce. Banks SHOULD be neutral here.. they DO NOT direct commerce but support it. Their partnering approach is thus completely broken…

Thus the conundrum. The network where banks have the most influence is ACH, yet they don’t want to encourage ACH use as there is no revenue. We have a world where consumers can enter information directly, or ask their bank to enter it for them (V.me and Google).

One bank even seems to be creating a scheme that blends both ACH tokens AND Credit card tokens… in the hopes of being the “master directory” of payment information in a consumer’s wallet. Their dependency: consumer, merchant and wallet participation (ie. when pigs fly).

Why would any merchant want to give up card information and exchange it for tokens? Well there could be some incentive with reduced CNP rates.. and fraud liability shift… but isn’t that 16 digit card number already a token? Any approach must start out by being invisible to consumers (like V.me.. yes I am saying something nice about Visa).

I was talking to the KC Fed a few months ago.. brainstorming a little.. like what if you opened up Fed Wire to non-banks (ie regulated MSBs). That would really throw a wrench in all these future token plans… well I guess there would be one little problem… fraud.. but if an entity could crack the authentication/authorization nut this would be a great approach.

vme enrollment

Visa’s Wallet Strategy – Part 2

,,,

18 July (Updated from 17 June 2011

). Corrected significant error on scope of Visa Wallet. It is much more than an autofill (point 4 below)

Previous Blog: Visa’s mobile portfolio

I’ve been thinking about Visa’s wallet strategy this week. From my last blog (Visa Digital Wallet)

… a non-announcement, a rebranding of what CYBS and PlaySpan already have. Too many teams are angling to create the wallet (mobile, online, …), and not enough focusing on the value of what is in it. Google, Apple, and RIM will win the mobile wallet wars. I guess I can’t blame Visa for trying.. however it would have been nice if they could have been successful at eCommerce to start with. 

Here are the questions I’m trying to answer:

  • What is their investment thesis?
  • What assets are they trying to leverage and what opportunity do they plan to attack?
  • What is their strategy in attacking the opportunity?
  • How will the banks react/support this strategy?

For those that haven’t read my blogs for 2 years.. let me restate a few points that I’ve made previously:

  • Visa has a very big hole in their earnings with Durbin.. not only will they loose substantial debit revenue.. they could be loosing debit forever… as member banks assess whether signature debit makes sense to continue… and create a centralized bank switch for PIN debit (ala SVPCo or TCH). Merchants and consumers both prefer PIN today. I don’t believe Visa has adequately described this debit driven financial risk to the investment community.
  • Visa is attempting to fill the debit void with new transaction types, services and “cash replacement”. The top 2 prospects are G2P payments (payments by a government to people.. from pensions to welfare) and “mobile payments”.
  • There are 5 classes of mobile payments: 1) mobile initiated bank payments (ex. Monitise, , Cashedge, send your bank a message to transfer funds as in bill pay). 2) mobile commerce payments – digital  (ex iTunes, PayPal, BilltoMobile, Boku, Bango, …), 3) mobile commerce payments – physical goods (ex Square, Amazon, Visa Wallet, PayPal, Bango, ..) 4) Mobile phone as a wallet – Physical device at point of sale (ex, NFC Google Wallet, 5) Mobile Money for Unbanked (MMU) (ex MPesa, GCash).
  • Any initiative above is profitable for Visa only if: it replaces cash/other electronic (ex G2P), drives a transaction into higher margin product (Debit to Credit), increases number of transactions (customer use), or increases use of processing services (ex CYBS). Monitise obviously did none of these.
  • The big issuers are not fans of Visa’s moves in mobile and innovation. Visa is beginning to walk on toes and create “universal services”, many of which overlap with the large issuers have competing plans (alerts, offers, mobile, P2P).
  • Visa’s wallet value proposition (and solution) go something like this: Here is an API for your online banking.. consumer clicks on Visa Wallet and their card(s) get automatically stored in our digital wallet for use at any merchant site.. and a new Visa wallet account is created. Bank, you benefit by increased card transaction fees (use) and enable your customers to pay for digital goods with their Visa card in a one click service that delivers better consumer experience. Issues are that Visa has not signed up any of the top issuers and are also very dependent on PlaySpan’s existing consumer base. Most merchants don’t like the idea of helping out banks.. or Visa.. In order to change consumer behavior, and drive usage, a value proposition is needed.  Are consumers doing digital goods payments today? Yes.. what does Visa do for merchants that BTM, Zynga, PayPal.. and others don’t? Options: 1) Use our CYBS processing, 2) use API only and “form fill” to leverage your existing processor, 3) Liability shift and reduced interchange for attempted VBV use. This last one has not be covered significantly .. may delve into with future blog.
  • Visa is attempting to evolve its debit network from “debit” to bi-directional (see my VMT blog) with the OCT transaction set. This would enable it to compete with ACH and deliver services like P2P with little bank involvement.

What is Visa’s investment Thesis?

My guess is this “ replace the debit hole by leveraging our existing customer footprint into new transaction types, expand card acceptance and create customer stickiness with new products and services that work in every channel

Assets to Leverage?

  • Consumer account holders. I don’t call them Visa customers because they are not.. they are customers of the issuing bank. If a bank wants to rebrand their portfolio (to Mastercard, Amex, or a new white label) they are no longer Visa card holders.. Visa holds no consumer agreements. … BUT they want to..
  • Payment Network: Acceptance and services (Bank, merchant, consumer).
  • VBV Agreement where liability shift and interchange reduction possible (for ecomm/mcom CNP transactions)

A rather short list. Note that prior to CYBS, Visa held very few merchant agreements… it was the acquiring bank and processor that held the merchant agreement.

Strategy to attack the G2P and Mobile Opportunities?

Visa probably sees the lack of NFC handsets and POS terminals as a deciding factor in delaying any push here. The $600M-$800M in NFC GDV is too small to impact more than 5% of the Durbin hole. I believe they have initiatives lined up against the following business drivers

1. Increase number of transactions (customer use)

  • Increase merchant acceptance locations: Square, CYBS, Visa Wallet
  • Increase Consumer Use: Visa Wallet, Visa Money Transfer, Marketing,

2. Replaces cash/other electronic (ex G2P)

  • Fundamo, Playspan, Visa Wallet, ..

3. Drive transactions into higher margin products (Debit to Credit),

  • ?NFC? It would seem this is a “stage 2” plan.. They first need to get consumer’s using the wallet in high volume/frequent transactions. After they get usage.. they can migrate.. It may even line up with another partner like Apple who isn’t quite ready for NFC anything. Visa actually doesn’t seem to like the idea of a card in the phone wallet.. a wallet they don’t control.. they want the card in a VISA Wallet.. a Visa Cloud wallet that they do control..

4. Increase use of processing services… I not going to touch on this now..

Visa’s wallet strategy is a two pronged approach. Consumers will have accounts “auto created” by their issuing bank (at least the ones that implement the wallet API) and

( Old Content 17 June) all by implementing a simple form fill API where Visa’s wallet pre-populates all of the consumer information and payment items on a merchant’s checkout page.  

New Content (18 July)

Visa is looking to build a consumer footprint to compliment its CYBS online merchant footprint. To be clear, Visa is looking to grow its eCommerce processing business AND create additional lock in (stickiness) with Visa Issuing banks. Visa will first ATTEMPT to roll out this service first with all CYBS merchants… then get additional merchants to either convert to CYBS or at least Add Wallet as an additional payment type. Chase PaymentTech is expected to take a lead roll.

Value proposition to Merchant

– Merchants will be given a fairly attractive option to reduce CNP interchange with 2 Components: Attempted VBV verification (Visa can reduce merchants rates for attempted 3DS verification) and #2 reduced interchange in volume discounts with key partner banks like Chase.

– Processing Package (cost). Expect Visa/CYBS to aggressively price for non-CYBS merchants

– Single Wallet for online, mobile and perhaps even physical goods

Value Proposition for Banks

– Lock in to Visa (I can’t really think of another one)

This is not a bad strategy… IF the world were standing still.. and if Visa had a positive reputation with merchants.  The value proposition here is all built around convenience. It is a good plan.. but merchants have many other options and they know that accepting a new Visa product has always proved to be a Faustian Bargain (aka deal with the Devil).

As a side note, I saw Square’s COO today in a conference. His quote was something like “Square is much more than about swipe.. I wouldn’t have invested if that were the case”. None of us know what this grand plan is.. but obviously it must involve merchants.. and I would hope a better profit margin (from 20-30bps). After he spoke a CEO came up to me and said “the major processors love square (and Chase PaymentTech). Now there is a place for all of the sub prime merchants to migrate toward…  Can Square monetize a base of merchants that were outside of the ISO focus and processor interest? They are not doing it today..  How could they possible morph their value proposition into something with higher margin?  Keith certainly seemed to imply that Square had a merchant incentive/Groupon/foursquare model in mind. A deal of the day only redeemable at a square merchant? Hmm.. seems like a little bit of a stretch.

See related Visa Press Release here (RightCliq)

Visa and MA take a bath on proposed debit fees

The banks knew it was coming, and don’t let anyone fool you that the idea of a flat fee of $0.05-$0.15 was a “suprise” . While Banks are morning tonight, the merchants are having a party..

The banks knew it was coming, so don’t let anyone fool you that it was a “suprise”. The idea of a flat fee of $0.05-$0.15 has been floated for some time. As you can see from graph on right, Visa lost 10% of its value after the announcement. While Banks and Issuers are returning their Christmas presents tonight, the merchants are having a party.. particularly large ones like Wal-Mart who in 2009 had interchange costs of $1B.

As a banker, we invited Wal-Mart to come in and talk to us in 2005. They certainly did not mince words then, I remember a few quotes explicitly “what service do you provide that justifies taking 2% of my sales”?. Another memorable quote “we want to find a model where you pay us to take your card”.  Something we laughed off back then, after all who on earth in the bank wanted to design that model? Banks “had it coming”… The interchange rate creep bore too many signs of a

“network” run amok and NO ONE stopped the train.  Banks launching campaigns like “skip the PIN and win” to incent consumers to pursue signature debit transactions (200bps+) vs PIN debit.  We only need to look at the federal reserve chart on the right to see the lack of market forces here.

I believe this is a “tipping point” event in US cards. We will see merchants aggressively incent use of debit, and the Visa and MA logos will start to come off of our debit/ATM cards, as they do in Canada and Australia (Interac, and EFTPOS). What will the banks do about this revenue loss?

All are looking for new ways to drive other revenue streams into the payment services, particularly around marketing/advertising (see my Blog on Apple iAd). The Visa and MA relationships with the large banks was already showing signs of strain. The large banks will not wait for Visa and MA to develop an alternatives, most are assessing new networks and value channels which they can control (see Googlization of FS). I’m short on V/MA because of this dynamic.

The Federal Reserve’s proposal is open for comments, and there may be a change. But the starting point for the negotiations is quite a bit lower than what the banks were hoping for.  My message to Bank CEOs: drop the fight here and find a new model for payments. Don’t let Apple and Google eat your future as well. What will it take? Well for one thing it will take a little collaboration, re-energize a few of your existing consortiums like NACHA, The Clearing House, Early-Warning to develop new models for payments and seed these team with top executives. You can’t take your eye off of this ball, retail payments is less than sexy.. but it is core to your daily interaction with customers.

Debit Card in Peril?

The biggest story of the week has largely gone unreported. Bank of America (BAC) has taken a $10.3B goodwill impairment charge in 3Q. What does this mean for Visa? Not Good News.

27 October 2010

The biggest story of the week has largely gone unreported. Bank of America (BAC) has taken a $10.3B goodwill impairment charge in 3Q.

The Merchant Payments Coalition responded to the impairment charge (reference above)

“With a Federal Reserve decision on debit interchange rates not expected until mid-2011, today’s claims by Bank of America dramatically overstate reality and represent a feeble attempt to divert attention from its mortgage foreclosure problems,” said Doug Kantor, counsel to the Merchants Payments Coalition.

In the 8-K, Bank of America said it plans to take (ref The Street)

 “a number of actions that would mitigate some of the impact when the laws and regulations become effective,” but it didn’t provide details about what those actions might be.

Will write more later, but I can assure you BAC is looking for debit alternatives. Given their size, most anticipate a new product driven from both their retail and global card team (including merchant services). So in addition to AT&T/Discover, we will now have another major bank led team developing a new payment product with a multi billion dollar incentive.

What does this mean for MA and Visa? Not good news for US growth.

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Paypal at the POS?

PayPal is best positioned of any major player to link the virtual and physical payment worlds (see here for detail): they have a consumer base, merchant base and a phenomenal fraud/risk team of 300+ with commensurate tech and ops. However their ability to execute is not without challenges. For example, what % of their current merchant base does POS transactions? Will there be a need for merchant terminals? If so who will pay?

18 August 2010

Great WSJ Article TodayPaypal looks to real world commerce

First Draft…. final tomorrow.

As stated in my previous blogs about Apple, Bling, and the Mercury NewCo we are in the midst of a revolution in consumer payments, driven by large non banks, with new value propositions. For example, we see established organizations like AT&T, Verizon, and Discover collaborating (Mercury NewCo) with a payment value proposition driven by mobile advertising, Card networks attempting to develop PayPal killers (see Visa PayClick) and mobile handset manufactures attempting to create models for payments separate from banks (see Nokia and Apple NFC).

The worst kept secret in mobile payments today is: there aren’t any (except for MNO unbanked solutions). Efforts like Mastercard/Obopay have failed globally because they have focused on P2P (no existing volume). Alternatively, PayPal’s efforts are focused on the POS. Enabling any “merchant” to accept any card either at POS or virtually (see previous blog on PayPal’s virtual terminal). This approach is a win for banks (card acceptance), a win for consumers (convenience/loyalty), and a win for merchants (reduced merchant fees and interchange).

PayPal is best positioned of any major player to link the virtual and physical payment worlds (see here for detail): they have a consumer base, merchant base and a phenomenal fraud/risk team of 300+ with commensurate tech and ops. However their ability to execute is not without challenges. For example, what % of their current merchant base does POS transactions? Will there be a need for merchant terminals? If so who will pay? As discussed in the article above, Bling has been mentioned as a potential approach. Issuing Bling tags to PayPal’s employees is certainly a useful way of testing the consumer issues associated with issuing (and using) a payment tag.

My guess on PayPal’s “focus”?

Given PayPal’s strengths I would see a “phone as POS” approach as the most logical.  As consumers we focus on our individual accounts, but PayPal is one of the few “2 Party” payment networks (others are Discover, Amex) that also include merchant acquisition. 2 Party systems are uniquely positioned to control the costs and value proposition between the merchant and the consumer. One of the major NFC challenges is POS infrastructure: who will pay for it? The phone as POS would certainly address this Gordian Knot for small merchants. Small merchants are a group that also feels the most pain in interchange and card acceptance fees due to their lack of negotiating leverage. Oddly enough large banks seem to be supportive of PayPal’s efforts here with the view that their actions will help drive cash replacement. In other words, if PayPal’s innovation is indeed focused on NFC acquisition then they will be able to process all cards..

On the merchant side, PayPal has already completed much of the heavy lifting with its existing virtual terminal service. This service equips PayPal merchants with ability to accept any card at the POS (see Virtual Terminal blog). NFC or RFID form factors are just another abstraction for this card.  On the consumer side, I would expect to see PayPal working to link PayPal accounts to multiple form factors. Expect PayPal to make an acquisition in this space.

As of today, here is my view of the teams competing in mobile payments at POS

  • Mastercard/Citi/Obopay/Nokia
  • Visa/Monitise
  • Apple
  • AT&T/Verizon/Discover/?Google/First Data
  • PayPal/?

More to come tomorrow.

Ruminations: Durbin and Debit

Time for a blog with many questions and few answers. My natural perspective is that of a banker. Banks are created to act as trusted intermediaries of commerce, and I’m concerned when their ability to act on this charter changes. I want banks to win and to create products that satisfy the customer, build trust, and effectively serve in commerce.

Will Merchants loose sleep if debit goes away? Answer probably rests with what will take its place.

13 Aug 2010

Time for a blog with many questions and few answers. My natural perspective is that of a banker. Banks are created to act as trusted intermediaries of commerce, and I’m concerned when their ability to act on this charter changes. I want banks to win and to create products that satisfy the customer, build trust, and effectively serve in commerce.

A friend and I were discussing the impact of Durbin’s 2 tier debit structure (Excellent analysis by Mercator here) on the incentives for large banks to continue to issue debit. My perspective (as a banker) has been greatly altered from my time at 41st parameter working with the largest retailers in the world. I’ve developed a new view and a new appreciation for the pain felt by merchants. It would not be too extreme a statement to say that there is a deep hatred of the cards networks. The feeling is both visceral and reasoned. I remember when a senior executive from Wal*Mart came to Wachovia for a presentation and was asked what he thought were appropriate interchange rates for credit and debit. He said “0” dead pan.. then during the quiet of the audience, he said “actually we think we should be paid for accepting your cards” and emphasized that this was not a joke.  

Will Merchants loose sleep if debit goes away? Answer probably rests with what will take its place. The retail banks are very unorganized around payments. With few exceptions (Chase, WFC, USAA, ..) bank payment executives do not get the focus of their retail organizations.  In general, retail banks are challenged to relate payments to profitability (and hence the overall retail strategy). Debit was a clear exception to this challenge and a “killer product” for cash/check replacement.

The bank value proposition for debit was clear. However, what was the merchant value proposition? Certainly reduction in check fraud, funds availability… but at what costs? The federal reserve studied interchange rates in graph to the right. What exactly drove this step creep? How did it drive value? What were the economic forces that pushed back against it? What additional investments did Visa/MA make in their network?

Will banks develop a debit replacement? Clearly Durbin has reduced banks incentives to push debit (w/ assets over $10B). I project that the market is ripe for a merchant friendly payment method that is much different than the products available today. Instead of funding the card product on merchant interchange.. perhaps mobile advertising?

Can banks/cards regain the trust of merchants as intermediaries of retail commerce? Could the wholesale or merchant acquisition business which drives a new payment product (ie Amex Revolution Money)?

 Thoughts appreciated