What do Retailers Want in Mobile?

1 Nov 2014

Money2020 is next week, and I’m moderating the ApplePay session on Tuesday at 5pm… hope you guys can come. I’m more than a little sad that I can’t get any retailers up on stage with me. Why? The top 60 retailers are in MCX, and it makes little sense for them to get on stage and tell the world what they are NOT going to do and why. As I’m preparing to leave for Las Vegas tomorrow, was thinking “what could I write about? What unique perspective can I offer?” Well given I can’t get them on stage with me, let me try to articulate the Retailer’s view of the world. My twitter feed is blowing up as I work to explain why CVS and Rite-Aide turned off NFC. Please know I’m only trying to give perspective…

Payment Services are a brokering activity between two entities engaged in commerce. Logically, a broker must have the trust of both parties, and deliver some sort of value in managing the financial risk associated with the transaction.  Within Consumer Retail, Visa and Mastercard evolved from Bank owned exclusive networks of the 1960s (see History) to ubiquitous independent payment networks. Few remember that back in the 1960s, merchants took either Visa or Mastercharge but not both as the Merchant’s acquiring bank could only be a member of one of the networks. For merchants, the value proposition was clear: consumer credit.

Payment networks thus evolved from a closed and focused value proposition, to a settlement “infrastructure”. However the rules and governance process by which many parties (merchant, acquirer, processor, issuer, network, VASP, …etc) participated in defining operation of this “brokering” activity did not evolve. This is the central issue restricting the future growth of Visa and Mastercard. One I believe both are acting on. My firm belief is that rebalancing network rules will unleash a massive new phase of value creation for these networks.

Let me take a quick side bar here..

Network Theory – Openness

As I’ve stated many times, closed networks always precede open networks until scale is reached (Building Networks and “Openness”, 2011). Weak Links (nodal affinity) influences network creation, and there are VERY few open networks which exist in Nature. This is logical as Networks form around a function rendering generic open networks less “efficient” than specialized networks around any given specialized need.

Scale-free distribution (completely open networks) is not always the optimal solution to the requirement of cost efficiency. .. in small world networks, building and maintaining links between network elements requires energy…. [in a world with limited resources] a transition will occur toward a star network [pg 75] where one of a very few mega hubs will dominate the whole system. The star network resembles dictatorships in social networks.

-Weak Links

Networks NATURALLY form around a function and other entities are attracted to this network (affinity) because of the function of both the central orchestrator and the other participants. Open networks (internet/TCPIP, Visa, NASDAQ, … ) succeed where a common infrastructure benefits MANY NETWORKS.

Visa and MasterCard have transitioned to become common network infrastructure, a position FAR MORE valuable than that of a closed credit delivery system. They are a network of networks. However their rule making and governance processes do not match the other open networks listed above (NASDAQ, Internet, …). Most Banks, have also lost their traditional role of “brokering” and risk management (in retail) by creating a card rewards system that encourages card use paid by the merchant. This creates a brokering incentive separate from the commercial transaction… impacting brokering independence.

What do merchants want? A neutral broker!!

A top 5 merchant told me a few months ago “Retailers like Starbucks have proven that we are best placed to deliver value and influence consumer behavior. I don’t want to force my consumers to do anything, but similarly I want to networks that let me play on an even field. These next 5 years are going to be complete chaos for consumers. What do we want them to do? Swipe, dip, chip, pin, tap, QR…? We have been planning for EMV for 3 years… am I really supposed to jump to Apple in 4 weeks?”

MCX

These guys are good friends of mine, and I think their business vision is well placed. They want a network where they can play on an equal footing. A neutral broker.. or at least one where they can have a seat at the table when rules are set. Will MCX be a massive success? It depends on the consumer value proposition. Are the merchants motivated to work together in creating a neutral broker? Hell yes.

One merchant said it this way “Tom I didn’t think we would ever have someone more difficult to work with than Visa and Mastercard, but I was WRONG. Apple is a nightmare! At least we knew what was coming with Visa and Mastercard, with Apple they don’t talk to us, respond to our letters, or offer any kind of value proposition. Why on earth would I want to let another brand in my store without understanding what it will do for me? They are a great company, with great products, and certainly have a much better approach to data than Google.. but anonymity is NOT a value proposition, in fact Apple makes our efforts to deliver value to the consumer even harder as we have no defined way of using Apple to engage our consumers”. See Brokering Identity – Part 1, ApplePay and Merchants, Digital Transactions ApplePay Issuer Agreement.

Getting a card number from consumer to merchant is NOT innovation. There is just no problem here. My payment friends are already rolling their eyes. Apple does have great security and great ability to manage fraud.. but fraud losses for CP are 3.2 bps. What about store data losses? That is not “fraud”, and certainly a problem for merchants that keep PANs. Tokens do solve this problem… but so does better security, and more intelligent approach to tracking loyalty. Apple must move to create a merchant value proposition, and define how they will help with consumer engagement. I believe Google will far outpace Apple here.

Retail is a zero sum game.. I’m not going to buy MORE gas and groceries.. differentiation is about switching, product selection and pricing on data, ..the fluxonce this flux dies.. steady state resumes.  Perhaps all iPhone owners will only shop at whole foods, but data shows that consumers don’t make decisions this way. In fact payment is not in the top 5 reasons for consumers choosing a new iPhone.

Why are MCX merchants turning off NFC? To give themselves a little breathing room, make Apple create a merchant value proposition (engagement), get a seat at the table in a new network, and help to establish a consumer behavior that works for them too (Most Important Payment Race: Consumer Behavior, Apple’s Platform Strategy: Consumer Champion ).

What do Retailers want in Mobile?

Following from my big blog Static Strategies and the Rewiring of Retail.

  • Consumer Engagement
  • Consumer Acquisition
  • Consumer Loyalty
  • Allow Retailer to be in control of data
  • Partners that allow Store’s brand front and center
  • A Partner either IN CONTROL of the consumer experience (Apple/Google) or one that already has massive consumer adoption (ie Facebook).
  • Creating a fantastic customer experience from end-end
  • Ability to manage campaigns, data or your business
  • A Partner that can reach/influence consumers WHERE THEY ARE.. not where you want them to be.
  • Payment..? I guess if that comes too… 

shopper marketing

How will this play out?

  • Much has been made of the MCX contract provisions that prohibit participating retailers from allowing other forms of mobile payment. This is just not accurate. Any retailer can choose to turn on NFC, any retailer can sign up for MCX. Can an MCX retailer turn on NFC? Yep.. Large retailers are not participating in ApplePay because Apple has completely failed in a merchant strategy, they have not articulated one, nor have they worked directly with merchants. This is really no different than Apple’s failure to work with Banks. Banks are just fuming over the take it or leave it terms Apple offered to them. Merchants had no terms…
  • Apple will rollout a merchant friendly beacon product, and loyalty product for consumer engagement in next 6-9 months, this will also include a renewed focus on BLE. The product will fall flat until they can create an new merchant organization. Google has 4,000 sales people working with merchants, apple has around 16… so it is a big task.
  • Apple will ROCK in App payments.. it will be their homerun… I will make a further bet: Apple will WIN in every situation where they can control the consumer experience from beginning to end.
  • Visa and Mastercard are beginning a shift toward the merchant. They may not win the top 60, but Visa has 36M merchants.. that leaves 35,990,940 that will be open to new ideas. These are my biggest personal holdings, and I know both of the CEOs. Everything I’ve written here they know already.
  • Consumer authentication is VERY disruptive to retail and banking. As Ross Anderson said “if you solve for authentication in payments.. everything else is just accounting”. The need for an independent broker and their services are dramatically different if either the consumer or payment can be authenticated (ie cash, bitcoin). Why do you need a payment product at all? Just present the identity to the bank. This is what Sofort/Klarna does… Why not do this? Because the banks have no ability to MONETIZE the transaction (no merchant agreement). There are many better ways to leverage authentication, but no other ways to currently MONITIZE IT (outside card). Perfect Authentication… A Nightmare?
  • Apple is pursuing an “anti-google” approach: keep no data, closed platform, control everything. Google is 2-4 years behind on platform security.. but is catching up. The Google platform is much easier to build in and control (ex HCE), but consumer adoption lags as each Android participant must move consumer to their vision. Apple has successfully delivered security and authentication, but has not laid out a way for many apps to leverage it. Retail is a REALLY big business, with 1000s of specialists. It cannot be throttled by one company.. thus Apple will work fantastically in environment it can control. (sorry to restate).
  • ApplePay and overall contactless adoption will begin with small merchants and infrequent purchases. Most phones have the capability today. MCX will not stop contactless.. but it will impact consumer behavior substantially

ApplePay Vs Google

  • Is NFC/Contactless Acceptance required as part of EMV rollout? NO!!  This is the most widely held mis-understanding. While the large terminal manufacturers have no products in their official product list without contactless, the top 60 merchants order bespoke or custom terminals to fit their needs.

Rewiring Commerce: Four Phases

18 Feb 2014

One my most often repeated lines is mobile payments are not about payments.. but about everything else. We have no payment problems today. When was the last time you left a store without your goods because the merchant doesn’t take your form of payment? Payments are the easy part, and experience has shown that it takes a VERY VERY long time to change consumer payment behavior (20 yr plus, see my blog on Behavior Change).  My personal bets are all around mobile’s future role in commerce….  I call it Rewiring Commerce (previous Blog).

As an engineer I like to take a control volume approach to systems. To some extent, marketing is a measure of inefficiency… heat or friction in a mechanical sense. Marketing spend makes up almost 19% ($750B) of total US Retail sales (around $4T), with most of that spend untargeted and non digital. Even these astounding numbers do not begin to touch the total opportunity in Commerce Efficiency (ie  transportation costs, spoilage, mark downs, discounts, and inventory write offs). Rewiring Commerce is much more than Apple’s beacons talking to you when you shop, it’s about how local suppliers/producers could meet needs locally, providing manufactures with tools to better estimate demand (eliminating waste and transportation), mass customization,  resource optimization, value orchestration..  yada yada yada.

Who is impacted by rewiring commerce? Everyone that buys or sells. What is key? Data, trust, identity, platform.

rewire impact

I see disruption of Commerce (ie rewiring) occurring in 4 phases.

rewire commerce phases

The First phase of mobile commerce disruption was focused on improving information flow (ie Showrooming).  Second phase is underway, experimental and highly fragmented with one my favorite companies being Blue Kangaroo. In this phase there is context to the mobile interaction without the consumer’s direct input. This is where Apple’s beacons will play (see blog Apple and Physical Commerce earlier this month).  Perhaps the best categorization of Phase 2 is in shopper marketing from Booz & Company.

shopper marketing

Third Phase: Intent

Theme here is consistent with a physical world version of Google’s search word marketing advantage. In this phase retailers and manufacturers work to influence your behavior before you are in the store (as opposed to in store beacons in phase 2). One of the start ups I’m incubating is focused on helping any company purchase intent information.  For example, when someone turns their car off in a mall parking lot they may be intent on shopping. Or when you buy suntan lotion you may be intent on a beach trip. Google is light years ahead of everyone in physical intent… why do you think they want to put up all those free wi-fi hot spots. But their information is extremely limited.. much more location based than behavioral.  In this phase retailers use their consumer insight in combination with others to provide relevant information to specific consumers.

 

In order for consumer adoption to take place there must be real value. Value requires:

  • knowing the customer (historically),
  • knowing the customer now (intent),
  • having the ability to touch the customer before they shop (publishing),
  • trust (consumer permission),
  • ability to run an advertising campaign,
  • ability to target consumers based upon insight,
  • ability to track consumer behavior after the campaign (redemption/purchase)
  • tracking requires ability to work with retailers

Yep.. that is a long, long list. What companies can do this today? Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook.. with Google and Amazon 3-5 years ahead.

There are several strategies at play here today, but the biggest challenge is in obtaining real world intent. Several “Omni Channel” plays leverage online intent to create off line behavior to get around the real world data challenge (only if the consumer starts online).

  • Platform: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook
  • Retailer Focused: Square, Amex/Loyalty Partners PayBack Card, OminChannel, Paypal
  • Big Data: IBM, …
  • Big Government: NSA (meant for a laugh, please don’t add me to Echelon/PRISM)

Third Phase Summary

In this phase the Retail environment is not changing substantially, we are better using mobile to interact with consumers within the current retail and advertising constructs. Junk mail and random push messages are gone. Consumers are choosing to “trust” entities that consistently deliver RELEVANT VALUE. Services will be focus toward affluent consumers, as the focus of value will be around discretionary purchases. As efficiencies improve, we will begin to see a massive shift in advertising spend toward digital channels and specifically mobile.  The key for mobile monetization will be in Consumer Identity Arbitrage.. with Apple’s framework the clear leader.

Fourth Phase – Value Orchestration

I discussed this in Value Creation and Distributed Innovation, Static Strategies and the Rewiring of Commerce and in Future of Retail.

In this phase we will see real world changes to how Commerce is conducted, including: store formats (footprint, layouts, inventories), advertising, online/omni channel, customized products (by region and individual), local sourcing of goods, new intermediaries, brokering of: trust, identity, anonymity,…..etc.

Retailers and Mobile Network operators will begin to translate their distribution and data advantages into new platforms. Big data will be used to project your behavior, and recommendations will be targeted to you. I’m not going to go into much detail here, as this is where most of my big bets are…..

This is not a good wrap up.. but I have work to do.

Next Blog: Targeting and Attribution

Apple and Physical Commerce (not Payments) – Part 4

28 Jan 2014

The mainstream media is hooked on “mobile payments” like Doritos to the Super Bowl… we all like to talk about it…  Difference is Doritos have real consumers.. while “mobile payments” at the POS are a laughable over-buzzed ethereal dream. I continue to be amazed at how badly this is covered, from over blown projections by Javelin ($20 B by 2012), to reports of NFC’s wonderful future from the GSMA. For readers of my blog, this hype is nothing new..HypeCycle

What is Apple doing?

Creating a Commerce Platform that will enable 1000s of Retailers to rewire commerce. Apple is the ONLY COMPANY in the world where Retailers will CHANGE THEIR BUSINESS to create a unique APPLE EXPERIENCE . Why? Apple’s biggest asset is their ability to change consumer behavior.. It is the only company in the world that can move: Retailers AND Consumers AND Manufacturers. There is enormous TRUST in the Apple brand; they have earned this trust (with THE MOST AFFLUENT consumer base) by consistently delivering the best product experience (A very very big PERIOD). They have proven to be THE leader in digital goods, physical retail AND eCommerce. Payments may be a starting point.. but Apple’s patents, technology, products and applications are completely missed if you only look at them from a payment perspectiveiPhone-6-Fingerprint-Detection-And-Apple-Release-Date-Rumors

Sorry to sound pompous here guys, but I’m pretty decent in predicting Apple in Payments, and the role of the Handset in Physical retail. Take a look at the consistency of my previous blogs…

Product First

Apple is a tremendous company, with the best product design teams in the world. They care deeply about their brand and the consumer experience, particularly as it relates to the iPhone. Apple also knows physical retail VERY VERY well, with the most profitable stores per square foot in the world (over $5,600 per square foot).  Let me restate this again, Apple is #1 or #2:

  1. Ability to Change Consumer Behavior (see blog)
  2. Handset Profitability
  3. Customer Demographic/Profitability
  4. Product Design
  5. Consumer Experience
  6. Sales of Digitial Goods (App store)
  7. Sales of Physical Goods online (Mac Store)
  8. Physical Retail Sales (Apple Retail Stores)
  9. other (Authentication, developer community, cloud, fraud, security, …)

NOT About Payments

Do you think Apple would risk any of this on something that they could not control or has proven to be a failure? OF COURSE NOT!!

Physical Retail is a  complex business that is undergoing a complete restructuring (see Blog), we are talking about $2.4T in sales (does not included Auto, Gas, Fin Services) vs. eCommerce sales of $180B. Apple has been very well served in acting as a late follower, the key for Apple to add value in retail is their role in changing consumer behavior (See Blog).

Apple’s Strategy

It is to make the iPhone a platform for Physical Retail, to enable retailers and manufacturers to create 1000s of fantastic consumer experiences. Apple will do NOTHING it cannot control, it knows that Banks and MNOs will look to leverage its brand and gain a controlling foothold. Apple and Google are very consistent in the battle to control the consumer (authentication)… the ability to authenticate is critical to bringing together the virtual (cloud, social, pictures, music, payment, ID) and physical worlds ( Blog Who do you Trust, and Authentication Battle ).

I have to run and catch a plane, but as a quick example. What if you were in a shopping aisle and the products could talk to you? They could tell you their reputation, what your friends thought of them, what they tasted like, or how they could best be used? What if you allowed certain retailers to know you were in the store (a form of checkin) and the retailer could give you a special deal on a package of 2 or more things you were looking at, or offer to meet Amazon’s price if they could package a warrantee and same day installation.  When you walk up to the POS, they know your name and ask if you would like to put the purchase on the same card you used last time?

The business case for Apple is not making 10-30bps in payments, it is about making 500bps in advertising and retailer services. It is about cementing iPhone’s role as a platform for both Consumer and Retailer… adding services, adding transactions, adding loyalty and creating a behavior chain with APPLE AT THE CORE.

 

 

—————- update

Most of you know I deal with the institutional investor community.  Today I had a funny quote.. “Tom we heard that Paypal is working to be part of the Apple product”. My answer “I’m sure they are… but they have absolutely NOTHING to give them”. Apple would be nuts to include Paypal here, Paypal has NO Physical presence, no merchant relationships, no consumer traction in off line, … Should Paypal let consumers choose to a Paypal “product”? Why? Perhaps linking their debit accounts.. but Paypal is not merchant friendly… it would be a VERY bad way to start a platform business.

As I said before as Payments move to the OS, Paypal does NOT have one.

 

Commerce and Banking – What is the Difference?

21 Nov 2013

Warning… long blog.. random unstructured thoughts

This is the question I came up with in a lunch chat with my friends at Omidyar Network and not exactly something I can adequately address in a blog, a book, or a lifetime.. but hey some idiot like me may as well throw it out there.

Why am I asking this question?

My investment hypothesis is that Banking and Commerce will be undergoing a fundamental rewiring. Therefore I’m wondering who the winners will be? What needs to be built? What are the signs that progress is coming? These are my selfish drivers.

On the altruistic side, how can we massively expand the global economy? Enable millions of businesses and billions of consumers to participate in the world economy? Within emerging markets, which is more important to invest in? Banking or Commerce (see blog Expanding Global Economy).

Where am I coming from? Network View

Well I’m certainly no economist, but I do know a few things about networked businesses. How are Banking, Commerce, Society, Government influenced by network effects? How has it evolved?

One of the most influential books I’ve read on this topic is Weak Links by Peter Csermely (viewable on Google Books here). If I had one book for you to read during the Holidays this is it. This book is tremendously arcane, detailed, technical, deep.. but I guarantee you that you will have a new view of commerce, banking, advertising, social networks, payments, and society after reading it. Example below on Peter’s insights into how the creation of money altered society, established “weak links” and Capital Markets (p 263)

weaklinks

Wow… just when I thought I knew everything about payments. The advent of money led to the development of concept of PERSONALITY!? (Certainly a new way of thinking about networks). The idea that increasing use of money drove new social and economic structures is obvious; less obvious are the connections formed, the “weak links”, beyond the flow of funds: non monetary data, relationships, reputation, …etc. I prefer to think of this “personality” dynamic, within weak links, as behavior (as influenced by Malcolm Gladwell).

These “weak links” represent the world’s most complex network, and this network is going through a FUNDEMENTAL change as communications networks have greatly improved the efficiency of network creation to a near frictionless flow information. There are 2 fundamental questions for me here:

  1. What is the cognitive limit to networking (ie. associations, data, ..etc)? and what are the tools to improve them (ie Platform which I will cover later), and
  2. How do we connect the unconnected?

Most surprising to me, within Peter’s work, was the idea that scale free distribution (completely open networks) is not always the optimal solution to the requirement of cost efficiency. For example, Peter states in his book

in small world networks, building and maintaining links between network elements requires energy…. [in a world with limited resources] a transition will occur toward a star network [pg 75] where one of a very few mega hubs will dominate the whole system. The star network resembles dictatorships in social networks.

Therefore, there is a case to be made for specialization and “semi open” networks when it comes to COST efficiency. Logically, the boundaries for star network size are associated with the value of connection exceeding the cost.

Given the complexities of weak links discussed above, we can see (from a networked view) why managed economies (like the old USSR) lost to social structures where dynamic networks could be formed on value.  We can also see how consumers at the bottom of the pyramid are more heavily influence by the the few links they have (ex social programs, corrupt dictators, populists, …etc).

This all leads to a question for us, as a society, where should we try to “centralize” services and functions? Would it be better to provide the tools to “connect” and educate the mass market on how to discover services (ie value, reputation, price, …)? Or force everyone into a network with no other options? (Sorry for the Healthcare tangent).

Star networks naturally occur, but they also occur artificially. Banking has both dynamics, as connectivity and strong links are required for efficiency. Banking System’s network dynamic is also strongly influence by regulation that manages the connection and the information flow. What would an unmanaged banking system look like? This is what we see today in BITCOIN.

US Bank regulation impacts participation, services, value, location, communication, … etc. In a world of free information flow, should consumers have a choice? What choices should they have? The need of government is to track financial information for the purpose of taxes and management of economic activity. The need of consumers is to connect to the economy efficiently.  Thus star networks exist both as natural (self organized communities) and unnatural (regulated services, dictatorships) phenomena.

How do consumers select a Bank? Well back in 2006 we commissioned an analysis and found that branch location (convenience to home/office) was the number one factor in consumer bank selection. In the last 2 years we have seen a SEA CHANGE as US banks now work to thin out their branch network. Many drivers here, but it certainly doesn’t help that the fee restrictions from Durbin led to a consumer banking environment where the bottom 40% of consumers are no longer profitable (see Future of Banking).

Where are these bottom 40% going? Pre-paid (see Bluebird). Although Banks don’t want the bottom 40%, they also don’t want Walmart to succeed. Retailers like Walmart love these consumers, as they are their core. Banks products are becoming “banking lite” services productized and sitting on a retail shelf to buy. Pre-paid “specialists” have thus materialized, and established players hate the idea that consumers will to think of bank services in this light (a product which can be bought.. and switched). Of course it makes sense to ask your regulator from protection against consumer choice, but this is certainly not to benefit the consumer.

How do consumers select a retailer? Not all commerce is retail, and I can’t possibly do justice to answering this question. The CEO of Safeway also outlined how 80% of any given Store’s customers were within a circular proximity of his stores, and that store location was driven by density/competition/demographics.  However, this is convenience selection process is NOT the dynamic with Amazon or Walmart. It would seem that the value of connecting to Walmart and Amazon is different for certain population groups. (see Future of Retail).

Quantitative Data

Big picture first. How can we measure “networks”? Perhaps the real question is what are we trying to find. We could look for efficiency of the network itself, or the financial health of the nodes, or the scale (number of nodes). The last one makes little sense as everyone participates in Commerce and Banking to some extent.

With respect to Banking and Networks, NYU’s Thomas Philippon published jaw dropping research detailing how Payments and Banking are one of the few network businesses in the HISTORY OF MAN to grow less efficient (rail, telecom, energy, …). Consumer banking examples are plentiful: is how can the banks justify paying 0.2% interest on your savings, but charge you 15% on your card? (See Future of Banking: Prepaid..?). Obviously regulators are protecting bank margins, with some Bankers ACTIVELY discouraged from rate competition. This is the DEFINITION of regulatory capture (regulators DISCOURAGING philippon_newfig1consumer competition).

Commerce is far too broad to generalize. It encompasses manufacturing, services, retail, infrastructure, rules, codes, …etc. Logically improved information flow should improve transparency, improved transparency should lead to improved consumer choice and growth of specialists focused on serving ever smaller niches of demand. We certainly see this dynamic today in HighTech manufacturing (Cisco, Samsung, Apple, …), US capital markets, telecommunications, professional sports, ..etc. How can we measure this? One of the best scholarly articles I’ve read on networks and global commerce is from Humels, Ishii and Yi (See paper as published by US Federal Reserve). From the abstract

Using input-output tables from the OECD and emerging market countries we estimate that vertical specialization accounts for up to 30% of world exports, and has grown as much as 40% in the last twenty-five years. The key insight about why vertical specialization has grown so much lies with the fact that trade barriers (tariffs and transportation costs) are incurred repeatedly as goods-in-process cross multiple borders. Hence, even small reductions in tariffs and transport costs can lead to extensive vertical specialization, large trade growth, and large gains from trade

From a Commerce (Manufacturing) network view, over 30% of export growth was fueled by network effects associated with specialization. These effects (growth) were highly correlated to trade barriers (ie, network friction) and  infrastructure (payments, commercial banking, transport, logistics, communications, …etc).

How has information flow impacted Retailers? Net Margin in retail has taken a nose dive (from 4.2% in 2006 to 2.8%, see data by industry from CSI market). Retailers have no one to protect them from the forces of competition (ie Bank regulators) and therefore have a much tougher job as they work to sell commodity goods at the highest possible price, in a world where they don’t know the consumer’s name (see Retailer CRM).  It seems obvious that data transparency (ex show rooming) and new networks provide price and reputation information and that consumers are changing behavior.retail margins 2

Commerce and Banking

Summary: the only difference between Commerce and Banking is REGULATION. Banking is a highly regulated activity…. Commerce is not. Providing access to financial services is a much harder problem to crack because of local regulatory hurdles (see my notes on MPesa and Reaching the Unbanked).

If commerce, networks, banking, government and society are evolving how SHOULD we change our artificial structures (ie regulation, government, …etc.) to support? Have we reached an apex where the pendulum will swing quickly from centralization to hyper democracy? And hyper capitalism? Where SOCIETY creates and evaluates rules which are established based upon their aggregate network effects, not on lobbyists, politics and junk science?

The most immediate areas impacted are those networks that do not deliver value, as barriers to entry and switching costs are overcome value and scale of alternative networks and new business models. 200 years ago we could walk into our local country store and ask the shop keeper to put our purchase on our account. We could barter for goods and services.  Today, the regulatory hurdles for a store to provide this simple service are substantial.

Banks, manufacturers, retailers, service providers are all capable of issuing credit based upon identity, reputation, history, use, …etc. A home builder could take on the ability to sell, lend, lease and repair a home. Yet the enormous regulatory requirements on selling, lending, leasing inhibit the viability of this vertical service integration.

With respect to payments, as my friend Osama outlined to Tim Geithner, what if the future of payment profitability was driven not by interchange, but by the flow of data? What if Apple were to give away new iPhones, with free connectivity, with the provision that they share data on preferences and behavior? This is NOT some future state, these discussions are happening today. We tend to view these discussions in context of the companies, products and structures that exist today (ex. how could Visa enable this?). Yet existing networks have proven an inability to adapt, as they were formed around an existing value proposition in which each node became “attached”. If you change the core service, you change the entire network.

The inability of other networks to adapt is FAR less concerning to me than regulation that will destroy innovation and create artificial PROTECTIONS around existing structures. In the example above, what if the government mandates controls around PII making the prospect of free phones and free data non-viable. Who wins? Consumers gain increased protections on their PII, but loose a service. Should they not be able to make this trade themselves?

Another example is Prosper in social lending. A great example of innovation which was “guided” by the SEC to become a securities dealer (see Wikipedia, Crowd Sourced Credit, and my blog on Reputation). Now every loan must be registered as a security (see example) . This may be the right thing for us to do as a society, transparency and auditing are valuable functions which increase the flow of capital and efficiency of a market. But must we be required to submit to these regulations when we want to take on another type of risk? Having the government certify “accredited investors” or “accredited borrowers” may be best as an optional service that must prove its value.

In the emerging markets we see the MASSIVE success of MPESA. With few exceptions (Philippines, PK, Colombia, Peru, Ghana), we see every other country working to ensure this DOES NOT happen in their market. India is at the top of my list of offenders, where entrenched bureaucrats and regulators work to protect domestic banks at every level, regardless of the potential macro economic benefit (review IMPS for example).  Beyond banking the same dynamic plays out in Commerce as well capitalized companies like WalMart are hammered for making unapproved INVESTMENTS in infrastructure (see WSJ).

Clearly the pain point is around banking, but it is not something that banks alone can address as they themselves are regulated, it is a regulatory issue (see US Payment Innovation and Regulation).  Europe has done a fantastic job addressing the regulatory issue (within the ELMI construct, SEPA, …etc.), their problems are around nanny state consumer protections and EU rules do not make their way into domestic law or regulations. A government that protects against everything, inhibits free association, consumer choice and the assumption of risk. (now I sound like Milton Freedman).

“Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.”
― Milton Friedman

“Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. When government– in pursuit of good intentions tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the cost come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”
― Milton Friedman

“The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both”
― Milton Friedman

Platforms

Just as use money enabled a specialization and concept of “personality”, telecommunications is opening up a new world of free form association, both business and societal.

Open Source is a model most of us are well familiar with. (further reading… I ran across a very nicely done paper from 2 MIT students: Implication of Open Innovation and Open source to Mobile Device Manufacturers).  Given that mobile, advertising and payments are all networked businesses… business models supporting distributed innovation should advance at a faster pace than those controlled by a single entity. For example, Amazon, Samsung, Motorola, LG, HTC, Verizon, ATT, Vodafone, .. all make much larger investments in the Android platform (than in IOS). (I would love to see an analysis of combined capital investment in android platform)

From my blog Stage 4 Value Shift

…this distributed innovation hypothesis is NOT playing itself out (ie Apple). Apple’s 1Q12 showed iPhone revenue alone was $24.4B, which is bigger than all of MSFT revenue combined.  Analysts have shown that Apple now garners 75% of mobile handset profits, with only 9% of handset market share.  So while Samsung alone has outsold Apple in Units this quarter (41M vs. 32.6M), and Android just topped 50% market share (vs Apple’s 30.2%).. Apple’s handset business PROFITABILITY dwarfs that of all of the competition (COMBINED).

So… What are the factors of competition today? Can someone else change the game?

The big downside in distributed innovation is complexity, there is a need for a “channel master” or chaos reigns. Many Android users witness this chaos when an app won’t work on a new hardware/OS combination.. Distributed innovation is not something that established businesses are good at. It has proven most successful in product PLATFORMS where the pace of change in each component is changing at a rate where no one company can make the capital investment to remain competitive (ex. Moore’s Law, PC architecture through present day). Intel played a very important role in this process, as it worked outside the scope of the CPU in areas such as: Intel Architecture Lab (IAL, developed common standards like PCI),  stimulated external innovation (developer training, testing, Intel Capital), industry marketing, patent/licensing. Intel defined what the PLATFORM was.. something that is common sense to us today.. but rest assured it was not given to them, rather it was something that they stepped into and took leadership of.

From Delivery to Discovery

Commerce and banking have many effective platforms to coordinate supply chains and payments. Today the nature of commerce competition is on quality, price and distribution (delivery). What if the nature of competition shifts from delivery to discovery? Shifting the model by which “weak links” are established today.  Today an individual must sift through mountains of search results and travel sites to find the best deal. We see complete garbage in banner ads and TV.

Who can proactively help you form networks of value, and expand how consumers manage their network, identity, personality? Most would agree that Google is best positioned here. I’m also very excited about the prospects of a company I’m incubating in this space. Ok.. this is getting off track quickly

Summary (I just finished reading a few of the federalist papers last night.. so pardon in advance).

The key for global economic growth is allowing individuals, and companies, to assume risk. The lines between Commerce and Banking SERVICES should blur, and start from the Commerce side as regulated intuitions have an unfair advantage in their protection. New networks provide for free form associations, and will improve in their ability to organize as platforms mature. These networks are capable of higher forms of risk mitigation, but are throttled by bespoke institutions and regulations.  Bitcoin is perhaps the best example of a disruptive force to hit banking. Europe is proving to be a role model in banking regulation, but their innovation in financial regulation has been offset with a local enforcement and complex environment where consumers cannot assume risk.

My message here is for Governments and regulators as much as it is for innovators. We must allow consumers to make decisions for themselves, and avoid regulating every behavior or government centralization and control will tend toward tyranny that is unaccountable and unchangeable.

Static Strategies and the REWIRING of Commerce

30 Sept

Warning… unfinished thoughts from a non linear thinker with typos. Feedback appreciated.

Why did IBM choose to outsource DOS to MSFT?  How did US auto makers miss the small car market? Anyone remember WorldBook encyclopedia? How did Research in Motion loose its dominant position? What happened to Kodak (it had digital patents it didn’t use)?  Why is Uber so successful?

The nature of competition is changing in MANY industries, this short post focuses on consumer commerce. What is driving the change?

  • Information/Transparency
  • Social/Reputation
  • Data/Targeting
  • Consumer Behavior and Expectations
  • Advertising
  • Non-Price Product Factors
  • … etc

Make no mistake Commerce is being REWIRED..  How do you rewire 25% of your Economy?  (US Retail Sales of $4T is 25% of the US $15.68T GDP). Unfortunately most of the “rewiring” is not by design… Today we see existing companies and business models working to “bolt on” changes to their models rather than transforming products, processes and systems. example infrastructure

For example, imagine you are a Retailer, how do you compete? A) You sell commodity goods at the highest possible price (see Retail 101).  B) Sell unique goods at the highest possible price. How do you achieve this? Well there are 100s of strategies here (ie. loyalty, market downs, coupons, loss leaders, price optimization, promotions, trade spend, …). These strategies have people assigned, budgets allocated, systems and reports that have been “tuned”.  This organizational momentum makes pivoting very hard.

The consumer  strategies above may be best summarized as: getting consumers to spend more with you, and leverage that loyalty for profitability.  These strategies have been in place for 100 years!   Where is the innovation and data? Product insight? A digital  version of a loyalty card is NOT innovation… similarly electronic coupons are just automation of an existing (broken) paper process. Is it any wonder we see so few successes in mobile anything? Most innovation is thus “bolt on” with little incremental VALUE.

There is SO MUCH opportunity for restructuring retail Commerce that I’m challenged to provide examples that are broad enough.

  • When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad?
  • Every year almost 30% of fresh fruit and vegetables are discarded for spoilage (see USDA),
  • US Apparel sees 30% of its inventory go in mark down fire sales (See Forbes).
  • What if a store could more accurately estimate consumer demand? Would you commit to purchase for a 30% discount?
  • How can Banks justify all of those branches and employees when all I use is the ATM?

Today much of retail is about location, convenience, impulse. What if consumer behavior shifts from convenience to community reputation where shopping is completed on mobile? What if  customized versions of any product could be at your door the next day? What if products weren’t all disposable, but rather assigned to approved reconditioning and repair specialists? My favorite example of a store of the future is Korea’s Tesco. (note pic below is a poster of a dairy case in a subway).

Tesco-Homeplus-Subway-Virtual-Store-in-South-Korea-1

png ad spend

Commerce is ripe for a MASSIVE rewiring. The business drivers behind the rewiring are complex as is the technology. Today OMNICHANNEL is a myth.. most consumers finish the purchase in the channel in which they began. Mobile stays in mobile, online stays in online, physical stays in physical… Ad spend has thus been “stuck” as well. In 2008, less than 10% of P&G’s $3.2B Ad budget went to digital, last month Lafley said that 35% will of a $4.8B budget will go to digital, spend not even tracked by Advertising Media/Analysts.

What is changing?

  • Consumer Insight and Trust
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Use of Data
  • Mass Marketing to Targeted
  • Physical Retailer as Publisher
  • Custom Pricing (no one knows that another person paid)
  • Finer grained products
  • Entertainment/Product
  • Distribution and demand planning
  • Complex incentives by products, community, social group, inventory, availability…
  • CMO as Real Time “mission control” of the organization
  • Consumer interaction with merchandise and advertising (through mobile)
  • Transition of Commerce from Transaction to Consumer Interaction (see shopper marketing).
  • Mobile significantly impacts everything… it will be your new consumer touchpoint

Change Process

How will change manifest itself? Organic? Evolutionary? Instantaneous? What I look for is for someone to solve a problem, and meet a need. Uber is my example of the decade.. using information to meet a need that benefits both consumer and driver. If you mapped the information flow of Uber, the value over the existing system would be obvious.. eliminating the need for a central dispatcher, plus the benefit of “reputation”.  I would suggest that we take a look at the data flow in retail to see where we could add value, but the problem is that there are many “dispatchers” each refusing to share their own data. This is why Amazon and WalMart win… their supply chain is integrated.. and consumer value propositions well understood.

Why didn’t anyone think of Uber before? the need was obvious!! History shows again and again that people are biased by life experience and hence tend to see things from a biased view. In other words, outsiders providing analysis on Apple Passbook and Google wallet see them from the perspective of today along the lines of what exists today… a static view.  This is why IBM did not see the potential of the PC and commit needed investment in DOS (margin was terrible), why RIM did not understand what the iPhone did to an integrated “digital life” (we are more secure … who needs music), or why WorldBook didn’t build a wikipedia community. Product ignorance, hubris, momentum, complexity, cannibalization all make pivoting very hard.

I’ll be adding onto this blog later in the week in order to add depth to the following points below.

  •  The pending changes in Retail are TECTONIC, yet Banks/MNOs are still working to solve YESTERDAY’s problems. Retail margins have compressed from 4.2% in 2008 to 2.4% in 2012 and Banks are proposing mobile payments solutions that increase costs. It’s like trying to sell water to a guy drowning in a lake.
  •  Large organizations are terrible at strategy; most are challenged to coordinate internally. In a dynamic environment businesses must partners with the entities driving the change in order to influence it and to stay connected to it. (see Apple blog)
  •  Retailers are driven to identify means to compete (beyond price). Who can help them? My bets are on Partners must have a proven track record of delivering value to MERCHANT and to CONSUMER.
  •  I see a $750B US Total Addressable Market. Much of the “new” value will need a new network and platform. At the merchant level, we see leaders like Square Register, in the phone we see Google Wallet, in networks we see MCX and Visa/JPM. The losers? Any entity that can’t use data to describe precisely what it achieved (ex TV Advertising).
  •  …

Start Up Advice

  • Take a dynamic view of strategy through scenarios.
  • Focus on delivering a commerce value proposition to Merchant And Consumer
  • Avoid automating old broken processes
  • Address a pain point in a new way
  • Help consumers understand a new value proposition, in a way that makes sense (financially, environmentally, and socially).
  • Use Social data in some new way.
  • Find greenfield players and partner with them (avoid cannibalization issues)
  • shopper marketing

JPM/V Scenarios… Which one is it?

A central problem facing any token is “where to start”. If JPM can do this with CMS.. why can MCX do this with First Data. It is precisely what FirstData was doing in 2006 prior to their settlement with Visa.

27 March 2013

I’m still trying to get my head around the V/JPM deal (see prior blog). As I outlined in Business Implications of Tokens, New ACH and the Visa/JPM Deal, US bank token efforts are clearly focusing on POS payments. Mastercard and Visa’s strategies are focusing on all digital wallets.JPM Visa flow

A central problem facing any token is “where to start”. What merchant would invest in capability to accept a token if consumers don’t use them? Similarly what consumer would want a token if there are no merchants that accept them? What problems do tokens solve? For Bank? Merchant? Consumer?

I think most of us clearly get the bank value proposition. If the only way to “interpret” a token is to ask your bank to resolve it.. this interaction establishes a very clear path to control.

Since I don’t have the new JPM/V agreement in front of me, I thought I would look at a few scenarios.. (which I would appreciate your comment on). Note these scenarios are not mutually exclusive.

Scenario 1 – Issuer Solution

Description: JPM takes ownership of all Visa BINs. These Unique BINs become the “token” by which JPM can assign them to either debit or credit or both. All JPM bins now get routed through JPM’s own unique VisaNet regardless of acquirer. If JPM is acquirer then it takes on-us. Represented by flows 1 and 4. JPM moves to put 100% of cards through Visa for consistency of routing. I like to think about this scenario as JPM just put its services on the Visa switch for all of its consumers… as opposed to delivering those services as an “issuer”. In one of my very first blogs (Googlization of FS, 4 years ago), I outlined how an advertising service would work from Visa’s switch.

Consumer Impact: None.. consumers have no idea anything happened. Of course in a mobile or “private label” scenario, JPM could “pre-load” a wallet with its cards.. or give its existing consumers a unique “private label” card, all with no issuance cost.  Banks will refuse to accept non-tokenized cards in wallet (see blog), and networks will restrict usage of aggregators (see blog).

Merchant impact POS.  ?What card am I accepting? A credit card? a debit card? a private label card? a direct link to another account type? No one knows but JPM.  How can the merchant route this payment type?  There are durbin rules for dual function “hybrid” cards but if card acts primarily like a credit then there is no problem.

Visa Impact. 2-4% revenue impact by 2015. Loss of JPM network fees, switching domestic payments off traditional VisaNet. Biforcating VisaNet, Loss of Rule control.  On the plus side, Visa may leverage CMS services for cards they service within its hosted transaction processing.

JPM Impact. Consumer value independent of merchant agreements. Control of customer, control of card number, multi function card, new advertising capabilities, new value added services, new product differentiation, mobile wallet control, position CPT/CMS for wallet provider role (PayPal, Square, MCX, …)

Scenario 2 Merchant Only Solution

Description: Chase PaymenTech/Chase Merchant Services (CMS) work to strike special arrangements with retailers that go beyond acceptance cost to data sharing. Represented by flows 1 and 2. Currently issuers can set interchange rates for merchants (strike unique deals), however this will allow retailers to combine data and keep retail transaction data off VisaNet (Flow 1 Red Arrows).  Focus is on value added services to merchants and white label programs with unique features.

Consumer Impact: None.. consumers have no idea anything happened

Merchant impact POS.  Chase Merchant Services becomes new acceptance brand. Merchants that use CMS have new features available and new white label products.  If JPM can do this with CMS.. why can MCX do this with First Data. It is precisely what FirstData was doing in 2006 prior to their settlement with Visa.

(American Banker 2006)

… on-us transactions are becoming more common among issuing banks that also operate merchant acquiring businesses. “Large banks like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America are currently doing on-us transactions now, and always have,” he said. “The more consolidation you have in the banking industry, the more on-us transactions you’ll get.” Bank of America is also rumored to be interested in creating its own card processing network.

Visa Impact. Dependent on success of new CMS acceptance network takes off and whitelabel/co brand. MAY be consistent with a V.me strategy by allowing customers to participate directly in data sharing (non JPM banks would not like this model). Loss of CMS “on us” network fees, switching domestic payments off traditional VisaNet. Biforcating VisaNet, Loss of Rule control.  On the plus side, Visa may leverage CMS services for cards they service within its hosted transaction processing.

JPM Impact. Differentiation. JPM can now compete w/ Amex in virtual 3 party network for some Merchants. New white label/co brand value propositions. New retailer services (example Payment enabled CRM).

Scenario 3 – Mobile only

Description: New VisaNet is restricted to switching Chase mobile tokens. Chase does not have ownership of their Visa BINs, but rather has an “interoperability pact” with Visa to ensure Visa can route new “tokens” (see blog). The tokens operate same as BINs, but may be of different format (not 16 digits). Objective is to ensure all mobile wallets have tokens instead of PANs. Note this is very similar to scenario 1, but scope is focused on mobile POS to stop wallet providers (PayPal, Google, Square, LevelUp, MCX) from gaining traction. I also believe tokens must initially take the format of PAN in order to minimize technology risk for the ecosystem. Turnkey mobile solution to enable credit, debit, ACH, Offers, platform for other wallet providers.

Consumer impact: Number of mobile payment schemes, how your account is provisioned into a mobile wallet, bank control and protection of your information, no account number you can use.. all hidden.

Visa impact: Same as above, getting out of mobile payments at the POS… focusing on eCommerce/V.me. No revenue impact at all.

Merchant impact. Loss of consumer data, bank control, new data sharing agreements, loss of access to ACH system for settlement, payment mix cost.

JPM impact. Uniquely compete for Platform business, retailer business, become the retailers, consumer, 3rd party platform of choice.

Thoughts appreciated.

Controlling Wallets – Battle of the Cloud Part 3

The networks are now in the midst of defining new rules to ensure they can “influence” wallets. Banks have legitimate concerns surrounding ability support consumers and adjust their risk models. But the real business drivers here control and customer data.

#1 CUSTOMER DATA

14 MAR 2013

Short blog today.. patent law changes tomorrow and need to get something filed.

Efforts to “control” have unintended consequences.. like holding onto your Jello by squeezing it..

The networks are now in the midst of defining new rules to ensure they can “control” wallets. I wrote about this a few months ago in Don’t Wrap Me – October 2012 and Battle of the Cloud – Part 2. 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

Each network is in midst of creating rules which will ensure it has control and can see merchant/consumer transaction.

The buzz this week is surrounding Mastercard’s new Staged Digital Wallet Operator Annual Network Access Fee (MA detail reference not avail).

  • What is it? Well since I don’t have the Dec 20 rule in front of me I have to go off my notes.
  • Applies to wallets that facilitate POS commerce between merchants and consumer (not ecommerce)
  • Who is responsible? It is largely a new processor responsibility. They are responsible for identifying wallet transactions
  • New transactions sets? Yes. Currently aggregators can be the merchant of record, but new rules require the MID of purchase and a new WID (WALLET ID) to be transmitted.
  • New fees? Yep.. looks like around 35bps on LAST YEARS volume
  • Timing? Goes live June 2013. Processor technology complete by April 2013

This is a brilliant move by Mastercard… but there may be some unintended consequences as issuers will have control over how it is applied.  MA’s objective?  “influence”  PayPal/Discover, Amex/Serve and Square/Visa, MCX…  NOTE eCommerce is NOT the focus (Apple/Amazon). However MA seems to be tying themselves in knots trying to differentiate a ecommerce aggregator (Amazon) from plastic aggregator (ex. PayPal/Discover).

These changes are already having “material” consequences. In eBay’s 2013 10k Page 19

MasterCard has recently announced a new Staged Digital Wallet Operator Annual Network Access Fee which would apply to many of PayPal’s transactions if the buyer uses a MasterCard to fund their payment, and will be collected starting in June 2013. PayPal’s payment card processors have the right to pass any increases in interchange fees and assessments on to PayPal as well as increase their own fees for processing. Changes in interchange fees and assessments could increase PayPal’s operating costs and reduce its profit margins.

Also see the long discussion by Amex’s Dan Shulman

http://www.reportlinker-news.com/n061421027/American-Express-Company-SemiAnnual-Financial-Community-Meeting-Final.html

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thanks. I have a question for  Dan Schulman.  MasterCard recently revealed that they’re introducing this digital wallet that I’ll read it’s called the staged digital wallet operator annual network access fee. It’s one of his famous acronyms.  I was going to ask has Amex contemplated a digital wallet fee as well? And generally do you think the optics of digital support merchant discount rates, are they going higher or lower in a card not present world?

DAN SCHULMAN : So I think you’re seeing a lot of different players whether it be traditional or non-traditional start to think through the digital wallet strategy. And we’ve said this and it’s still absolutely true, this is the very early innings of this play out with digital wallets right now. We’re beginning to get some very nice traction in the back half of the year. It’s kind of on our digital platform right now.  We have looked very hard at the different fee structures that are out there. We’ve looked at the embedded infrastructure that we have. As Ken mentioned we have a kind of fixed infrastructure that we can leverage. We have a lot of assets that we can leverage that are very different than other players out there right now.

So I wouldn’t expect that fee structures are necessarily going to mimic each other because each of us come to the market with different assets and different profiles. If you look at some of the kind of newer players that have come into reloadable prepaid, they’ve got very different infrastructures and therefore have to have very different fee structures if you look at a  NetSpend  or a  Green Dot  they charge on their, kind of what they are beginning to try and call wallets, they’re charging monthly fees that can be $4.95

A new WID  has multiple uses. It enables MA issuers to enhance their risk models and “decline” both individual transactions from a wallet, as well as decline wallet providers that are not “certified”.  Amex already has similar rules in place, their summary view seems to be that Serve can wrap everyone else’s card… but no one can wrap theirs (for physical commerce).

Banks love the original NFC model where cards had to be “provisioned” into a wallet. Banks were in complete control of which wallets to “authorize” and completely hid the card number (purchase data) from the wallet provider.  This perfect world broke down quickly as the first NFC wallets had space for only one card emulation application (see Forces against NFC) so there were 2 options: allow only one card type, or enable a single card to represent multiple cards (See Blog). Now that NFC in payment is dead just about everywhere (except Asia), banks are looking to enable this “provisioning” control within the network level. MA is just the first visible instance, as I outlined in NEW ACH SYSTEM the Banks are also doing the equivalent to ACH debit through tokens probably 18mo- 2 yrs away.

And we wonder why mobile payments aren’t taking off.

Retailers look at this change and see complete imbalance… Networks which will change rules in weeks to satisfy banks. V/MA you may want to consider a new transaction set which would force issuers to define price of a specific card for that specific merchant (interchange), and acquirers their fees (MDR)… then share that information with other retailers.  Then allow retailers to decline based on price… (as opposed to accept all cards). That would certainly level things out…

I do think there are many ways to get around this.. but  I will not be putting them in this blog ($$).  All surround who owns the customer… and 5 “LAWS OF Commerce”:

  • Commerce will always find the path of least resistance
  • Consumers are NOT owned, but rather migrate where there is value
  • Value can be delivered by price, product and also through great consumer experience
  • Most Retailers face life selling commodity goods at a higher price… experience is all they have left
  • Banks have never held a sustained role in controlling commerce, they influence and support it.

In all of this bank control.. where is there value? What does a JPM Sapphire Card actually do that is differently than a platinum Amex or a sub-prime Capital One? Brand, points, loyalty… these are qualitative attributes.. but what if there were REAL value differences? Where is the customer relationship. Note that Retail Banking is going through many FUNDAMENTAL changes (see blog)

Tim Geithner visited a friend of mine prior to his departure. My input question to him was what if core “Bank accounts” morphed from Net Interest Margin (NIM) profitability to “Trust Accounts” where the key to profitability was consumer data? (See blog Payment Enabled CRM)

With respect to squeezing Jello… as the banks angle for control EVERYONE else is looking toward least cost routing (see Blog). The payments system is not a set of 5 pipes.. Just as the internet backbone is not run on a single piece of fiber. Changing all of the rules for everyone and stopping the leaks is hard work…

payments pyramidI would love to set up a Wiki site where we could list the features differences and customers of all of these digital wallets.

.. back to my patent app .. oh and corporate taxes due tomorrow too. Yuck.

Business Implications of Payment Tokens

US mobile payments will have a new “network”, a system to use tokens which are neither V or MA card numbers. Thus Banks need not route these transactions through either V or MA, but will be able to leverage same acceptance infrastructure. Virtual card numbers will be bank numbers that banks resolve. JPM’s is first to align w/ plastic, leveraging common authorization authentication and other services

21 Feb 2013 (pardon the typos as always)

US mobile payments will have a new “network”, a system to use tokens which are neither V or MA card numbers. Banks’ position is that the need not route these transactions through either V or MA (in order to leverage same acceptance infrastructure), whereas V/MA clearly say that an account can’t be both a network account and a XPAY account (see no wrapping).

The banks desire in 2011 is that Tokens will be bank numbers that banks resolve.  JPM’s is first to align w/ ChaseNet and ChasePay.  Banks are putting in place “controls” around ACH debit and card rules which will “encourage” token adoption.  Watch out payment start ups.. rough seas ahead. As I stated: Banks will WIN in payments.

In the US, merchants own liability for Card Not Present (CNP) fraud which aligns online merchants to the risk of using a payment instrument for a consumer they cannot physically verify (see VBV exception). However well an individual online merchant manages their own payment risk, their remains extraneous indirect risk to banks, as card data loss could result in: counterfeit plastic, identity theft, other first party fraud, …etc. Thus the fallibility of the current card “token” which relates Bank to Consumer relationship. Through this NEW token initiative, Banks are seeking to expand the account identifier by making it unique to: consumer, bank AND merchant.token

Today merchants receive an authorization for use of the card and behind the scenes Banks use very large sophisticated risk models (ex software HNC’s Falcon) to make authorization decisions. As eCommerce merchants are responsible for fraud, they perform their own risk management either directly or through payment specialists (Cybersource, PayPal, Amazon, Digital River, …etc). Banks have few problems approving online transactions.. as they bear none of the loss… and hence a game is played. Banks have little incentive to share their fraud data and merchants have little incentive to share theirs. Remember that within banking, margins are driven by the ability to manage risk and banks therefore incented to differentiate capability (not harmonize it). Which leads to other interesting dynamics (perhaps a topic for a later time).

At the Physical POS, the situation is different. Merchants bear little fraud and with EMV (Chip and PIN) the US will further reduce fraud where plastic is presented (if EMV in the US does happen). As I described in EMV Battle Impacts Mobile Payments, Retailers love EMV and are biased toward PIN and Debit. Retailers are continually looking for a way to reduce payment costs and influence consumers AWAY from Bank reward schemes.Payment-Gateways-growth

Mobile payments remain “green field”  and may be significantly disruptive at the POS. One of my favorite quotes around payments ” if you solve authentication.. everything else is just accounting”  (Ross Anderson @ KC Fed). The mobile device can provide a much richer set of information which to authenticate (vs a piece of plastic). Banks have invested billions in their card risk and authentication infrastructure. Mobile could render most of this investment moot, thus Banks are working to control and influence mobile payments at POS, particularly given NFC’s complete failure. Additionally, new payment providers like LevelUp, Google Wallet, MCX, Passbook, …etc all present large challenges to banks efforts to own the consumer relationship and payment choice at the POS (See MCX Blog).  Banks have some latitude to create incentives around mobile. For example is an MCX QR code backed by a Visa Debit card a CNP Visa transaction? Card Present? Or will MCX try to encourage consumers to back with DDA like the Target RedCard model?  Mobile payments are a key battle ground for many parties.. it is imperative to recognize that mobile payments are not just about payments.. but also about loyalty, relationship, data, influence, banking… etc.

In architecting incentives, banks have diminished ability to force V/MA to change acceptance rules. The same is true for retailers. Thus both are looking to create networks based on direct consumer accounts with account numbers (tokens) they can control. This is a very big statement.. if the banks can create a “token” which represents a credit account or a debit account.. they have “wrapped” Visa and MA (see blog Don’t Wrap Me). If successful, they could subsequently change networks anytime they wanted… or create their own. Why on earth would they want to route any debit transaction through V or MA if the token represented a debit card that represented a DDA? Or similarly doubtful: a token that represents a credit card which represents a credit account? (see  PayPal at the POS). Taking card number out of merchant (and consumer) possession, and replacing it with a token, enables banks enormous flexibility.

Yes my head is spinning too. I am implying that banks could leverage their entire acceptance and authorization infrastructure without routing anything through V or MA. No direct consumer involvement would be necessary in this token scheme since something like an MCX QR code could be mapped to multiple tokens in a single back end process. Banks are looking to make ACH changes as a defensive play to ensure that ACH rails are protected against funding a Retailer/3rd Party wallet directly (as PayPal, Target RedCard, Safeway Fastforward do today). This was my point in yesterday’s blog on ACH Debit.

Business Drivers

As I outlined this week in New ACH System in US, my view of Bank business drivers for Tokenization are:

  1. Stop the dissemination and storage of Card numbers, DDA RTN and Account Numbers
  2. Control the bank clearing network. Particularly third party senders and stopping the next paypal where consumer funds are directed to unknown destinations through aggregators.
  3. Own New Mobile POS Schemes to protect their risk investment
  4. Improve ACH clearing speed (new rules, new capabilities to manage risk). In a token model the differences between an ACH debit and a debit card will blend as banks leverage common infrastructure.
  5. Create new ACH based pricing scheme somewhere between debit ($0.21) and credit cards
  6. Regulatory, Financial Pandemic, AML controls (per  blog on HSBC)
  7. Take Visa and MA out of the debit game (yes this is a major story)
  8. Maintain risk models (see both sides of transaction)
  9. Control Retailer’s efforts to form a new payment network

What banks seem to be missing is that mobile payment is not just about payment (see Directory Battle Part 1). Payments SUPPORT commerce, Banks therefore do not operate from a position of control but rather of enablement. Most retailers recognize that Consumer access to credit has resulted in improved retail spending, however most would also say consumer addition to bank rewards has been detrimental to their margin.

Tokens for Mobile POS?

Why would any merchant or wallet provider choose to exchange consumer payment instrument(s) for token(s)?  Reduction in CNP rates, liability shift are significant. But the mobile device has many additional “identifiers” that far exceed what is available on a piece of plastic (IMEI, location, history, password, interaction for challenge). IMHO the bank business case for tokens must be built on CNP rates and Customer Choice. If Banks directly assist consumers provision their account into a mobile wallet, every wallet provider should support it. In other words the bank has done the work to integrate and “push” the customer’s choice into a given wallet from their online banking site (ex yesterday V.me and SavetoAPI).

But this bank led provisioning does nothing for the millions of accounts that consumers have already provisioned themselves in: PayPal, Apple, Amazon, Google, Target, Safeway… All of these companies have worked to deliver consumer value and obtained a direct consumer relationship, which subsequently resulted in the consumer choosing to store payment information directly. I can’t imagine a scenario (or business case) for them to part with that asset, particularly prior to 100% acceptance of tokens by all merchants (online and offline).

Token Acceptance

The value of a bank issued token is completely dependent on: ACCEPTANCE, cost and Risk Mitigation. At the physical POS Retailers are firmly in control of acceptance, unless the tokens perfectly mimic existing card schemes. Banks will likely work to ensure that any non-tokenized payment (QR Code) will be treated as a CNP transaction with merchants bearing fraud responsibility. If tokens are in the format of a 16 digit account number than there will be very little change necessary to the payment terminal. However, the downside of using 16 digit account numbers is that it would not enable banks to firmly separate from V/MA bin routing (and network fees). It will certainly be interesting to see the plan here.

Retailers, Banks, Networks, Consortiums… are all at odds… all trying to own the consumer relationship and control a directory which they can resolve.Payment Value

In general I see the token initiative as a distraction for banks. They are far too focused on control and throwing sand in the gears of commerce. Commerce will find the path of least resistance in an open market.

Summary

My guess is that many Card CEOs are skeptical of all this network tokenization strategy. Banks card teams have tremendous assets in their consumer relationship, established consumer behavior, brand, network of acceptance, merchant white label relationships. Why not work to partner and extend today’s model in a way that benefits consumer and merchant? Example Payment enabled CRM.

This tokenization project’s ability to positively impact mobile payments and retailers may be like squeezing Jello… American Express can only be laughing to themselves. As US Card issuers are 5 years behind them in innovation  Amex is extending their lead as they endeavor to “pull their weight” by while helping retailers obtain new insights on their customers. This sounds like a much better idea than tokens.. probably one that investors will understand better as well.

My message to Bank CEOs: stop trying to lock in your market position and start trying to justify it through value.  Tokens will provide you more control, but it is significantly detrimental to your acceptance network (V/MA). You have brilliant payment executives.. there is true genius in the token design here, but it is completely myopic. If you had a cross functional team with experience in retail, advertising, data, processing, CRM you would realize that mobile will change the way consumers interact with their environment. Banks will NOT be the intermediary in every interaction. The barriers you are constructing will only further inhibit your ability to partner and take part in processes which add value.  Remember your customer is not yours exclusively, we also are customers of Google and WalMart and Verizon…. Banks have an OPPORTUNITY to orchestrate commerce IF they deliver VALUE.  Payment people design payment solutions to payment problems. Banks must redefine the problem and the opportunity.

The questions banks must answer (for a retailer): when was the last time you brought me a customer and helped me build my brand, and consumer relationship?

Another scenario Card CEOs should consider: if Payments become “dumb pipes” …. where retailers and non bank intermediaries can perform Least Cost Routing (LCR)… how do we compete? How strong is your customer relationship?  Why did the consumer choose you as the bank in the first place?

2013: Payment Predictions – Updated

2 January 2013 (updated typos and added content on kyc, cloud, and push payments)HypeCycle

Looking back to my first “prediction” installment 2 years ago, 2011: Rough Start for Mobile Payments, not much has changed. Although I am personally approaching the “trough of disillusionment”.  Lessons below are not exclusively payment (ie mobile, commerce, advertising) but seem relevant .. so I mashed them together. Key lessons learned for the industry this year:

  • Payment is NOT the key component of commerce, but rather just the easiest part of a very long marketing, targeting, shopping, incentive, selection, checkout, loyalty … process. Payments are thus evolving to “dumb pipes”.
  • Value proposition is key to any success for mobile at the POS. There are no payment “problems” today. None of us ever leave the store without our goods because the merchant did not accept our payment. There are however many, many problems in advertising, loyalty, shopping, selection, …
  • There is no value proposition for the merchant or the consumer in NFC. NFC as a payment mechanism is completely dead in the US, with some hope in emerging markets (ie transit).
  • 4 Party Networks (Visa/MA) can’t innovate at pace of 3 party networks (Amex/Discover). See Yesterday’s blog.
  • Visa is in a virtual war with key issuers, their relationship is fundamentally broken.   This is driving large US banks to form “new structures” for control of payments and ACH. Control is not a value proposition.
  • US Retailers have organized themselves in MCX. They will protect their data and ensure consumer behavior evolves in a way which benefits them. Key issues they are looking to address include bank loyalty programs, consumer data use, consumer behavior in payment (they like chip and PIN but refuse to support contactless).
  • Card Linked Offers (CLO) are a house of cards and the wind is blowing. Retailers don’t want banks in control of acquisition, in fact retailers don’t spend much of their own money on marketing in the first place. Basket level statement credits don’t allow retailers to target specific products and it also dilutes their brand without delivering loyalty. Businesses want loyalty… Companies like Fishbowl and LevelUp are delivering.
  • Execution. This may be subject of a future blog… Fortune 50 organizations, Consortiums, Networks, Regulated Companies all share a common trait: they are challenged to execute. Put all of these groups together (isischoicewithout a compelling value proposition…) and we have our current state (see my Disney in a desert pic). Take a look at who is executing today and you will see product focus around a defined value proposition. My leaders: Square, Amex, Amazon, Sofort, Samsung, Apple, SKT, Docomo and Google.  Organizations can’t continue to stick with leaders that are focused solely on strategy, or technology, or corporate development… You should be able to lock any 3 people in a room for a week and see a prototype product. The lack of depth in most organizations is just astounding. Executives need to bring focus.
  • In a NETWORKED BUSINESS, it’s not enough to get the product right. You must also get retailers, consumers, advertisers, platform providers, …etc. incented to operate together. Today we see broken products and established players throwing sand in the gears of everyone else in order to protect yesterday’s network. Fortune 50 companies have shown poor partnership capabilities. Their strategies are myopic and self interested. For example Banks DO NOT DRIVE commerce, but support it. Their “innovation” today is self serving and built around their “ownership” of the customer. Commerce acts like a river and will flow through the path of least resistance. There can only be so many damns… and they will be regulated.
  • The Valley and “enterprise” startups. There are billions of dollars to be unlocked at the intersection of mobile, retail, advertising, social. Most of the value requires enterprise relationships. Most investment dollars have flowed to direct to consumer services. I expect this to change.
  • Consumer Behavior is hard to change, particularly in payments, it normally follows a 20 yr path to adoption. For example, in every NFC pilots through 7 countries we saw a “novelty” adoption cycle where consumer uses for first 2 months then never uses again. My guess is that there are fewer than 1-2 thousand phone based NFC transactions a week in the entire US. (So much for that Javelin market estimate of $60B in payments).
  • Consumer Attention. Who can get it? They don’t read e-mails, watch TV adverts, click on banner ads. My view is that the lack of attention is due to a vicious cycle relating to relevant content and relevant incentives.
  • Hyperlocal is hard. The Groupon model is broken, CLO is broken.. Large retailers have a targeting problem AND a loyalty problem. Small retailers have a larger problem as the have no dedicated marketing staff. Their pain is thus bigger, but selling into this space requires either a tremendous sales team or a tremendous brand (self service).
  • My favorite quote of the year, from Ross Anderson and KC Federal Reserve. [With respect to payment systems].. if you solve the authentication problem everything else is just accounting.

Predictions

Here are mine, would greatly appreciate any comments or additions.

  • Retailer friendly value propositions will get traction (MCX, Square, Levelup, Fishbowl, Google, Facebook,  …)
  • MCX will not deliver any service for 2 years, but individual retailers will create services that “align” with principals outlined by MCX (Target Redcard, Safeway Fastforward, …etc). The service which MCX should build is a Least Cost Routing Switch to enable the most efficient transaction across payment “dumb pipes”. This will enable merchants who want to take risk on any given customer the ability to do so..
  • Banks will build yet another consortium in an attempt to control payments. They will work to “protect consumers” by hiding their account information and issue “payment tokens”. I agree with all of this, yet this is a very poorly formed value proposition and Banks will find it hard to influence consumer behavior.
  • We will see more than one bank start a pilot around Push Payments (see blog).
  • Facebook and Google will gain significant traction in mobile ad targeting…. following on to targeted incentives… which will lead to mobile success. Bankers, please read this again.. success in mobile will begin with ad targeting and incentives. Payments are an afterthought…
  • Retailers at the leading edge will begin to see that their consumer data asset is of greater value than their core business.
  • Banks will follow Amex’s lead in creating dedicated data businesses. What is CLO today will morph into retailer analytics, offers and loyalty.
  • Apple will put NFC in their iPhone.. but usage is focused on device-device communication… not payment. NFC will be just another radio in the handset, there will be multiple SEs with the carriers owning a SWP/SIM based one.. and the platform provider managing the other. Which will succeed? A: the group that can best ORCHESTRATE value across 1000s of companies.
  • Visa will lose a top 5 issuer to MA, and they will see a future where their debit revenue is gone (in the US) as MCX and bank consortiums take ownership of ACH and PIN debit.
  • We will see 100s of new companies work to create new physical commerce experiences that include marketing, incentives, shopping, selection. Amazon is the driving force for many, as retailers work to create a better consumer experience at competitive price.
  • Chaos in executive ranks. Amex, Citi, MCX, PayPal, Visa all have new CEOs.. all will be shaking up their payment teams.
  • Retail banking is going through fundamental change. Bank brands, fee income and NRFF are declining, big dedicated branches will be replaced by more self service. Mass market retail will see significant leakage into products like pre-paid. Retailers and Mobile Operators are better able to profitably deliver basic financial services, to the mass market, than banks…. see my Blog Future of Retail: Prepaid.
  • Unlocking the Cloud… and Authentication. KYC is a $5B business. Look for mobile operators to build consumer registration services that will tie biometrics with phone. Digital Signatures on contracts, payment through biometrics, .. all will be possible in a world without plastic. Forget NFC…  See previous Blog on KYC and Cloud Wallets.

Future of Retail Banking: Prepaid?

Today’s pre-paid dynamics may be the tipping point by which 3 party networks begin to overtake V/MA in growth. A trend that will accelerate when other business models require “control”. This next phase will be centered around merchant/consumer transaction data, which will begin to unlock the advertising revenue pool, which is almost 4 times larger than that of payments.

Payments and core banking will become a “dumb pipe” business unless Banks create value and assume a larger orchestration role. POS Payments are the central feature of a transaction account, if banks loose this relationship they will be in a poor position to orchestrate. 4 party networks are very, very hard to change.

Nov 7 2012 (updated for typos)

Warning.. long monotonous blog. Sorry for the lack of connectedness, written over 7 days and my editor is rather slammed. You have been warned, so don’t complain….

Summary

  1. The competitive dynamics surrounding a “transaction account” (ie DDA) are shifting. For example, Retailer banking/prepaid products (Wal-Mart, Tesco, ..) offer significant fee advantages to most lower mass customers. Three party networks like Amex and Discover have unique advantages when combined with Retailers distribution/service capabilities. This means prepaid has become a disruption: a new good enough product…
  2. Net interest income is 64% of total US retail bank revenues, yet the bottom four deciles of mass market customers are no longer profitable. Given that the transactional account is the #1 factor for retail bank profitability, what are implications if banks loose it?
  3. There is a high probability for disruptive value propositions in Payments, as advertising replaces merchant borne interchange.  Payments and core banking will become a “dumb pipe” business unless Banks create value and assume a larger orchestration role. POS Payments are the central feature of a transaction account, if banks loose this relationship they will be in a poor position to orchestrate.

Does anyone else have trouble keeping up with state of the art? Who is doing what? My method of keeping up with change is to immerse myself in a given area for a day or two. It also gives me a reason to call my friends and colleagues.  This week the theme is retail banking. I’ve spent too much time thinking about payments and how it relates to mobile, advertising, …etc.   I thought I would dust off my banking hat and think in terms of a banker.

Retail Banking

I’m struck by how odd retail banking is. Why are banking services not more simple? Why do I have a separate savings, checking and card account? Why not one account? if the account runs in a arrears I pay interest and if it runs in credit the bank pays me interest? Why does a bank take 3-5 days to move money? How on earth do the banks afford all of those stand alone branches when I visit them perhaps once or twice a year?  Why all of the regulation? What does my bank do for me? What problems do retail banks solve? Can someone else solve these problems more efficiently?

There is certainly no single answer. Retail banking serves many demographics, from the college student to the billionaire. Historically retail bank relationships were very important relationships, as banks only lent money to people they “knew”, based on the deposits they had. Younger consumers need to borrow, older consumers …  savings. Banks focused on things like college student accounts to lock in that relationship as early as possible. Today’s modern financial markets provide for the securitization of loans, thereby spreading risk among various investors willing to assume it. Does a banking relationship matter anymore? to Consumers? to Banks?

I’m struck by how little change has occurred (in the US) on the liabilities side of the banking business? Quite frankly US consumers are treated like idiots who sacrifice “protection of capital” over risk. We now have an entire agency working to protect US consumers from banks.. (BTW what is predatory lending?). Other markets let consumers take on risk.. and hence have many more choices, and innovation, in savings. For example, I’m very fortunate to have worked with so many fantastic people over the years. The great thing about running Citi’s channels globally is that each and every country had a somewhat unique competitive and regulatory environment. It was like running 27 different banks. There were many different strategies for deposit acquisition, for example:

  • In Spain we had a 10/2 product that paid 10% interest on deposits for the first 2 months.. then went to 1%.
  • In Japan Citi leveraged its global footprint, and the poor local consumer rate environment, to create foreign currency (FCY) accounts which allowed consumers earn higher returns by assuming currency conversion (FX) risk in uninsured accounts.
  • The UK is perhaps the most competitive retail bank environment in the world. Consumers in the UK can switch banks almost as easily as changing shoes, it was thus essential to enable consumers to switch quickly and then get them into other products quickly. Take a look at today’s UK savings rates from MoneySuperMarket (8% on a fixed $30k deposit) vs the US (1.05% bankrate.com).  Rate differences on this scale helped fuel the carry trade in Japan.

In the US, it is well known (inside the banking community) that banks are highly discouraged from competing on rates. Not that it matters, this amazing study by the Chicago Fed (Chicago Fed – Checking Accounts What Do Consumers Value – 2010) shows that US consumers are rate inelastic.. and care much more about fees. You have read this right, consumers don’t care about interest rates on their deposits.. which is certainly NOT intuitive. Perhaps rates are all so close to 0% that 5-10bps doesn’t matter. Or perhaps  because the average US consumer does not save at all, and those that do have their money in another place.

Retail Bank Profitability. Net interest income (2011, represented more than 64% of total US bank revenues) is the rate spread between borrowing short and lending long, or more broadly the differential between asset yields and funding costs. Net interest margins (defined as net interest income over average earning assets) were 3.6% at year-end 2011, just 11% higher from the 20-year low of 3.2% in the last quarter of 2006.

From DB Research

As low rates persist, loan-to-deposit spreads fall as prices adjust, and longer-term securities, held as assets, roll over to lower-yielding securities (the same holds true on the funding side, of course, helping to extend the positive impact of falling interest rates into the future). The net impact on banks’ net interest levels may be negative, though. In previous recoveries, this effect has been offset by increased loan volumes, allowing banks to return to sustainable growth levels. Furthermore, as an economy recovers, banks may quickly benefit as short-term assets roll over at higher rates

To summarize: Bank net interest income is important (64%), and falling. Banks have had a key revenue source taken away from them (Debit interchange) and are also facing another merchant led suit on credit card interchange. Bank brands and reputations are on a steady downward trend. Consumers don’t care about rates, but react strongly on fees. … A new regulatory agency to protect consumers is just now forming and looking to make its mark. What are banks to do?

Transaction Account

What is the purpose of a bank provided transactional account today? Well certainly our mattresses are a little less lumpy, and the relationship factors have largely gone away. So what is left? Transactionality?

The banks have long recognized that the transactional account is the #1 factor driving a consumer relationship. Virtually every other banking product and service hangs from this account. Most retail banks view direct deposit (internationally known as Salary Domiciliation or Sal Dom) as the key indicator of the transactional relationship. Consumers have limited “energy” to connect to more than one network (as outlined in followed my previous blog on Weak Links). 

This financial supermarket concept, authored by Sandy Weill and John Reed, has not exactly been a slam dunk success. Nonetheless every retail bank starts selling with a checking account, even if nothing else is attached. What are the key factors influencing the selection of a transactional account?

  • Why are deposits important to banks?
  • Driver of overall relationship à Customer Net Revenue
  • Liquidity ratio ->Risk ->Agency Rating -> Capital Costs
  • How do consumers select a bank?

The public compete data above is completely consistent with previous proprietary studies I’ve commissioned. Consumers tend to pick their bank based on how convenient the branch and/or ATM is.

Is there something fundamentally changing? What if consumers don’t visit a branch… or no longer use cash? Are there new value propositions? Where will consumers (and their deposits) go?

Recent market developments/Announcements

The Amex Bluebird product is revolutionary in terms of fees. It is the lowest cost reloadable card in the market today. Beyond the product, I’m even more impressed with WalMart’s business strategy here. They seem to be willing to break even on payments/banking in order to win the overall consumer relationship and increase foot traffic and loyalty in their stores. Take a look at the suite of products offered by WalMart. While banks are pushing out the bottom forty percent of mass consumers, WalMart has made a bet that it cannot only serve them, but do so profitably.

There are many different types of pre-paid cards (more below), however most are not regulated as bank accounts. In almost every geography, consumer deposits (interest bearing, insured) are regulated because they drive both bank liquidity (which drives lending and cost of capital) and profitability. Remember before capital markets existed to securitize assets (loans) retail banks could only lend to the extent of their balance sheet (deposits). Consumers put their money with banks in order to earn interest (the carrot) with the downside of fees on usage (the stick).  In the US consumers are beginning to ask themselves “is the carrot big enough”?

In emerging markets many banks have a poor reputation, additionally access to legal resources are limited, as are consumer protections. How would you feel if you showed up to your bank for a withdrawal and your bank said “sorry your money is gone” and you had no recourse? This dynamic has propelled other banking models in emerging markets. For example my friend Nick Hughes and his Vodafone/Safaricom team created MPESA in Kenya which provided enormous value to consumers. However MPESA caused an apoplectic reaction from the banking regulators as 10% of Kenya’s GDP sat in a non-interest bearing Vodafone owned settlement account. MPESA therefore impacted bank liquidity (IF the funds would have gone into a bank account as opposed to just M1/cash). Visa and MA have worked hard to try to make prepaid the underlying account for mobile money in emerging markets, to very little avail. The problem is not connecting people to the V/MA network.. and giving balances to an approved bank. The problem is first transferring money to entities currently not on any network, then paying a very small number of billers.  

Why are consumers defecting in the US? Ernst and Young just published a phenomenal global study on this subject. The result of their analysis was that consumer confidence in banks is degrading. E&Y outlined a call to action by banks: reconfigure your business models around customer needs. My hypothesis is that consumers have reached a tipping point where they view banking services as commodities… In the UK, this is already well established.

Prepaid

I haven’t spent much time thinking about prepaid cards so I thought it was time to refresh myself, particularly in light of MCX and the prospect of retailers acting as Banks.

From the US Fed

Prepaid cards offer much of the functionality of checking accounts, but that does not mean the underlying economics are the same. A typical prepaid card in the data is active for six months or less, a small fraction of the longevity seen with consumer checking accounts. As a result, account acquisition strategy and the recovery of fixed and variable costs are likely different than for checking accounts. …. prepaid cards with [direct deposit are uncommon but] remain active more than twice as long and have 10 times or more purchase and other activity than other cards in the same program category. As a result, these cards typically generate at least four times more revenue for the prepaid card issuer

Similarly Pre-paid cards also face a complex web of regulation (See Philadelphia Fed Paper 2010), across 31 different types of cards.

31 types of cards? Did anyone else realize the diversity here? Wow… For the sake of this blog, let’s focus on reloadable (GPR) open loop cards (references to prepaid below are on this card type only). It would seem that GPR pre-paid is following the general disruption pattern of serving a lower tier of the market at a more attractive price point. According to Mercator, In 2009, consumers loaded $28.6 billion onto prepaid cards. By 2015, prepaids will hold $168 billion.

Last month’s WSJ ( Prepaid Enters Mainstream) outlined this dynamic

Traditional leaders in GPR pre-paid have been Green Dot, NetSpend, . The Durbin amendment exempted most prepaid cards. This means that pre-paid is largely example from the Durbin interchange restrictions… (with several conditions). Thus the business case for pre-paid is rather strong, and Banks themselves are assessing if they can make this the new “starter” account (ex Chase Liquid). However Three Party Networks (Discover and Amex) have a significant advantage.

From Digital Transactions, March 2012

While the Federal Reserve’s rule implementing the Durbin Amendment has its greatest effect on traditional debit cards, it affects prepaid cards too, especially its provision that banks’ prepaid cards can avoid Durbin price controls only if cardholders can access the funds exclusively through the card itself. That provision thwarted banks’ efforts to make prepaid cards more like demand-deposit accounts and led them to scale back or end bill payments through prepaid card accounts.

But American Express and Discover are not subject to Durbin’s controversial provisions, Daniel and Brown noted. Both companies are so-called “three-party” payment systems that function both as merchant acquirer and card issuer. In contrast, Visa and MasterCard debit and prepaid cards are part of “four-party” systems in which the issuer and acquirer are usually different companies and rely on the Visa and MasterCard networks to route transactions among them. The Durbin Amendment exempts, or “carves out” in industry parlance, three-party networks from its provisions, including interchange regulation.

“There’s no restriction on what AmEx can pay itself” for prepaid card transactions, said Brown. Thus, AmEx and Discover have a new opportunity to grow their prepaid businesses, the attorneys said.

Clearly Discover (DFS) and American Express (Amex) have an opportunity to “Kill” prepaid cards, what are they missing? Physical distribution, service and reach in the mass market. These are the very things that retailers like WalMart can provide, and in fact economically benefit by providing them.

As you can tell, regulations are driving the business models here. Most large US retailers leverage a fantastic team of attorneys from Card Compliant that specialize exclusively in prepaid cards (run by my friend Chuck Rouse). WalMart’s move to Amex is brilliant both from a regulatory and business model perspective.  

Today’s pre-paid dynamics may be the tipping point by which 3 party networks begin to overtake V/MA in growth. A trend that will accelerate when other business models require “control”. This next phase will be centered around merchant/consumer transaction data, which will begin to unlock the advertising revenue pool, which is almost 4 times larger than that of payments.

Payments and core banking will become a “dumb pipe” business unless Banks create value and assume a larger orchestration role. POS Payments are the central feature of a transaction account, if banks loose this relationship they will be in a poor position to orchestrate. 4 party networks are very, very hard to change.

I see a battle where 3 party networks work to branch into orchestration and advertising, and existing orchestrators (ie Apple/Google) integrate legacy dumb pipes (payments and telecommunication) to deliver value to the consumer. What do consumers value today? This is the call to action for bankers… who are not always the best at creating alliances.

Here is one idea, focus on trust and helping consumers solve problems they don’t face frequently. For example,

  • Make financial planning easier and less of a sales job.
  • Help manufactures and retailers connect to target consumers.
  • Become a buyers agent?
  •     Help navigate the college application and loan process,
  •     Help  buy a new car for the lowest possible price…

I know this is not a clean finish.. but that’s all the time I have.

References

Thank you Kansas City Fed for the fabulous brief from the: CONSUMER PAYMENT INNOVATION IN THE CONNECTED AGE. Bill Keeton and Terri Bradford were nice enough to invite me, but unfortunately I couldn’t attend. In my last visit to the KC fed we spoke about future payments types, but we also spent quite a bit of time discussing where mass market consumers will go if banks view the bottom 4 deciles of retail banking as unprofitable (according to proprietary McKinsey Study).  Today I thought I would pull together a compendium of my learnings on retail deposits, MSBs and pre-paid… the “transaction account” by which payments flow.