Payments.. global growth.. with controlled chaos

6 April 2014

Sorry for the poor flow here. jumping on a plane and wanted to get some of this out. feedback appreciated.

Objective

A brief view on what is happening in global payments growth, debit, banking and data. Why moves here are so important to banking, commerce and payments.

Background

Nothing will dent the 20%+ CAGR of Visa/MA, as 92% of electronic transactions are completed by less than 10% of the world’s population. Perhaps the best analysis done on global payments is from Cap Gemini (2013 World Payments Report). Markets like Asia and CEMEA are growing electronic payment volumes by over 22% CAGR. The network effects are enormous, it is like mobile in the late 90s, or the internet since the mid 90s. No investor can stay out of payments.

 

Payments is a rather complex environment. I’m not speaking from a technology standpoint, but from a value, control, political and regulatory one. Just as electronic payments are exploding internationally, there are several forces that are acting against established payment networks in OECD markets. For Example

Thus, It is important to view the changes occurring in payments with changes in other networks: social, telecommunication, retail, mobile, supply chain, demand chain, advertising, banking, commerce, education…etc.  The lines that separate retailers, advertisers, platforms, MNOs, Banks, … are beginning to blur much more substantially. For example

Historically Banks supported commerce by providing access to capital, support of markets, specialized instruments, all of which created value through their unique ability to manage risk (using their information advantage).  Consumers chose banks based upon their physical presence to support  the interaction with (and transformation of) different forms of value: cash, check, electronic, …etc, as well as gain access to credit, and provide return on assets.  Bank strategists created retail financial “supermarkets” where transactional accounts acted a loss leader to cross sell 100s of other consumer financial products. The majority of consumers never participated in this cross selling effort, and therefore the mass remains unprofitable to these “supermarket” banks.

As cash, and check are displaced by electronic payments, the value of the branch and “supermarket banking” has shifted to the value of electronic payments for a large majority of the population. The information advantage that best positioned banks to manage risk has decayed. Further, the billions of dollars spent in transactional risk management has been eliminated by mobile authentication (see Perfect authentication a nightmare for Banks). Regulators are working globally to open up payments to non-banks (ex EU ELMIs), but conversely holding banks responsible for everything. Governments and Banks have grown addicted to data surrounding electronic payments, leaving many consumers to search for anonymity (ie Bitcoin).

The entities that are currently best equipped to deliver consumer value and monetize data are companies that the consumer most frequently chooses to interact with (Apple, Amazon, Google, WalMart, …). Banks are working from a position of control, and must pivot to a position of value, trust and choice.

A Story….

Most of you know that today’s Google wallet has a central transactional account of a non-Durbin Mastercard (see blog). Google pays each issuer with a card in its wallet the FULL rate on its cards (example 210 bps to FDC/Visa/Chase) and the merchant incurs a debit fee of 105bps. Google eats the cost.. In this model the bank wins, and the merchant wins. The consumer wins because they can put their preferred payment instrument in the wallet (ie Debit). In fact Google is the ONLY wallet that has debit cards in it.
You would think everyone would like this right? NOPE. Banks want Google to stop wrapping their cards. What are Banks upset by?
#1 Banks don’t like Google seeing the data,
#2 Banks don’t want debit use on mobile.. they want mobile to be a premium credit service
#3 Banks want part of GOOGLE’s revenue in addition to their full interchange.
This story should scare the pants off investors in the payment space, Google has invested a billion dollars, takes a loss on every transaction and has a value proposition for everyone.  (see blog)

My recommendation to Google? Tell the banks that they can shut you off whenever they want to. It is in their control to decline your transactions. I can just imagine the customer message from Google  to a consumer “your bank has decided they don’t like you using your credit and debit card with us, here are a list of banks that you can use, ….” .My recommendation to the Banks? Don’t trust Google with your data, find a way to work with them to accomplish your objectives. I have several ideas for you if you want to chat.

Five important takeaways from this section:

  1. There are no technology problems in Payments
  2. Mobile handsets and authentication are a threat to banks
  3. Banks are running away from the mass market, and Retailers/MNOs are running to fill the gap
  4. Google has done all the right things, invested a billion, takes a loss on every transaction and still can’t get traction with retailers or banks.
  5. Customer CHOICE is a threat to established players

Durbin – What Happened?

As reported Friday (see Bloomberg), the 3 judge panel at the US Court of appeals upheld the Federal Reserve rules, overturning Judge Leon’s ruling that “The court concludes that the [Federal Reserve] Board has clearly disregarded Congress’ statutory intent by inappropriately inflating all debit-card transaction fees by billions of dollars.” and the Federal Reserve failed to ensure that merchants enjoy access to “multiple unaffiliated networks” to process each debit-card transaction, as also required by the Durbin Amendment. Senator Durbin reacted to this Friday stating that the appeals ruling was “a giveaway to the nation’s most powerful banks and a blow to consumers and small businesses across America.”

Retailers and Senator Durbin argue that the clear language of the law directed the Fed to set the price of Debit at “reasonable and proportional to the cost incurred”. The Fed’s internal team came up with $0.12, but the Fed then came up with $0.21+5bps. Judge Leon had struck that fee down in July 2013 (see analysis here). For more background on Durbin and Fed see this this Federal Reserve Article.E:\Pictures\Blog\2013 number of payments in US.PNG

Debit – Industry Perspective

Debit is the most frequently used payment product in the US, with the lowest fraud rates (see Charts, and Federal Reserve 2013 Payment Study). Debit is a product that evolved from your Bank’s ATM network. This is why you have all of those logos like NYCE, PULSE, STAR, Interlink, … on the back of your card, and why you also use the card to get cash out of the ATM. I covered this topic 2 years ago in Signature Debit is Dead. Visa’s big innovation was turning their 1987 interlink win from a PIN debit acceptance network to a signature network. By placing the Visa log on the debit card, and forcing the “honor all cards” rule on merchants, they successfully drove network expansion. As the NYTimes outlines

Seizing on this odd twist, Visa enticed banks to embrace signature debit — the higher-priced method of handling debit cards — and turned over the fees to banks as an incentive to issue more Visa cards. At least initially, MasterCard and other rivals promoted PIN debit instead.

Why all the regulation? A picture is worth a thousand words

E:\Pictures\Blog\interchange rates US Fed 2.PNG

Clearly the pricing here does not seem to indicate that effective market forces are at work, as debit network expansion was followed by tremendous fee increases.

Canada, Australia, UK, most of Europe have debit pricing of around $0.12.  A fantastic analysis of all these countries was done by Europe-Economics in The Economic Impact of Fee Regulation in the UK – June 2013. The universal regulatory goal is to establish (or retain) debit’s role as the central access point for transaction accounts.  As in the Australian example, the hope was that the removal of debit fees would result in merchant savings, which would in turn result in consumer savings. Unfortunately, banks successfully recovered most of the lost interchange through new bank fees, and merchants did not pass along the cost savings.

In Australia, 85 per cent of debit card transactions are processed using an EFTPOS terminal. Interchange Fees (IFs) for such transactions are imposed in inverse direction to that of credit cards as they are paid by the issuing bank to the acquiring bank. [Post regulation] Issuing banks suffered from a revenues reduction from IFs worth AU$647m for 2006. However, as in the Spanish case, banks responded to the reduction in their revenue from IFs by increasing the level of other fees. Annual fees increased by AU$40 on average, which for 2006 represent an estimated AU$480m in issuer revenues. As a result, issuing banks recovered 74 per cent of the lost revenue from IFs.

Beyond debit, Europe is considering caps on credit card as well (see Digital Transactions – Europe’s Fee Conundrum). Visa Europe Fee structure provided below for background.

E:\Pictures\Blog\Visa Europe Fees.PNG

For more detail see my blog Debit Wars. My summary view is that debit payments are going toward a common bank owned service operating at cost (Average $0.12 globally). Visa is impacted slightly here as 19% of revenue is from debit. Thus banks are working aggressively to move payments to high margin credit.

Retail Banking Impact

This debit dynamic plays heavily into a larger retail banking strategy (see Future of Retail Banking, and theFinancialBrand). The business of managing your transactional account was never a great business for a bank. Gallup estimates that retail banking is unprofitable for 80% of consumers, McKinsey’s analysis shows it is over 40%.    Durbin’s impact on debit fees cost US Retail banks over $7B (see Forbes).

E:\Pictures\Blog\retail banking branch transactions.PNG

Branches have historically been the #1 factor in consumer acquisition. During my time at Wachovia, over 80% of our customers selected us because we were the closest branch to home or office. This branch convenience is still the primary factor, although actual use of the branch has gone down dramatically.

This, together with the maturing of digital channels, has led to a culling of branches with banks like Chase looking to take upwards of $1B from branch cost.E:\Pictures\Blog\branchesA.jpg

The US is progressing along the lines of Australia, as the non-exempt banks add new fees to make up for the debit loss (see American Banker). However, unlike Australia, the US has 2 alternatives: Exempt Banks/Credit Unions (CUs), and Pre-paid Cards. Deposit growth in the exempt banks is growing 5-6% YoY, but the real winner seems to be pre-paid with growth over 36% (See 2013 Fed Payment Study and Bank Innovation ).

My simplistic analysis of pre-paid is that the growth is driven more by a need for access to electronic payments (by the unbanked), than a need for “banking”.  Example.. need to buy something on Amazon. This seems to fit well with experience of other unbanked success stories globally. A way to view this is that value of traditional “banking” is shifting to the value of electronic payments for a large majority of the population.

What we have seen is that the Value of a big bank brand is diminishing very quickly. The brand, infrastructure and data advantages that banks held are rapidly diminishing in value. The big buildings and beautiful vaults have no advantage over an Amex Bluebird card in a box (deposit insurance levels the field for everyone). Retailers, MNOs, and Platforms have better brands, better pricing and more physical distribution and/or direct consumer “touch” than banks could ever hope for.

Nothing in this area changes quickly. But here is what I see as the most likely strategies by key players.

Non Exempt Banks (Citi, JPM, BAC, WFC, …)

Strategy #1 – Try to leverage data advantage, and grow data services (JPM)

Strategy #2 – Go up market (Citi)

Strategy #3 – Be the best retail bank (BAC/ WFC). Protect consumer information

Strategy #4 – Get into the Mobile/data/advertising space

Strategy #5 – Develop new bank lite product (ex Chase Liquid). Seems to be going poorly as they just killed the product

The modern form of retail banking envisioned a “financial supermarket” (see Forbes Sandy Weill) where the transactional account was a loss leader for cross selling 50 odd other products, the new “banking like” product is centered around electronic payments with an access network (think Greendot, WU, ATMs, …) to get money into and out of the system. Ubiquitous merchant acceptance, and employer direct deposit further drives out the need to provide “cash out” facilities (branch like services) within the network. This simple payments product fits nicely into retail environments with regular foot traffic.

The Non-Exempt Bank dilemma now becomes apparent. A classic “innovators dilemma” where the loss leading core deposit account has been undercut by pre-paid for a majority of consumers, as the services surrounding electronic payments has made branch distribution a significant millstone in cost to serve. As if that weren’t enough, 90% of the money supermarket products must be sold face to face (need a branch).  While the retail bank could adapt to compete, the rest of the organization is forcing it to keep the branches and move upstream to the affluent high margin clients.

Tech Companies

The biggest news for payments investors is that Apple, Google, Amazon DO NOT want to have their own payments network. They are all consumer CHAMPIONS.. They all want the consumer to have their CHOICE of payment instruments “Let the consumer decide how they want to pay” is their common mantra. I heard again this week that Google wanted to buy paypal and I spit out my coffee laughing.. “where did you hear that bullshit?” Not only is this a regulatory headache, it is not the centerpiece of how any of them make their margin. Customer choice is highly disruptive barrier to entry in a commerce/mobile platform. This is why Apple’s BOD decided not to buy Square in Jan/Feb.

Apple: Consumer Champion and Gatekeeper

See Apple in Commerce

Apple is setting itself up as the consumer champion. They are not great at partnerships, advertising, data… but they are great in just about everything else. Apple’s will keep your data safe in the phone, in the store and in the cloud. Consumers anonymity will be protected… even wi-fi tracking will be nearly impossible. UUIDs are a thing of the past for advertisers. If you want to know who an apple iPhone customer is.. you will need to work with Apple.

Apple is well positioned to benefit from the future tsunami of issues concerning data privacy. They are most focused on adding value to the consumer.. rather than retailer, advertiser or bank. They have the best consumer demographic on the planet and you will work with them in their model if you want to play.

Funny story here. The big banks were approached by Apple a few months ago to “pay” for getting their cards into the new iPhone wallet. The banks immediately called up V/MA and said “you guys are going to let Apple PATENT the process by which my card goes from their phone to the POS!!?”. Hence the rushed joint announcement on tokens (see PR here). Yep.. Apple made that happen.  The funny part comes in later.. Apple now has some small changes to accomodate new V/MA standard but the banks ask apple.. “we would really like that biometric.. can you send it to us”… my guess at Apple’s response “price is the same as card registration we told you before announcement”.

Google

Consumer Champion.. but with all of your data too.  Much less robust security plan, but the best in class company for orchestration. See blog for detail.  Google is attempting to work with Retailers, banks and advertisers. They are proving their value to consumers everyday with services that help them gain more consumer insight which in turn feeds better services. Google has no desire to be a bank, or a retailer… their value is in bringing everyone together. Just like apple, their fist priority is to the consumer.. everything else flows from that.

Retailers

… will need to make this a part 2. Obviously retailers differ on consumer choice just a little..