US Regulations – Online Payment/Transfer

This blog takes a look at the regulatory risk today’s start ups face and gives background on how PayPal got to where it is today. For today’s “emerging” payment companies, there are 4 primary choices for operating in the US: 1) Obtain the licenses, 2) Operate as an agent of an entity with the proper licenses, 3) Sell your software to a licensed entity, 4)Exchange non-monetary forms of value (minutes, eGold, credits, …).

Lessons from PayPal

January 25, 2010

I was on the phone today with Jeff McConnell, a tremendous exec with a long history of leading innovation in money transfer (WU, Moneygram, iKobo, …). In some respects it’s hard for me to believe that 2002 is 8 years ago, and I was reminded of how challenged PayPal was in obtaining the proper licenses “after the fact” in its early business.

In his 2006 book The PayPal Wars, Eric Jackson did an excellent job laying out the challenges paypal faced in its early years.  In the early days after its inception in 1999, PayPal was moving toward becoming a bank, but the Internet startup decided that banking regulations were too cumbersome. “We just wanted to be able to facilitate a quick payment,” he said. “The question of how to classify PayPal lingered for some time….It’s a sort of modern-era Western Union.. really, all PayPal is doing is shifting money around on your behalf.” 

To see the “change” in PayPal’s regulatory approach, take a look at PayPal’s 2002 prospectus.

We believe the licensing requirements of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board or other federal or state agencies that regulate or monitor banks or other types of providers of electronic commerce services do not apply to us. One or more states may conclude that, under its or their statutes, we are engaged in an unauthorized banking business. In that event, we might be subject to monetary penalties and adverse publicity and might be required to cease doing business with residents of those states. A number of states have enacted legislation regulating check sellers, money transmitters or service providers to banks, and we have applied for, or are in the process of applying for, licenses under this legislation in particular jurisdictions. To date, we have obtained licenses in two states.

This 2002 regulatory view, by the Paypal exec team, was based on a position that PayPal was acting as a Third party payments aggregator (TPPA), not in need of a money transfer license. TPPA is a description used for merchants that are charging a credit card for a product or service that they do not own. TPPAs simply facilitate the exchange of money between two parties sometimes using a credit card as a funding source. Several fraud and AML incidents arose which got the attention of both federal and state organizations. It became clear that PayPal was being used for much more then payment for goods within the eBay marketplace.

In Feb of 2002, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) ruled that PayPal is not a bank, which accelerated efforts by states to pursue PayPal for violating money transfer laws (New York and Louisiana are most notable).  This could have been the death knell for PayPal, as they were operating without the proper licenses. PayPal’s “post facto” licensing efforts were greatly aided by the local political support from thousands of eBay’s buyers and sellers. Today, according to spokesperson Michael Oldenburg,  PayPal is licensed as a money transmitter in 43 states (not all states require a license), demonstrating that regulatory risk was far greater than what they articulated in the 2002 prospectus. For those interested in the legal/regulatory conundrum faced by regulators, I highly recommend:  Regulating Internet Payment Intermediaries, by Ronald J. Mann, University of Texas School of Law

For today’s “emerging” payment companies, there are 4 primary choices for operating in the US:

  1. Obtain the licenses
  2. Operate as an agent of an entity with the proper licenses
  3. Sell your software to a licensed entity
  4. Exchange non-monetary forms of value (minutes, eGold, credits, …).

Obtain the licenses

For those of you that read my Blog, you’re probably aware that I’m fairly negative on Obopay, however they do excel in obtaining US MTO licensing (https://www.obopay.com/corporate/stateLicenses.shtml) . Unfortunately, all of these US licensing effort seems for naught as they are pulling out of the US and focusing in emerging markets as the “sender pays” model does not work in developed countries (morphing from a failed US P2P effort to Remittance). Today, PayPal, Western Union, Travelex, Moneygram, MoneyBookers (soon to be NY licensed) also operate as licensed Money Transfer Organizations (MTOs).

Becoming an MTO is not for the faint of heart, as regulatory capital requirements in excess of settlement obligations (fiduciary assets) are a complex (state by state) maze. This creates a challenging dynamic where capital reserve requirements grow as payment volumes grow. As a start up this means you not only need to raise capital to start the business, but also the regulatory capital BEFORE you get the state licenses.

MoneyGram’s 2007  “investment issues” offer many insights into MTO challenges. MGI suffered an $860M+ plus loss as it shifted out of high yield asset backed securities (which lost their investment grade rating). To preserve liquidity it sold $630MM in preferred and received debt financing of approximately $500M, a situation which today leaves MGI common shareholders in a $870MM equity deficit.

Operating as an MNO is not your only choice. I’m amazed at how few companies there are attempting to develop a bank based model. Trolling the dust bin of failed financial institutions may provide a unique opportunity for a start up to acquire the “shell” of a licensed bank to develop a “payment” focused value proposition. The strategy behind Revolution Money’s acquisition by Amex gives Revolution the “best of both worlds”: an acquirer and a bank. If it were not for Amex’s bank charter (and associated regulatory capital), Revolution’s PIN based debit would be highly susceptible to NACHA aggregation restrictions if they are operating as a non-bank, operating as a type of decouple debit.

I know from my own personal experience that operating as a “payment bank” is not without challenges, not just Citi C2it.. (which stopped 2.5 yrs prior to my role), but Citi GTS which today provides many of the banking licenses for payment providers like WU, Vodafone, ZAIN, …  In addition to Citi GTS, one of Citi’s most profitable “global” retail bank businesses is NRI (Non Resident Indian) which serves affluent Indians (within the US, UK, …) with comprehensive services that cater to the needs of affluent clients. Citi also effectively up sells NRI clients services within its investment and commercial bank.

Operate as an agent

Pre-paid cards offer a “fast track” to operating a new payment service (Revolution money, Squareup, payoneer, iKobo, …). In this model the service relies on the licenses of the underlying bank (example Metabank). The legal precedent here is rather new as witnessed by May 30, 2007 finding by the First Circuit , which affirmed that the National Bank Act preempted New Hampshire regulation of the pre-paid product. In the “agent” model, it is therefore paramount that start ups seek a federally chartered partner. 

There is still substantial “risk” in this pre-paid agent model, as traditional banks and networks control the “rails” for this payment type. For example, Consumer accounts must be “funded” from either a card or DDA account. NACHA has developed new rules which significantly curtail the ability of a “payment aggregator” operating off of a current account (see NACHA Tightens Risk Management and aggregation rules) . Additionally, card networks and acquirers are much more attuned to the risks that these new payment intermediaries present.

My top vendor in the bank model is CashEdge (having been the banker who signed the agreement at Wachovia). CE is the “3rd party sender” for Citi, BAC, Wachovia, PNC and other top banks representing approximately 50% of US DDA accounts. You don’t hear about them much because they are a white label “bank friendly” service. They excel in risk management, with a team second only to paypal. Most of you in the US reading this already use their software.. but just don’t know it.  In the mobile space, I love the innovation at BlingNation.

Sell your software

This is rather straightforward. Within the mobile money space, companies such as Monitise, HyperWALLET, Fundamo, Paybox (now Sybase 365) all provide good platforms from which to build an offering. Issue for small companies is that the entities which have the necessary license have largely made significant bets here already. Of course some of the bets by big banks (some alliteration here) have been terrible, most notably Firethorne which has lost the accounts at Chase, Citi and Wachovia all in the last 8 months.

Exchange non-monetary forms of value

Beyond the scope for my discussion here. My advice is that this is a slippery slope and you will have trouble (as a payment company) attracting “A Class” capital. Look no further than the history of e-Gold for education on the issues.

U.S. GOVERNMENT SEIZES E-GOLD ACCOUNTS, OWNERS INDICTED

Summary

In writing this I cannot help but be struck by many similarities in the “unregulated growth” of PayPal and Vodafone’s MPesa. The growth of both companies was driven by an existing customer base and a value proposition which addressed clear gaps within the payment systems of their respective markets. In both cases, there was no clear regulatory authority to restrict them and once they were firmly established (through contagious adoption) it was too late to stop.

Within the EU, the ECB has developed ELMI regulations that are supported by other initiatives such as SEPA (See http://www.paysys.de/download/Krueger%20e-money%20regul.pdf).

Related posts

http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2009/12/16/cash-replacement-part-2/

http://www.banking.state.ny.us/legal/lo020603.htm

http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/18211.html?wlc=1264432425

Citi is out of Obopay

Just recieved notice today that the Citi/Obopay “pilot” is over… am I suprised? No, at least not with the service termination. From a Citi perspective, this was a 3+ year pilot without a business owner or business case and only 2,000 cusotmers (this is not a typo.. I’m not missing any 0’s). The original plan was to gain customer insight. Once Citi invested…. the pilot dragged.. as Citi’s participation provided “value” to Obopay. Key learnings for banks:

Nov 2, 2009

See previous post http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/nokia-moneyobopay/

Also See post on 11/12 Obopay India – Another Failure?

Just recieved notice today that the Citi/Obopay “pilot” is over… am I suprised? No, at least not with the service termination.  From a Citi perspective, this was a 3+ year pilot without a business owner or business case and only 2,000 cusotmers (this is not a typo.. I’m not missing any 0’s). The original plan was to gain customer insight.  Once Citi invested…. the pilot dragged.. as Citi’s participation provided “value” to Obopay. Key learnings for banks:

  • do this “payments stuff” in your own environment, or manage pilots with a very well defined end date (less then 6 months).
  • Once capital investment is made, heavily involve the supporting Line of business  (note to innovation teams)
  • Set clear metrics for success, and don’t be afraid to pull the plug
  • Ensure customers are aware that service is a  “pilot”. Take a look at this notice below.. move your money out of here in next 2 months. 4 years… not much customer communication on this one.
  • Re: Payments. Banks should think long and hard before they enable the next Visa/MC. Do you really want to outsource payments? (Next week’s paypal conference will lead to some very disruptive stuff.)
  • Fat clients on mobile phones have been a global bust over last 6 years. Sorry Apple (See Apple’s Payment Patent Here).  This fat client failure has extended from mobile payment (Obopay) to mobile banking (see Firethorn is dead). iPhone is potential as a game changer, but Apple (the manufacturer) is trying to create a closed system without banks (Perhaps their brand is strong enough to make everyone ditch their exsting relationships… naa). The best hope for rich applications (FAT CLIENTS) may be NFC, but the MNOs and handset manufacturers are strategically delaying (subject of a future post).

So while the Citi-Obopay service termination is not a suprise, the ability for Obopay to attract new capital (without customers or much due dilligence) is amazing. Carol must be capable of selling sand in the desert. Given my interaction with “some very large” MNO/FSI mbanking heads in US, India, Asia, EMEA, … Obopay’s focus and “success” is much of a mystery (and not much concern). On the positive side they have an excellent marketing/alliance team.

Citi Obopay Service Terminiation

Citi Obopay Fee Schedule

Bloomberg: Citi and MSFT to compete w/ Mint.com

Citigroup, Microsoft Said to Plan Challenge to Intuit, Mint.com http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=ajESsHMx7eYU

Hmmm… I believe Brian found me from my Mint/Intuit note below. Hope I don’t come off as a radical. Citi must be successful.. US taxpayers are shareholders. Jeff is a great guy, and one of the most talented people I have ever worked with. I have no idea how Citi keeps hold of him. Perhaps it’s like joining the Army.

Citi/MSFT will obviously look to provide services to non customers and industry sources tell me that the account aggregation will be provided by Yodlee.  There is some amount of irony here, as Citi’s customer’s had access to Yodlee’s services until September 2005. During my time at Wachovia customers loved the Yodlee service, but we had to end it due to cost and risk issues. 

For Citi/MSFT a central challenge will be moving customers away from their bank to engage in activities such as budgeting and paying bills… and then transacting. (Remember Transpoint from MSFT…. it was close to the date when Gates said Banks were dinosaurs in 1994…) In the US, MSFT, Mint.com and INTU had trouble getting customers engaged seperate from their Banks. In the US, Mint had the fastest growth rate with a total of just over 400,000 customers. A figure not likely to strike fear in the heart of many banks, this combined with the Mint demographic seems to indicate that the customer base of “spenders” vs “savers” (hence the need for budgeting). This would seem to indicate a card focus for Citi.

Assuming a card focus, a short term need to generate revenue, offering customers a way to transact with Yodlee as a service provider.. I would see card based bill payment as a key service to be offered in this new Citi/MSFT venture. During my time at Wachovia we piloted the Yodlee biller direct service. The UI was fantastic… and that was 4 years ago. This service leveraged cards as the vehicle for bill payment through aggregation of the billers online payment interface. BAC also evaluated this service as a way to generate interchange revenue off of bill payment. 

Hence, I would assume that Citi’s business case for NewCo is based upon the following:

  1. Transacting. Both leveraging credit cards for a bill payment, and purchases. (interchange)
  2. Market customers based upon transactional data (marketing)
  3. Cross sell Citi products 

There are several organizational, brand issues and customer support isssues with Citi’s approach. Citi’s customer may get confused, is this a Citi service? How can Citi’s current card customers leverage it? How do they leverage it? For example, it is hard for me to remember the 3 separate log ins that I have today with Citi today: Card, banking, Obopay… now I need a forth? Who do I call when I have a problem?

Globally, the only success model for aggregation and comparison that I am aware of is Egg.com, which Citi acquired May 2007 for just over $1B.  If you sit down with Paul Gratton, Egg’s first CEO he will tell you that their success was driven by a complete focus on delivering value to the customer, both in product and online services. It is the coupling of product and service value that creates challenges for large companies to replicate, particularly with respect to cannibalization of existing products.

In the UK, customers select their bank savings account through leading comparison sites like www.moneysupermarket.com. In the US, customers select their bank based upon the proximity to their house. The business premise with Mint.com, Intuit and its competitors is that customers will start with budgeting, and then move to select financial products (no retention play as these are not necessarily Citi Customers) or transact. Egg was successful because is first started with the most competitive product, establishing trust, and then moved to deliver the best services to surround it.  

Fortunately for banks, customers prefer to go to their bank directly to perform financial services. This “Trust Pattern” is something banks should want to reinforce. WFC exemplifies the alternate approach within its online banking services, with integrated budgeting tools, which is a great service and provides solid customer retention. Banks hold enormous control over the success of any aggregator’s site. Yodlee possesses no contractual right to the data, and the collection of customer information by any third party can be managed. If Mint, lowermybills.com or Microsoft/Citi start to gain traction with mainstream profitable customers.. expect banks to start charging Yodlee for access to their customer data, or eliminate it outright.  

http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/intuit-mint/

BlingNation Review – Updated 11/2

Was on the phone w/ the CEO of Bling Nation recently. The company’s advisory board includes John Reed, a former chairman of Citibank and of the New York Stock Exchange and Jeff Stiefler, a former chairman of Digital Insight and a former president of American Express. I was very impressed with the focused value proposition and team they have put together.
 
Overview
Stick RFID tags on phones, establish NEW RAILS, NEW SWITCH and provide merchants POS terminals. Focus is “on us” payments within community banks.
 
Key items that should give Visa/MC and the big banks pause:
NEW RAILS. They have direct integration w/ core deposit systems (think JackHenry)
NEW SWITCH. They are the switch between DDA and POS, completely new Auth system
REPLACE CASH.
Consumer Adoption. They have 10 community bank pilots going on now. 25% of all DDA volume is going through them within 4 months. John Reed said “if this consumer behavior is true.. it would be the fastest consumer adoption [of a new Payment method] in banking”
Value Prop is FOCUSED.
    Merchant:             Small merchants.. 50% reduction in interchange
    Community Bank: Replace Cash, Interchange revenue, customer retention (loyalty program), minimal
                               IT work for bank. Core deposit system “plug in”, hosted services
    Consumer.           Use your phone as a payment device, get rewards and account status. Keep your money with local banks
 
USABILITY. Instant activation.. get the tag in the mail, call up your bank and give them the number
Board of Advisors. John Reed is a visionary.. how often have you seen his name on anything? These guys will be successful
 
 
Challenges
– Private networks have typically faced regulatory and compliance scrutiny. How advanced are the operating rules and agreements? Think ACH return… 🙂
– Long term consumer adoption.. is it just a flash in the pan.. or could this be an enabler for repacing cash for “community POS” payments (thing barber and soda shop) and move upstream from community to micro payments.. Something like this help small banks take back customers from the big guys?
– Fraud. Fraud doesn’t attack a system until there is sufficient volume to warrant investment.  If Cash replacement focus, then system should be air tight as it will be tough to commit investigative services to $0.50 transactions.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Googlization of Financial Services

For FSIs today the top issues in delivering new value propositions are: where is the short term revenue, what can be created that leverages current assets, what provides “true” customer value, how do I stop non-banks from creating value in my ecosystem and who internally can execute?

A managing partner at KPCB reminded me that when Google first started, it had no plan on how to generate revenue. It was great technology, and investors figured that the bright young founders would “figure it out”. My how they have, with 2Q09 revenues topping $5.5B.  Harvard Business Review put out a very thought provoking article in April 2009.

What’s Your Google Strategy? by Andrei Hagiu, David B. Yoffie

This brought about a little déjà vu relating to channel strategy for banks. The focus of the HBR article seems to be intermediaries and the value that platforms/MSPs provide. Another aspect to consider in Google’s success is how to use information to add value, and how to develop leaders capable of realizing it. For FSIs today the top issues in delivering new value propositions are: where is the short term revenue, what can be created that leverages current assets, what provides “true” customer value, how do I stop non-banks from creating value in my ecosystem and who internally can execute?

Since I’m not writing a comprehensive book on the subject.. lets follow the Google vein. Banks have tremendous customer information that goes un-used, including:  location, buying habits, credit worthiness,  brand preferences and even family/life “events”. Of course most FSIs don’t use this information because of challenges faced in regulatory compliance such as Reg E, FCRA, 2009 CCA. …etc.Anyone within a bank today knows the challenges of working across the organization to develop something truly new and innovative. Each new team that is brought in brings about an n2 problem in coordination. Developing a new customer value proposition that uses customer data is a mine field that is difficult to navigate.. but it could also be a gold mine.

Here is a thought provoking example which I discussed with the innovation team in my previous life. I’ve also discussed this same example w/ JPMC, BAC, Visa and a number of other FSIs.

Summary: Bank mines customer transactional information (card) and sends targeted advertisements to customers

Customer Value

  • Get free phone or payment chip
  • Preferred rates on card/or accounts
  • Targeted discounts/coupons at selected merchants
  • Accelerated rewards

Customer Requirement

  • Agree to Disclosure allowing use of your transactional information
  • Agree to Disclosure for bank to send marketing advertisements to your mobile phone number
  • Minimum card used
  • Maximum of x ADs per month

Bank Value

  • Generate new revenue Stream from targeted advertising
  • Increase revenue (transactions/interchange)

Bank Requirement

  • Technology. Mine data, manage advertisements, coupons and rebates
  • Develop merchant relationships (advertisements), or develop relationships w/ 3rd parties
  • New business line
  • Develop product incentives

Merchant Value

  • Finally a bank brings in customers.. as opposed to taking interchange

Example “Network” Pilot Overview – A high level directional overview

  1. Customer registers credit card for mobile ADs. Allows SMS AD x times per month
  2. Clairmail acts as agency, coordinating merchants, promos and marketing spend
  • Merchants pre-pay for campaign
  • Develop target promo and bid criteria: customer location, demographic, event transaction, …
  • Claimail server Sits at “Network”, listens to transaction traffic
  • Card transaction events are triggered based upon card registration status
  • Event gets sent to campaign engine. SMS AD triggered based upon criteria
  1. Customer gets SMS notification
  2. Example. Shop at EXAMPLESTORE in next 5 hours and get 10% back
  3. Clairmail server monitors transactions at “Network”.
  • If Card transaction is for registered card it is sorted
  • Campaign engine finds that it Ad was sent to it, determines if transaction at EXAMPLESTORE meets threshold
  • If it is met, Campaign engine kicks transaction to MerchantAdvert service which bills merchant for AD and debits account for 10% credit plus fee.
  • Engine issues 10% credit to customer’s card account
  • Engine debits merchant account
  • Notification message sent to customer that their card account has been credited for purchase and 10% discount.

Good news for merchants is that they pay only for purchases. Great CPA here. Bad news for banks is that someone is already creating a model to benefit from your transactions with your customer.

Banks must identify and incent leaders capable of working across their internal organizations to develop new models which deliver value to the customer. The challenge of delivering value in new ways cannot be delegated to the technology or internet teams.. it requires business leadership from seasoned executives well established in the organization. When GE looked to establish a new business line.. it didn’t hire an outsider with no tie to the existing business.  The same approach should be taken by leading FSIs.

The innovation team may be able to create the idea.. but you need to pull a star out of your stable to go run with it. The other option would be for Banks to start acting like VCs and give a few years for smart people to “figure it out”. However this is loose approach would be challenging for a bank, particularly for innovation surrounding existing customers and an existing business. Only leaders that are respected across business units can pull off coordination between them, particulalry when complex regulatory issues must be addressed.

Other reading

http://www.theinnovatorssolution.com/

Citi – Bank of the Future?

Even by Citi standards it is very strange to have 2 people with no retail bank experience driving a retail bank strategy. Liza came from the card group under David Simon in Customer Experience. Liza took over from one of Citi’s best internet leaders Rob Rosenblatt (now at Chase Cards).

September 2009

Travelocity CEO Michelle Peluso was hired by Teri Dial to run “Citi Forward”, with Liza Landsman running the mobile and internet team…

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=alIEXQt0mqFQ

Citi has proven the ability to get deposits as Citi’s US Direct Bank under Direct CEO Steve Kietz was the fastest growing bank (not just online bank) in the history of the US, collecting over $8B in 6 months. Steve’s marketing genius was not enough to overcome the lack of investment. The fact remains that building a deposit book requires investment, (a 20 month payback at best).  You either build a book or milk it.. (take a look at the balance run off in CitiDirect since the dropped the rate from 2.75%.. )
http://seekingalpha.com/article/18843-citigroup-q3-2006-earnings-call-transcript.

Even by Citi standards it is very strange to have 2 people with no retail bank experience driving a retail bank strategy. Liza came from the card group under David Simon in Customer Experience. Liza took over from one of Citi’s best internet leaders Rob Rosenblatt (now at Chase Cards).

Issue for “bank of the future” is not collecting deposits.. it’s determining how you acquire and retain customers separate from a rate driven product play. The key “Strategy nut to crack” is how to build a profitable retail bank business in the US without branches. Chase, Wells and BAC have all done extensive studies that show customers select a bank based upon the proximity of the nearest branch to home/office.

Internationally, employee direct deposit (aka salary domiciliation) has been the most effective way to gain deposit customers with a minimal branch footprint.

Citi senior management continues to fuel the churn of executives here… lessons are learned and relearned in each new management appointment and each country. Understand that Michelle has very little appetite for the job…. perhaps she’ll gain perspective after her 4 month leave starts next month.