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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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July 12, 2018

Behind the Growth in Debit Card Payments

U.S. consumers make more payments with nonprepaid debit cards than with other types of cards (credit and prepaid) combined. The 2016 Federal Reserve Payments Study found that consumers made 57.5 billion payments in 2015 using nonprepaid debit cards.

That's a 26 percent increase over 2012, when consumers made 45.7 billion nonprepaid debit card payments.

No doubt, effects of more favorable economic conditions—including declining unemployment, increasing wages, and greater consumer confidence—were important factors in increased consumer spending from 2012 to 2015. But from a payment choice perspective, such as which method or card to use, what might be driving this increase of almost 12 billion? Two factors related to those choices could be at play:

  • Maybe people started using the cards more intensively. That is, people who owned nonprepaid debit cards started using them more often, making more payments per card per month.
  • Maybe people started using the cards more extensively. That is, more people owned and actively used a nonprepaid debit card or more people owned and actively used multiple cards.

For this discussion, an "active" card is defined to be one that is not expired and had purchase activity or bill pay associated with the card during at least one month of the year 2015 or, for the 2012 estimate, at least one transaction during the month of March 2013. Note that the difference between the 2012 and 2015 estimates could, in part, be related to the different definitions of the measurement periods. (The Federal Reserve Payments Study also measures nonprepaid debit, credit, and prepaid cards that are in circulation but not used.)

Let's look at the numbers:

  • In 2012, there were 173.9 million active consumer nonprepaid debit cards in circulation. These cards are linked to a transaction account at a financial institution and can be used to make purchases at the point of sale.
  • In 2015, there were 209.6 million active consumer nonprepaid debit cards. That's an increase of 21 percent over the three years.
  • In 2012, U.S. consumers made 21.9 purchases per month per active nonprepaid debit card. In 2015, on average, across the months, they made 22.8 per card. That's almost flat—an increase of just four percent in the number of payments per card per month over three years.

These numbers overall tell us that increases in payments per card is not the main driver of this phenomenal increase in the number of nonprepaid debit card payments (see the chart). Note that payments per card is an average of various behaviors. Some people could be using their cards more—for example, new debit card owners may be moving from using cash or prepaid cards. Others could be using their cards less—for example, new owners of credit cards may be moving away from debit cards.

Number-of-non-prepaid-debit-cards-increases-chart

Rather, the increased number of active cards seems to be the source of the jump in the number of nonprepaid debit card payments. Here are some factors that could relate to the greater numbers of cards:

  • The U.S. population ages 18 and older grew from 240 million to 247 million during this time, a three percent increase (American FactFinder search).
  • The percentage share of consumers with a bank account (and thus able to own a nonprepaid debit card) increased from 91.8 percent in 2011 to 93 percent in 2015 (FDIC Survey of Banked and Unbanked Consumers [2012 estimate not available]).
  • By birth year, the share of people more likely to own a debit card increased. Young people born between 1995 and 1997 turned 18 between 2012 and 2015—about 14 million of them (American FactFinder search). At the same time, the population of people born before 1940 declined by about 4 million between 2012 and 2015.

Whatever the source of the increase in the number of cards, we see here that typical behavior for an active nonprepaid debt card is around 23 purchases per month. How many times per month do you use your card or cards?

Photo of Claire Greene By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

January 9, 2017

The Year in Review

As we move into 2017, the Take on Payments team would like to share its perspectives of major payment-related events and issues that took place in the United States in 2016, in no particular order of importance.

Cybersecurity Moves to Forefront—While cyber protection is certainly not new, the increased frequency and sophistication of cyber threats in 2016 accelerated the need for financial services enterprises, businesses, and governmental agencies to step up their external and internal defenses with more staff and better protection and detection tools. The federal government released a Cybersecurity National Action Plan and established the Federal Chief Information Security Office position to oversee governmental agencies' management of cybersecurity and protection of critical infrastructure.

Same-Day ACH—Last September, NACHA's three-phase rules change took effect, mandating initially a credit-only same-day ACH service. It is uncertain this early whether NACHA will meet its expectations of same-day ACH garnering 1 percent of total ACH payment volume by October 2017. Anecdotally, we are hearing that some payments processors have been slow in supporting the service. Further clarity on the significance of same-day service will become evident with the addition of debit items in phase two, which takes effect this September.

Faster Payments—Maybe we're the only ones who see it this way, but in this country, "faster payments" looks like the Wild West—at least if you remember to say, "Howdy, pardner!" Word counts won't let us name or fully describe all of the various wagon trains racing for a faster payments land grab, but it seemed to start in October 2015 when The Clearing House announced it was teaming with FIS to deliver a real-time payment system for the United States. By March 2016, Jack Henry and Associates Inc. had joined the effort. Meanwhile, Early Warning completed its acquisition of clearXchange and announced a real-time offering in February. By August, this solution had been added to Fiserv's offerings. With Mastercard and Visa hovering around their own solutions and also attaching to any number of others, it seems like everybody is trying to make sure they don't get left behind.

Prepaid Card Account Rules—When it comes to compliance, "prepaid card" is now a misnomer based on the release of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's 2016 final ruling. The rule is access-device-agnostic, so the same requirements are applied to stored funds on a card, fob, or mobile phone app, to name a few. Prepaid accounts that are transactional and ready to use at a variety of merchants or ATMS, or for person-to-person, are now covered by Reg. E-Lite, and possibly Reg. Z, when overdraft or credit features apply. In industry speak, the rule applies to payroll cards, government benefit cards, PayPal-like accounts, and general-purpose reloadable cards—but not to gift cards, health or flexible savings accounts, corporate reimbursement cards, or disaster-relief-type accounts, for example.

Mobile Payments Move at Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary, Pace—While the Apple, Google, and Samsung Pay wallets continued to move forward with increasing financial institution and merchant participation, consumer usage remained anemic. With the retailer consortium wallet venture MCX going into hibernation, a number of major retailers announced or introduced closed-loop mobile wallet programs hoping to emulate the success of retailers such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Brands. The magic formula of payments, loyalty, and couponing interwoven into a single application remains elusive.

EMV Migration—The migration to chip cards and terminals in the United States continued with chip cards now representing approximately 70 percent of credit/debit cards in the United States. Merchant adoption of chip-enabled terminals stands just below 40 percent of the market. The ATM liability shift for Mastercard payment cards took effect October 21, with only an estimated 30 percent of non-FI-owned ATMs being EMV operational. Recognizing some of the unique challenges to the gasoline retailers, the brands pushed back the liability shift timetable for automated fuel dispensers three years, to October 2020. Chip card migration has clearly reduced counterfeit card fraud, but card-not-present (CNP) fraud has ballooned. Data for 2015 from the 2016 Federal Reserve Payments Study show card fraud by channel in the United States at 54 percent for in person and 46 percent for remote (or CNP). This is in contrast to comparable fraud data in other countries further along in EMV implementation, where remote fraud accounts for the majority of card fraud.

Distributed Ledger—Although venture capital funding in blockchain and distributed ledger startups significantly decreased in 2016 from 2015, interest remains high. Rather than investing in startups, financial institutions and established technology companies, such as IBM, shifted their funding focus to developing internal solutions and their technology focus from consumer-facing use cases such as Bitcoin to back-end clearing and settlement solutions and the execution of smart contracts.

Same Song, Same Verse—Some things just don't seem to change from year to year. Notifications of data breaches of financial institutions, businesses, and governmental agencies appear to have been as numerous as in previous years. The Fed's Consumer Payment Choices study continued to show that cash remains the most frequent payment method, especially for transactions under 10 dollars.

All of us at the Retail Payments Risk Forum wish all our Take On Payments readers a prosperous 2017.

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Mary Kepler
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Julius Weyman
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Doug King
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Dave Lott
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Jessica Washington
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Steven Cordray

 

May 31, 2016

What Is GPR Feeding On? Part 1 of 2

I recently gave a presentation titled "Where We Are Going, We Won't Need Checking Accounts" at the NACHA Payments Conference in Phoenix. This session focused on the increasing use of alternative financial accounts such as general purpose reloadable (GPR) cards in place of traditional bank accounts. After the presentation, I overheard an attendee comment, "I don't even understand why a product like prepaid exists, when the majority of its use is attributed to those seeking anonymity to conduct fraud." While I will cover common prepaid fraud schemes in the next installment, first I think it is important to consider why prepaid products like the GPR card deserves a seat at the payments table.

I'll start with an egalitarian comparison. Consumers have the right to choose a leather or Velcro wallet and then store their cash in that wallet. In today's digital world, shouldn't a consumer also have the right to acquire a GPR card, e-wallet, or other account to store money electronically? If a consumer receives or spends money illegally in any form, then the justice system should enforce the law. Funds stored in a GPR account or a demand deposit account (DDA) is e-money, a representation of cash in your wallet. The GPR card is an access device to the stored money, functioning like the beloved debit card to the DDA.

In June 2015, the Pew Charitable Trusts published Banking On Prepaid, a report of the motivations and views of prepaid card users. The study concludes that the main reasons for prepaid card use for both banked and unbanked users are to avoid overdraft fees, debt, and check cashing fees. In addition, most GPR users are attracted to the budgeting and savings tools provided by these types of accounts. The report also found that most GPR users don't aim to be anonymous: 74 percent of unbanked GPR cardholders registered their cards, and 52 percent of banked cardholders registered. The primary benefit to registering is that the cardholder gets consumer protections like limited liability and, in many cases, insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Susan Herbst-Murphy and Greg Weed, in their 2015 paper "Millennials with Money Revisited," collected data that challenges preconceptions of GPR cards as a product for low-income and unbanked customers. These researchers identify a "power user" group of young, banked, middle- to upper-income levels as well as a "hybrid" user group that combines GPR accounts with traditional bank accounts and other alternative financial services. They suggest we look to the power users to understand why and how the product is being used.

Clearly, there is a market with a strong appetite for this financial product.

Stay tuned for the next installment, when we examine the GPR market for bad apples.

Photo of Jessica Trundley By Jessica J. Trundley, AAP, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

January 11, 2016

Prisoner Release Cards: How to Protect the Interests of Recently Released Inmates?

I recently watched a late-night comedian criticize prison reentry programs in the United States. The segment focused on the resources—or lack thereof—that are provided to released inmates. One of these resources, I have recently learned, is increasingly a prepaid card.

Upon imprisonment, inmates are given a trust account to hold money that they receive for prison work and from family and friends. When they are released, they may also receive start-up funds to help with the reentry process. According to the Federal Bureau of Prison's Inmate and Custody Management Policy, "an inmate being released to the community will have suitable clothing, transportation to inmate's release destination, and some funds to use until he or she begins to receive income. Based on the inmate's need and financial resources, a discretionary gratuity up to the amount permitted by statute may be granted." While the policy expands the details of what constitutes suitable clothing and the method of transportation, there is no mention of how to disburse funds to the released individuals.

Enter prison-release prepaid cards. Many state and federal prison systems enter into contracts with prepaid card providers pursuant to a public bidding process to provide prison release funds through a prepaid card as an alternative to cash or checks. This shift in disbursement methods may be attributable to concerns about cash controls in the prison setting and the high check-cashing fees some inmates who lack traditional bank accounts incur, to name a couple of possibilities. Regardless of the disbursement method that the correctional agency chooses, this vulnerable population depends on every last penny.

Some people maintain that account fees are too high on these prepaid cards and that agreements with cardholders contain forced arbitration clauses. Could the correctional agency negotiate better terms on behalf of the released prisoner? Or could the inmate possibly be given options for the trust fund distribution—cash, check, prepaid card, or even a Paypal account?

A late-night comedian may have the ability to isolate one slice of the problem with prison release programs, but our regulations shouldn't piece together a solution to an overarching issue. Likewise, there are challenges with creating blanket regulations for a product category like prepaid cards that contains many different products meeting a wide variety of distinct needs, each with unique characteristics and different users. Isn't the goal is to provide released prisoners the freedom to use money that belongs to them, as for any other citizen?

Photo of Jessica J. Trundley By Jessica J. Trundley, AAP, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

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