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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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September 18, 2017

The Rising Cost of Remittances to Mexico Bucks a Trend

From time to time, I like to look back at previous Risk Forum activities and see what payment topics we've covered and consider whether we should revisit any. In September 2012, the Risk Forum hosted the Symposium on 1073: Exploring the Final Remittance Transfer Rule and Path Forward. Seeing that almost five years have passed since that event, I decided I'd take another, deeper look to better understand some of the effects that Section 1073 of the Dodd-Frank Act has had on remittances since then. I wrote about some of my findings in a paper.

As a result of my deeper look, I found an industry that has been rife with change since the implementation of Section 1073 rules, from both a regulatory and technology perspective. Emerging companies have entered the landscape, new digital products have appeared, and several traditional financial institutions have exited the remittance industry. In the midst of this change, consumers' average cost to send remittances has declined.

Conversely, the cost to send remittances within the largest corridor, United States–Mexico, is rising. The rising cost is not attributable to the direct remittance fee paid to an agent or digital provider but rather to the exchange rate margin, which is the exchange rate markup applied to the consumer's remittance over the interbank exchange rate. As remittances become more digitalized and the role of in-person agents diminishes, I expect the exchange rate margin portion of the total cost of remittance to continue to grow.

Even though the average cost of sending remittances to Mexico is on the rise, I found that consumers have access to a number of low-cost options. The spread between the highest-cost remittance options and the lowest-cost options is significant.

Figure-11

With greater transparency than ever before in the remittance industry, consumers now have the ability to find and use low-cost remittance options across a wide variety of provider types and product options. To read more about the cost and availability of remittances from the United States to Mexico and beyond in a post-1073-rule world, you can find the paper here.

Photo of Douglas King By Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

 

December 3, 2012

CFPB Modifies Remittance Disclosure and Error Resolution Rules

According to their congressional mandate, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) primary focus is to advocate for consumers when dealing with financial companies. Champions of the CFPB see them as part of the "checks and balances" regulatory environment of all things financial. One of the CFPB's primary activities since being created in mid-2010 has been to work to create disclosures to assist consumers in better understanding their costs, rights, and responsibilities when entering into various financial transactions or agreements. The Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, also added a new section to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) implemented through Regulation E. The addition requires the CFPB to develop disclosure and error resolution requirements for remittances being sent outside the United States.

In February 2012, the CFPB published rule 1073 dealing with the prepayment disclosure of the total costs of consumer-originated remittances. The rule also imposed liability for errors on the remittance transfer provider (RTP) even if the consumer was the one that provided an incorrect account number or routing information. The rule was originally scheduled to become effective February 7, 2013. More details about the rule can be found in previous Portals and Rails blogs. (Under Categories on the right side of this post, select remittances to get a full listing.)

Responding to input from financial institutions, other governmental regulatory agencies, and the remittance industry groups, the CFPB announced on November 27, 2012, that it plans to issue a proposal to refine specific provisions of the rule and will propose an extension of the effective date until 90 days after the bureau finalizes the proposal. Following are the proposed key changes:

  • One of the key requirements of the rule is that the RTP must disclose the exchange rate and all fees and taxes charged for the remittance so the sender can see the net amount received by the recipient. The CFPB received a number of comments indicating that it would be extremely difficult for RTPs to create and maintain an accurate database of national and local taxes as well as other fees imposed by the disbursement facility. In response, the CFPB's proposal will provide additional flexibility by permitting RTPs to base disclosures on published bank fee schedules and only for taxes levied at the national level.

  • Originally, the rule placed the liability on the RTP for transmittal errors resulting in nondelivery or late delivery resulting from incorrect account numbers. However, the CFPB plans to release the RTP from this responsibility if the RTP can demonstrate that the consumer provided incorrect information. The RTP must still make a good faith effort to recover the funds.

The CFPB will be publishing its proposed modifications in December and will be seeking public comment before issuing a final rule sometime in the spring. While these modifications are termed "limited" by the CFPB, remittance providers must be breathing a measured sigh of relief, especially regarding the shift in liability from consumer-created errors. It will be interesting to monitor the impact of these regulations to determine if there has been any constriction in the number of countries served due to the additional requirements.

David LottBy David Lott, a retail payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

September 24, 2012

Alternative Financial Services Grow, and So Do the Unbanked and Underbanked

The just-released 2011 FDIC national survey on unbanked and underbanked households reports that this demographic segment has shown modest growth since the 2009 survey. Despite improvements in the general economy, 20.1 percent of U.S. households are underbanked and 8.2 percent are unbanked completely. According to the FDIC's definition, underbanked consumers may have a traditional bank account, but they rely heavily on alternative providers for financial services (shortened to AFS in the FDIC report). As we described in a previous post on nonbanks, the landscape for AFS today is a highly dynamic free-market environment that fosters creativity and innovation. Will the confluence of a growing underserved market and the ever-expanding role of nonbanks in our U.S. payments system fuel the fire for increased reliance upon AFS in general?

Growing use of alternative financial services
The growing reliance on AFS became more widespread between 2009 and 2011. According to the 2011 FDIC report, about 25 percent of all households, including the unbanked and underbanked, reported using AFS in the last year. These AFS users report finding nonbank financial services more convenient, faster, and less expensive than traditional banks.

Figure 6.1: Timing of AFS Use ofr All Households

Every day, many new types of nonbanks, including telecom firms, are entering the payments space, as we noted in this 2009 post on mobile money transfers. More recently, social networks like Facebook and PayPal-like payment business models such as Dwolla are entering the fray. Regulators of money transfer operators are working diligently to ensure that the myriad of new firms in the business are appropriately licensed and regulated. The fast pace of nonbank entry is creating a confusing regulatory environment and potential vulnerabilities that bad actors may find opportunities to exploit.

The growing appeal of prepaid
The 2011 FDIC report also notes that the unbanked and underbanked households rely on prepaid cards more than do fully banked households. One in 10 households overall reported the use of a prepaid card. The proportion of unbanked household that have used a prepaid card climbed from 12.2 percent in 2009 to 17.8 percent in the last survey.

The fact is, prepaid card adoption has been on the rise for some time. The Fed's last triennial payment study reported it to be the fastest growing retail payment method. The expanded functionality for prepaid payments today make them practical for many uses, including payroll, travel, and the provision of benefits. Consumers can purchase prepaid cards from merchants and other nonbank locales where they might be more comfortable than they would be in a traditional financial institution.

This is all good news in the context of financial inclusion and expanded opportunity for the unbanked to participate in the electronic economy and shift from more informal transfer methods. However, payments experts still have concerns. In particular, there is the risk that violators of money laundering laws may go undetected as stored-value payments move from the plastic card to other access devices such as mobile handsets. FinCEN and other regulators will need to keep these issues front of mind as adoption grows and more nonbanks participate in the prepaid industry.

Implications for policymakers and financial institutions
The report concludes that one particularly noteworthy lesson for banks to consider is the need to make traditional financial products more convenient, faster, and less expensive in order to compete with AFS. They should try harder to appeal to the under- and unbanked by providing expedited availability for deposited funds to compete with check cashers. The report even goes on to say that banks might find it useful to promote mobile technology to increase convenience, the most commonly reported reason that households use nonbank check cashiers. With the growing use of prepaid cards for both federal and state government benefits, astute financial institutions may recognize other opportunities to provide prepaid services that may eventually shift the unbanked and underbanked to more a formal banking economy.

However, one clear trend is that technology is driving entrepreneurship in payments delivery methods in unexpected ways, with new AFS services announced all the time. In the long run, AFS may not be considered alternative any more, shedding the negative reputation that label traditionally implies. If new payments are cheaper and faster, perhaps they deserve a less jaundiced eye.

Cynthia MerrittBy Cynthia Merritt, assistant director of the Retail Payments Risk Forum

September 17, 2012

Change Is the Only Constant: Section 1073 Set to Take Effect

If you are reading this post, then no doubt you are familiar with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act, specifically Section 1073, which is the basis for the new rule pertaining to consumer-originated funds transfers from the United States to consumers or businesses in foreign countries. I recently attended a meeting where representatives from the remittance transfer industry discussed the responsibilities, complexities, and challenges of complying with the remittance transfer rule by the inaugural date of February 7, 2013. Not surprisingly, complying with the rule is a massive undertaking—when you consider that the remittance transfer business is, by definition, a business with a global reach.

One premise behind the rule was to create more transparency in remittance costs and thereby encourage competition in the market, to the ultimate benefit of the consumer. Today’s procedures for sending money abroad are basic. Locate one of more than a half-million domestic locations—in addition to many financial institutions, almost every gas station, drug store, and grocery store offer this service—complete a remittance form, hand money and form to a clerk, and wait a few minutes for confirmation. The funds are then made available to the receiver. A recent report published by the World Bank concluded that the United States currently maintains an average total cost to send a remittance below the global average (6.93 percent of the remittance amount versus 9.3 percent), thanks to the high volume and intense competition among the current large number of products and services available in the United States.

However, unknown to both parties at the time of origination is the exact dollar amount that the recipient will receive, because of hidden fees, taxes, and other costs not necessarily apparent. The rule will replace this "unknown" with a required hard copy receipt outlining, in any language used to market, advertise, or solicit business, all fees, commissions, taxes, the exact dollar amount netted to the receiver, and the time that the funds will be available for pickup. (There are other specifics, but no need to reiterate the entire law in this short blog!) A common pain point yet to be resolved in the compliance effort revolves around the ability of the sending entity to provide accurate receiving-end tax information. As an example, some countries have multiple and changing tax rates for different regions or a variable-fee structure on the receiving end based on the receiver’s status and relationship with the receiving entity. These tax and fee issues suitably demonstrate how achieving compliance will require cooperation from foreign entities in more than 213 country corridors, not under a remittance transfer provider’s control or subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Many in attendance suggested that a central database of tax information may be a way to address the conundrum. Whether provided by a third party in the industry or a government entity, a central database would provide consistent data and minimize research and upkeep costs for all transmitters.

In addition to cooperation, education for all players will be instrumental. Consumers should be made aware of their new right to cancel any transaction within 30 minutes of submitting and that they have contact information on their receipt in the event of any errors. At the same time, all remittance providers, including agents, need to be trained and educated to ensure compliance with this new rule.

With system changes required to produce the disclosures, will remittance providers reduce the number of channels used for remittances until they can modify their systems? With the number of contractual agreements required, will providers reduce the number of countries served or products offered? And given the cost, will remittance providers raise prices? And will U.S. consumers find alternative ways to send money? Only time will tell as the deadline for complying approaches.

The rule may eliminate some existing players from the game, as protection never comes without a price. At the same time, pioneering and innovative competitors might provide new channels and more products that will benefit consumers. Like anything that forces us to reinvent ourselves, change brings with it new threats and challenges, but the opportunities can be vast and rich. With a little imagination and a lot of hard work, the rewards can be enormous.

Remember, "The only thing that is constant is change" – Heraclitus

Michelle CastellBy Michelle Castell, senior payments risk analyst in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed