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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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April 6, 2020

Will COVID-19 Exacerbate Ecommerce Fraud?

Ecommerce sales in the United States continue to gain a greater share of overall retail sales each year. The Department of Commerce reports Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link that in 2019, total ecommerce sales increased almost 15 percent over 2018 and represented 11 percent of total retail sales. There is no question that with the current COVID-19 environment, our daily habits have undergone tremendous change. As part of that change, I expect that ecommerce sales will increase at a greater rate in 2020 than in 2019.

Following social isolation guidelines, consumers and businesses are turning more and more to conducting their commerce transactions online. Prepaid carry-out, drive-through, and delivery orders now dominate the dining industry as inside dining options have been largely shuttered. Large retailers have been promoting online ordering and ship-to-home delivery options as their stores are closed. TransUnion reports that in the week from March 11 to 17, when the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic, ecommerce transaction volume increased 23 percentOff-site link over the previous week.

This spike in ecommerce traffic will likely bring with it a parallel spike in criminal activity, possibly adding to the increasing fraud levels in ecommerce. This shouldn't come as any surprise. It will be important for the good guys not only to be expecting this but also to be prepared for it by making swift adjustments that match the challenge.

One of the key adjustments to consider and apply quickly is properly tuning algorithms for detecting ecommerce fraud. In normal times, anomalous-pattern detection schemes are relied on to expose fraudsters. Elements such as the type of stores commonly used, frequency of usage, average or range of transaction values, and more go into making up an overall usage pattern for a given customer. While these transaction risk models have become very sophisticated over the years, they are challenged by abrupt changes in usage patterns, especially at an individual account level. They need to be smartly and quickly adjusted. Issuers and merchants need to balance the decision of denying transactions—which brings with it the risk of disgruntled legitimate customers and lost revenues—against approving fraudulent transactions and taking financial losses. No easy task, but doable and necessary to undertake, with constant attention.

Working collaboratively with merchants, consumers can help to surprise the criminals as fraud fighting evolves. The good guys win if we exercise patience with one another and remain mindful of the balance between purchase friction and fraud avoidance as fraud-fighting tools and methods adjust. Both sides being considerate of the needs on both sides of the transaction—working together, again, with patience and willingness to engage, perhaps differently than we've been willing to in the past, could yield results that everyone (except the crooks) is happier with, in both the short run and long run.

We know fraud management teams will be busy managing their fraud-detection tools and processes and expect they will rise to the challenge. We also expect consumers are ready and willing to assist in ways that are helpful as well. The constant chess match with the criminal element will continue, and we look forward to seeing a chess piece on the good guys ' side of the board with some new moves to help aid in the fight against the bad guys.

January 27, 2020

Mobile Banking Nearing Ubiquity

In June 2019, eight Federal Reserve districts,1 led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's Payment Strategies Group, surveyed financial institutions (FI) based in their respective districts about their current and planned mobile banking and mobile payment service offerings. The survey defined mobile banking as the use of a mobile phone to connect to a financial institution to access bank or credit account information (including to view balances), transfer funds between accounts, pay bills, set up account alerts, locate ATMs, deposit checks, and more. The term mobile payments described the use of a mobile phone to pay at the point of sale, remotely for a retail item (or items) using near field communication or a quick response code, or via mobile app or web for digital content, goods, or services (such as transit, parking, or ticketing).

You can find the full 2019 Mobile Financial Services Survey report, including the survey questionnaire, on the Boston Fed websiteOff-site link. This collaborative survey effort previously took place in 2014Off-site link and 2016Off-site link.

The survey found that 96 percent of the respondents currently offered or planned to offer mobile banking services. (As expected, most of the respondents who indicated they had no plans to offer mobile banking—18 of the 23—were the smallest FIs [those with assets under $50 million]). Support for mobile payment services had increased significantly since the 2016 survey, going from 24 percent to 43 percent in 2019, with an additional 26 percent planning to support mobile payments within two years.

Especially interesting to me were the responses to a new survey question regarding FIs' plans to issue contactless payment cards. Many of the largest FIs began issuing contactless cards in 2019. The survey found that while only 5 percent of respondents were issuing contactless cards, 21 percent plan to do so within two years and an additional 18 percent plan to issue them in the next two to five years. As the chart shows, although nearly two-thirds of the smallest FIs indicated no plans to offer a contactless card, a relatively high percentage (43%) of the larger FIs also indicated no plans to do so. I am curious to see how these plan responses change, if any, in future surveys.

Chart 01 of 02: Contactless card issuance by asset size

A total of 504 financial institutions responded—337 banks and 167 credit unions (CUs)—which represented 6 percent of all banks and 3 percent of all CUs in the United States. It is important to note that none of the top 100 banks by asset size and only four of the top 100 CUs by asset size are included in the survey. Almost half of the responding CUs have assets under $100 million. The distribution of survey respondents (displayed in the chart below) helps us better understand the development of mobile financial services in the mid- and small-sized FIs.

Chart 02 of 02: Distribution of respondents by asset size

The Boston Fed's Payment Strategies Group will present a webinar on the full survey report later this year. We will be sure to keep Take On Payments readers apprised of those plans. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding the survey or the results, please be sure to contact me.

1Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Richmond, and San Francisco

January 6, 2020

Phone Payment Bingo

Let's play a game of mobile payments bingo. Say yes to all five and you win!

In the last three days, did you use your mobile phone to:

table 01 of 01: bingo card

Do your answers to these questions give you the idea that you are using your phone more and more to pay? If so, you're in line with the latest results from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice.

As you can see below, using a phone to pay—especially to pay bills and other people—has increased as a share of payments in recent years. More payments are being made with phones.

chart 01 of 01: Share of payments made using a mobile telephone

  • In October 2016, 11 percent of bill payments were made via mobile phone; in 2018, 18 percent.
  • In October 2016, 5 percent of payments to another person were made via mobile phone, in 2018, 17 percent.

The Diary of Consumer Payment Choice records the daily payments behavior of U.S. consumers 18 and older. Consumers report not only whether or not they used a mobile phone but also if they used a computer or tablet—either remotely or in person—or snail mail to pay. They record the dollar amount of the payment, the payment instrument used (for example, cash, debit card), and the purpose or payee (utilities, grocery store). These consumer behavior data can be analyzed in the context of household income and demographic attributes.

You can read the full report online and download the data for analysis.

By the way, I couldn't complete my bingo card. My answers:

  1. No.
  2. Yes, 34-pound bag of dog food (using the web browser on my phone).
  3. Yes, coffee from my local barista (using a QR code).
  4. No.
  5. Yes, see my answers #2 and #3.

How about you? Did you win?

December 9, 2019

Payments in Review: A Webinar

Whether you are out dipping your payment card at a store, waiting in line behind a check writer, trying to look like you're working while you shop online for last-minute gifts using your digital wallet, or just always looking for more information about payments, grab your headphones for the last Talk About Payments webinar of 2019. On December 19, the Retail Payments Risk Forum team continues its tradition of discussing what we consider to be the significant payments events and issues of the year. We invite financial institutions, retailers, payments processors, law enforcement officials, academics, and other payments system stakeholders to participate.

The webinar 2019: Payments in Review features a live roundtable discussion with payments risk experts Doug King, Dave Lott, and Jessica Washington. You will be able to see how your reflections on 2019 payment events compare to the Risk Forum's perspectives and reflections on the year. To liven up the party, polling questions and real-time questions and comments will let you engage with the speakers.

Last year ended with increasing momentum in technology research and development—distributed ledger technology, contactless, machine learning—which continued into 2019, mixed with the some of the largest fintech mergers and acquisitions the industry has seen. Faster payments started taking new forms with added interest from industry stakeholders. The fight against payments fraud also changed shape during 2019, with some new collaborations and methods worth mentioning. Fintech is surely to be discussed along with other topics such as the proliferation of digital payment methods versus the state of cash.

Find out what you might need to consider as you promote safer payments innovation in the coming year.

The webinar will happen on Thursday, December 19, from 1 to 2 p.m. (ET). Participation is free, but you must register in advanceOff-site link. Once you register, you will receive a confirmation email with the log-in and toll-free call-in information. A recording of the webinar will be available to all registered participants in various formats within a couple of weeks after the event.

We look forward to you joining us on December 19 and sharing your perspectives on the payment events that took place in 2019.

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