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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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October 7, 2019

Payments Webinar October 10: Cash in the 21st Century

As I write this, I am drinking my morning cup of joe. For me, that means half caf/half decaf, then cut in half with microwaved nonfat milk. (Slurp.)

Day in, day out, I want it just that way. No sugar for me. Nonfat milk, not 2 percent. Black only when I open the door to an empty fridge.

Odds are, you're like me when it comes to coffee and payments. Your habits—and mine—are sticky. We've found something that works for us and—day in, day out—we take our coffees and choose to pay the same way. These are our preferences.

What happens when we change our minds about what we prefer? Shaun O'Brien at the San Francisco Fed has been looking into the relationship between our stated preferences for making in-person purchases and the payment instruments we use in the moment.

In an economic model that incorporates consumer demographics, household income, transaction characteristics, and the payee, Shaun finds that, over time, a change in stated preference eventually results in an increased probability of using a newly preferred payment instrument.

Note that word eventually.

For example, say I stated a preference for cash in 2016 and then switched to a stated overall preference for debit card in 2017. It might not be until 2018 that you would start to see a small change in my mix of payments, with relatively less use of cash and more of debit. Like a coffee habit, my preferred payments habit is slow to change. (Keep in mind that, as I have blogged previously, preference is one of a number of factors that are important, including, for example, what a payee is willing to accept.)

Whatever your morning beverage, I hope you'll join Shaun, the Atlanta Fed's Oz Shy, and me for the next Talk About Payments webinar, October 10, 2019.

We'll look at current data from the Survey and Diary of Consumer Payment Choice and new research—including Shaun's findings reported above—to investigate the 5 Ws and also the How of cash:

  • WHAT is happening with cash?
  • WHO uses cash?
  • WHERE do consumers use cash?
  • WHEN do consumers use cash?
  • WHAT might cause cash users to switch to another payment method?
  • HOW do consumers get cash?

This webinar is open to the public but you must register in advance to participate. (Registration is free.) You can register online. Once registered, you will receive a confirmation email with login and call-in information.

Date: Thursday, October 10, 2019
Time: 1–2 p.m. (ET)
Register now!

April 1, 2019

Contactless Cards: The Future King of Payments?

Just over two years ago, my colleague Doug King penned a post lamenting the lack of dual interface, or "contactless," chip payment cards in the United States. In addition to having the familiar embedded chip, a dual interface card contains a hidden antenna that allows the holder to tap the card on or wave it near the POS terminal. This is the same technology—near field communications (NFC)—that various pay wallets inside mobile devices use.

Doug is now doing his daily fitness runs with a bigger smile on his face as the indicators appear more and more promising that 2019 will be the year of the contactless card. Large issuers have been announcing plans to distribute dual interface cards either in mass reissues or as a cardholder's current card expires. Earlier this year, some of the global brand networks launched advertising campaigns to make customers aware of the convenience that contactless cards offer.

So why have U.S. issuers not moved on this idea before now? I think there have been several reasons. First, for the last several years, financial institutions have focused a lot of their resources on chip card migration. Contactless cards will create an additional expense for issuers and many of them wanted to let the market mature as it has done in a number of other countries. They were also concerned about the failure of contactless card programs that some of the large FIs introduced in the early 2000s—most merchants lacked terminals capable of handling the technology.

The EMV chip migration solved much of the merchant terminal acceptance problem as the vast majority of POS terminals upgraded to support EMV chips can also support contactless cards. (While a terminal may have the ability to support the technology, the merchant has to enable that support.) Visa claims that as of mid-2018, half of POS transactions in the United States were occurring at terminals that were contactless-enabled. Another factor favoring contactless transactions is the plan by major U.S. mass transit agencies to begin accepting contactless payment cards. According to the American Public Transportation Association's 2017 Ridership Report, there were 41 transit agencies in the United States with annual passenger trip volumes of over 20 million trips.

Given that consumer payments is largely a total sum environment, these developments have led me to ask myself and others what effect contactless cards will have on consumers' use of other payment forms—in particular, mobile payments. As my colleagues and I have written numerous times in this blog, mobile payments continue to struggle to obtain consumer adoption, despite earlier predictions that they would catch on quickly. There are some who believe that the convenience of ubiquity and fast transaction speed will favor the dual purpose card. Others think that the increased merchant acceptance of contactless will help push the mobile phone into becoming the primary payment form.

My personal perspective is that contactless cards will hinder the growth of in-person mobile payments. There are those who claim to leave their wallet at home and never their phone, and they will continue to be strong users of mobile payments. But the reality is that mobile payments are not accepted at all merchant locations, whereas payment cards are practically ubiquitous. While I am a frequent user of mobile payments, simply waving or tapping a card appeals to me. It's much more convenient than having to open the pay application on my phone, sign on, and then authorize the transaction.

Do you believe the adoption of contactless cards by consumers and merchants will be as successful as it was for EMV chip cards? And do you think that contactless cards will help or hinder the growth of mobile payments? Let us hear from you.

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

 

December 17, 2018

Card Fraud Values Often above Average

Recent data from the Federal Reserve Payments Study remind me of my first experience with payments fraud as a 20-something college grad freshly arrived in Boston. I left my wallet in a conference room, and someone lifted my credit card. I still remember the metaphorical punch to the stomach when the telephone operator at the card company asked, "Did you spend $850 at Filene's Basement?" $850! That was more than twice my rent, and far more than I could conceive of spending at Boston's bargain hunters' paradise in a year, let alone on a one-night spree.

Decades later, the first thing I do to check my card and bank statements is to scan the amounts and pay attention to anything in the three digits. For noticing high-value card fraud, this is a pretty good habit.

That's because, on average, fraudulent card payments are for greater dollar values than nonfraudulent card payments. In 2016, the average value of a fraudulent credit card payment was $128, almost 50 percent more than $88 for a nonfraudulent credit card payment. For debit cards, the relationship was more pronounced: $75 for the average fraudulent payment, about twice the $38 average nonfraudulent payment, according to the Federal Reserve Payments Study.

Chart-average-value-per-payment-2016

Even to the noncriminal mind, this relationship makes sense: get as much value from the card before the theft or other unauthorized use is discovered. For a legitimate user, budgetary constraints (like mine way back when) and other considerations can come into play.

Interestingly, this relationship does not hold for remote payments. In 2016, the average dollar values of remote debit card payments, fraudulent and nonfraudulent, were the same: $68. And the average value of a nonfraudulent remote credit card payment, $151, exceeded that of a fraudulent remote credit card payment, $130. Why the switcheroo?

A couple of possibilities: Remote card payments include online bill payments, which often are associated with a verified street address and are of high value. So that could be pushing the non-fraudulent remote payments toward a high value relative to the fraudulent remote payments. Another factor could be that fraud detection methods used by ecommerce sites look for values that could be outliers, so perpetrators avoid making purchases that would trigger detection—and thus average values for remote fraud are closer to average values for remote purchases generally. But this is speculation. What do you think?

The relationships described here are depicted in figures 21 and 28 of the recent report of the Federal Reserve Payments Study, Changes in the U.S. Payments Fraud Landscape from 2012 to 2016. You can explore other relationships among average values of payments, and more, on the payments study web page.

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

November 19, 2018

Smaller FIs Weigh In on Mobile Financial Services

I have previously written several posts on the Sixth District's 2016 Mobile Banking and Payments Survey results as well as the consolidated results of the 2016 survey involving financial institutions (FIs) in the Atlanta Fed's district and six other Federal Reserve districts. Readers will recall that the primary goal of the survey was to allow the Federal Reserve and industry stakeholders to better understand the status of financial institutions' strategies with regard to mobile banking and payments products and services.

As a follow-up to this work, the Federal Reserve districts of Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Richmond conducted a "quick-hit" survey in June 2018 of the FIs that did not respond to the detailed 2016 survey. The survey consisted of just five questions pertaining to mobile financial service offerings. It also gathered some demographic data. A total of 565 FIs responded, representing an 11.7 percent response rate. You can find a report that the Payment Strategies Group at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston prepared on the Boston Fed website.

As a group, the FIs responding to the 2018 survey were smaller in asset size than were respondents to the 2016 survey.

Chart-one

Some of the key takeaways in the report include:

  • Of the 2018 respondents, 88 percent of banks and 81 percent of credit unions currently offer mobile banking services or plan to offer them by the end of 2018.
  • Fifty-five percent of the respondents reported that more than 20 percent of their customers were active mobile banking users.
  • Surprisingly, 14 percent of the respondents indicated they have no plans to offer mobile banking services. All but one of the FIs that have no plans to offer mobile banking had assets under $500 million. These FIs were almost evenly split between credit unions (33) and banks (36).
  • Not tracking or being unwilling to reveal customer usage levels of mobile banking services remains an issue; 29 percent of the respondents did not answer the question. My opinion is that it's the latter reason, given that a standard reporting option of mobile banking systems is to be able to track enrollment and unique sign-on activity.
  • Offerings of mobile payment services continue to lag significantly behind mobile banking. Of the 2018 responses, 57 percent currently offer or plan to offer them, while 43 percent have no plans to offer them or were undecided.

We will be conducting the detailed Mobile Banking and Payments survey in early 2019 and look forward to sharing the results with you.

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