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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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February 2, 2015

Does More Security Mean More Friction in Payments?

In a 2014 post, we discussed the issue of consumers' security practices in light of the regulatory liability protection provided to consumers, especially related to electronic transactions. Recognizing that poor security practices will continue, financial institutions, merchants, and solution vendors continue to implement additional security and fraud deterrence tools in the payment flow. Sometimes those tools can add complexity to a financial transaction.

One of the critical elements in a consumer's experience when performing a financial transaction is the concept of friction. In the payments environment, friction can be measured by the number and degree of barriers that impede a smooth and successful transaction flow. Potential causes of friction in a payment transaction include lack of acceptance, slow speed, inaccuracy, high cost, numerous steps, and lack of reliability. We usually think that to decrease friction is to increase convenience.

As the level of friction increases, consumers become more likely to rethink their purchase and payment decisions—an action that merchants and financial institutions alike dread because an abandoned payment transaction represents lost revenue. Individual consumers have their preferred payment methods, and their perspective of the convenience associated with a particular method is a key factor in their choice. For this reason, the payment industry stakeholders have been working diligently to reduce the level of friction in the various forms of payments. Technology provides a number of advantages, potentially reducing the overall friction of payments by providing consumers with a variety of payment form factors. For example, smartphones can support integrated payment applications allowing the consumer to easily call up their payment credentials and execute a payment transaction at a merchant's terminal. With abandonment rates as high as 68 percent, online merchants, working diligently to reduce friction, are streamlining their checkout process by reducing the number of screens to navigate.

Clearly cognizant of the friction issue, the industry has focused much of its efforts on operating fraud risk tools in the background, so that customers remain unaware of them. Other tools are more overt—biometrics on mobile phones, hardware tokens for PCs, and transaction alerts. But some security improvements the industry has undertaken have resulted in more friction, including the EMV card. A consumer must now leave the EMV card in the terminal for the duration of the transaction when previously all the consumer had to do was simply swipe the card. It will be interesting to see if and how consumers adjust their payment habits should they view the EMV card technology as high in friction. Will this motivate consumers to move away from card-based payments? Time will tell, and we will closely follow this issue.

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


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