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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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May 9, 2016

Follow the Money!

This catchphrase originated in the movie All the President’s Men. It is usually used in politics and means to follow the trail of corruption to the source. This catchphrase came to mind when I attended a panel discussion, “Cash Visibility & the Supply Chain: Tracking Your Cash,” at the NACHA Payments Conference last month in Phoenix. Besides the moderator from the Federal Reserve, the panel comprised a representative from GS1 US (the United States affiliate for the international standards body for supply chain management), a banker, and two big-box merchants.

Throughout the industry, cash handling is well-controlled and secure, but it can be inefficient and prone to error and duplicative work in the quest to minimize the ever-present potential for loss or theft. It is ironic that something as valuable and fungible as cash is tracked in some cases with less sophistication and efficiency than a package delivered to a consumer. State-of-the-art supply chain logistics that have long been in use for retail giants like Walmart and Target are just now being pursued among cash industry partners through the Cash Visibility initiative.

The idea behind this initiative is to apply the latest supply chain logistics to the collection, transport, reconciliation of deposits and orders, and distribution of cash among banks, cash processing facilities, merchants, and the Federal Reserve Banks. The Federal Reserve Banks are in the mix as the wholesale suppliers of cash to banks.

Depending on the type of big-box merchant, cash purchases at the point-of-sale can range from 10 to 25 percent or more of total payments. That's hundreds of billions of dollars in annual sales that need to be withdrawn and deposited at banks for retailers that deal in cash. The following is a representation of the proposed process for improving the wholesale and retail delivery of cash:

Source: GS1 US. Used with permission.

The panelists identified the following benefits once the system is widely adopted:

  • Faster resolution of discrepancies between origin and destination
  • Improved data accuracy with reductions of staff time, errors, and exceptions due to reduced manual data entry and paper records
  • Value-added information on status and value of cash in transit
  • Automated custody instead of manual paper-based systems that exist today

It was further noted that as the initiative gains traction, other improvements can be realized such as the depositor and receiver having real-time access to where cash is in transit and when it will arrive at its destination.

Various proof-of-concepts are being planned for later this year from the partners participating in this initiative. Partners include the Federal Reserve, financial institutions, armored carriers, retailers, and solution providers. One early finding at a cash processing facility where the concept was tested was an average reduction in staff time involved in cash handling from six hours to two hours. This web page offers more information on the initiative and how to get involved. Similar programs are under way in France and Germany.

Prior to the session, I would not have guessed there was any opportunity to advance the evolution of cash to a faster and more secure payment system.

Photo of Steven Cordray  By Steven Cordray, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk  Forum at the Atlanta Fed

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