Payments On Fire

Latest Podcasts

Episode 125 – COVID-19 Relief: Collaboration, Regulation, and Tech Do Good – Roberto Marinho, CEO, César Souto, Conta Zap, Brazil

This illuminating Payments on Fire® episode takes a deep look at a very new Brazilian payments platform called Conta Zap (Zap Account in English) and how a group of community minded people came together with Conta Zap to provide basic income to economically displaced Brazilians during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The story illustrates how the combination of entrepreneurial thinking, technology, and right-thinking regulation can make a real impact on even those living at the edge.

The Situation

This story is about how that wallet was put into the field to serve a particular community in real need. That community is made up of mostly fishermen, like the one pictured below, living in the Vergel do Lago neighborhood in the northeastern city of Maceio. Most residents are fisherman who sell their catch to restaurants, a transaction shut down due to COVID-19 restaurant closures.

 

Already living on the edge, that shutdown put enormous pressure on the 20,000 fishermen working in the area.

How It Started

Conta Zap is a digital wallet that simplifies moving money for P2P, bill payment, and other consumer-based transactions. Under Brazilian bank regulations, Conta Zap is also a “payment institution” able to handle payment transactions on behalf of its user but not to be a lender itself.

When word of the fishermen’s plight reached Conta Zap leadership the idea of using its wallet to get emergency funds to the fishermen was born. The Zap do Bem (roughly translated as Zap for Good) service came to be, based on the Conta Zap wallet. A group of corporate funders donated the funds for the fisherman with each fisherman receiving the equivalent of $35 USD, a meaningful figure to these impoverished workers.

The idea of Zap do Bem started in mid-March before it was clear that the federal government was going to provide an emergency stipend to poor Brazilians. To get those stipends to the millions of unbanked Brazilians, the government took advantage of recent Brazilian Central Bank regulations that allow for easy opening of low value accounts. These so-called CAIXA Tem digital accounts are offered by the government owned CAIXA Econômica banks. Remarkably, more than 40 million accounts are expected to be opened by individuals who previously did not have an account.

As with Conta Zap, this has allowed Brazil to disburse funds relatively easily and safely to millions of people. Of course, this hasn’t stopped people from lining up to take money out as cash but it is a very big, important first step in creating a digital ecosystem.

Multiple Layers of Tech, Regulatory Foresight, and Good Will

The story is a digital one. The Zap do Bem was not about helping speed cash distribution. Stakeholders combined technology from multiple parties, the generosity of donors, and these important regulatory guardrails to create a valuable service. Here are the ingredients to Zap do Bem’s layer cake:

  1. The Fishermen. The fishermen needed digital accounts and the means to spend their money.
  2. The Merchants. Conta Zap enrolled merchants to accept payments from the Conta Zap wallet.
  3. The Donors. A collection of corporate and individual donors agreed to provide the funds to help the fishermen get through the pandemic.
  4. Conta Zap provided the digital wallet, enrolling the invited fishermen participants via text message. A Brazilian celebrity sent a message to recipients assuring them that the offer was legitimate.
  5. Oi, one of the country’s leading telcos, enabled Conta Zap to verify customer identity using Oi’s geolocation capability for address verification and to help validate the fishermen’s income level by looking at purchase records for prepaid airtime. Oi also helped identify merchants in the neighborhood. That allowed Conta Zap to get those merchants enrolled so the fishermen could begin to spend the donated funds.
  6. WhatsApp, by virtue of exposing its capabilities programmatically, Conta Zap, was made available to beneficiaries entirely on WhatsApp using an AI interface as seen in the screen shot below. This approach allows Zap to provide its digital wallet service at very low cost.
  7. Regulators. The enabling regulation allows accounts with low balances and modest activity to be opened with minimal personal identification requirements, i.e. your name, national ID number, and birthday.

Screenshot and translation of Zap do Bem:

Hello! I’m the virtual assistant for Conta Zap and my name is Zapelino.

Here you can pay your bills, top up services and much more.

Type the option the you want to do now:

1 – Open my Conta Zap

2 – Create a Login

3 – How to open my account

4 – How Zap works

5 – Zap card

We’ll plan to follow up on these developments in the future. Listen in now as Elizabeth McQuerry interviews Roberto Marinho, CEO of Conta Zap, and César Souto, a Member of the Board of Directors. If you would like to become a donor, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for instructions.

 

Episode 124 – Ground Truth: COVID-19’s Payments Impact – Glynn Frechette, PSCU

There’s no clearer indicator of COVID-19’s economic impact than payment metrics. In this Payments on Fire® episode, we speak with Bryan Derman, Glenbrook’s managing partner, and Glynn Frechette, SVP of PSCU’s Advisors Plus division, in a discussion of PSCU’s payment trends analysis. Glynn provides an exceptionally detailed view into the pain, and some real gains, that the pandemic has brought to U.S. payments activity.

PSCU’s analysis points to both the depth of transaction volume declines for a number of segments, especially travel and fuel. And since so many restaurants are shut down (another segment hammered by the pandemic), the data shows how supermarkets and groceries have benefited.

 

 

There’s plenty of detail in this podcast so take a careful listen. To keep up to date on what PSCU is seeing across the country, go to its Resource page. For more, check out PSCU’s infographic for the week ending May 3rd.

Episode 123 – A Trip into the Nigerian Payments Ecosystem – Charles Ifedi, eBanqo

It is super instructive to hear about payments evolution. So, it’s time to take a trip. In this Payments on Fire® episode we speak with Charles Ifedi, one of the founders of Interswitch, one of the leading digital payments providers in Nigeria, and founder of customer engagement platform company eBanqo.

We hear a lot – and deservedly so – about innovative fintech companies but we hear very little about the advanced and highly competitive payment system already in place in Nigeria. Take a listen as Glenbrook partner Elizabeth McQuerry, partner in charge of Glenbrook’s Global payments consulting practice, talks with Charles about the Nigerian payments ecosystem, his role in developing one of the leading payments providers there and and his new venture in improving the front end of financial services with conversational AI .

Image taken from a commemorative sign celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Verve card brand and featuring the Interswitch founders, taken at the company’s headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria. From left Charles Ifedi, Mitchell Elegbde and Akeem Lawal.

Payments in Nigeria are huge in every way. Its large population – some 200 million – allows digital payments to thrive even as the banked population remains stubbornly low at just under 40% of the adult population. Unlike the eastern Africa experience of telco-led companies like M-PESA, Nigerian telcos are not allowed to serve as payments providers. They aren’t banks but their agent networks serve an essential role in last mile service delivery. That said, recent regulatory changes are allowing partner companies of these telcos to apply for the country’s payments services bank license.

Nigerians have been able to take advantage of instant or real-time payments for a decade. You can’t say that for Americans. It’s quite common to see people making instant payments transfers from their mobile devices via the simple USSD menu interface on feature phones. Those with smartphones take full advantage of app-based interfaces.

These instant payments are often used to buy things in retail shops as well as to make business or personal transfers.  Payment by debit and credit card is also quite common and Nigeria is home to Verve, the pan-African card brand.

Listen in as Charles, who was Verve’s first CEO, reflects on developing the Interswitch brand and discusses how Nigerians are making payments at small and large merchants during the Covid-19 lockdown, the successes of ATMs and their challenges to growth, the failure of biometrics, and about the Nigerian payments ecosystem overall.

 

Episode 122 – Maximizing Authorization Rates and More – Jeanne DeWitt, Stripe

Payment authorization rates are a theme we return to regularly on Payments on Fire® because they matter so much to merchants, issuers, and the payment providers in between. If an issuer declines more transactions than its peers, the merchant and the issuer, in fact, leave money on the table. The merchant loses sales. The issuer loses interchange revenue.

In this episode, we speak with Stripe‘s Jeanne DeWitt, head of revenue and growth for the Americas, for a deep look into how her company maximizes AUTH rates for itself and its hundreds of thousands of sellers. We discuss COVID-19’s impact and some of the creative responses to it. We also address Stripe’s maturation into an enterprise provider, at enterprise orgnization, and wrap with a look ahead at the future shape of the payments industry.

 

Episode 121 – Acquiring the E-commerce Cross-Border Merchant – Moshe Selfin, Credorax

In Glenbrook’s Payments Boot Camp® and in our payments consulting work, we use our Domains of Payments framework to subdivide the major use cases and payment contexts into a half dozen categories or domains. The Remote Domain contains cross-border e-commerce, a particularly challenging use case where the buyer and seller are separated by distance and, in the case of cards, credentials are presented without the cardholder present. This is card on file (COF), card not present (CNP) transactions live. Just add cross-border complexity.

If you sell via e-commerce in the EU, Middle East and to the global market, you’re crossing borders. That means regulatory compliance. It also means you want your customers to pay you in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. Germans and Belgians like SOFORT and PayPal. The Dutch prefer the domestic iDEAL system. The UK is card-centric.

To reach customers in those countries and beyond, you need a payment services provider with reliable connectivity into those domestic systems, access to global card systems, and the ability to maximize authorization rates.

Credorax is a PSP founded in Israel with a strong technology focus that has also become a Malta-based bank in order to expand its EU presence as an acquiring bank.

In this Payments on Fire® episode, George and Credorax COO Moshe Selfin discuss the initial impact of the novel coronavirus on the travel segment and then move on to authorization optimization.

The podcast includes the Credorax creation story. While technical capabilities were the core of its start-up phase, it was the EU’s PSD2 regulation that created its market strategy and steered its business evolution. While many in the payments industry complain about regulation, it’s true that mandates move markets and, as Credorax saw, create opportunity.

Take a listen to how a this not-yet-quite-global company positions itself in an increasingly crowded market and its approach to delivering value.


Episode 120 – Deep Dive into Real-time Payments in Developing Markets – Elizabeth McQuerry, Glenbrook Partners

In this special episode of Payments on Fire®, Glenbrook partner Elizabeth McQuerry, partner in charge of Glenbrook’s Global payments consulting practice, leads a conversation on the development and adoption of realtime payments in developing markets.

Joining Elizabeth are Miller Abel, Deputy Director, Principal Technologist at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gene Neyer, Executive Advisor to Icon Solutions, board member at the US Faster Payments Council, who has supported Gates-funded projects in Pakistan and Tanzania.

This discussion was originally scheduled to take place at the 2020 Payments Canada Summit.

If the development of faster payment, instant funds transfer systems is important to you, take a listen to this episode on the development of these instant push payment systems in developing markets. Many of the issues and concepts discussed apply to developed market concerns and you will gain important insight into the multiple paths governments and leading tech firms take in system and ecosystem development.

Anchoring the discussion is the set of principles for financial inclusion codified in The Level One Project Guide, a work product of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

An essential principle is the role of real-time payments as an economic development tool. Digital payments have to have the immediacy of cash to be transformative. No one can afford to wait for a payment to wander for a few days through an antiquated banking system when they have to buy fuel in 20 minutes.

Digital payments also have to solve for specific use cases which quickly leads to the need for an API layer to embed payments into purpose-built apps. The discussion addresses these principles and illustrates them with examples like the agriculture-focused version Uber for tractors.

To address the necessary transaction switching and connectivity infrastructure, the Gates Foundation has built the Mojaloop platform, an open source initiative to ease development for  governments and commercial entities alike. Miller takes us through its genesis and applications.

Elizabeth, Gene, and Miller discuss the extraordinary and growing penetration of inexpensive smart and surprisingly capable feature phones in markets like Nigeria and Myanmar.

They also discuss the “stack” of rules, rails, account providers, and apps that enables innovation, a model that applies to both developed and developing markets.

This is a comprehensive discussion that touches on the roles of government and commercial stakeholders and how they differ across countries, payment economics, and the multiple paths to broad deployment of real-time payments. Take a listen.

Episode 119 – The API to Streamline and Secure Account Access – Don Cardinal, GM, Financial Data Exchange

Take a listen to Don Cardinal, GM of the Financial Data Exchange and Glenbrook’s George Peabody as they discuss the FDX API and its importance to the fintech and financial services community. It’s important to end users. And it’s a great example of how comprehensive standards can be developed swiftly.


The “supermarket” days of financial institutions providing all of our financial services and holding all of our accounts are long over. Brokerages, insurance companies, and the expanding array of fintechs compete to hold, manage, or organize our assets.

With so many custodians of our financial data, it can be difficult for an individual to generate a complete picture of her finances. That’s been a longstanding problem that was addressed over two decades ago by data aggregators like personal financial management app Mint.

Individuals found this single portal approach quite useful. All we had to do was provide the aggregator with the login credentials to each of our online accounts. The aggregator would then log into that account on our behalf, “read” our data off of the web page, and display all of that data in a single consistent fashion (this is “screen scraping”, the method of data gathering that started it all).

This single view capability has been a compelling proposition that dozens and dozens of firms have emulated in the years since.

Further, use cases have proliferated where a fintech, for example, simply needs access to one or two accounts in order to fulfill its goals. The mobile app model has just accelerated the expansion of apps needing access to user account data.

Yodlee and Plaid, now a Visa company acquired in a whopping big transaction, are examples of companies selling access to user account data either through screen scraping or, in a more modern approach, direct integration to individual financial institutions.

Direct integration to each bank or credit union’s data is, of course, inefficient because each banks exposes its own interface. The syntax and functions of each vary making everyone’s development and maintenance tasks more difficult..

Evolution of a Standard

Into this gap is the Financial Data Exchange organization. With over 100 members https://financialdataexchange.org/pages/members
from a wide range of companies – Chase, Plaid, FS-ISAC, Intuit, PNC, Fannie Mae, Truist, Cashflow Solutions – its goal is to standardize the domain of permissioned at a sharing through an API layer in operates in front of financial institution data.

FDX is a true standards organization. Its members pay dues, yes, but their more important contribution is time and effort. Working groups take on particular technical and usage aspects, develop them, and generate draft standards for the entire membership to ratify.

One of its working groups focuses, for example, on the user experience, on the use cases that benefit from data sharing and how to make that process transparent and secure for end users.

In this Payments on Fire® episode, George and FDX Managing Director Don Cardinal discuss the API, its many reasons for being, and the standards development process.

They also discuss Akoya, Fidelity’s former data sharing unit that is now owned and operated by The Clearing House and 11 member banks. Akoya serves as a central integration provider making it easier for a fintech app to connect its users to the banks subscribing to the Akoya service.

So take a listen. FDX is important to the fintech and financial services community. It’s important to end users. And it’s a great example of how comprehensive standards can be developed swiftly.

 

Episode 118 – Third Annual RTP Network Update – TCH’s Steve Ledford

Welcome to Payments on Fire® and to our third, now annual, discussion with Steve Ledford, SVP Products and Strategy at The Clearing House, and the leader of his company’s Real Time Payment Network initiative.

As in prior conversations, Steve and George discuss the growth of the RTP Network both in terms of transactions and dollar volume as well as an important metric, the growth in the number of financial institutions and FI processors who are already or in process of connecting to the network.

The evolving set of use cases supported by a new payment system is often surprising. Few expected Zelle’s leading use case to be rent payments. While the RTP Network is in its infancy, Steve shares a number of use cases already in flight.

Changes to the network’s rules also position it for expanded use. For example, the network’s recent increase in transaction size limit to $100,000 positions it far better for B2B transactions.

Like all bank services, strong user authentication is critical and firmly out of scope for the new network. Banks will have to improve their authentication processes because account takeover is a real risk.

As Steve says in this discussion, banks can also reduce the risk of accountholders sending money to bad actors simply by well-timed messaging. Financial institutions can adopt best practices that have evolved in the UK and other markets with similar systems in place. For example, the bank should ask the accountholder if they personally know the recipient of the funds and if they have been pressured to make the payment within a certain timeframe. Both questions are meant to caution the accountholder before pressing Send.

Steve also addresses the announcement of FedNow and its ripple effects on the RTP Network.

New national payment rails are a once in a generation event. New rails, better data representation techniques, and mobile devices make for an innovator’s playground. Take a listen.

Episode 117 – Stop Them at the Front Door Before Giving That Loan – Rivka Gewirtz Little, Socure

Be Safe. Be Well. Help Out.

This is our era’s unprecedented event. I hope you’re staying safe, your family is all well, and you’ve got what you need for what looks to be a pretty long time. On the upside, I’ve seen and experienced people helping one another like never before. That gives me confidence we’ll be able to mitigate COVID-19’s impact on our healthcare system – and on all of us. The downside is obvious. The weight of the pandemic is going to come down heaviest on those with the fewest resources. Helping out is our best response.

Among the Exploiters of The Pandemic

There are characters out there, however, who are bent on taking advantage of this global challenge because the corona virus has only added gasoline to the growth of e-commerce and online fraud of all kinds.

While e-commerce volume skyrockets as so many hunker down, online credit applications are rising at traditional lenders, challenger banks, and fintechs. Responding to the pandemic, some fintechs are making it easier than ever for sole proprietors to get loans in the hopes of having their business survive the pandemic. For similar reasons, others are encouraging government action in support of their SMB customers.

These laudable efforts will attract fraudsters in droves. What could be better than overburdened systems (Robinhood anyone?) and modified onboarding and underwriting processes?

Socure is an identity management company serving financial institutions old and new, fintechs, and marketplaces that extend credit via online applications. Socure’s service operates right at their front door, at “day zero,” when the applicant first appears at the provider’s digital door. The company promises to reduce fraud, reduce the manual review of questionable applications, and onboard more customers through its KYC services.

In this Payments on Fire® episode, George speaks with Rivka Gewirtz Little, SVP Marketing & Strategy at Socure on a range of topics, from the what and how of Socure’s service to the larger concerns of fraud rates, model governance, and the definition of identity.

Socure’s Own Digital ID

Socure is working on its own version of a digital identity, essentially taking all that it knows about each individual and creating a profile that is updated based on the individual’s behavior, system changes, etc. This “Socure Identity” then can be used beyond the Day Zero identity proofing step but for subsequent authentication when the individual returns to Socure’s customer’s website or app.

FI Internal Collaborate on Identity

An encouraging evolution in enterprise organization is the growing collaboration of the produce line leadership within traditional financial institutions in the areas of risk management and marketing, teams with traditionally conflicting goals. Marketing wants as little friction as possible; Risk wants to keep the bad actor out. In the past, each product line fought its own battles and chosen its own solutions. Now that the digital channel is firmly established even among incumbent and with more flexible tech available, coordination and alignment is taking place.

Data Minimization

“Data minimization” has achieved buzzword status. And its meaning varies depending on who you are. Essentially, it means a provider should hold only that data that’s necessary and no more. For a Socure that lives on massive data resources, data minimization is meaningless. Socure has to be an exceptional custodian of all of that data.

George and Rivka discuss another connotation for that term, the ability of the accountholder or user to release only the data that’s relevant to the transaction. Showing a driver’s license to prove you’re over 21 is a classic case of over-sharing.

So, take a listen. Stay safe.

For more on digital identity and synthetic identity in particular, check out Episode 115 – Finding the Phantoms – Synthetic Identity and the Issuer – with Naftali Harris of SentiLink.

 

Episode 116 – Now More than Ever – Glenbrook Payments Boot Camp® Digital Edition – Russ Jones, Glenbrook Partners

Sometimes events delay things. Other times, they hasten them. At Glenbrook, the corona virus has sped us along a path we’ve been traveling for some time. The path is digital delivery of the Glenbrook Payments Boot Camp®.

In this Payments on Fire® episode, Russ Jones, partner in charge of Glenbrook’s education team, talks with George about two major changes in our payments education program.

1. Digital Delivery – what it looks like, how it works, and when we will launch it for our public participants
2. Curriculum Update – how Glenbrook maintains the currency of our training and some of the major updates made recently

As you’ll hear Russ say, we’re excited by the capabilities of today’s teleconferencing capabilities, how we can use them to inject a high level of interactivity into each session, and the challenge of bringing the Glenbrook Payments Boot Camp® magic to the digital medium.

Join us April 7-9 for the Glenbrook Payments Boot Camp® digital edition. No travel required!

All of us at Glenbrook wish you the very best of experience and outcome as each and all of us navigates the corona virus threat. Be calm, carry on, and keep your social distance.