Payments On Fire
Payments On Fire® podcast series
is where payment issues are reviewed, dissected,
and batted around with industry leaders.
In other words, a good conversation
between payments geeks.

Latest Podcasts

Episode 128 – How a NextGen Payments Company Builds on the Cloud – Eric Rosenthal, Rapyd

Take a listen to Rapyd‘s Eric Rosenthal and Glenbrook‘s George Peabody as they discuss Rapyd’s swift global expansion, its ability to quickly build new capabilities, and the firm’s cloud-based tech stack. It uses its “white label PayPal” model to payment-enable a wide range of companies and use cases.

Programming Payments Has Been Hard

Among the many evolutions in the payments industry over the last decade, and only accelerating today, is the programmability of payments. Prior to that, a portion of payments providers – gateways, processors, and even networks – provided access to their services via direct integration to whatever interface they cared to expose. The API is the layer now employed for that purpose.

A single interface to core services is, of course, the basic stock in trade of a gateway, an outfit that exposes a single interface to its customers with the promise, among many, of reaching a broad swatch of acquirers out the other side. Networks like American Express and Mastercard have long provided access of their own.

But this approach, for the many merchants and businesses shifting to digital payments, had a number of shortcomings.

First, none of these integrations were truly comprehensive. One gateway could get you to the UK, but others were necessary to reach the rest of Europe, often on a country by country basis because payments are local and domestic. To sell in a country, you have to connect to the methods its citizens use. Cards along won’t do it. So, global reach through a minimum set of providers was a challenge.

A second concern was the effort required to connect to so many providers. A merchant would have to carefully assess the ROI for each development effort in order to sell, say, in Austria or Thailand. Or to take advantage of the fraud services of American Express. Implementing and maintaining so may interfaces – and the contracts or partnerships that exist alongside the technical effort – is a lot of work.

Things Have Improved – A Lot

The way over these barriers is now broadly available. A number of providers have applied a common insight – that merchants, enterprises, and sellers will flock to a provider that offers a single, straightforward API that abstracts the complexity of payments so that they can focus more on their commercial goals.

Multiple providers now offer a single integration through which merchant can reach a global audience and the global range of payment methods.

That’s one of the insights that inspired firms like Braintree, Stripe, Adyen, and others, including the firm Rapyd, the subject of this Payments on Fire® episode.

Built on the Cloud

Rapyd is a young company building out its capability to global scale in a very short period of time. In this discussion with Rapyd’s Eric Rosenthal we hear how the firm’s use of Amazon Web Services has allowed the company to scale operations around the world in a reliable and, critically, compliant manner with respect to data privacy and domicility.

Eric illustrates the company’s model – a white label PayPal as he calls it – through an example of Rapyd supporting a cash collection supply chain challenge for a global CPG manufacturer.

Flexibility and Speed

In our payments consulting work on behalf of merchants and billers, when we support their choice of payments provider, we increasingly see one or more firms like Rapyd competing against incumbents like First Data and Chase. We expect to see them more often in the future.

Incumbents using legacy infrastructure lack the flexibility to be responsive. We frequently hear about the years long implantation projects some legacy providers require. While a single firm may have built, at one time or another, every possible bit of functionality a merchant may want, the reality is that such breadth is not available on a single platform. Hence those long integration timelines.

The ability of these newer entrants to address incremental use cases is impressive. Of course, some of their components lack the functional depth achieved by incumbent competitors. But that gap will narrow with time and faster than in prior years.

By outsourcing the core plumbing to cloud providers like AWS or Microsoft’s Azure, firms like Rapyd are able to put more wood behind the arrow aimed at their customer’s business goals. Freed of much of the operational burden of running the plumbing, they can deploy their talents where the impact is greatest. And that changes the game.

Episode 127 – The Hot Topics in Digital Payments – Russ Jones, Glenbrook Partners

The transition away from paper to an all digital payments world has been underway for decades. But in the last few years the pace has accelerated. Global tech availability and focused development talent is letting software eat the payments world. Other enablers include business models such as payments facilitation and the focus on commerce, not just payments, for merchants.

COVID-19 has simply added fuel to the fire. In May, for the first time, Mastercard reported that over 50% of its volume was card not present, transactions all in the digital payment space. The pandemic is yet another forcing function pushing digital payments deeper into our lives, across the key payment use cases employed by individuals, merchants, enterprises, and government.

Keeping up with all this is what we do at Glenbrook. In this Payments on Fire® episode, Glenbrook’s Russ Jones and George talk about what’s hot and how that gets examined in our upcoming Digital Payments Insight Workshop. It will be held online June 24 and 25th. For more on the workshop, check it out here.

Russ and George talk about the online training experience and how interactivity is supported by the tools we use and the flow we establish. So, take a quick listen to get a taste of what’s hot. If you like it, we look forward to seeing you at the workshop. No trains, planes, or automobiles needed.

Episode 126 – New Tech, New Models: ACH at the POS – Craig McDonald, Trustly

Take a listen to Craig McDonald, Chief Business Officer of Trustly and George as they discuss how Trustly makes its proposition possible. While Trustly is ramping up its U.S. presence, it does have timing on its side. In this pandemic-constrained age, merchants will be looking for lower cost payments and certainty. Trustly appears to have attributes to meet those concerns.


In our payments education and payments consulting work, we frequently discuss payments “rails” – the networks and systems that move money either between banks in the open lop payments model or within a single operator’s closed loop network. Think cards, wires, and ACH when you hear “open loop.” Think PayPal when you hear “closed loop.”

Each set of rails connects to an account of some kind. And has to present itself to the end user to make payment initiation easy.

We know how to write a check and understand how a wire is initiated. We all know how to initiate a card transaction at both the physical point of sale and online. There’s another important system that most of use all the time if we’re employed. If we actually use it to send a payment, we might know what it’s really called. That, of course, is the automated clearing house, the ACH system.

The ACH has incredible attributes. Almost every financial institution connects to it so the network effect is huge. And, for the financial institutions that use it, it’s very inexpensive. It can be used to both credit or debit an account.

But it has some big shortcomings, too. It runs in batch, overnight and a couple of times during the day. It is not a real time payment. There is no authorization. And when a debit transaction is initiated, the system has no way of knowing if there are funds in the account to be debited.

A number of companies have come and gone over the years who have tried to take advantage of its cost and ubiquity but have been unable to overcome competition from cards, especially debit cards, or the challenges of fraud and security.

But more modern tools are available today from both the technology and the rules/regulations angles that make the ability to pay a merchant from one’s own bank account, certain for both parties, possible.

That’s the topic of this Payments on Fire® episode. Trustly has combined broad connectivity into the ACH system with machine learning to effectively guarantee payments to merchants at a lower cost than debit cards. It’s a fascinating example of how new tech can broaden the utility of a system that is decades old.

Take a listen to Craig McDonald, Chief Business Officer of Trustly and George as they discuss how Trustly makes its proposition possible. While Trustly is ramping up its U.S. presence, it does have timing on its side. In this pandemic-constrained age, merchants will be looking for lower cost payments and certainty. Trustly appears to have attributes to meet those concerns.

 

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.