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 164 – 5th Annual RTP Network Update – Steve Ledford, The Clearing House

On this episode of Payments on Fire®, George Peabody and Yvette Bohanan welcome back Steve Ledford from The Clearing House to share the innovations about Real Time Payments (RTP) on this 5th Annual RTP Network Update.

Steve speaks about the updates on RTP payments rules, the billing system, what is being done to prevent authorized payment frauds and the massive improvement on the cross border payments with the Project Nexus.

 

 

 

Episode 163 – Payments Infrastructure and Foreign Policy

In this timely episode of Payments on Fire®, Yvette Bohanan has gathered teammates at Glenbrook (Elizabeth McQuerry, Erin McCune, Cici Northup, and Joanna Wisniecka) to discuss the payment infrastructure supporting the foreign policy actions being taken as a result of the situation in Ukraine.

In the past week, the UK, EU, and Switzerland announce sanctions against Russia, – with
Switzerland setting aside a long-standing tradition of neutrality in participating in these actions and the US announcing sanctions against Russia’s central bank in a move that prohibits Americans from doing any business with the bank as well as freezes its assets within the United States. These measures are also targeting the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation. As markets opened February 28, the Russian Ruble had fallen 29% against the dollar to an all-time low, after the U.S., European Union and Canada agreed to disconnect some Russian banks from the SWIFT interbank messaging system.

We’re going to explore SWIFT and other payment infrastructure elements used to implement foreign policy on a routine basis, and why these recent announcements, in some respects, are taking this to a new level.


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Episode 162 – Stablecoins, Cross-border Payments & Interoperability – Ran Goldi, First Digital Assets Group

In this episode of Payments on Fire®, George Peabody will have back on the show two people that our listeners know well. Yvette Bohanan from Glenbrook Partners’ Education Team will co-host this episode, the second episode from 2022.

Keeping the listeners updated about the digital currency systems, Yvette and Bethany May (new Senior associates) are promoting a webinar series about Central Bank Digital Currencies in February and another one in March about cross-border payments systems. Not by coincidence, today’s guest is an expert on this topic.

George will also welcome back Ran Goldi, CEO of First Digital Asset Group to talk about the huge expansion of the stable coins business, how cryptocurrencies can benefit cross-border payments with small fees and almost instantly transfer. That would interoperability between the systems involved. Let’s hear Ran’s insight about it.


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Episode 161 – AI-ML and Bias – Ismini Psychoula, OneSpan

2022 just started and we got so much to see and learn this year. But, we are not alone in this learning journey. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence are here to stay, so we also should learn why and how it works for the payments industry.

Starting this season of Payments on Fire®, we will have Ismini Psychoula discussing fundamental technology, AI and ML, and its role in financial services. Ismini is a Research Scientist at OneSpan. OneSpan is a global organization that is focused on digital banking security and e-signatures, delivering trust and business productivity solutions for more than 10,000 customers in 100 countries. In the financial industry, more than half of the top 100 global banks rely on OneSpan solutions to protect their online, mobile and ATM channels.

Ismini Psychoula got a PhD in Computer Science with a thesis about Privacy-Preserving Machine Learning for Smart Healthcare. At OneSpan she’s Researching and designing privacy preserving and explainable machine learning models for financial systems.

In this episode, you’ll hear about Ethical AI, AI feeding and monitoring, Machine Learning bias and how it all affects the financial system. We’ll take a deep dive in the research to prevent fraud and increase transaction security.

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Episode 160 – Innovation in Payments Workshop – Russ Jones, Glenbrook Partners

The new year is coming with lots of innovations for the payment industry. Some of them will impact some companies and/or all the industry, changing how things work on the marketplace. George welcomes back Russ Jones to Payment on Fire and they will uncover the lens of the game-changing innovations, including talking about the upcoming events and changes that really matter to the arc of the payment industry. Glen is a Payments Consultant, Analyst, Co-Author of “Payments Systems in the U.S.” and partner at Glenbrook Partners.

In this episode, Russ will discuss the Webinar presented by him and Yvette Bohanan between December 15th and 16th about innovation and payments, with topics like types of payment systems and technologies, how the different use cases lay out what’s unique about each, variations and differences around the world and how the payments industry is structured.

You’ll also hear about core system modernization, systems running 24/7/365, strong customer payment authentications and several other topics. Let’s hear George Peabody and Russ Jones talk about what to expect for the payments industry in 2022.

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Episode 159 – The Top KPI of International E-Commerce – Ralph Dangelmaier, CEO, BlueSnap

If you’re an e-commerce merchant selling across border, you’ve got to answer a few questions:

  1. What methods of payment should you support in each country you sell in? Not every country is as infatuated with cards as is the U.S.
  2. And even if customers in those countries are using cards, how do you optimize your authorization rate? If you’re not sophisticated about this, your decline rate could exceed 40%, a huge hit. It turns out routing transactions via local acquiring banks is one answer. But how do you do that?
  3. Subscription services store card numbers or a tokenized version to initiate periodic payment transactions. They never want to have a card declined because they, honestly, don’t want to have to contact customers to request they update their card account info because some portion of those customers are going to decide to cancel little used subscriptions. How does a merchant mitigate those lost payments?

Serving the e-commerce needs of merchants operating across borders is a primary focus of payments service provider BlueSnap. In this conversation with BlueSnap CEO Ralph Dangelmaier and Payments on Fire® host George Peabody, you’ll hear how multiple discrete steps combine to keep AUTH rates high and costs in line.

Frictionless is not a Differentiator

Ralph is a well respected payments industry veteran. He shares his views on fintech and the opportunities available to new players in payments. He makes the point that, with 30% of users using wallets, cached payment credentials, and one-click payments, the frictionless checkout is no longer the differentiator. It’s cost control and AUTH optimization

AUTH Optimization is the Priority

He also discusses the needs of his primary customers: mid-tier e-commerce merchants doing $1B in sales but needing help around the particular challenges of operating internationally.

Ralph makes the point that revenue optimization results from doing multiple smaller things right. Card authorization rate optimization requires multiple steps.

1. Use local acquiring banks to route transactions into the card networks.
2. If a merchant wants to use fewer acquirers overall, then send those acquirers more data to help them make a better decision.
3. Looking at the BIN data from individual banks, determine which acquirers have the highest AUTH rate against a given issuer. Perform A/B tests with local acquirers against each issuer in order to determine the best path for a card transaction.
4. Adjust fraud settings to match local conditions
5. And plan to adjust these parameters on a regular basis. Things change so “set and forget” is not an option.

In other words, small things, in aggregate, really matter. And make each step, as Ralph says, “local, local, local.”

Episode 158 – The High Pain of Push Payment Scams – PJ Rohall, Featurespace

We all know that there are risks in payments. When the controls we put in place to manage risk fail, fraud is the result. Fraud, or fraud prevention, is now an industry using many of the same tools to defeat our controls that we use to defend our payments systems.

A reality is that fraudsters aren’t discouraged when we erect a strong new defense around one weakness. They just move on to the next, more easily exploited vulnerability. We put EMV chips on cards, and fraudsters moved to card-not-present transaction fraud. We have card data breaches so we tokenize payment credentials to make stolen data less valuable. So, fraudsters work to gain control of our accounts through account takeover fraud (ATO).

ATO fraud has become made easier through data breaches, social networks, and all of the other ways our data is shared online. Fraudsters can capture our user IDs and passwords and even to intercept multi-factor authentication messages. (Note to self: SMS text as an authentication factor isn’t strong enough).

ATO is a problem but it can be defeated by biometrics, behavioral analytics, and other techniques like truly strong passwords. Use them.

The Latest Scourge: Authorized Push Payment Fraud and the Scams That Drive It

A fraud vector now favored by a good part of the Fraudster Industrial Complex is authorized push payment fraud, or APP fraud.

Enabled by social engineering, a fraudster uses what they know about an individual to convince the victim to send the fraudster money, often by masquerading as a representative of a trusted entity like a bank, a telco, or a government agency. Other times the scammer poses as a distant relative or potential love interest. Preying on vulnerable, often older, individuals, these frauds can be elaborate, taking years of grooming if the payoff in victim monies is big enough.

For the victim, the impact can be devastating and the pain enduring. Our work in developing markets has taught us that these frauds can take food off of the family table or derail plans for the family business. In developed markets, we hear of victims losing their life savings.

These are not rare cases. UK Finance has just reported that, for the first time, APP fraud exceeded card fraud during 1H 2021. Total losses due to APP scams rose to £355.3 million in H1 2021 , up 71 percent over the same period in 2020. The number of cases rose 60 percent to 106,164. Note that banks there are trying to restore lost funds to victims but the percentage of losses recovered has been, at best, 45 percent.

This is better than nothing–but imagine the pain. (The report also contains an excellent description of the many types of scams employed by fraudsters.)

That is breathtaking. And a warning of what’s to come in the far larger US market.

To help raise awareness and protect individuals and businesses, UK Finance has produced an excellent informative site, along with resources, called Take Five to Stop Fraud. It’s worth a long visit.

No Simple Solutions to Payment Fraud

Payment is tough to prevent because it is hard to detect. The victims properly authenticate themselves to their bank. From an authentication perspective at the bank, everything looks fine. It’s just that the accountholder sends the money to the fraudster or to a money mule hired by the fraudster for provision of an intermediate, less suspicious, bank account to receive the funds.
The good news as this Payments on Fire® episode discusses, there are payment technologies and actions that can make a difference. As of now, however, we are vulnerable to these frauds.

For more on fraud types and how to sort them out, visit the Federal Reserve’s FraudClassifier℠ Model.

This is Going to Get Worse

Fraudsters are good at APP scams because they are rewarding. They are difficult to detect although there are techniques available. And it’s low risk because getting caught and then successfully prosecuted is rare. Therefore, we can expect a lot more APP fraud as instant push payments grow in popularity.

What we don’t know, in the US, is the extent of APP fraud in today’s environment. While individual firms—whether closed loop systems like Venmo or open loop ones like Zelle—no doubt track APP fraud internally, there is no legal or industry requirement to report those numbers. In admirable fashion, UK Finance has required fraud reporting for years in the knowledge that situational awareness leads to risk reduction.

We Need the Numbers to Improve

The great business management thinker of the last century, Peter Drucker, is often quoted to say: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Applied to US fraud reporting statistics, a more accurate rendition would be: “If you won’t measure it, you won’t improve it.”

There has to be a way for the industry to develop and share solid metrics that inform everyone without embarrassing or exposing individual entities to undue litigation, never mind ridicule.

Painful Human Impact

While comprehensive fraud reporting in the US is unavailable, there are certainly plenty of stories to illustrate the pain involved and how many, out of shame or embarrassment, choose to hide what happened rather than report it to authorities. Ouch.

Scammers Love Push Payments

To shed light on APP fraud, its impact, and some approaches to detecting fraudster coercion and the misdirected payments it causes, join Glenbrook’s George Peabody and PJ Rohall, Fraud Subject Matter Expert at Featurespace, a fraud management software company. PJ is also the co-founder of About Fraud.Com, a community site for the fraud management industry.

In this episode George and PJ discuss the growth of APP fraud and techniques to detect and deter it. You’ll hear him describe examples of the impact APP fraud has caused on individuals, many least able to weather this kind of financial damage. Psychological damage is real.

PJ outlines how scammers prey on people’s vulnerabilities – our fears, desires, greed, and worries. Scam types include romance scams, business email compromise (phishing), investment scams, purchase scams, and more.

What Can We Do?

Fighting back against payments scammers is an ecosystem-wide task. As PJ makes clear, every stakeholder has a role. Yes, regulators, financial institutions, the social media giants and the rest of Big Tech, mobile network operators, payment networks all have a role to play in educating us so we can raise higher barriers to the fraudsters.

But it’s not just up to those big entities. As individuals, we can contribute to the solution, to the work of prevention.

If you’re reading this, you’re broadly in the payments industry. You know how serious this is and will become over time. Here’s some actions you can take:

  • Read through the UK Finance’s Take Five to Stop Fraud site. Its toolkits are a great resource that can help guide your discussion with friends and family. Nothing could be more British than its Take Five Over Tea with Loved Ones PDF.
  • Tell your family, especially your elders and the innocent. Children need guidance and guardrails online. Here’s another reason for them.
  • Tell your friends what you know. Ask them what their experience has been. Tell them what to do.
  • Take a few minutes when you’re with your wider community, in the real world and online. Tell them how scammers operate. Let them know how sophisticated and patient the fraudster can be.
  • Tell everyone that if they ever feel pressured to send money, that’s a sure sign of a scam.
  • Offer to help. That can help buy time and calm emotions.

 

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Episode 157 – Experts Deep Dive on Financial Health and Inclusion

As part of Glenbrook’s ongoing efforts to highlight new approaches to financial inclusion in the US, Erin McCune and Justin Pituch recently spoke with a panel of expert practitioners in the financial health space: Kimberley Gartner, Arjan Schutte, and Ryan Falvey.

Topics discussed include:

  • History of the financial health space
  • Current trends in financial health and financial inclusion
  • Key innovations helping financially vulnerable consumers
  • Advice for financial health practitioners in the payments world

Meet the Panelists

Previously, we’ve written about how financial wellbeing is measured in the US, and what fintech companies are doing to improve outcomes for low income consumers. In this podcast, we bring together a trio of experts to share their perspectives on the state of the financial health space. All three worked at the Financial Health Network early in their careers, and have since moved on to exciting new ventures. Kimberley is Chief Growth Officer at Canary, a company that helps businesses establish emergency relief funds for their employees. Arjan and Ryan both work in the venture capital space; Arjan leads Core Innovation Capital and Ryan heads up Financial Venture Studio.

What’s Changed?

All three panelists have been active in the world of financial health since the early 2000s, and naturally we wanted to know what’s changed since those early days. Ryan and Arjan both worked at ShoreBank, a Chicago-based community development bank. The bank spun out the Center for Financial Services Innovation, which would eventually become the Financial Health Network. In an era before smartphones, API calls, and open banking, there was a greater focus on education and community investment. But education can only do so much when harmful behaviors are incentivized by financial services providers. And community development banks, with their deep ties to specific neighborhoods, are inherently unable to scale. ShoreBank folded in 2010.

Where Are We Going?

Since then, new approaches have transformed financial health. Arjan noted that the scope of financial health has expanded to include more Americans who may not appear financially vulnerable on the surface, but are actually living paycheck to paycheck with no emergency funds. Ryan pointed out that fintech firms are disrupting traditional financial services paradigms by placing greater emphasis on the value of information than on capital. In a way, this is creating a more democratic environment in financial services by changing incentives for providers in a way that deemphasizes attracting wealthy consumers. Additionally, Kimberley pointed out that corporations are increasingly recognizing the needs of their employees and stepping up to help them through hard times.

Other trends on our radar may only be fleeting: for example, despite some interest from lawmakers in DC and California, our panelists aren’t particularly keen on postal banking. In an age of increasing digitization, turning post offices into bank branches doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Your phone is the new bank branch, and the vast majority of Americans have smartphones in 2021.

What Do Payments Professionals Need to Know?

This is all interesting history and context, but we wanted to make sure our panelists left us with tangible next steps for our payments professional listeners. Kimberley highlights the value of innovation in faster payments; financial health improves when consumers have access to funds right when they need them. She also notes that payments professionals should understand the everyday financial lives of American consumers and recommends reading Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider’s The Financial Diaries. Ryan advocates for keeping an open mind and disrupting entrenched practices. And Arjan wants us to create financial products that aren’t just frictionless, but aligned with our better selves.

We’re hopeful that folks in the financial health space are pushing the industry in the right direction, and we’re excited to see what Kimberley, Arjan, Ryan, and others like them bring to the market next.

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Episode 156 – How to Make Financial Health a Reality – Mimi Joy, Financial Health Network

This podcast with Mimi Joy explores consumer financial wellbeing in the US and initiatives to improve access to quality affordable financial services for low and moderate income Americans. Mimi shares her perspective as Head of Partnerships at the Financial Health Network, a leading authority in the space.

Topics discussed include:

  • The current state of the financial health landscape
  • Research on the effect of the pandemic on low and moderate income consumers and their financial wellbeing
  • New approaches to serving the needs of vulnerable consumers
  • Key financial health lessons for payments professionals

What is financial health?

As the economic recovery continues, financial health is attracting increased attention from stakeholders across the financial industry. The Financial Health Network, previously CFSI, works with stakeholders including banks, technology providers, and others to improve financial health by enhancing consumer resilience and increasing opportunity. The first component of this goal, resilience, refers to a household’s ability to withstand a financial shock. The second, opportunity, refers to a household’s ability to save for the future, for housing, education, or retirement.

The Financial Health Network measures the financial health of American families through periodic research including its ongoing Pulse Survey and the annual Finhealth Spend Report. Both track the financial lives of Americans, examining the effects of government stimulus, predatory lending, and new financial technology on how consumers, and especially vulnerable consumers, transact, save, and plan for the future. This research shows that low and moderate income households bear disproportionate costs for everyday financial services.

What are the levers of change?

It doesn’t have to be that way, and providers are realizing the opportunity to serve the broad swath of American consumers who lack access to quality affordable financial services and associated products. The changes don’t have to be monumental; banks eliminating overdraft fees or allowing grace periods before the imposition of an overdraft fee are good examples of seemingly mundane changes that can be hugely beneficial to consumers living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Outside of the traditional banking sector, fintechs are helping low and moderate income consumers make payments, borrow, and save through innovative new products.

What do payments professionals need to know?

As fintech players continue to expand their focus on historically underserved consumers and banks retool their offerings to better meet the needs of the segment, there’s plenty of opportunity for payments professionals to get involved in the changes going on in the industry.

Real time payments, for example, offer an opportunity to speed up access to cash for people who need their next paycheck as soon as possible. And advances in cross-border payments are making it easier for workers in the US to send money to family abroad. Providers can also use data to help consumers make informed decisions about spending and saving, and help people without a credit history borrow based on transaction patterns.

With all these developments, it’s an exciting time to be a payments professional thinking about financial health.

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Episode 155 – Enabling Payments Operations and the Multiplayer Fintech Ecosystem – Dimitri Dadiomov and Rachel Pike, Modern Treasury

We continue our series on fintechs and how they improve payments and data handling flows.

One of the major trends that has emerged in the last five years is the “as-a-service” phenomenon. Payments as a service companies – true payment platforms for those offering payment capability as well as those needing to make and accept payments – are broadly available. Stripe is just one example. We are now seeing “banking as a service” providers proliferate.

We spoke with Robin Gandhi of TripActions in Episode 146. TripActions is a fintech focused on the travel needs and expense management of its enterprise customers. And what’s become clear from that conversation and many others is the extent to which fintechs serving specific vertical markets are able to focus so crisply because they can partner with these “as a service” providers who have done the hard, back office work of integration to banks, payments systems, and enterprise software.

We’re calling this trend “multiplayer fintech”. It enables firms like TripActions to take very comprehensive capabilities to market that no single provider could ever hope to do. And to, in a matter of months, deploy more efficient payment transaction flows through process redesign, modern user experience approaches, and with multiple revenue opportunities for the provider.

In this episode, we speak to one of the leading enablers and participants in multiplayer fintech, a company that has done the hard work of software enablement of payment operations, those challenging back office services. We are joined by Modern Treasury’s CEO Dimitri Dadiomov, its Chief Growth Officer Rachel Pike, and Erin McCune, Glenbrook’s B2B practice leader.

A True Fintech

One of the pleasures of producing Payments on Fire® is hearing the creation stories of fintechs like Modern Treasury. And, as with other firms, the business of Modern Treasury grew out of the tool set that Dmitri and his colleagues had to build in order to delivery the services of a mortgage industry firm they’d started. Integrating multiple financial institutions into their payments flow proved challenging given the number of banks and their typical reliance on legacy infrastructure. Speaking with other fintechs addressing other markets affirmed the breadth of those difficulties. Modern Treasury’s raison d’être was established.

In enterprise payments, payments operations is especially challenging. Nothing is as simple as tapping a card or writing a check. Challenges include payment initiation from inside the right application, approval management and controls, reconciliation, and reporting.

In classic fintech fashion, Modern Treasury has taken a design approach that starts with the user experience and process efficiency. No more automation of previously paper-based processes. This is about new replacement processes.

APIs Everywhere

Following the fintech playbook, Modern Treasury’s offer is based on an extensive set of APIs that support multiple payment methods including ACH, wires, check, the Real Time Payment (RTP) network, global payout capabilities, connection to the Canadian EFT system, and digital currency exchange specialist Silvergate Exchange Network, another fintech.

External account verification is supported via microdeposits and through a partnership with the fintech Plaid.

Synchronization of payment activity into accounting is made possible by connections into QuickBooks and NetSuite.

The multiplayer fintech theme is clear here, both in the build-out of Modern Treasury’s own operations as well as in its role as a payments operations platform for other providers.

So, listen to this episode. And, if you know how a particular industry works, dream of what you could assemble from building blocks like these.

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