Thursday, April 22, 2010

What EU airport regulators can and should learn from SEPA

"The European single sky". In the wake of the volcanic ash disaster that brought European skies to a standstill, experts are calling for a more united approach across Europe's aviation regulators.

The handling of airport closures across Europe highlighted the fragmented approach that exists among European governments, airport regulators and air traffic control. Commentators now suggest that  a more harmonised approach to air traffic control and airport safety across the EU is needed.

What has this got to do with transaction banking, you may ask? Well efforts to unite Europe's skies reminded me about efforts to unite European payments under the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) initiative. And if SEPA is anything to go by airport regulators could have their job cut out for them.

Of course, SEPA not only tried to harmonise existing European payment schemes, but instead proposed replacing them with new pan-European schemes for cross-border credit transfers and direct debits, which end users have been slow to adopt. No one is proposing a new EU-wide airport traffic control system per se, but linking airport traffic control systems across Europe does present its challenges, and one can already hear the national politicking and objections that are likely to emerge as different national regulators and interests jockey for position.

Europe may have a single currency, but it appears that the EU is far from united when it comes to most other things and EU-wide payment mechanisms or airport traffic control systems, are no exception. While these concepts may sound good on paper, in reality they are difficult to implement and are often hijacked or impeded by parochial interests.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Paying the price of electronic payments

Cash is no longer king, despite the fact that for the last decade or so we have heard transaction banks bang on about the supremacy of cash, at least to corporate treasurers that are cash-rich or looking to unlock cash trapped in inefficient parts of their business.

However, a report published by the UK Payments Council, concludes that cash's reign as king is over with cash usage rising just 7% over 10 years and comprising just 59% of all transactions (down from 73% a decade ago), with more consumers using electronic forms of payment such as debit cards, online payments or contactless cards.

Unlike the US, which while declining year on year, still has some challenges in terms of weaning companies and their customers off paper cheques, by 2018 the Payments Council predicts that fewer than 1% of UK payments will be made by cheque.

Yet, with the increasing use of electronic payments whether it is debit or credit cards, ACH or online, comes the increased risk or threat of fraud, particularly as transaction volumes rise. Jim Woodworth, head of business services at payments software provider, ACI Worldwide says financial institutions need to ensure that their systems are able to support the growth in the number of electronic payments, while reducing the risk of fraud.

Nick Ogden, founder and CEO of Voice Commerce, which provides voice authentication solutions for payments, also highlighted the heightened fraud implications associated with increased use of electronic payments whether it is cards or mobile. "The threat of fraud and identity theft becomes more prevalent as hackers get better at cracking these new payment technologies," he says.

This highlights the need for the industry to devise more secure means of authentication, that are cost effective and non-intrusive for the user. So as more payments are made online, banks not only face the challenge of ensuring their legacy payments infrastructure, some of which dates back 30 years or more, is up to scratch, but also that they are able to monitor and detect potentially fraudulent transactions in real time and to ascertain someone is who they say they are when making a payment without the user having to jump through too many onerous hoops.

And as electronic solutions revolutionize the way we pay, are consumers and companies likely to place more onus not only the speed and efficiency with which they can make a payment, but also how secure it is? In other words when we shop around for payment services will security be more front of mind than it has been historically?