Earlier today, I opened an email window, typed in my boss’s name, cc’d email@example.com, and entered $5 in the subject
line. I sent the email, and Square sent back a simple request for my debit card number. My boss received a similar request, he entered his debit information, and the money will show up in his account soon.
The pros: no sharing of account number or routing number, no new account to set up or password to remember, no need for cash on hand; no transaction fee for either of us. The cons: waiting a few days for the funds and security that relies more on trust and fraud detection than on traditional safeguards.
Read more in the Nov. 20 payments focus report:
- Digital Wallet Year-End Update Reveals Mixed Results
- Evolution From Checks Takes Collaboration: Guest Opinion
This transaction solved a problem for me by taking most of the friction out of a P2P payment. Everyone from Apple to PayPal to Walmart to Verizon to the latest garage start-up has a new and better way to become part of the payments value chain. There’s a constant sense that something big is just on the horizon and that credit unions better pay attention if they’re going to survive in this brave new world.
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At Filene’s summer colloquium “Future of Payments,” in Salt Lake City, we brought together experts from both in and outside the credit union system to get a handle on how the rapidly changing payments field will impact our service offerings, revenue opportunities, and member relationships. Credit unions can’t afford to take a “wait and see” approach to the payments conundrum.
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Wait and see doesn’t work because tomorrow’s payments will not simply digitize today’s payments. After all, magstripes and cash are very effective, deeply engrained, and convenient. Instead, tomorrow’s digital wallets will bring many existing services under the same umbrella.
For example, today I can spend with my credit union debit card, but I cannot get merchant offers or share about a brag-worthy purchase with my debit card. Tomorrow’s digital wallet will allow me to do those things, probably from inside a singular app.
Consider the smartphone. Cameras, calculators, telephones and email devices all had distinguished histories before the iPhone (or the Palm Treo, or the IBM Simon). But once consumers could conveniently use all of those functions in one device, they were hooked. The digital wallet has not had its iPhone moment yet, but it’s coming.
So why not wait? Because the payments relationship is too valuable to lose. Today, it’s the debit cards, credit cards, and checks that keep members connected. But if those relationships dissolve quickly, credit unions could become the Blackberry of the financial services space: the mere depository with all the member engagement, revenue and new accounts flowing to companies with better data, better design, or better offers. So what should credit unions go and do?
Fortunately, financial institutions still hold the pole position with consumers. But track the market by paying attention to payments stories in trade publications, but venture beyond your usual stops to sources like pymnts.com and videos from Money 2020.
Even the largest credit unions can’t show the scale needed for partnerships like the deals agreement announced earlier this year between Visa and Chase. But through processors like CSCU, CO-OP and PSCU, credit unions become among the biggest issuers around.
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Heightened engagement with your payment partner and linkups among the processors, technology innovators, and merchants will assure that credit unions have a place at the table.
Test and test
We will see incremental change rather than revolutionary change, but today’s CEOs need to hire smart payments leaders and allow them to test emerging programs with members. Even if you don’t find the right approach the first time, you’ll be building your ability and uncovering members’ preferences along the way.
Ben Rogers is research director at the Filene Research Institute in Madison, Wis.