Mobility Matters: Is This the Year for P2P?
For years, person to person payments — P2P — have ranked high on just about every list of the probable next big things in financial services.
Just one problem: usage remains anemic, just a tiny blip on the money movement screen.
But, say the proponents with ever louder volume, that may be changing now.
Know this: leading credit unions — the $56 billion Navy Federal in Vienna, Va., the $11.9 billion BECU in Tukwila, Wash., the $5.3 billion Digital Federal Credit Union in Marlborough, Mass., and the $1.9 billion Municipal Credit Union in New York City — are beginning to closely eye P2P with a higher, renewed interest.
Three things happened that, suddenly, are positioning P2P in a faster track.
First: “Everybody believes mobile will be a key to P2P use,” said Chris Burfield, vice president of money movement at the Jacksonville, Fla.-based FIS.
The reality is that, today, very few credit unions have enabled P2P in their mobile apps. But as more do, adoption will soar, Burfield suggested.
The second change: “Real time will be a key to P2P,” said Marc West, senior vice president, electronic payments at Fiserv. Presently, most P2P moves over the ACH rails, which means transfers take up to four days in many cases. At Fiserv — and also at FIS, according to Burfield — the push is on to power P2P in real time. That means if a user is standing at a swap meet booth and really wants that Cheetah Chrome poster for a punk rock collection, he/she keys in a little info and just about that fast, the cash will show up in the vendor’s email.
A third factor that slowed adoption: Initially, many credit unions hoped to use P2P to generate new revenues by charging per transaction. Current thinking is to forget about that.
“Institutions that charge get markedly lower adoption,” Burfield said.
Put those three factors together — free, real time, and mobile — and, said the experts, that is when P2P will explode as a payments tool that replaces many checks and even a lot of cash.
How close is that?
Understand this: the better question is, will credit unions have a role in any of it?
Mary Monahan, an executive vice president at Javelin Strategy + Research, has for some time believed that P2P is for financial institutions to win; but also, to lose and, increasingly, she thinks the latter is a possibility.
Said Monahan in an interview: “I still think financial institutions can win this, but we are seeing much more innovation from the non-banks.”
Case in point: Square Cash — a P2P service debuted by the company that lets just about anybody set up a merchant account for accepting credit cards — rolled out in late 2013. Sending a P2P transfer involves sending an email to a recipient, CCing Square, entering the dollar amount in the subject line … done. It is that easy.
Using the service requires only a U.S.-issued debit card with a Mastercard or Visa logo. Ditto for collecting payments. The service, incidentally, presently is free.
That’s symptomatic of the strides non-banks are making.
What are credit unions doing? Many now recognize that P2P will matter, soon, especially for a younger demographic. And those institutions are charging forward.
BECU is a case in point.
Howie Wu, vice president of virtual banking, said BECU members — using Fiserv’s Popmoney P2P via BECU — monthly transfer nearly $15 million in and out.
One reason for this success is that at BECU, Popmoney is free, although there’s an option to pay $2 to get faster money movement.
A surprise at BECU: The average transaction weighs in at a hefty $600.
“We find many members are paying their rent with it,” Wu said.
“We position this as a convenience tool,” Wu added. “It helps our members believe we are keeping up with the Googles.”
Wu’s one regret is that BECU has yet to integrate P2P into its mobile app, “but we are working on that.”
Cross-country at DCU, Julie Moran, vice president of support services, said, “We have a successful Popmoney implementation. We are processing around 350 P2P transactions per month.”
But Moran, working with other DCU executives, has a plan she believes will increase that number dramatically. The first step, she said, will be eliminating the current $2 fee per transaction. Usage is not high enough to generate significant cash flow, so the DCU thinking now is to make P2P a member service.
“We will make it free soon,” Moran said.
Step two: “We are looking at how to get it into our mobile app,” Moran said. There are some technical complications, she indicated, but solving this is emerging as a priority. “P2P has to be on mobile, we know that,” she said.
At Navy Federal, Meghan Gound, assistant vice president for eChannels, said that presently what the institution offers is a very popular member-to-member money transfer tool, but Navy Federal is researching expanding it to allow sending money to anyone.
“We are looking to provide this service this year. The demand is there,” she said.
In New York City, Municipal Credit Union — powering P2P via Jack Henry’s iPay — is seeing “steady growth in P2P,” said Darin Garcia, senior manager of e-banking. “Usage grows month to month.”
Garcia said Municipal logged more than 700 P2P payments in January, up from 600 in November. The service is free to members, who can initiate a payment simply by directing it to a person’s email address.
“We have not done a lot to promote this,” Garcia said, “but we are developing a campaign now.”
Garcia’s one complaint: “Our P2P is not presently integrated into our mobile app. There are some technical issues. We are working on that now.”
Enthusiastic as some credit unions sound about P2P, don’t assume that all credit unions are rushing to broaden P2P. Many, knowing P2P’s disappointing adoption history, remain sitting on a skeptical sidelines.
At the $2.2 billion Affinity Federal Credit Union in Basking Ridge, N.J., CEO John Fenton wrote in an email to CU Times: “We have members who use Popmoney through their Affinity accounts, so it's not that we don't offer it. We are really focused on the broader topic of mobile technology, but the landscape is changing rapidly and we are also paying attention to developments like Popmoney. There is just so much you can focus on at one time and I'm not sure we can say Affinity has a position on Popmoney right now.”
In that uncertainty, Fenton likely speaks for many credit union top executives.
But, listen up, this just may be the year for P2P, if institutions succeed in mobilizing it, making it free, and making it real time.
Do that and the appeal may be immense.
Fail to do that and, quite likely, usage of P2P through credit unions will continue to sputter.
But know that the non-banks, from Square to Google, are rushing hard into P2P and they just may strike the winning formula.