Payments Innovation Should NOT be Disruptive!

By now I think everyone has heard the phrase ‘Disruptive Innovation’, as defined by; “an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.“. This phase is especially bandied around in payments.

But how many of you have heard the phrase; ‘Sustaining Innovation’, which; “does not create new markets or value networks but rather only evolves existing ones with better value, allowing the firms within to compete against each other’s sustaining improvements.

So if you accept that a payment itself is just a way for you to access your stored value (what we call money) any time / place of your choosing, why is everyone so interesting in disrupting the existing payment ecosystem? And by “everyone” I of course mean those who are trying to either break into market, or those trying to wrest even more control for themselves. Non-cash payments work [for the most part], and you have a large degree of faith in your bank’s ability to protect your monetary assets, do you really want the whole thing to change? Do you even know what it is that you want that’s different from what you have today?

Do things even need to change? Yes, they do. Are there innovations available NOW that make the payments process easier, cheaper, and more secure for the consumer? Yes, there are. Can we expect the entire payment industry to throw out everything they have spent billions on over the last few decades, are used BY billions, just to make room for every start-up with a good idea? No, we can’t, and that’s the real issue here.

In the last 10 years there have only been 2 true disruptors in the payments industry; the mobile phone, and block chains (Bitcoin et al), neither of which has achieved anywhere near its full potential. Yet. Not because the technologies are flawed [necessarily], but because the introduction OF the technologies was done poorly. For mobile devices, the payments challenges included the ‘fight’ between NFC and BlueTooth, the numerous options for security on the device (Secure Elements, Trusted Execution Environments and so on), and the presumed insecurity of the technology overall. For block chains is was, and still is, the almost complete lack of understanding of how they even work in the first place. I’ve looked into them and I still find the concept nearly incomprehensible.

But even these disruptors need current context, and they represent a fundamental shift from our overly complicated view of payments back to its basics; I go to work to earn value (money), the value gets stored somewhere (a bank), and I access the value when I want it regardless of time or location (mobile payment). This would suggest that the only disruption we really need is the disintermediation of some of the players. There are simply too many middle-men whose only input to the new world of payments will be value erosion. Thank God the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are too busy bickering amongst themselves or this would be even more complicated!

As a consumer who has a very good idea of what he want to see change, I know that only those who help the payments industry evolve will have a lasting positive impact, and this will only be though collaboration and fair competition.

The greedy can stay home.

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