What Will 2016 Be “The Year Of” In Payments?

I guess it’s quite prophetic that 2016 is the Chinese Year of the Monkey, though I suspect that the Year of the Headless Chicken will be a little more accurate.

Every year, someone either predicts a ‘Year of x‘, or claims that the previous year was ‘The Year of y‘, and usually it’s the very organisations with a direct vested interest in the technology in question. 2015 was the Year of Biometrics, 2014 was the Year of Encryption, and so on.

Thankfully the financial industry at large took a step back and put these, and many other technologies, into an appropriate perspective. Mostly. Especially biometrics, where numerous vendors were dribbling all over themselves when Apple Pay finally hit the mainstream. We heard cries of “The password is dead!” and “Biometrics is the future of authentication!”, all of which was utter nonsense in light of the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2).

Yes, many banks have invested significant sums in biometrics (usually to enhance their mobile banking app security), and no, these investments will not be wasted, but from what I’ve seen most of them have missed the point; that authentication is just a temporary means to an end.

The result is that those Hell bent on disruption will fail without collaboration, those with a single authentication technology will fail without partnerships in a multi-factor solution, and those interested only in keeping things the same will be left behind. The only hope of achieving a balance between all of these things is to ask the only stakeholders who have no idea what they want;

The consumer.

Even after a few years of dramatic changes and innovation in payments, what everyone seems to have missed – or at least underestimated – is that payments (or finance in general) is far too complex for the average consumer to understand. In my opinion it’s been made too complex to even be sustainable, especially when you consider that the concept of a payment is actually very simple; I have a value stored here, and I want to transfer it over there in exchange for a product or service. HOW that happens should not be the consumer’s concern, only the security and efficiency of that transaction should.

I have no problem paying my bank to protect my stored value (i.e. money), as long as it’s reasonable. I have no problem paying someone to protect (and accept liability for) the transfer of that money somewhere else, as long as it’s reasonable. What I DO object to is the numerous intermediaries in the current system who not only make the process expensive, but ridiculously slow and inefficient.

But what I really want is for payments to go away entirely, at least from my perspective as a consumer. I want the HOW of the payment to be handled in the background, and the decision made by a trusted third party who found the best all-round deal for the product/service of my choosing. Whether that’s finding a plumber, or shopping for groceries, the only innovations I care about are ones that take care of the things I hate doing; like filling out online payment forms, or lining up in Sainsbury’s to pay for a pint of milk.

So, in truth, 2016 will likely be the Year of Nothing Much Happened. Truly beneficial change will take a long time, and while the pieces necessary for innovation are already available, getting all of the stakeholders to agree on the way forward will extend way beyond this year, and likely next.

I’m hoping that 2016 will actually be the Year of Getting the Future-State Plan Right, but I somehow doubt it.

 

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