By Bilal Soylu, CEO of XcooBee
Today, banks involved in the issuances of credit cards, and companies at the nexus of merchant services, are experiencing a rare event in the industry.
For years, digital payment innovators fought a hard battle to adopt contactless systems and create standards. The effort and push came from companies with much of the effort directed at consumers to adopt their methodology. Whether it is Samsung Pay, Google Pay or Apple Pay they all had to overcome similar hurdles – consumers were reluctant to adopt a technology that did not have a sufficient number of merchants; thus, the progress was slow.
The COVID-19 pandemic rewrote the script in a whirlwind. All of a sudden, consumers began to demand contactless payment experiences in every way imaginable. The supply side push has turned into a demand side pull and the adoption rate is spiking.
This left banks, originators and companies involved in the eco-system with an interesting dilemma – fast decisions have to be made as to which digital technology to invest in and do they bind themselves, for multiple years going forward, to a specific infrastructure.
While previously the belief was that this could be explored over a longer period of time, the current reality is that these decisions are forced on institutions “overnight”. In this light, there are many different aspects to contactless payments and originators, and banks need to make smart bets on which type should be supported.
So, let’s look at all the relevant elements of contactless payments to explore a better model for institutional support.
General Drivers of Contactless Acceptance Growths
Physical safety from virus infection by avoiding touching 3rd party equipment or allowing safe distancing from other people and/or equipment is the main driver today. It has been emphasized by many epidemiologists as a basic requirement for conducting business. Consequently, it will be no surprise that safety is the factor that underlies the rapid adoption of a number of contactless payment technologies by once reluctant consumers.
We expect this to be a primary driver well into 2021. Thus, any technology to be rolled out in the short term should enhance safety in some form or contribute in a way to the improvement of safety.
An early benefit highlighted and emphasized by contactless technology providers was the data-security aspect that surrounds the transaction. Rather than exchanging the actual credit card number, for example, a tokenization is performed to create transaction specific tokens that are then used to complete the transaction. Even when intercepted, these tokens cannot be used outside this transaction and, thus, the approach is considered to be more secure.
Although the data-security value was incessantly marketed to consumers, most had, and still have, a limited understanding of the implementation of the technology. Thus, the appeal to the consumer with this benefit was not successful. However, the increased security elements were a clearer benefit for merchants and issuers. Hence, a steady growth of terminals and accepting merchants was the result.
In general, the tokenization approach to security has been chosen for many types of contactless payment systems, this includes NFC based card chips, digital payments like Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay. However, for QR payments the use of tokenization should be verified as there are no current standards that govern its use consistently.
Convenience was the aspect of many contactless payments system that appealed the most to consumers prior to Covid-19. The ability to either very quickly conduct a transaction or very flexibly conduct a transaction drove consumer adoption. For example, being able to load many payment methods onto a mobile device that users carry with them anywhere increased the appeal of use to consumers.
Thus, when evaluating a particular contactless payment technology with a longer-term outlook the convenience aspect should be emphasized. Given the historical basis, consumers are very likely to be attracted by this aspect as the main driver of adoption again. A financial institutions’ post-Covid planning and investment models for contactless technology should consider this to be a major aspect.
Contactless Payment Categories
When we speak of contactless payment systems, we normally refer to any payment technology that can trigger a payment transaction in the physical space with direct consumer presence, but without direct contact with merchant equipment. Thus, we would exclude online and ecommerce transactions for this purpose.
We will focus on the two mainstream contactless technologies, NFC and QR payments, and review them here. Other contactless payment technologies exist but have not reached widespread adoption so we will only provide brief overview of those.
Near Field Communication (NFC) payments are the earliest form of contactless payments that found acceptance in the markets. Generally, two devices are needed and must be near each other to communicate via radio signals. Both the reader (interrogator) and sender (tag) must be within 4cm (1.5in) for the transaction to be initiated. ExxonMobile’s Speedpass is widely believed to be the first implementation of this touch and go type of pay experience that has come to exemplify NFC based contactless payments.
There are two common sub-categories from that technology today; The single card-based sender (tag) and the mobile-phone-based sender (tag). The mobile phone-based application tends to be more flexible allowing consumers to combine multiple cards into one mobile-wallet that is secured with some form with biometric access.
However, NFC signals are not uniform and different standards are used in the Far East (i.e. Japan) rather than in Europe.
NFC payments found early success in developed western markets where the population already had easy access to banking and bank issued card-based tags. However, in countries where the banking system developed later and card-based payments were not common, NFC payments did not flourish.
Thus, today, the market for NFC is mainly concentrated in Europe, Japan, and US.
The roll out of NFC requires hardware on the merchant and consumer side. The merchant hardware is normally leased, and leasing programs have been steady revenue generators for those companies. Whereas, today, the global contactless Point of Sale (POS) terminals market is poised to grow by $5.54 bn during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of 16% during the forecast period, according to research done by Technavio.
However, with the pandemic, the speed of system activation has been a key criterium for selection of the technology. In this context, delivery of hardware, setting up of POS systems and testing connectivity slows down rollouts and potential revenue.
Similarly, requiring consumers to be equipped with supporting hardware may also introduce a friction element, especially in markets where NFC has gained less momentum.
QR codes are like 3D barcodes. The user scans the QR code via a smartphone and the smartphone, then interprets the barcode and a related website or application may complete the payment process. Like NFC, this can be done very quickly without any contact between smartphone (reader) and the item or display using the QR code.
Normally, QR codes are immutable, meaning that once generated they do not change. However, there are now dynamic smart QR codes, like the ones Xcoobee offers, that can overcome this limitation.
QR codes found strong distribution in markets where banking reach was limited in some form through government or market forces. The QR payment process, in many markets, also exemplifies a jump to direct digital payment, bypassing much of the banking system for purchase transactions. Especially when QR payment systems are connected to mobile wallets the provider of the wallet handles all transaction steps in-system, reducing friction and creating an ease to use and adoption. They have found popularity mainly in China, where AliPay and WeChat pay are gaining dominant market shares.
However, with the advent of COVID and the speed advantages in implementation and cost, other non-traditional markets such as EU and US are seeing dramatic increases in use of QR payments as well.
Activation of QR code payments commonly requires merchants to simply print codes, which can be accomplished with less hardware. The integration into bank systems is handled via merchant or bank app and the consumer simply requires a smartphone.
While bank offerings in this segment tend to be limited, given the simplified requirements, QR implementation can be quick for merchants to roll out.
Other Contactless Options
There are other contactless payment technologies that are currently competing for market attention and can be grouped into a biometric group and a technology group. The biometric group includes such options as voice, facial or palm recognition-based payments while the technology group includes options like Bluetooth and Farfield-type technologies.
None of these have gained sufficient market share or have execution or security advantages that would push them ahead without concerted efforts from large market-players. Similarly, there is no consumer advantage that would drive a consumer demand-based distribution for these technologies.
NFC vs QR
Which one should you choose to support? Each one of these contactless payment methodologies has advantages and disadvantages. NFC can be nominally faster to use for consumers and more lucrative for banks, but QR codes currently reach a wider market since more phones can read them than those that can read NFC tags.
Operational simplicity and speed also favor QR code activation, but if there is already and existing NFC infrastructure this may become a secondary consideration.
Simply speaking, we are living through unprecedented times, consumers are demanding contactless payment and creating a demand side wave in exchange for safety. How each institution answers this call best will depend on circumstances and context.
Overall, it may be advisable to hedge bets and support both methodologies and offer services based on both. Evaluate customer input, and then, adopt and activate the best option for your financial institution.
Seven lessons from 2020
Rebeca Ehrnrooth, Equilibrium Capital and CEMS Alumni Association President
Attending a New Year’s luncheon on 31 December 2019, we played a game that involved predicting the world in 2020. Some of the questions included: would Uber become profitable? Would the three-decade bond rally finally come to an end? Would the US hit a recession?
Unlike any of our predictions based on a traditional approach to business and predicting, we now know that 2020 became the year where business, professional and personal plans were turned upside down, reshaped and put-on hold. The proverbial black swan had arrived.
As revealed in a new CEMS Guide to Leadership in a Post-COVID-19 World, to which I contributed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deficiencies in the 20th Century vision of leadership, giving a rare opportunity to question the status quo.
So, what are the main lessons from 2020?
- Humans are enormously adaptive. This is not an extinction scenario. The world is getting used to dealing with global human disaster which may become a recurring event. Life continues guided by new parameters.
- No sector or country is immune to rapid change. Just as the leveraged finance and equity markets ground to a halt during the Global Financial Crisis, we have seen a disruption in the financial markets (including M&A) in 2020, including a significant redistribution of wealth between sectors; think tech vs airlines and the hospitality industry. When a market is disrupted it has secondary and tertiary effects such as less work for accountants, lawyers, financiers etc.
- Location is not as important anymore. The belief that finance staff need to be based in one of the financial capitals to be effective has been forever altered. Pursuing a career in finance from anywhere is becoming possible. However, it’s likely that over time, financial controls and human interaction will move the work model back towards the traditional office approach, as work is a critical sanctuary for people. While working from home may allow more time for family, chores and sports, it is mainly effective for people who already have their internal and external networks. For junior employees it presents a notable challenge as they may be forced to spend their formative years without a chance to really build their networks.
- Change is likely to be lasting. The opportunity for alternative finance and tech focused providers is enormous and 2020 will accelerate this shift. For example, many retail banks are providing rather poor customer service, blaming the pandemic. Even the most loyal customers will be heading elsewhere. For recent graduates and current students this is a major shift; future winners and key employers may not be names we are used to seeing in the headlines.
- There will be a spotlight on leaders with visionary strategy and understanding of the operations. 2020 showed many politicians and business leaders behaving like they were playing a game of snakes and ladders, rather than executing a thought-out strategy. The next wave of thoughtful leadership is urgently required.
- Collaboration leads to success. The definition of a pandemic is an infectious disease prevalent worldwide. A global problem requires a collaborative solution rather than each country and industry on their own. Quoting Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London: “Once you have the knowledge and you share the knowledge, then you are able to take measures to push transmission much lower”. This principle is transferable to management education. In a world more complex than ever, investing in a degree is hard currency. Combined with the full global alumni network, corporate partners and schools, CEMS is capital that doesn’t depreciate.
- Resilience has become a watch word. Saint-Exupéry’s quote resonates with me: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We are in a new paradigm – so prepare for the next change. For COVID-19, while we hope that the vaccine will soon upon us, the broader long-term positive challenge remains.
Data after Brexit: How does the end of the transition affect GDPR?
By John Flynn, Principal Security Consultant at Conosco
The UK has officially left the European Union now that the transition period has ended on January 1st 2021. But this could raise issues with one of the biggest bugbears for many companies – the international transfer of personal data.
Businesses can relax, somewhat – GDPR, which took businesses months to get their heads around, is not being replaced. It will continue as the UK GDPR 2018, and will still be based on the criteria of the Data Protection Act of 2018. However, the UK will retain the right to change the UK GDPR as it sees fit in the future.
The main changes apply to those who receive data coming into the UK from Europe. Transfers from the UK to other countries can continue under existing arrangements.
We know it can be difficult to cut through the legal jargon, so we have simplified what you need to know to protect yourself and your data:
1 – Update your privacy notice
Most businesses do not have the correct clauses in place ahead of January 1st, potentially exposing their liability, should something happen to their data. All company privacy notices online will need to be updated to specifically state ‘UK GDPR’, as opposed to ‘EU GDPR’. You will also need standard contractual clauses in place, which cover both parties – those transferring and those receiving the data.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has a list of what needs to be included in the standard contractual clause here. The ICO will remain the UK regulator for data protection, regularly liaising with each EU member state.
This also applies to Multi Corporate Groups who operate in multiple countries, who need to update their documentation and privacy notice to expressly cover the data transfers. The UK has applied for an adequacy assessment, which would negate the need for contractual clauses, however this has not yet been approved by the EU.
2 – Data privacy assessments
Any company which runs applications and software should always perform a Data Privacy Impact Assessment. This was also in the guidelines before, but these assessments are now more important for those who outsource their IT operations internationally.
For example, when using a service such as a cloud-based system, the company must be sure that its service provider adheres to UK GDPR and stores the data within the European Economic Area (EEA), or has a binding corporate agreement with the company, where data is stored outside of the EEA. You should also, as mentioned above, make sure that a contractual clause is in place.
3 – Review local legislation
Contracts should now have contractual clauses that specify the responsibilities of the data controller and the data processor. If you are receiving personal data from a country territory or sector covered by a European Commission adequacy decision, the sender of the data will need to consider how to comply with its local laws on international transfers. You should check local legislation and guidance in this case.
4 – Cyber Security health check
The ICO is increasing its capacity and efforts to crack down on data breaches, post-Brexit. Now is a great time for all companies to have a health check to understand their Information Security posture and GDPR compliance. Nobody wants to be caught handling data improperly and fined when it could have been prevented with education and training.
A gap analysis performed by an expert is money well-spent. It’s also a fact that companies that have cybersecurity and Information Security controls are not only able to better defend against attacks but are also far better placed to recover from an attack.
It’s important that all businesses – large and small – are properly preparing their data storage and transferring for the 1st January. ICO has been busy setting examples by fining large, high-profile companies for failing to keep millions of customers’ personal data safe.
It will continue to come down hard on the data breaches of personal identifiable information and special categories of data. The saying ‘prevention is better than a cure’ rings truer than ever this year, and you will thank yourself if you make the efforts to properly store your data now, and not when it’s too late.
2020 reflections and 2021 outlook
By John Hunter, Head of Banking and Fiduciaries, Finance Isle of Man
Reflections on the most surreal year
The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the world as we knew it, resulting in catastrophic loss of life and fears of a downturn hang over global economies like a sword of Damocles. In the UK, the new strain has further exacerbated the situation. As I am sure many have already said we are living in what could be called the most surreal times. People have been trying to cope with this “new normal”, by changing their lifestyles and evolving behaviours.
The Isle of Man responded swiftly to the pandemic by closing its borders and enforcing social restrictions which everyone respected and adhered to. Socially and culturally the Island demonstrated all the good things that come from living on a relatively small Island where community still means so much.
The Isle of Man’s financial services sector adapted quickly, seamlessly transitioning to working from home. The banks too adopted flexible remote working practices and continued to support clients around the world helping them navigate the challenging situation and making the most of any opportunities that arose.
Although there is no substitute for face-to-face interactions, we all embraced web-conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to stay connected with contacts around the world and build and nurture business relationships, whether it was with financial services firms or high net worth individuals looking to relocate to the Island.
Furthermore, a priority for the Isle of Man has been to reinvigorate the business and cultural ties with South Africa. In a normal world, we would have travelled to the country, held in-person meetings with businesses and industry representatives and talked about building on our wonderful historic ties. However, because of the scale and breadth of disruption we had to change all our plans! We hosted a virtual roadshow which comprised a series of webinars exploring why it has never been more important for South African businesses and individuals to choose the right jurisdiction for long term financial planning.
Looking ahead to the future
We are all hoping that the global rollout of vaccines will provide the pathway to some form of return to normality and all the things people are missing will be back. Like amidst all periods of immense turmoil, interesting, new possibilities have emerged such as the revolution in work culture and a renewed importance of being close to nature and green spaces is. And these possibilities can help reshape society for the better.
The global economic recovery and rebuild might seem further away in the current environment especially amidst the new lockdowns. But we are confident in the resilience of economies and are hopeful that different industrial sectors and governments working together would result in green shoots.
The financial services industry has an important role to play in getting the world economy back on its feet. It is a core component of the solution to continue facilitating the financing of corporates, as well as to develop sustainable finance and nurture digital technologies which have proven to be vital during the pandemic. The sector should continue its cooperation and collaboration with governments and regulators to ensure efficient capital flows and financial stability for businesses and individuals.
Banks too have a crucial role to play as they are instrumental to the effective transmission of monetary policies and stimulus packages. As mentioned in a report by EY: “Financial insecurity in the wake of COVID-19 will require banks to boost consumer confidence and help build a more resilient working world.”
We expect the Isle of Man’s financial services sector and banks to continue navigating the situation with resilience as they have been doing thus far and contributing to the global recovery process. Also, we truly hope this will be our busiest year ever (subject to our ability to travel), with an extensive global schedule of planned activity to promote the Island as an international financial centre of excellence and innovation. Personally, I had planned to be in South Africa for the British & Irish Lions tour, but regrettably, it might not take place and as such we will look forward to catching up with friends there as and when we can.
No doubt, there are significant challenges for the world ahead but as Albert Einstein said: “in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity”. And it is this opportunity that we all need to work together to identify and make the most of. We are confident that in 2021 the Isle of Man will continue to support financial services businesses help their clients, employees, and the wider society through these surreal times. We are all in this together.
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