How Convergence is Fueling Growth in Payments

 

This article was written by Sulabh Agarwal,  Managing Director – Global Payments @ Accenture. You can find the original article published here. 

One of the most remarkable things about payments right now is how easy they are to miss.  

Not that long ago, moving money around was a multi-step process that demanded one’s attention. You’d go to the ATM to get money, then go shopping, hand some over, and get some back. 

But today, thanks to technologies like smartphone wallets, new payments products like buy now, pay later (BNPL), and new rules like Open Banking regulations, it has never been easier for a payment to fade into the background of a customer experience.  

Payments today are often nearly invisible. This is creating tremendous new opportunities within payments—and attracting new competition.  

I recently enjoyed a wonderful opportunity to dissect both of them at the 2022 Mobile World Congress, where I hosted a discussion on the digital payments landscape. Five esteemed panelists joined me for a wide-ranging look at the state of digital payments around the world. 

The conversation included insights on many different markets, technologies and trends, but for me it was all connected by a single word: convergence.

All roads lead to payments 

The makeup of the group itself was evidence of the striking range of organizations and industries with a stake in digital payments today. The panel included: 

  • The head of international for a major fintech startup (Keith Grose of Plaid) 
  • The head of the new digital payments arm of a Saudi telecom company (Ahmed Alenazi of stc pay) 
  • The vice president of business development for a European telecom and ask-to-pay leader (Matija Rezem of Infobip) 
  • The leader of the financial services division of South Africa’s Vodacom Group (Mariam Cassim)  
  • The global head of partnerships and innovation for TTS at Citi Bank (Carol Grunberg)

The different sizes, locations, industries and ages of the organizations represented on the panel all suggest that payments is unusually attractive to an unusually wide range of businesses at the moment.  

Which raises a powerful and important question: why? 

In my view, this convergence is being driven by technological innovation and new regulation. 

On the regulation front, as Keith Grose from Plaid pointed out, the global move towards Open Banking is a sea change. The idea that customers should be able to access their financial data and move it wherever they want creates enormous potential for new payments experiences. And these experiences don’t need to be created or controlled by a traditional payments players. 

Making payments work within these experiences, of course, requires more than regulation. Basic digital banking infrastructure and the popularity of smartphones form part of the foundation of modern payments. They support “combining layer” payments features like request-to-pay, BNPL, and immediate or point-of-sale payments. 

Citibank’s Carol Grunberg compared our present moment of seamless digital payments to another memorable technological tipping point.  

“About 21 years ago I realized I didn’t need a landline anymore,” she said in the panel. “We were using our mobile for everything. I moved to Chicago and realized, I didn’t need to set up a landline. I had my mobile. 

“If you look at the last 10 years, I think the same thing has been happening in financial services, which is becoming that combining layer, just like my cell connected me to people and to services. I no longer need to go into a traditional way of accessing money once everything is fully integrated with financial services.” 

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