Critical mass versus ubiquity the future of payments

In a paper recently published by the Federal Reserve they begin to consider what actions the FRB should take to drive the further adoption of P2P electronic payments and the reduction in paper checks.

http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/ppdp/2010/ppdp1001.pdf

Their introduction speaks to the differences in adoption of electronic payments in the USA and Europe.  Intriguingly they include privacy concerns as a key issue.  This being said, having lived in Europe for 15 years, I am not sure the desire for privacy is greater in America.  What can be said is that the moment when the underlining infrastructure was developed defines the ideas and feature sets.  Newer systems learned grew as other economies embraced and proved the viability of innovative ideas.

They go on to discuss the fate of eCash (Mondex, VisaCash) and the need to create ubiquity in order to assure success.    Clearly, as they outline, the major adoption issue in the field of payments is achieving a density of merchants willing to accept a particular means of payment  and simultaneously demonstrating a significant number of consumers willing to employ said means of payment.

Unfortunately for the inventors of neat solutions the reality is that without figuring out how to assure ubiquity the new idea they will not be a success.  If we look at contactless, MasterCard clearly recognised this reality and funded the initial investment in equipment.  Without this investment one wonders if PayPass would have reached the low levels it has.

The interesting thought that emerges from this paper is that the wide spread deployment of mobile phones means that an infrastructure that both merchants and consumers have is in place and if one can find an intuitive means of exploiting this installed base, part of the deployment problem is mitigated.

In my heart, I believe mobile will allow the establishment of new ways of paying,  The next question can today’s infrastructure support P2P payment instructions and will the issuers and acquirers figure out how to make money without cannibalizing existing revenue streams.

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