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A successful digital proposition is not complete without instant payments, either through the solutions made available by the central banks of each country or using international payment platforms.
"How can payments be democratized?" It’s a recurring question in an industry looking to massify digital transactions and overcome the challenge of adoption and usage among merchants and consumers.
Increasingly, we see institutions and regulators around the world pushing for reforms that increase competition in digital payments and have a major impact on the public.
In that sense, real-time payments are resolving issues around financial access on a massive scale. The technology makes immediate transfers available 24/7, competing with cash and allowing e-commerce to gain momentum.
From a commercial perspective, by accepting real-time payments merchants can reduce operating costs, get paid faster and sell to a wider range of customers. But it is end consumers who are the biggest winners, as they gain greater control over their money, experience less friction and enjoy greater visibility — all that in a cost-effective way.
In Latin America, we have seen various real-time payment experiences though the results have been mixed.
On the one hand, Mexico was a pioneer of implementation with CoDi (Cobro Digital), a solution launched by the Bank of Mexico. This platform, based on QR codes and near field communication (NFC) enables contactless payments and allows users to buy and sell products 24 hours a day, all year round.
CoDi's most relevant feature is that transactions do not incur any commissions or fees, even between different banks. However, its implementation was a challenge and adoption has not skyrocketed.
In Brazil, the experience was quite the opposite. In late 2020, the Central Bank launched its instant payment system, Pix, with the ambitious goal of streamlining and facilitating transactions, promoting competition in the industry and boosting financial inclusion. The impact was so big that the platform entered the vernacular, with “send me a Pix" becoming a synonym for payment.
Pix enabled more than 40 million people to make their first bank transfer. Between November 2020 and March 2022, the number of Pix users skyrocketed from 41 million to more than 124 million. And a recent report by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) found that the platform has the fastest adoption curve among all real-time payment systems evaluated worldwide.
It is proof of how real-time payments are positioned to be an indispensable tool and have to be addressed by digital wallets, as they are much in demand and represent a way for institutions to foster financial inclusion.
The United States has made its own approach to real-time payments with products such as PayPal's Zelle and Venmo. These are instant payment technology platforms that, despite not being designed by central banks, have shown impressive, widespread adoption and integration by users and banks.
Zelle can be hosted on banking applications and users can accept transfers and send money in minutes using just a phone number or email address. Adoption is growing, and the number of users is forecast to increase by 13.8% to 61.6 million this year, according to Insider Intelligence.
Through such partnerships, banks can facilitate real-time interbank payments by allowing their customers to use the Zelle or PayPal network to move their funds, free of charge.
Under this system, a low-value, real-time request is initiated that enables an account-to-account interbank payment. The beneficiary receives the funds and the payer receives confirmation of the transaction status.
The development of instant payments in the euro area stands out due to diverse ways they operate. Still, for the most part, they have been developed on a private account basis and therefore interoperability remains an ongoing problem.
To address this, various services have been implemented with different requirements and settlement speeds. All this is taking place in a highly competitive, open banking environment, where the winners will be those that combine innovation with solutions that truly meet customer needs.
The gaze of the euro zone is currently set on transnational payments but it is not alone. Australia is leading the way in this area and is looking at how cross-border SWIFT payments and local instant payments can be used together to create a fast, frictionless, transparent and traceable system with an optimal experience for the recipient.
There are many back-end solutions on the market that have the potential to enable faster payments, but the bottom line is that any project must start with the customer in mind and also develop clearly differentiated value propositions from its competitors.
In this sense, banks and fintechs wanting to build a comprehensive solution should look for market synergies with technology providers that can help them develop a state-of-the-art platform to deliver efficient payments.
Most existing real-time payment systems work as an interbank electronic funds transfer service that can be initiated using diverse channels: smartphones, tablets, digital wallets and the web.
Users increasingly want to make instant transfers from their bank apps and even from third-party apps, such as social networks like WhatsApp or Facebook. With this in mind, banks will ultimately require technical tools that allow them to incorporate real-time payments into their digital channels.
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