Banks could be sheepdogs (like Apple)

As my good friend Andrew Curry (@nextwavefutures) says, Apple Pay is a sheepdog, not a wolf.

It’s not disrupting or displacing anyone in the payments value chain. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t.

I saw a lot of comment on an article in Harvard Business Review that discussed Apple Pay and concluded that it is not a disruptive play.

“By launching Apple Pay as a reseller instead of as a disruptor, Apple is helping to perpetuate a credit card payment system that is obsolete, overly expensive, and absolutely unnecessary in the present day.”

[From� Apple Pay Is Just a Big Giveaway to Credit Card Companies – HBR]

Well, that’s a little harsh and I’m not sure I’d agree that credit cards are obsolete, but you cannot help but agree with the core point about Apple Pay not being a disruptive technology. I’m hardly the only the person that thinks this and it’s not a new perspective. ApplePay is not disruptive because it cements in place the existing rails for retail payments. And there are good reasons for doing that (apart from anything else, they work) and it means that the service has immediate access to a mass market.

“But truly disruptive new services don’t just digitize the familiar. They do away with it.”

[From� What Amazon, iTunes, and Uber teach us about Apple Pay – O’Reilly Radar]

This is a fair point.

“In each of these cases, my payment information is simply a stored credential that is already associated with my identity. And that identity is increasingly recognized by means other than an explicit payment process.”

[From� What Amazon, iTunes, and Uber teach us about Apple Pay – O’Reilly Radar]

The point is, of course, that in time services like Uber will use ApplePay, because they will want to switch from using stored payment card credentials under “card on file” rules and rates and instead use “cardholder present” rules and rates. This will turn all payments into push payments (which is a good thing) and greatly benefit retailers and consumers alike. What will vanish is the idea of a “point of sale”, since even in-store all payments will be made in-app, just like Uber.

“Apple Pay optimizes for how the world does work. The real winner in payments will build for how the world should work.”

[From� What Amazon, iTunes, and Uber teach us about Apple Pay – O’Reilly Radar]

So how should payments work? Well, that depends on who you are. But if you are a merchant, for example, you want the money to come directly from the customer’s bank and into your bank (forget about what “bank” might mean for the moment) with no-one else in the loop.

“Banks don’t orchestrate commerce… they are a dumb pipe payment service that cost far more than the value they provide. The greater they work to control the existing pipes, the greater the business case is for going around them, or regulating them into submission.”

[From� Money 2020: Tokens and Networks | FinVentures]

Well, Tom’s typically robust approach may aggravate some but there’s no denying that he has an informed perspective. Unless banks find some added value (spoiler alert: I have a feeling that this may be something to do with identity) then they won’t get anything out of this either. Time to start developing a strategic response to the falling net interest income, transaction fees asymptotic to zero, flat trading income future. Time to start growing the “other” piece of the pie shown this breakdown of bank revenues.

Euro Bank Income 2014

European Bank Revenues for 2014 (Source: Deutsche Bank, March 2015).

You don’t need to pay any attention to how I think payments should work. But you should pay attention to how Bill Gates said they should work in his closing address to SIBOS 2014. He said:

What should the marginal cost of a transaction be, if the identities are properly established, it is extremely low.

The banks role is to reduce the marginal cost of everyone else’s transactions as well as their own by delivering the trusted identification with strong authentication (where they could be the sheepdogs) that the new economy demands. This means more transactions, more commerce, more prosperity and it means a decent line of business for the banks themselves.

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