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The Atomisation of Payments Part 2

Payments are atomising…

In part 1 of my blog on atomising payments, I explained how payments volumes are likely to expand 25 times or more in the future, resulting in trillions of new payments. In part 2, I explain a precedent for this atomisation and its implications, and what the payments industry needs to do. 

Precedent and Implications 

Atomisation of communication is a precedent. Nowadays, communication is dominated by e-mail, texts and social media posts in volumes that dwarf those of the past using paper. Individuals typically send and receive hundreds of texts and e-mails each week, compared to a few letters in the past. It has taken about 20 years to reach this state, and volumes are still growing. 

If atomisation of communications is replicated in the payments industry, trillions of payments can become a realistic prospect. The implications are far reaching.

  • Firstly, cards have no role to play. They may endure for many more years, but as an innovation of the 1960s, they are inefficient, expensive and fraud-prone, unsuited to the atomised payments landscape.
  • Secondly, merchant acquiring may disappear over time. Necessary in the past to connect merchants with the banking system and enable commerce, technology (for example open APIs) is superseding their role.
  • Thirdly, payment revenue will drop towards zero. Current merchant fees are not sustainable and will simply be bypassed if maintained. Instead, new business models will emerge, based on the security, resilience and reach of transactions.
  • Fourthly, new account-to-account payment infrastructures and controls will be required to support the volume and bandwidth needed for atomised payments.
  • Lastly, the payment industry needs foresight to plan for this change.  

Sleep walking towards the future

Kevin Hanley at RBS recently gave a great Finextra interview where he talked about the divergence between technology changing exponentially and industries, organisations and individuals thinking linearly.  Payments is an industry changing exponentially, however, much of it remains in a linear mode, underestimating the impact of this change. For example, earlier this year, at a conference I was rebuked for forecasting UK contactless card volumes would rise from three billion in 2016 to 6–9 billion transactions this year. A member of the ATM industry, passionate about cash, described my forecast as irresponsible. However, only eight months later, UK Finance figures already show the country is clearly on track to exceed 6 billion contactless transactions in 2017. 

My point at the time was that no-one is predicting these volumes, or planning for them, yet they are happening. The payments industry is sleep walking towards its future. The industry needs to think and act exponentially, and it needs a vision. A 25-times increase in volumes over 30 years is only an 11 percent per year compound growth rate, a rate that the world-leading UK Faster Payments system has exceeded consistently for many years.

We are already in an exponential payments world. The good news is that innovation and change in payments will be sustained for many years and the responsible action to take is to embrace it now.


My thanks to Nick Caplan, Chairman of Faster Payments Scheme Ltd for the inspiration behind this blog.


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Jeremy Light



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24 Jun 2009



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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Payments strategies 2015-2020-2030

Payments systems visions, strategies, trends, pilots, forecasting, and planning for the short-, medium-, and far-term.

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