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Get Ready for the Launch: A Fintech Guide to the FedNow Payment Service

In response to the demand for faster and more convenient payment options, the Federal Reserve has launched a plan to modernize the US payment system, including the implementation of real-time payments. 

The idea for this innovative payment service has been in the works for over a decade. Its implementation is expected to revolutionize the banking industry by providing customers with a more efficient and seamless payment experience. 

FedNow is expected to revolutionize the way transactions are conducted in the US, making it easier and quicker for businesses and individuals to transfer funds.

But, what is the new Federal Reserve Payment System, how will it affect the Fintech industry, who can participate in the FedNow Pilot program, and when will FedNow be available? These questions and more will be answered by our Finance expert in this handy guide.

A Brief Background on US Payment Systems

The United States has been using the Automated Clearing House (ACH) for almost 50 years to transfer money between bank accounts. However, ACH transactions can take up to two business days to complete, causing inconvenience for customers who require faster payments. In contrast, other countries have adopted instant services and real-time payments (RTP), allowing for instantaneous transfers.

The Federal Reserve is now spearheading change with the launch of FedNow real-time payments, which would allow domestic US payments to be processed 24/7 and all year round with immediate settlement and instant funds availability. Real-time payments are a major step towards modernizing the US payment system, bringing it in line with other advanced economies.

RTPs make payments frictionless for customers, ensuring they have speed in payments, instant financial and settlements, and easy access to their money whenever they need it.

The implementation of payment rails will support better end-to-end communication and make business processes and communication around payments much more efficient.

The FedNow payment system is a significant improvement over the traditional ACH system, offering faster, more convenient payment solutions that benefit both individuals and businesses.

The benefits of real-time paymentsWhat is FedNow?

FedNow, the Federal Reserve's payment system, will facilitate real-time transactions for financial institutions of any size, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

By utilizing clearing functions, banks can instantly exchange the required information to debit or credit their customers' accounts during payment settlements. Plus, with the implementation of FedNow, banks can now provide better notifications to their end-users regarding payment acceptance or failure.

In contrast to RTP, FedNow will service all federal reserve banks through the FedLine network, providing payment and information services, including secure electronic messaging systems and IP-based solutions, to over 10,000 financial institutions.


How Will FedNow Work?

To ensure the effectiveness of real-time payment systems, simplicity for users and robust security measures are crucial factors.

Users of the FedNow Service are unlikely to notice any significant differences from other real-time payment systems. They will continue to log in to their bank account to initiate payments, and financial institutions will continue to provide security measures, screen payments, and manage account changes and reconciliations.

However, the primary difference with FedNow is the payment transfer process between financial institutions. FedNow will act as an intermediary between the sender's and receiver's financial institutions, validating payment messages, and debiting and crediting the appropriate accounts, all within seconds.

I'd compare the direct access to customers' accounts provided by the FedNow Service to a "smart contract on the blockchain," as it will enable smoother and quicker transactions between participants. However, the increased control and centralization of the system may result in higher costs for users.

While the FedNow service is designed to maintain high levels of security, the need for increased security measures may also be attributed to the costs of using the system.

FedNow has been designed to operate alongside other real-time payment systems and will utilize the ISO 20022 standard. Initially, it will only cover domestic payments.

How FedNow Works

What is ISO 20022?

ISO 20022 is a globally recognized payment messaging standard that offers richer and more structured data during the payment process. 

Compared to other standards, ISO 20022 allows for about 10 times more data to be sent per payment. This additional data may include information about the payment's purpose, source, and ultimate beneficiary. This enhances the payment system's data structure, creating a common language and model for payment data worldwide. 

However, building a new real-time product that meets all these requirements is complex as it involves modernizing legacy systems. The US adoption of ISO 20022 has brought more focus on messaging and data for real-time payments within an international financial framework.

What is the FedNow Launch Date?

In mid-March, the Federal Reserve has revealed that the FedNow Service is set to commence its operations in July. In April, the Federal Reserve will welcome those who wish to be early adopters to initiate a customer testing and certification program.

Who Can Use FedNow? 

FedNow will be accessible to both individuals and businesses. For the initial launch, the Federal Reserve intends to set a transaction limit of $25,000. As a result of this cap, small businesses and retail payments made by individuals will benefit more from FedNow until the Federal Reserve increases the transaction limit. 

Starting from the first week of April, the Federal Reserve will initiate a formal certification process for participating banks who wish to use the service. Early adopters will undertake a customer testing and certification program, which will be guided by feedback received from the FedNow Pilot Program, to prepare for live transactions via the system.

The FedNow Pilot Program involved over 100 participants from different credit unions and depository institutions. In June, the Federal Reserve and certified participants will conduct production validation activities to ensure that they are fully prepared for the July launch.

Once financial institutions participate in the FedNow Service, both businesses and individuals will be able to send and receive instant payments at any time of day, and the recipients will have full access to the funds immediately.

What are the Benefits of FedNow Payments?

The Federal Reserve's initiative to modernize the payment system is expected to bring numerous benefits, including greater efficiency, lower costs, increased competition, and improved customer experience. It is also likely to encourage innovation in the payment industry, leading to the development of new payment services and products.

The use of FedNow in wire transfers between banks as an intermediary can increase fees of transactions. Despite these costs, the use of intermediaries in bank transactions can improve the process of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) checking.

For example, FedNow can play a role in ensuring compliance with AML and OFAC regulations by conducting due diligence on the parties involved in transactions and reviewing the transactions for any suspicious activity.

The benefits of instant payments aren't limited to fintech companies and banks. The elimination of chargeback risks that merchants currently face could lead to greater user satisfaction, and instant payments could make banking and payment processing more accessible to underbanked and unbanked communities.

The implementation of real-time payments can allow employees to receive their wages promptly, and merchants to receive payment without the waiting period for funds to settle.

What Does FedNow Mean for Fintechs in 2023?

The FedNow program is currently only accessible to licensed banks, which limits the benefits that non-bank financial institutions can enjoy. 

Fintechs, in particular, could benefit greatly from the program, as it would allow them to expedite payments at a lower cost to consumers. From depositing checks to paying bills, instant payments could be a game-changer for fintech giants, like Stripe and Wise, and could lead to greater innovation in the banking industry.

The Financial Technology Association (FTA), which represents a range of fintech companies, has called for "broader entity access" to the program. If Fintechs are eventually granted access, it could open up a world of possibilities for faster and more convenient banking and payment processing. 

For example, real-time payments could enable suppliers to be paid instantly, mortgage payments to be processed more quickly, and contract work to be paid out on the day it is completed.

Despite the potential benefits, it remains unclear when non-bank financial institutions will be granted access to the FedNow program. Softjourn’s Payment Expert, Yuriy Kropelnytsky, finds that “tighter governmental control and legislation surrounding nonbank lenders may be necessary to ensure that they can comply with FedNow’s increased consumer protection and fraud prevention”.

In the meantime, we suggest fintech companies continue to work on overlaying their technology onto existing bank systems, which could still provide significant improvements in the speed and convenience of banking and payment processing. 

Don't let your fintech business get left behind in this rapidly changing industry. Softjourn has deep experience in helping fintechs digitally transform their business to keep up with the most powerful emerging technologies, such as integrating with existing payment gateways or building their own payment gateways.

Our fintech advisors, with almost two decades of experience, can help you navigate the digital-first approach and overcome any challenges that arise. We will help you understand the benefits and drawbacks of real-time payments, develop a plan to integrate it into your system, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. 

How Will Fraud be Tackled with Instant Payments?

Instant payments and fraud are often discussed together, with the assumption that faster payments lead to more fraud. However, according to Jim Colassano, the Senior Vice President of RTP product management at The Clearing House, this is not necessarily the case for credit 'push' transactions, which are inherently safer than direct debit transactions. 

While some people worry about the potential irreversibility of instant payments, the transactions are actually processed through secure bank rails, which are among the most secure payment channels in the world. 

With real-time payments changing the game, banks must educate customers to think of instant payments like cash payments and act accordingly. To ensure even greater safety, some fintech companies are developing standard APIs to help financial institutions integrate with fraud providers.

Ultimately, banks and networks have an obligation to protect their clients, which includes educating them and providing additional layers of security.

How Will FedNow Impact Other Real-Time Payment Products?

You may have seen the recent news about the FedNow Ripple controversy. Ripple offers similar technology to FedNow, except it uses blockchain-based solutions. Ripple has been gaining popularity for offering cheap cross-border payments using XRP - a token used for representing the transfer of value across the Ripple Network.  However, Ripple has an ongoing case with the SEC over whether XRP is an unregistered security.

FedNow strives to provide a safer alternative to Ripple and other similar real-time, cross-border payment solutions in the US, for banks to move funds within the US financial system. 

Jim Colassano, the Senior Vice President of Real-Time Payments product management at The Clearing House (THC), said the following about the launch of FedNow:

There’s a massive amount of upside in this space, and I welcome the introduction of FedNow. FedNow and TCH have worked to make sure that there are no technical issues for any originator who would want to use both networks.

Colassano believes that over time, FedNow, TCH, and other real-time providers will have healthy competition. “Over time,” he said, “we’re going to be competitive partners and we will learn to differentiate our services such that we can gain competitive advantages… This will be healthy for the industry, and will improve the services that we’re providing to our clients.”


Looking Ahead

We predict that instant payments will scale since there will be such high demand for this functionality in the near future. In fact, it is likely that providers will lose customers if they don’t offer that functionality.

Dan Baum, FedNow’s head of payments product, said 90% of businesses have reported that the availability of instant payments will be an important part of their banking decision-making. 

This isn’t so surprising when we consider that up to 80% of consumers are actively using faster payment solutions, while another 70% of users say that they consider faster payments as a major factor in whether they are satisfied with their financial services providers.1

Overall, the move towards real-time payments is a positive step for the US payment industry, and one that is likely to have a significant impact on the way transactions are conducted in the country.

Don't miss out on the opportunities that real-time payments offer! By incorporating new services into your business, you can unlock new business models, expand customer relationships, and boost profitability. 

Now is the time to start contemplating the integration of FedNow and envisioning the future of real-time payments in the long term.





Comments: (4)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 07 April, 2023, 12:47Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Any reason why this article has chosen to compare the A2A RTP FedNow with the non-A2A RTP ACH when the competing A2A RTP Zelle / TCH-RTP has already been around for 5+ years and has hit a TPV of $650B?

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 07 April, 2023, 15:07Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

This is an article that describes the US Federal Reserve's incoming transition from ACH to RTP FedNow.

RTP Zelle was not developed by the Federal Reserve, but by a private financial services company.

On the other hand, the Fed supported development of the Automated Clearing House Network (ACH) system in 1972 and began managing a national network of linked local ACH networks in 1978. Now the Federal Reserve is developing FedNow.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 07 April, 2023, 15:34Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Oh I see, that's an interesting area of focus.

While on the subject, when we implemented FPS for a Top 5 UK bank in 2008, we predicted that FPS would kill BACS in 3 years - after all, if you can make a payment in realtime who wants to wait for 2-3 days, right?

It proved to be one of the most harebrained predictions of all times. 15 years later,

  1. FPS has not killed BACS
  2. BACS volumes have grown
  3. FPS has not yet hit even its projected Year 3 transaction volume.

While USA is not the same as UK, reports of transition from ACH to FedNow may be premature.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 10 April, 2023, 15:24Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Oh that subject, it is unlikely ACH will be completely replaced by FedNow, at least for the time being. The Federal Reserve aims to provide a faster, more convenient alternative to ACH that will benefit both individuals and businesses. Although FedNow payments will be faster and potentially more secure, they likely will come at a greater cost for users.

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