Tag Archives: Payment system

India’s Unified Payments Interface

In the FT, Benjamin Parkin reports about the transformation of India’s payments landscape.

Behind the boom is an innovation launched by the Indian government in 2016: the unglamorous sounding Unified Payments Interface, or UPI, which allows immediate mobile payments directly between bank accounts.

Conceived as a public utility, the service is transforming India’s cash-dependent economy into fertile soil for mobile-money apps. … Both the volume and value of transactions had more than doubled in a year.

BIS Stablecoin Report

The BIS has published a report on stablecoins. On Alphaville Izabella Kaminska approves but argues that the report does not contain novel points. One aspect discussed in the report concerns the benefit of stablecoins for cross-border payments; it may be limited unless technology is able to address the key friction:

A major obstacle to the interlinking of domestic payment systems and/or the development of shared global payment platforms is differing legal frameworks across jurisdictions and the associated uncertainty about the enforceability of contractual obligations resulting from participation in interlinked or shared payment platforms operating across borders.

See the VoxEU series on the topic.

The Bank of England’s “Future of Finance Report”

Huw van Steenis’ summarizes his report as follows (my emphasis):

A new economy is emerging driven by changes in technology, demographics and the environment. The UK is also undergoing several major transitions that finance has to respond to.

What this means for finance

Finance is likely to undergo intense change over the coming decade. The shift to digitally-enabled services and firms is already profound and appears to be accelerating. The shift from banks to market-based finance is likely to grow further. Ultra low rates, new regulations and the need to invest in updating their businesses mean many UK and global banks are struggling to make their cost of capital. Brexit and political and policy changes around the world will also impact the shape of financial services. Risks are likely to shift.
Regulators and the private sector have to collaborate in new ways as technology breaks down barriers. Finance is hugely important to the UK and the right infrastructure can support new finance.

What we ask the Bank of England to do

Shape tomorrow’s payment system
Enable innovation through modern financial infrastructure
Support the data economy through standards and protocols
Champion global standards for markets
Promote the smooth transition to a low-carbon economy
Support adaption to the needs of a changing demographic
Safeguard the financial system from evolving risks
Enhance protection against cyber-risks
Embrace digital regulation

Mark Carney’s June 2019 speech. See also the 2018 US Treasury report on financial innovation.

FedNow and Fedwire

The Federal Reserve Banks will develop a round-the-clock real-time payment and settlement service, FedNow. The objective is to support faster payments in the United States.

From the FAQs (my emphasis):

… there are some faster payment services offered by banks and fintech companies in the United States, their functionality can be limited. In particular, due to the lack of a universal infrastructure to conduct faster payments, most of these services rely on “closed-loop” approaches, meaning that users signed up to one service cannot exchange payments with users signed up to other services. Other services target ubiquity by relying on users’ bank accounts, but they may face challenges reaching enough banks to allow any two users to exchange payments. Moreover, these services typically use traditional retail payment methods to move funds between accounts. These methods result in a build-up of financial obligations between banks

… fragmented market for end-user faster payment services, with services that may provide faster payment functionality in some circumstances and for some specific uses, like person-to-person payments, but that do not have sufficient reach to advance the U.S. payment system as a whole. The Federal Reserve’s goal in announcing the planned actions is to provide a much broader scope of access to safe and efficient faster payments throughout the country.

… the European Central Bank, Banco de México, and the Reserve Bank of Australia have looked to support the development of faster payments in their jurisdictions by providing services that enable payment-by-payment, real-time settlement of retail payments at any time …

First, the Federal Reserve Banks (the Reserve Banks) will develop the FedNowSM Service, a new interbank 24x7x365 real-time gross settlement (RTGS) service with integrated clearing functionality, to directly support the provision of end-to-end faster payment services by banks (or their agents). Second, the Federal Reserve will explore the expansion of hours for the Fedwire® Funds Service and the National Settlement Service (NSS), up to 24x7x365, subject to further analysis of relevant operational, risk, and policy considerations, to support liquidity management in private-sector RTGS services for faster payments, as well as provide additional benefits to financial markets beyond faster payments.

… Board has concluded that private-sector real-time gross settlement (RTGS) services for faster payments alone cannot be expected to provide an infrastructure for faster payments with reasonable effectiveness, scope, and equity. In particular, private-sector services are likely to face significant challenges in extending equitable access to the more than 10,000 diverse banks across the country.

the service will settle obligations between banks through adjustments to balances in banks’ master accounts at the Reserve Banks; these funds will be eligible to earn interest and count toward banks’ reserve requirements. Consistent with the goal of supporting faster payments, use of the FedNow Service will require participating banks to make the funds associated with individual payments available to their end-user customers immediately after receiving notification of settlement from the service. The service will support values initially limited to $25,000

… the FedNow Service will be available to banks eligible to hold accounts at the Reserve Banks

By expanding Fedwire Funds Service and NSS hours, the Federal Reserve would provide further support to private-sector RTGS services for faster payments based on a joint account.

Some decision makers at the Fed believed that the Fed lacks authority to regulate banks operating payment systems in order to coerce them to offer access also to smaller banks.

The Bank of England Welcomes Fintech

In the FT, Chris Giles, Caroline Binham, and Delphine Strauss report about plans of the Bank of England to let fintech companies

bank at Threadneedle Street and thereby offer payments systems on a level playing field with commercial banks.

The editorial board of the FT welcomes the plans; it seems to have in mind not only competition but also “synthetic” CBDC:

By offering fintech companies access to the BoE’s vaults, the governor may inject much-needed competition into the sector. What must follow is proactive regulation …

Commercial banks have traditionally had exclusive access to deposits at the UK’s central bank, offering them a competitive advantage through cheap banking services. … Another potential advantage for consumers is they could be paid the central bank’s often favourable interest rate directly — rather than relying on traditional banks to pass on rate rises.

Mark Carney outlined the plans in his Mansion House speech. Here are some excerpts from the section on digital finance:

… the Faster Payment System (FPS) launched a decade ago has made payments quicker (within two hours) and more cost effective by encouraging direct bank-to-bank transfers.

While mobile app PayM uses FPS to facilitate direct bank-to-bank payments between individuals via text, it requires both the sender and recipient to be signed up to the third party service. But few are. And FPS is not yet used for in-store or online purchases as the infrastructure required at the point of sale does not reliably exist in the UK.

In these regards, the UK is still a long way behind countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands and India …

The revolution of payments may not be driven by the old bank-based systems … Major changes are on the horizon … That’s why the Bank fully supports the Payments Strategy Review the Chancellor has launched this evening.

To support private innovation and to empower competition, the Bank is levelling the playing field between old and new. This means allowing competitors access to the same resources as incumbents while holding the same risks to the same standards.

… we are now making it easier for a broad set of firms to plug in and compete with more traditional providers. In July 2017, we became the first G7 central bank to open up access to our payment services to a new generation of non-bank PSPs. …

Responding to demands from innovators, the RTGS rebuild will also now provide API access to users to read and write payments data, as well as implementing a system whereby each payment will be tagged with information in a standardised format across the world. This global messaging standard will speed up settlement both domestically and across borders.

… Today, the Bank of England is announcing plans to consult on opening access to our balance sheet to new payment providers. Historically, only commercial banks were able to hold interest-bearing deposits, or reserves, at the Bank. …

From the Bank’s perspective, expanding access can improve the transmission of monetary policy and increase competition. It can also support financial stability by allowing settlement in the ultimate risk free asset, and reducing reliance on major banks. Users should benefit from the reduced costs and increased certainty that comes with banking at the central bank. …

This access could empower a host of new innovation. … settlement systems using distributed ledger technology … consortia, such as USC, propose to issue digital tokens that are fully backed by central bank money, allowing instant settlement. This could also plug into ‘tokenised assets’ – conventional securities also represented on blockchain—and smart contracts. This can drive efficiency and resilience in operational processes and reduce counterparty risks in the system, unlocking billions of pounds in capital and liquidity that can be put to more productive uses.

The potential transformation in retail payments is even more fundamental. …

The Bank of England approaches Libra with an open mind but not an open door. Unlike social media for which standards and regulations are being debated well after they have been adopted by billions of users, the terms of engagement for innovations such as Libra must be adopted in advance of any launch.

Carney also outlines plans to support initiatives that aim at giving households and firms control over “their” data:

To make real inroads, SMEs must be able to identify the data relevant to their businesses, incorporate it into their individual credit files, and easily share these files with potential providers of finance through a national SME financing platform.

This would put into practice the recommendations from Professor Jason Furman’s Digital Competition Panel report on how to extract value from data and promote competition. One of the most important recommendations in this regard is to give consumers control of their data. This would allow consumers to move their personal information from one platform to another and avoid lock-in effects, opening the door to new services. To some extent, this is what Open Banking hopes to achieve. Although to make this a success means establishing common off the-shelf API standards and operating platforms onto which developers can build. …

It is not for the Bank of England to build this platform but we can help lay some of groundwork. The messaging standards we are adopting in the new RTGS will also include tagging payments with a unique ID called a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI).

Link to earlier post on the SNB’s policy.

“Digital Money: Private versus Public,” VoxEU Book, 2019

In Antonio Fatás, editor, The Economics of Fintech and Digital Currencies, VoxEU book, London, March 2019, with Markus Brunnermeier. PDF.

We address five key concerns that are frequently put forward:
1. Aren’t digital currencies just a hype, now that crypto ‘currencies’ like Bitcoin have proved too volatile and expensive to serve as reliable stores of value or mediums of exchange? This confuses things. A central bank digital currency (CBDC) is like cash, only digital; Alipay, Apple Pay, WeChat Pay, and so on are like deposits, only handier; and crypto currencies are not in any way linked to typical currencies, but they live on the blockchain.
2. Doesn’t a CBDC or ‘Reserves for All’ choke investment by cutting into bank deposits? No, because new central bank liabilities (namely, a CBDC) would fund new investments, and this would not in any way imply socialism or a stronger role of government in investment decisions.
3. Wouldn’t a CBDC cut into the profits that banks generate by creating deposits? Less money creation by banks would certainly affect their profits. But if this were deemed undesirable (by the public, not by shareholders and management) then banks could be compensated.
4. Wouldn’t ‘Reserves for All’ render bank runs more likely, undermining financial stability? We argue that, in fact, the opposite seems more plausible.
5. Aren’t deposit insurance, a CBDC, Vollgeld/sovereign money, and the Chicago Plan all alike? There are indeed close parallels between the different monetary regimes. In a sense, “money is changing and yet, it stays the same”.

“Central Bank Digital Currency: What Difference Does It Make?,” SUERF, 2018

December 2018. PDF. In: Ernest Gnan and Donato Masciandaro, editors, Do We Need Central Bank Digital Currency? Economics, Technology and Institutions, SUERF, The European Money and Finance Forum, Vienna, 2018.

A short version of the CEPR working paper.

“Central Bank Digital Currency: Why It Matters and Why Not,” VoxEU, 2018

VoxEU, August 20, 2018. HTML.

  • To a first approximation, inside and outside money are substitutes—the introduction of CBDC does not change the equilibrium allocation.
  • Bank incentives and central bank incentives might be affected though.
  • CBDC could increase the incentive to extend credit but might undermine the political support for implicit financial assistance to banks.

Distributed-Ledger Based Payment Systems Could Work

The ECB has published a first report on Stella, a joint research project with the Bank of Japan. The two banks are interested in potential roles that distributed ledger technology could play to support the financial market infrastructure. The report assesses whether existing payments systems could be safely and efficiently run on a distributed ledger. It concludes that

  • a distributed-ledger-based system could meet the performance needs of real-time gross settlement systems, up to some limits;
  • such a system could strengthen resilience.

Connecting Central Bank Payments Systems

In the FT, Martin Arnold reports about a new cross-border payment method tested by the Bank of England. The “interledger” program transfers money “near-instantaneously and without settlement risk.” The Bank of England

set up two simulated RTGS systems on a cloud computing platform, using the Ripple interledger to simultaneously process “a successful cross-border payment”.

This is not necessarily good news for the blockchain community. The Bank of England’s proof of concept is

“about connectivity between central bank systems rather than replacing the central bank systems with the blockchain,” [according to] Daniel Aranda, head of Europe at Ripple.

 

 

 

UBS Business Solutions AG

In the NZZ, Hansueli Schöchli reports about further steps by UBS, the Swiss bank, to prepare for the next financial crisis. In the future, a legally independent service unit—UBS Business Solutions AG—provides other business units with critical internal services, including payments, trading systems as well as legal services. A “Master Service Agreement” specifies that the service unit remains operative even if other business units fail.

Die UBS vollzieht nun einen weiteren Schritt. Sie überträgt dieser Tage die konzerninternen Dienstleistungen für das Schweizer Geschäft in die rechtlich selbständige Dienstleistungseinheit UBS Business Solutions AG. Übertragen werden damit im Inland rund 8000 Mitarbeiter. Weltweit soll diese Service-Einheit bis Ende Jahr etwa 18 000 Beschäftigte umfassen. Zu den betroffenen internen Dienstleistungen zählen unter anderem Informatik, Zahlungsverkehr, Handelssysteme, Risikomanagement, Rechtsdienst, Personal und Marketing. Hauptzweck der Übung: Auch wenn Teile des Konzerns in den Konkurs schlittern, sollen kritische Dienstleistungen weiterhin sichergestellt sein. «Dies ist eine Lehre aus der Pleite von Lehman», sagt Markus Ronner, Chef Notfallplanung bei der UBS.

Ein globales «Master Service Agreement» regelt die Service-Lieferungen gegenüber gut 130 UBS-Gesellschaften. Nebst Preisen und Qualitätserfordernissen ist dabei auch geregelt, dass die Service-Einheit im Fall des Konkurses eines Konzernteils ihre Dienstleistungen gegen Bezahlung noch mindestens zwei Jahre lang weiterführen muss. Wenn interne Kunden zahlungsunfähig werden, muss die Service-Gesellschaft genügend Liquidität haben, um in einer Übergangszeit ihre Dienste aufrechterhalten zu können; die Rede ist von sechs Monaten als Referenzmarke.

Money, Banking, and Dreams

In another excellent post on Moneyness, J P Koning likens the monetary system to the plot in the movie Inception, featuring

a dream piled on a dream piled on a dream piled on a dream.

Koning explains that

[l]ike Inception, our monetary system is a layer upon a layer upon a layer. Anyone who withdraws cash at an ATM is ‘kicking’ back into the underlying central bank layer from the banking layer; depositing cash is like sedating oneself back into the overlying banking layer.

Monetary history a story of how these layers have evolved over time. The original bottom layer was comprised of gold and silver coins. On top this base, banks erected the banknote layer; bits of paper which could be redeemed with gold coin. The next layer to develop was the deposit layer; non-tangible book entries that could be transferred by order from one person to another.

The foundation layer has changed over time:

One of the defining themes of modern monetary history has been the death of the original foundation layer; precious metals. … as central banks chased private banks from the banknote layer … and then gradually severed the banknote layer from the gold layer. By 1971, … [b]anknotes issued by the central bank had become the foundation layer. The trend towards a cashless world is a repeat of this script, except instead of the gold layer being slowly removed it is the banknote layer.

Fintech improves the efficiency of the layer arrangement and its connections. It also adds new layers: For instance, some payments made via mobile phone effectively transfer claims on deposits. And it may circumvent layers:

In U.K., the Bank of England is considering allowing fintech companies to bypass the banking layer by offering them direct access to the bottom-most central banking layer.

In contrast, a krypto currency like bitcoin establishes a new foundation layer, on which new layers may be built:

Even now there is talk of a new layer being developed on top of the original bitcoin foundation, the Lightning network. The idea here is that the majority of payments will occur in the Lightning layer with final settlement occurring some time later in the slower Bitcoin layer.

I fully agree with this characterization. In addition to the theme emphasized by Koning—adding layers—I would also stress the theme of untying higher-level layers from lower ones: Central bank money typically is no longer backed by gold; deposits typically are not fully backed by notes; and mobile phone credits may no longer be backed by deposits. The process of untying layers relies on social conventions and trust, and it is fragile. Important questions concern the cost of such fragility, and its necessity. Fragility is not necessary when the social cost of liquidity provision at the foundation layer is negligible.

“Wer hat Angst vor Blockchain? (Who’s Afraid of the Blockchain?),” NZZ, 2016

NZZ, November 29, 2016. HTML, PDF. Longer version published on Ökonomenstimme, December 14, 2016. HTML.

Central banks are increasingly interested in employing blockchain technologies, and they should be.

  • The blockchain threatens the intermediation business.
  • Central banks encounter the blockchain in the form of new krypto currencies, and as the technology underlying new clearing and settlement systems.
  • Krypto currencies bear the risk of “dollarization,” but in the major currency areas this risk is still small.
  • New clearing and settlement systems benefit from central bank participation. But central banks benefit as well; those rejecting the new technology risk undermining the attractiveness of the home currency.

“Central Banking and Bitcoin: Not yet a Threat,” VoxEU, 2016

VoxEU, October 19, 2016. HTML.

  • Central banks are increasingly interested in employing blockchain technologies.
  • The blockchain threatens the intermediation business.
  • Central banks encounter the blockchain in the form of new krypto currencies, and as the technology underlying new clearing and settlement systems.
  • Krypto currencies bear the risk of “dollarization,” but in the major currency areas this risk is still small.
  • New clearing and settlement systems benefit from central bank participation. But central banks benefit as well; those rejecting the new technology risk undermining the attractiveness of the home currency.
  • See the original blogpost.

Banking on the Blockchain

In the NZZ, Axel Lehmann offers his views on the prospects of blockchain technologies in banking. Lehmann is Group Chief Operating Officer of UBS Group AG.

New possibilities:

  • Higher efficiency; lower cost; more robustness and simpler processes; real-time clearing;
  • no need for intermediaries; information exchange without risk of interference
  • automated “smart contracts;” automated wealth management;
  • more control over transactions; better data protection;
  • improved possibilities for macro prudential monitoring.

Challenges:

  • Speed; scalability; security;
  • privacy;
  • smart contracts require new contract law;
  • interface between traditional payments system and blockchain payment system.

Lehmann favors common standards and he points out that this is what is happening (R3-consortium with UBS, Hyperledger project with Linux foundation).

Related, Martin Arnold reported in the FT in late August that UBS, Deutsche Bank, Santander, BNY Mellon as well as the broker ICAP pursue the project of a “utility settlement coin.” Here is my reading of what this is:

  • The aim seems to be to have central banks on board; so USCs might be a form of reserves (base money). The difference to traditional reserves would be that USCs facilitate transactions using distributed ledgers rather than traditional clearing and settlement mechanisms. (This leads to the question of the appropriate interface between the two systems posed by Lehmann.)

But what’s in for central banks? Would this be a test before the whole clearing and settlement system is revamped, based on new blockchain technology? Don’t central banks fear that transactions on distributed ledgers might foster anonymity?

Bank of England Opens Access to Payment System

A progress update by the Bank of England describes the Bank’s intention, over time,

to extend direct access to RTGS to non-bank Payment Service Providers (firms granted the status of E-Money Institutions or Payment Institutions in the UK), collectively known as PSPs. By extending RTGS access, our objective is to increase competition and innovation in the market for payment services.

CAD-Coin

In the FT, Philip Stafford reports about a digital currency initiative by the Bank of Canada and commercial banks. It

will involve issuing, transferring and settling central bank assets on a distributed ledger via a token named CAD-Coin.

But:

The Bank of Canada said the experiment was a proof-of-concept and confined to interbank payment systems. … “None of our experiments are to develop central-bank issued e-money‎ for use by the general public.”

“Institutionelle Schwächen der EU (Institutional Problems in the EU),” FuW, 2015

Finanz und Wirtschaft, July 15, 2015. PDF. Ökonomenstimme, July 16, 2015. HTML.

The collapse in Greece is a consequence of major institutional problems:

  • Political decision makers in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington didn’t follow the rules. This seemed optimal ex post, but is suboptimal ex ante (see Kydland and Prescott).
  • The ECB’s mandate is unclear.
  • The monetary system is fragile.