[Dave Birch] There’s a wonderful variety of new payment systems out there, one of the reasons why I love this business so much. A good example is FaceCash: the payment is made using a barcode on a mobile screen (yet another case of innovators not waiting for operators to get their NFC act together) and the POS displays the picture of the payer so that the merchant can authenticate them. And it’s cheap.

That was enough for the Indochine restaurant in Palo Alto to adopt FaceCash. Owner Don Stewart told me he was fed up with credit-card processing fees, and that he was willing to try out FaceCash even if it means he has to install a second payment system in addition to the one he already uses.

[From Will FaceCash, the mobile payment application, kill the credit card? | VentureBeat]

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is the perfect implementation: apart from anything else, studies show that pictures aren’t that helpful in authenticating shoppers and automatic face recognition is nowhere near sophisticated enough to make the system without relying on retail staff to make the decision. And, as an aside, if it was made to work automatically, unless it is military grade then Im sure people will figure out how to spoof the algorithm.

Using off-the-shelf makeup and accessories such as glasses, veils, and artificial hair, Adam Harvey’s master’s thesis combines hipster fashion aesthetics with hardcore reverse engineering of face detection software. The goal: to give individuals a low-cost and visually stimulating means to prevent their likenesses from being detected and cataloged by face-recognition monitors.

[From Reverse-engineering artist busts face detection tech • The Register]

Whether FaceCash is the way forward or not isn’t the point, but it illustrates a point: it is not trying use the existing retail payment infrastructure, but bypassing it because it is cheap to do so.

I just really isn’t clear to me that the best way forward for the retail payments sector is to focus on taking the existing mass market payment instruments (eg, chip and PIN cards) and trying to shoehorn them into the new channels. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to have a break with the past. When BankAmericard (the precursor to Visa) launched in 1959, it didn’t try to make plastic card versions of travellers’ cheques or $20 bills.

I’m not the only person who is wondering about this. In recent weeks, I’ve heard a number of people (from banks, a card scheme, a mobile operator and a software company) refer to EMV as the “legacy infrastructure”, which is an interesting turn of phrase since the industry hasn’t finished building it yet. I have to say that this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this talk. I remember a couple of years ago I was working on a project to look at some new debit card products for a European bank and I asked, in a meeting, if we could connect part of the new customer relationship management (CRM) system — which was being built at great cost — to part of the core banking platform in order to fuel a value-added product around the debit card. No, I was told, because “we haven’t finished building the legacy system yet”. The CRM system was built to use a new architecture that the retail bank hadn’t even started to roll out yet, so they ended up, as big organisations so often do, hacking up a box in the middle to communicate between the two systems. I get the sense that banks are littered with these kinds of boxes, their functions long forgotten.

But what would it mean to start again? Will FaceCash or Bling or anything else be the template for the next generation? My sense is no, they are steps forward but not the revolution: a distinguishing characteristic of the next generation of retail payment systems will be that the identification and authentication functions will be separated from the payment functions. When this break comes, we will throw away the shoehorn and start working on entirely platforms. This is not to say, incidentally, that these platforms will not be provided by Citi or Visa or First Data or NACHA, but what they will be providing will be very different from what they provide today.

P.S. Thanks very much to Aaron Greenspan from FaceCash for getting in touch to correct a factual error in the original version of this post which incorrectly stated that FaceCash used 2D barcodes.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

1 comment

  1. I liked this blog post a great deal. It is intelligently reserched and written. It is a great example of creative solutions that won’t wait for financial insititutions,cell phone card manufacturers and software applicatons to catch up to what businesses and consumers want. It is also a great example of the need to lower the cost of doing business can solved through innovation. This is a must read.

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