On Mondex and CBDCs (again)

Introduction

We were delighted to get a lot of good feedback on Neil’s previous blog on Mondex Memories and CBDCs and its relevance to CBDCs and thought it would be interesting to respond to some of the more interesting – and difficult – points raised in a follow-up blog. Before addressing those I wanted to put the Mondex program into some historical context. They were very different days – we didn’t have an intranet until 1996, let alone internet access. There were no SDKs – although actually we did build a precursor to one of those – or APIs and the idea of remote payments was still in its infancy (although we did that too).

Mondex Memories and CBDC

Mondex paraphernalia

Deep in the mists of time (that is to say, the early-1990s), I led the team from Consult Hyperion responsible for Mondex specification, design and development. For those not familiar with paleo-payments, it was one of a clutch of (contact) smart card based electronic cash systems, none of which survived beyond, let’s say, early adolescence. There were two main reasons for their demise, one technological and one business. The concept was ahead of the capabilities of the underlying technology. Transactions took about the same amount of time as cash plus change, which wasn’t a compelling reason for anyone to leave their wallet behind. The promoters of the schemes (retail banks and payment brands) did not target particular niches where there may have been a business case (I always thought car parking might work) but instead blanketed retail outlets in particular cities or small countries. So, mostly unused devices were put under the counter, and people forgot about the schemes after an initial blaze of publicity.

Request to Pay’s Grand Tour

Earlier this year we were delighted to be part of the Consult Hyperion webinar on Request to Pay.  A common thread in post-event conversations that followed was an interest in the parallel developments of the UK and European flavours of Request to Pay and how they might work together.  With the launch of the European version on June 15th, we thought it an ideal time to signpost the bigger differences.

How Could Digital Currency Work?

The Bank of England and the UK Treasury have announced a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Taskforce to coordinate the exploration of a potential British CBDC. But how could a digital Pound actually work? As it happens, this is something that Consult Hyperion knows rather a lot about. Apart from our work on the first British central bank digital currency (Mondex) back in the 1990s, our work on the first population-scale mobile money scheme (M-PESA) in the 2000s and our work on the most transformational contactless payment roll-out (Transport for London) in the 2010s, our practical experience across implementation platforms means that we understand the architectural options better than anyone.

Building SoftPOS – not as easy as you think.

selective focus photography of person holding iphone displaying white screen

For the third year running, my colleague Gary Munro facilitated a thought-provoking debate around the use of mobile phones and tablets as contactless payment terminals during last week’s virtual Merchant Payments Ecosystem (MPE) conference. For the last three years, Gary and his panellists have tracked the progress of the SoftPOS technology and standards.  The three key messages that I took away from this year’s conversation were that:

Merchant Payments Ecosystem 2021

When we look forward to 2021, it is no surprise that COVID-19 is the dominant factor. So far as the merchant payments world is concerned, the shape of the post-pandemic new normal transaction environment must be the key strategic consideration for stakeholders and I am desperately keen to hear the variety of informed opinion on this topic that I have come to expect at Merchant Payments Ecosystem every year. At Consult Hyperion we like to contribute to these conversations by providing a useful framework for discussion: our annual “Live 5”, our yearly set of suggestions for strategic focus. This year, we choose to look at the key issue of pandemic transformation and its impact of on the three key domains where our clients operate: Payment, Identity and Transit, together with (as is traditional!) a suggestion as to a technology that the POS world may not be thinking about but probably should be.

5 things you need to know about Central Bank Digital Currencies

Central Bank Digital Currencies

Guest blog post by Mirela Ciobanu, The Paypers

The topic of Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) is gaining momentum. Across the globe, many CBDC initiatives aim to digitalise payments, support financial inclusion, make cross border payments faster and cheaper, support fiscal transfer, etc. What is firing up discussions around CBDC and why is it important today?

Adoption of new technologies and understanding of their huge potential to support and stimulate our life has caused the world to change a lot in the last year. The current pandemic has triggered the decline of cash usage to avoid getting the virus and safeguard the most vulnerable ones (health-wise). Economic wise, as many governments wanted to protect their citizens and directly stimulate the economy down to every citizen, they offered ‘helicopter money’ via digital wallets.

The Disintermediation of Business Banking

architectural design architecture banks barclays

I recently had the pleasure of “attending” the LendIt Fintech – Europe 2020 virtual event.  Now, much of the content covered banking services for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), an area that personally I’m not particularly familiar with, but one that is gaining more focus in the news of late.  One thing that struck me was the potential disruption of traditional business banking brought about by open banking.

Payment card issuance errors leave you vulnerable to fraud

Major payment cards

As Consult Hyperion, and as many other analysts, predicted, Covid-19 has driven the adoption and use of contact-free technology at the point of service. A recent survey funded by the National Retail Foundation, found that no-touch payments have increased for 69 percent of US retailers surveyed, since January 2020. In May, Mastercard reported that 78% of all their transactions across Europe were contactless.

Fraudsters are always looking for ways to take advantage of potential weaknesses or even inexperience in new payment devices. A recent news story promoted a man in the middle attack in which two phones are used to transfer and manipulate the transaction message between a stolen contactless card and the point of sale terminal.

No Delay to SCA

Since the FCA announced a further 6 month delay in the UK’s deadline for Strong Customer Authentication there’s been a general expectation that the EBA would follow suit and relax the date for the EEA. However, it now appears that won’t happen – the 31st December 2020 remains the key date and there won’t be any further relaxation in the rules.

This hasn’t been officially announced but appears to have been the gist of a letter by the European Commission’s Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis which makes clear that there’s no consideration in place for a delay and that, in the Commission’s view, the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent rise in e-commerce makes it more urgent to implement rather than less. It looks like the Commission is not for turning and with only a little over six months left to be prepared any merchant or payment service provider than hasn’t been planning for this is likely to be in full panic mode.

At one level it’s hard to disagree with the Commission’s position – the deadline has been shifted already from last September in order to accommodate the industry’s inability to implement in time. Although, in fairness, it ought to be noted that original requirements require a degree in semiotics to fully understand and clarifications have been fitful and, on occasion, too late. However, there’s a degree of real-world pragmatism missing from the decision – the last thing the European economy needs right now is an e-commerce cliff edge right in the middle of the busiest shopping period of the year.

The divergence between the UK and Europe also starts to raise some interesting questions. PSD2 applies to countries within the EEA and not to transactions starting or finishing outside – and as of January 1st 2021 the UK will be fully outside. PSD2 will apply within the EEA ex-UK and within the UK ex-Europe but, barring some kind of passporting agreement, not between them. One option for desperate European e-tailers may be to shift operations to the UK where the SCA deadline is a further 9 months away. Of course, the same applies in reverse: logically there ought to be a compromise, but those seem thin on the ground.

Overall, then, the message to all organisations involved in electronic payments is to assume that SCA will be  enforced from January 1st next year and any firm that can’t support it should expect to see transactions declined. Merchants and PSPs may choose or may not be able to handle SCA but issuers will be ready and won’t want to be upsetting the regulators. For any companies out there that don’t know what to do come and talk to us, we can help guide you through the process – first by helping ensure you’re compliant and then by addressing the additional friction that SCA will introduce.

It isn’t too late to do something about SCA but it does very much look like we are at the eleventh hour.


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