Friends and relations

While I was sitting through a presentation (a very good presentation, I might add) on social media strategy for one of our client’s financial services businesses, it struck me that they were slightly misjudging the more interactive and transactional nature of social media, doing great stuff but treating social media as another customer communication channel. I’m naturally more interested in social media for transactions: social commerce. I’ve given a couple of talks about this recently, pointing out the opportunities that social commerce opens up.

One prediction says social commerce will top $30 billion globally by 2015 with Facebook-generated sales one of the primary drivers.

[From Infographic: The history of F-commerce | SMI]

There are many different ways that financial services organisations can exploit this. A good example, to my mind, is the way in which Amex works with Foursquare.

Just after announcing that it passed 10 million users, location-based check-in service Foursquare has said it is partnering with American Express to give members even better deals when they check in at merchants’ stores across the country.

[From Foursquare partners with American Express for deal check-ins | VentureBeat]

This is a terrific proposition and it’s well implemented (through statement credits, so no coupons or vouchers or anything are needed). And, to follow this example, Amex also has a Facebook pages where its large number of fans can come to learn about products and services, share with the community of card holders and so on. Great stuff. And it isn’t only financial services organisations that are integrating themselves into social media to create new kinds of social commerce.

That is because the well-known mobile service provider is now allowing its customers to log on to Facebook to purchase phone credit.

[From O2 details new contactless payment technique]

Wow, that’s pretty interesting.

Pre-paid subscribers will now be able to access a secure app on the social networking website, where they will put in credit card details in order to purchase top ups.

[From O2 details new contactless payment technique]

Credit card details? Not Facebook credits? But you get the picture. Something like Facebook can be used to create a more intimate transactional environment without having to develop software, making it easy for consumers to “friend” and “like” and so forth. Personally, I don’t find this sort of thing particularly appealing because to me it’s the wrong kind of social relationship: I want something more granular.

Here’s what I mean. I don’t want to be friends with my bank — after all, I’m a typical consumer so I hate banks — but I do want to be friends with my bank account. Why can’t Barclays let me friend my current account so I can see its status updates like “Premium card fee £10.00”, “Direct Debit British Gas £37.85” and “Counter Credit £5.00” and so forth? I quite like the text messages that Barclays sends me but would prefer something more immediate and more detailed (I often call this “streaming commerce”) so that I can make decisions and respond.

Similarly, I don’t especially want to be friends with MBNA, but I do want to be friends with my MBNA American Express card. I’m using “friend” generically, of course, I don’t mean to imply that Facebook is the one and only way to implement a social media strategy.

Facebook usage in the UK fell nearly 4pc in July to its lowest level since 2009, sparking concerns that the social network has hit its peak and may be declining in popularity.

[From Facebook usage falls to three-year low – Telegraph]

I don’t use Facebook that much — it’s really for sharing with my brother and sister, other family members and a few old friends — and I’ve not got a crystal ball to see whether we’ll still be using it in a couple of years.

Many of the smartest people I know are leaving Facebook as well. I predict we’ll see many people leaving over the coming months and adopting Twitter.

[From The Facebook Exodus and the Future of Human Communication « Far Beyond The Stars | Cyborgs, second selves and cybernetic yogis]

My idea would work even better with Twitter though. Suppose Twitter made a small change to their system so that a user could opt to be in “secure” mode. A secure mode user can only be followed (or searched) by users in their “secure list” or whatever. Then, my MasterCard could be secure user “mc-53XX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX” the only name in its secure list would be “@dgwbirch”. Now, when anyone else tries to follow or search mc-53XX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX they see nothing.

I’d love to follow my John Lewis MasterCard on Twitter in the way instead of having to log in to find out what it’s been up to. Since I use Twitter all day and every day anyway, it would be a much better channel for payment products to develop a more intimate relationship with me. And think of the practical benefits: if I get a tweet from my debit card telling me it’s just been used to withdraw money from an ATM in Belarus, I can call Barclays right away to block it from further misbehaviour. This doesn’t seem terribly complex: all Barclays need to know is my twitter name and then it can use the Twitter API to post tweets and only allow me to follow them.

If I could follow my transactional instruments, I could also (in time) feed their tweets, status updates, notifications and so on into other software for mash-ups. I don’t know what kind of mash-ups – I’m not smart enough for that – but I’m sure there are people out there who could do great stuff with the data. So a plea to my account, card and service providers: I don’t want to be friends with you, because you are corporations and not mates, but I don’t want to be friends with my stuff: my money, my cards, my phone. How hard can it be?

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

Cash means a lot of baggage

With my feet up and a cup of tea, I was relaxing reading David R. Warwick’s “The Case Against Cash” in the July edition of “The Futurist” magazine. He notes that of the $829 billion in US currency “in circulation”, two-thirds is outside the US. According to the Boston Fed, the average US consumer has only $79 about their person, with another $157 at home or in the office. Say $200 each for 200 million consumers, that comes to only $40 billion. Even if you calculate it at $300 each for 300m consumers, that’s still only $90 billion, which would imply that about two-thirds of the cash in the US in unaccounted for, a figure that tallies well with more detailed calculations made for some European countries. That means that if the US is as law-abiding as, say, Norway, then there’s about $200 billion of cash in the US that is only used for tax evasion, crime, money laundering and so on.

Mr. Warwick says that the biggest single benefit of the abolition of cash in the US will be the elimination of cash robberies, which costs the country about $140 billion per annum. This may be so, but personally, I think that the greatest benefit will be what he puts second on the list: financial inclusion. People trapped in a cash economy are not only discriminated against (because they pay the highest transactions costs) but they are cannot get on the financial services ladder. They have to take payday loans instead of bank loans, use cheque-cashing services and so on. Helping these people on to that ladder is a very positive outcome for the electronic payments industry (assuming that it can deliver the low-cost products that are needed to do this).

Naturally I sympathise with Mr. Warwick, but I don’t hold out much short term hope for the US getting rid of cash, although I can see that there are some interesting ways to make progress. A correspondent wrote, kindly, in response to a recent post I made about the role of e-payments in reducing cash evasion.

In addition to strict regulations that require POS technology to retain sales records (and criminal liability if they are found to be tampered), the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo created a program called “Nota Fiscal Paulista” which works by consumer demand. It encourages consumers to ask for their receipts, which pressures the business into declaring their sales taxes to the state tax collector. At year’s end the consumer gets a share of their taxes paid returned to them, as well as an entry in a larger lottery. I’ve had family members win sizeable pots simply for opting in to this receipt at check out.

Many merchants really dislike this scheme, presumably because it works, but they are obliged to offer it because of consumer pressure. There’s another similar scheme in Korea, whereby merchants who take more than some threshold (75%?) volume of their transactions electronically rather than in cash get a tax break. The government has presumably calculated that reducing tax evasion from cash sales more than makes up for the revenue reduction from the tax break. Perhaps in these straightened times the US tax authorities might begin to make similar calculations.

However, while the US may not be able to get rid of cash domestically — more’s the pity — it could at least start trying to get rid of cash in some other theatres. Perhaps a good place to start might be somewhere where, unlike America, there is a viable mobile phone-based alternative to cash: Afghanistan, where the M-PAISA scheme is up and running.

Electronic payments, if implemented properly, can bring transparency as well as efficiency. And transparency can have some unexpected consequences. Look what happened when the M-PESA service was launched in Afghanistan (as M-PAISA) and used to introduce efficiency into the process of salary payments for civil servants…

[From Digital Money: Cash does have some unique properties]

Another factor pointing to Afghanistan as the nexus for such an experiment is that the campaign against cash there may be able to co-opt a pretty powerful ally: the US military.

For the past few years the military has been striving to replace its cash transactions with electronic fund transfers and debit card payments in the hopes of achieving a “cashless battlefield,” in the words of Peter Kunkel, a former assistant secretary of the Army.

[From Turn In Your Bin Ladens –]

Right now, the battlefield is only cashless because all of the cash is being spirited away as soon as it arrives and (I’m sure) to no good purpose — as I heard our (former) man in Kabul Sherard Cowper-Coles pointing out on the BBC’s Start the Week programme recently — and there doesn’t seem to be any way to keep it in place.

Last month, a well-dressed Afghan man en route to Dubai was found carrying three briefcases stuffed with $3 million in U.S. currency and $2 million in Saudi currency, according to an American official who was present when the notes were counted. A few days later, the same man was back at the Kabul airport, en route to Dubai again, with about $5 million in U.S. and Saudi bank notes.

[From Officials puzzle over millions of dollars leaving Afghanistan by plane for Dubai]

I love the title of the article, don’t you? It doesn’t seem that much of a “puzzle” to me.

Cash declaration forms filed at Kabul International Airport and reviewed by The Washington Post show that Afghan passengers took more than $180 million to Dubai during a two-month period starting in July. If that rate held for the entire year, the amount of cash that left Afghanistan in 2009 would have far exceeded the country’s annual tax and other domestic revenue of about $875 million.

[From Officials puzzle over millions of dollars leaving Afghanistan by plane for Dubai]

There really ought to be more upset about the havoc that these billions of US dollars cause but not merely facilitating but actively encouraging corruption on such an enormous scale, yet even at the very highest levels there’s no sense (that I can find) of outrage. In fact, everyone (except taxpayers, presumably) seems quite happy with the seigniorage-powered status quo.

Karzai said cash transactions are quite normal and then-President George W. Bush was aware of the Iranian donations. The United States supposedly gives him bags of cash as well.

[From BlogPost – Karzai’s bags of cash a conundrum for the U.S.]

Interestingly, when he says “bags of cash” he isn’t speaking metaphorically: they actually do give him bags of cash, as do the Iranians apparently. I don’t think any of them are going to get behind my campaign to reduce the use of cash to the great benefit of society as a whole.

Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government, with one cable alleging that vice president Zia Massoud was carrying $52m in cash when he was stopped during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

[From US embassy cables leak sparks global diplomatic crisis | World news | The Guardian]

Not mobile phone top-up vouchers or open-loop prepaid cards or high-street vouchers, but FIFTY TWO MILLION GREENBACKS. That made me wonder about his baggage allowance. How much would $52m in weigh? Could you fit it in cabin luggage or would you have to check it? After all 520,000 $100 bills take up a fair bit of space. I seem to remember from a previous discussion, that a cereal box can hold $500,000 so we’re talking about 100 cereal boxes at least.

In reality, restricting ourselves to $100 bills, the maximum is only $450,000 (the New Jersey ne’erdowells didn’t pack optimally!).

[From Digital Money: Has cash jumped the shark?]

I don’t think you could fit 100 cereal boxes in the two checked bags that you’re allowed on British Airways, but I suppose vice presidents are allowed a couple more. But back to the point, which is…

Why does the world need 1 billion $100 bills? Indeed, why does the U.S. continue to print C-notes at all?

[From Hundred-dollar bills are for criminals and sociopaths. Why do we still print them? – By Timothy Noah – Slate Magazine]

Look, I’m not making any sort of political point about Afghanistan, I’m arguing this general point. The US should cease printing $50 and $100 bills immediately. They have no function in supporting commerce.

And it’s not just that carrying around cash is inconvenient and time consuming. These days, one of its main functions is to finance the black economy: drug deals, counterfeiting, under-the-table employment and other nefarious activities. Because cash is anonymous, people can easily opt out of the taxable economy – leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab for their use of public services. Remove cash entirely, and you make it far more difficult to avoid tax, not to mention discouraging criminal activity.

[From I’m dreaming of a cashless Christmas – Telegraph]

I written before about a current example of large amounts of cash making a problem (that no-one would claim is caused by cash) significantly worse.

Ransoms are paid in cash, partly because Somalia has no functioning banking system, and partly to hamper American anti-money-laundering investigators

[From Piracy: No stopping them | The Economist]

I have to say that this piracy is looking more and more like a viable career option to me. It is very well remunerated and there appears to be much less chance of going to jail than in, say, investment banking or management consultancy.

Of the 650 Somali pirates caught since late 2008, 460 have already been released, according to Lloyd’s Market Association

[From Prime Numbers: The Pirate Den – By Bridget Coggins | Foreign Policy]

The English have a proud history of piracy, so I think I’d fit right in. Avast ye landlubbers!

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


There’s something odd about a conference on Mobile Money & Migrant Remittances held in a hotel with no mobile coverage and a $25/day charge for wifi, but despite that I thoroughly enjoyed popping along and meeting up with friends from around the world there. I was on the Strategy Panel covering financial inclusion, and this coincidentally, the day after I had been quoted in Warren’s “Washington Internet Daily“:

Mobile payment systems are often treated with a lighter regulatory touch than mobile banking, to reach as many users as possible, Birch said. The need to integrate the “unbanked” into society should “tip the value” toward less regulation of low-value transactions, he said.

An entirely accurate representation of my views. A correspondent wrote in response:

Very sensible words! Not sure if you have actually read FATF’s NPM report from October 2010, but it is actually pretty good, and recommends the right thing: a light KYC regime (including no verification) for specific low risk accounts, praising the power of transactions limits and monitoring.

As it happens, I hadn’t read the FATF New Payment Methods report, so I downloaded it to take a look and discovered some surprisingly sensible conclusions. By “New Payment Methods”, or NPM, the FATF means specifically internet payment systems, mobile payment systems and prepaid card products. My correspondent had noted, to my surprise, that some of their conclusions echo my own ranting on the topic: that is, a light-touch KYC regime (including no verification for specific low risk accounts), with attention paid to setting the right transaction limits and appropriate monitoring and reporting requirements. The report is based on a number of case studies, so the conclusions are based in practical analysis, however it must be said that they are probably not statistically utterly sound.

The project team analysed 33 case studies, which mainly involved prepaid cards or internet payment systems. Only three cases were submitted for mobile payment systems, but these involved only small amounts.

Personally, I found many of the case studies in chapter four of the report uninteresting. Yes, in some cases prepaid cards, or whatever, were used as a part of a crime, but in many of the frauds so were cash and bank accounts. One of the case studies concerned the use of multiple prepaid cards by an individual found to have 12 legally-obtained driving licences in different names (and $145,000 in cash). I’d suggest that cracking down on the driving licence issuing process ought to be more of a priority! The issue of access to transaction record is, I think, much more complicated than many imagine. You could, for example, imagine transaction records that are encrypted with two keys — your key and the system key — so that you can go back and decrypt your records whenever you want, but the forces of law and order would need to obtain a warrant to get the system key. Sounds good. But I might not want a foreign, potentially corrupt, government department to obtain my transactions for perfectly good reasons (like it’s none of their business).

The report says very clearly that the overall threat is “difficult” to assess (so some of the rest of it, I think, is necessarily a trifle fuzzy) but also that the anti-money laundering (AML) and counter terrorist financing (CTF), henceforth AML/CTF, risks posed by anonymous products can be effectively mitigated. I agree. And I also strongly agree with chapter three of the report notes that electronic records give law enforcement something to go on where cash does not. This is something that I’ve mentioned previously, both on this blog and in a variety of other fora, because I think it’s a very important point.

I said that I was not sure that keeping people out of the “system” was the best strategy (because if the terrorists, drug dealers and bank robbers on the run stay in the cash economy, then they can’t be tracked, traced or monitored in any way)

[From Digital Money: Anti-anti money laundering]

The report goes on to expand on the issue of mitigation and, to my mind, deals with it very well. It says that:

Obviously, anonymity as a risk factor could be mitigated by implementing robust identification and verification procedures. But even in the absence of such procedures, the risk posed by an anonymous product can be effectively mitigated by other measures such as imposing value limits (i.e., limits on transaction amounts or frequency) or implementing strict monitoring systems.

Why is this so important? As well as keeping costs down for industry and stimulating the introduction of competitive products, the need for identification is a barrier to inclusion. This link between identification and inclusion is clear, whatever you think about the identification system itself. India is turning out to be a fascinating case study in that respect.

The process would benefit beneficiaries of welfare schemes like old-age pension and NREGA, enabling them to draw money from anywhere as several blocks in Jharkhand have no branches of any bank and would save them from travelling to distant places for collecting money.

[From Unique numbers will save duplication in financial transactions – Ranchi – City – The Times of India]

But I can’t help cautioning that while customer identification is difficult where no national identity scheme exists, but there is a scheme it may give a false sense of security because obtaining fraudulent identities might be easier than obtaining fraudulent payment services in some jurisdictions or where officials from dodgy regimes (like the UK) are at work…

Prosecutor Simon Wild told the court Griffith abused his position by rubber stamping work permit applications that were obviously fake or forged using false names and references.

[From British embassy official ‘nodded through scores of visa applications’ | Mail Online]

For low risk products, then, the way forward is absolutely clear: no identification requirements, potentially strong authentication requirements and controlled access to transactions records. One small problem, though, that the report itself highlights: there are no uniform, international, cross-border standards for what constitutes a “low risk” product. But that’s for another day.

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that the payment mechanisms that scored worst in the high-level risk table (on page 23) and therefore the one that FATF should be working hardest to crack down on is cash.

P.S. I apologise to the conference organisers for my radio silence during the event, but I belong to the #canpaywontpay tendency: I can afford $25/day for wifi (since I’m not paying, I just expense it to the compnay) but I won’t pay it, because it’s outrageous. No wifi means no twitter, no blog, no buzz. That’s not how conferences should be in 2011.

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

Including everyone

As a chap named Bill Gates wrote recently,

Technology can be a major force to advance financial inclusion, which can help improve the lives of the poor in the developing world.

[From Untitled]

He’s absolutely right, of course. People who are trapped in the cash economy are the ones who are most vulnerable to theft and extortion, most likely to lose their hard-earned notes and coins or have them destroyed by monetary policies, pay the highest transaction costs, lack credit ratings or references and (in an example I heard from Elizabeth Berthe of Grameen at the Digital Money Forum this year) most likely to have their life savings eaten by rats. So what should be done? Well, having governments take the problem seriously and set targets is a good start.

the RBI target of ensuring 100% financial inclusion in villages of 2,000 plus population in the state by March 2010… banks could adopt the RBI’s advice of making use of the business correpondent-BF model, as per the guidelines, to extend the banking services.

This was in keeping with the RBI’s decision to launch a renewed drive for opening up of no-frills accounts in respect of families who do not have a bank account, on the basis of the data relating to the public distribution system.

[From Banks urged to take steps to ensure 100% financial inclusion –]

To continue with this specific case, it has proved very difficult to translate these targets into action in the heavily-regulated Indian market.

Adding to their presence, the cost of operating a bank account and the cost of transaction for banking services —which includes deposits, withdrawals, credit and other banking products — is not only high for the consumers but also for the banks. This leads to little penetration and reduced delivery of services in order to bring the large number of potential un-banked/under banked population under the mainstream banking system.

[From Financial Inclusion In India]

As far as I can see, banking is a really expensive and really inflexible way to obtain inclusion, and as we all know, there are better ways to obtain inclusion with new technology. In particular, new technology when combined with the business correspondent model mentioned in connection with the RBI guidelines above ought to be delivering more transformation.

A Wharton School study pegs the cost of a transaction at a bank branch at around $1 (Rs. 45). At an automated teller machine, it goes down to about $0.40. And done through business correspondents, the cost drops even lower to $0.10.

[From Banking on technology to bridge financial inclusion gap – Economy and Politics –]

Another way forward might be to treat mobile payments as a first step on the ladder to inclusion and try to find a way to bring mobile payments to the mass market and then use the mobile payment platform to deliver other financial services. Naturally, give our work on the project, I can’t resist highlight M-PESA in this context.

This is why, I believe, that the success that Vodafone (through its subsidiary Vodacom) achieved in Tanzania is so important. It was reported that more than a million subscribers have signed up on the service (Read here), but indications at the Congress were that this number has now more than doubled. The fact that Vodafone has demonstrated that they can duplicate the success of mPesa in other countries, is of significant importance. This means that the Kenya experience was not a fluke, and that Vodafone has learned what it takes to make these roll-outs work.

[From Mobile Banking: Vodafone prove mPesa repeatability]

I hate to keep going on about M-PESA, but our experiences advising Vodafone in the early days of this project contain a number of useful lessons, in particular about the relationship between new entrants and regulators. But I wanted to make a different point.

A couple of years ago we were doing some work for a client who was thinking of developing something like M-PESA. I won’t name them, obviously, but I hope no-one will mind if I mention one of our recommendations. Our Head of Mobile Money, Paul Makin, who worked on M-PESA when it was still whiteboard scribble, was asked what he would have changed in the original specification if he had had the wisdom of hindsights, and his top priority was APIs for MIS access. This is why I wasn’t surprised to see this in a report from the front line.

Data from M-PESA cannot directly be imported into the management information systems (MIS) at MFIs. For KADET, this means all payments made through M-PESA have to be manually input into their MIS, another opportunity for human error to affect the process.

[From Mobile Payments: the Devil is in the Details « Kiva Stories from the Field]

(I strongly urge you to read this short and fascinating article about real experiences linking to M-PESA in the field, by the way.) Taking the mobile payments transactional data and providing corporate access is, I think, a key plank in the inclusion strategy. In Kenya, financial institutions have already started to use M-PESA transaction data as a substitute for a credit rating when looking at providing loans and I’m sure that new opportunities will arise due course: with the wisdom of hindsight, better corporate interfaces would have accelerated this process.

This is the short of thing I expect to discuss more when I’m on the panel on Financial Inclusion at the forthcoming Mobile Money and Migrant Remittances conference in London on 16th-18th May 2011. They’ve got a great set of speakers, including Forum friend Elizabeth Berthe from Grameen and John Maynard from Vodafone, and I’m really looking forward to it.

In an act of astonishing charity, the wonderful people at ICBI have given me a two-day delegate pass for the conference — worth an amazing ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE POUNDS — to give away on this blog as a competition prize. So if you are going to be in London on those dates and you’d like to come along to meet some of the global leaders in the mobile and remittance space, all you have to do is be the first person to respond to this post telling me when Western Union, the founders of the electronic money business in 1871, finally shut down their telegraph service.

In the traditional fashion, this competition is open to all except for employees of Consult Hyperion and members of my immediate family, is void where prohibited and has been risk-assessed under all relevant guidelines. The prize must be claimed within three months. Oh, and no-one can win more than one of the Digital Money Blog prizes per calendar year.

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

Resolution no.1: stop making predictions

Osama Bedier, VP of Platform, Mobile and New Ventures at PayPal, joins the tradition of making predictions for the coming year. I’m always loath to do this, for two reasons:

  1. because it’s a dangerous game as a consultant. Consult Hyperion are working on plenty of client projects that are confidential and relate to new products and services that will be announced during the year and I don’t want to mess up and accidentally “leak” any of these;

  2. because it’s really difficult and wrong predictions come back to haunt you.

In Osama’s case, however, I think at least four of his five key trends are spot on and the fifth is probably right. Let’s join in the New Year fun and have a look at what he said.

Mobile, mobile, mobile. Wallet in the cloud. The digital wallet. Call it what you want, but mobile devices are poised to become a primary form of payment for millions of people around the world… Consider that PayPal saw a 310 percent increase in mobile payment volume on Black Friday 2010 compared to the previous year, and a 292 percent increase in mobile payment volume on Cyber Monday 2010 compared to Cyber Monday 2009. Without a doubt, mobile payments are here to stay and will see significant innovation in the coming year.

[From Five payment trends to watch in 2011 | VentureBeat]

This is impossible to contradict and anyone who doesn’t think that mobile is central to the evolution of the entire payments market this coming year is absolutely 100% wrong. I’ve consistently said — for a decade — that mobile payments will be more important than web payments and I absolutely stand by this. I think I might go further and say that the biggest mobile payments story of the year will be the arrival of Android phones with NFC interfaces, and these will transform the payments landscape.

T-commerce. TV will go from a passive (viewing-only) experience to a highly interactive activity as more and more apps are developed specifically for the platform.

[From Five payment trends to watch in 2011 | VentureBeat]

One of the very first reports that I ever wrote about payments and the new media said the companies should focus on t-commerce as well as m-commerce because in the medium term these would become the key channels. I was wrong about the TV side of things: it has take much longer to develop than I thought, probably because the sector remains focused on “traditional” business models around subscription and advertising. Surely it’s going to change this year.

Appification’. IDC issued a new report that says, among other things, over the past three years the mobile apps space has seen an “appification” of “broad categories of interactions and functions in both the physical and the digital worlds.” And this only stands to continue — in fact, the same IDC report projects mobile app revenue to grow from $4.9 billion in 2010 to $35 billion by 2014.

[From Five payment trends to watch in 2011 | VentureBeat]

In the smartphone world, payment apps are going to be big, but I think we all recognise that they are one part of a new value-adding ecosystem that involves vouchers, coupons, loyalty and so on as well as the basic payment itself. This is why I suspect that simply porting exiting payment mechanisms (eg, credit cards) to the mobile platform will not be sufficient to obtain competitive advantage.

A Cashless Society. Now let’s not go crazy here, I’m not suggesting that by this time next year we’ll be living in a cashless society. Far from it. That said, 2011 will undoubtedly see several significant steps that will take us closer to such a world.

[From Five payment trends to watch in 2011 | VentureBeat]

I think he’s right about this, even though plenty of other people are sceptical. In many places, these first steps have already been taken and I think the pressure to reduce the amount of cash in circulation over the coming year will come not from the electronic payments industry but from governments, law enforcement agencies, trade unions and others who want to make a start on reducing crime and tax evasion. The trigger, however, is mobile. It is the arrival of mobile payments that makes cashlessness a realistic possibility and means that the industry can respond to these pressures.

Social shopping is clearly poised for significant growth… Among the key drivers of this trend are micropayments and digital goods. Along the same lines of merging physical world experiences with digital activity, the ability to make quick, small purchases for online content represents a huge opportunity for both content producers and providers.

[From Five payment trends to watch in 2011 | VentureBeat]

This is the one I’m not sure about, and that’s because while we tend to focus on what’s happening at Facebook and the like, I think we’re still in the very early stages of social media and I don’t think we really understand how the sector is going to develop. The role of mobile, NFC and other connectivity technologies in the evolution of social media is still changing and the disconnection technologies are still awaiting standardisation and mass deployment. So while I agree that social shopping will continue to grow, I’m not sure whether it will change the payments space or simply use the products coming from the payments space (or, to put it another way, will Facebook credits break out into new markets?). Perhaps there’s another possibility for this fifth spot. Over at the Financial Services Club, someone whose opinions I always takes seriously highlights something else:

Major investments in creating agile infrastructures and platforms to respond to regulatory requirements.

[From The Financial Services Club’s Blog: Six key technology developments for banks in 2011]

I’m sure Chris is right. The changing regulatory environment is bound to be a big influence on the technology spend for the coming year. New platforms that help to make compliance, in particular, easier to manage will be very attractive to financial institutions. You only have to look at what’s been happening in the cards world to see this.

He noted that PCI compliance has been a significant burden, costing an average of $20,000 for merchants that average only $32,000 in pretax profits; they will gravitate to solutions that reduce PCI scope (tokenization, point-to-point encryption, etc.).

[From Tidbits and Sound Bites from the 2010 Chicago Fed Payments Conference — Payments Views from Glenbrook Partners]

Scatchamagowza! Compared to the cost of renting the terminal, merchant fees and other costs associated with accepting cards payments, this is huge. Shaving a tiny amount off of fees won’t tip a business model anything like as much as making a significant cut to compliance costs, so this must be a priority area for investment and new services that can help will find a ready market.

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

Announcing London BarCampBank4

I’m a big fan of the unconference format, where the agenda is set on the day by the participants, so I’m very excited to announce that the 4th BarCampBankLondon “Unconference” will be held on 31st January 2011. The facilities will be provided by NESTA at their offices at 1 Plough Place, London EC4A 1DE with support from Consult Hyperion and BullionVault. Look forward to seeing you there!

This year, there will be a special focus on the role of financial services and institutions and their potential to help local communities unlock currently underutilised capacity to meet currently unmet needs. Why? Well, the new coalition government in the UK has an initiative called “The Big Society”: The Big Society is about helping people to come together to improve their own lives and putting more power in peoples hands. There is real interest – both within and outside of government – around the potential of ‘people helping people’ models such as complementary currencies and timebanking. The recent “giving” green paper consultation launched by the Cabinet Office makes particular reference to the potential of complementary currencies and raises questions around scaling local timebanks on a national scale.

New complementary currencies mean new institutions and my particular interest at the event will be to explore potential institutional arrangements. What would it mean to make complementary currencies part of the financial services landscape? What new kinds of financial institutions are need for the new economy? Questions like these deserve examination from a range of perspectives and I hope that we can exploit the opportunity to explore decentralisation, locality, community in financial services. New technologies — everything from mobile phones and smart cards to Facebook and Twitter — have a key role to play here, both in terms of stimulating new organisational models and and scaling up working alternative models to regional and national scale.

The number of tracks running in each session naturally depends on the number of participants and what they want to talk about but for BarCampBankLondon4 we hope to run 3-4 parallel sessions both before and after lunch. The topics to be covered in each track depend on you, the audience, but I expect them to range across new ideas for financial services businesses, ways to use new technology (with a big focus on social media), banking regulation and industry structure, community banking and a wide range of related issues.

The proposed agenda for the day is simple:

10am Welcome and introductions

10.30am Agenda-setting and ice-breaking

11am – 12.15pm First Session

12..15-12.30pm Report and review

12.30pm-1.30pm Lunch and networking

1.30-2.30pm Second Session

2.15-2.30pm Report and Review

2.30-3.30pm Third Session

3.30-4pm Report and Review, Closing Discussion.

See you at at NESTA on 31st January 2011. We hope to see 50-60 people there but space is limited, so please register right away here via MeetUp. There is a nominal booking charge of £10 and all delegates will receive copies of the latest Digital Money Reader with the compliments of Consult Hyperion and When Money Dies with compliments of BullionVault.


To understand why the fuss, and why this is of relevance to the digital money world, you need to understand a couple of technical architectures relating to mobile phones and the role of the Secure Element (SE). The SE doesn’t exist in phones yet, but it’s important because if we want to implement anything important (such as payments) inside a phone, we need somewhere to store cryptographic keys, and that somewhere needs to be tamper-resistant to a great degree. Thus we need a handset to have an SE. Ah! You might say: but handsets already have a tamper-resistant thingumy inside them, why not use that?

That’s a good point. In the modern way of things, the tamper-resistant chip thingumy the handset is more properly called the UICC:

The UICC (Universal Integrated Circuit Card) is the smart card used in mobile terminals in GSM and UMTS networks. The UICC ensures the integrity and security of all kinds of personal data, and it typically holds a few hundred kilobytes. With the advent of more services, the storage space will need to be larger.

[From UICC – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Historically, we’ve tended to associate the UICC (in the form of a removable smart card) with one application only, and that application is the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) that allows the phone to connect to a mobile network and refer to the combination as “the SIM”. But…

A UICC may contain several applications, making it possible for the same smart card to give access to both GSM and UMTS networks, and also provide storage of a phone book and other applications

[From UICC – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

It can also contain more than one of each. Thus, you could have multiple “soft SIMS” inside one UICC (that special case where the UICC contains only one application, and that is a SIM, we will refer to henceforth as the “hard SIM”). Now let’s consider what happens when Apple add an NFC interface to their devices and therefore need an SE.

The filing also points to the inclusion of near-field communication (NFC) technology in upcoming iPhones — and, for that matter, in Macs and media devices such as the Apple TV.

[From Apple patent seeks to reinvent retail • The Register]

Where can the SE that makes the NFC interface useful go? Either we can plug in an SE (eg, a DeviceFidelity microSD) or we can add an SE to the UICC (the e GSM Association, GSMA, preferred option) or we can build an SE into the device by adding it to the motherboard. The GSMA want to put the applications that control the NFC interfaces to be on the UICC, which kind of makes sense because if you take your UICC out of one phone and put it in another, then you’d want your SE applications (eg, your MasterCard, Oyster etc) to go with it. But not everyone thinks that the SIM is the key to this picture.

Suppose that instead of adding an SE, Apple add a UICC and put the SE in that? What this means in practice is that the UICC will be inside the iPhone or iPad or Mac, on the motherboard. But the SE need not be the only contents of the UICC. Why not put soft SIMs in there as well and do away with fiddly microSIMs? If I walk into the Apple Store in London and buy a 3G iPad, say, then the UICC could come with a default SIM application. Let’s say this is O2. When I take the iPad to France, instead of paying outrageous 3G roaming charges (and therefore leaving my iPad at home), my iPad will download a French operator’s SIM application and start using that. I won’t choose the operator — in fact I won’t even know this is going on, because Apple will simply negotiate with mobile operators to provide commodity service.

In other words, perhaps we move to a world in which the operators’ SIM connectivity function becomes just software running on someone else’s physical card.

[From Dean Bubley’s Disruptive Wireless: Apple, embedded SIMs, NFC and mobile payments – some speculation]

Dean is spot on. And you can see plenty of positives in this architecture. If you’re not a mobile operator, that is. If you’re a mobile operator, this is another step towards being nothing more than a pipe. As a customer, I think I’d be quite happy with the mobile operators as a pipe, selected purely on a cost/QoS basis (and competing with each other on that basis). After all, they haven’t (in Europe) got very far with “smart pipe” services such as, just to name two examples, digital money and digital identity. So the Apple UICC containing soft SIMs and an SE may not be such a bad architectural option for consumers. But…

The operators are privately saying they could refuse to subsidise the iPhone if Apple inserts an embedded subscriber identity module, or Sim card.

[From / Telecoms – Apple warned over built-in Sim cards]

There are other people in this value chain too, such as smart card manufacturer Gemalto who were rumoured to be making the Apple UICC.

Gemalto explained to us why such a deal, which involved a significant amount of devolution from the mobile phone operators to the mobile phone manufacturers, is unlikely to happen without the tacit approval of network carriers themselves.

Gemalto has been a strategic partner for mobile phone operators for more than a decade now (the company is the biggest SIM manufacturer in the world) and gets the majority of its revenue (more than 60 per cent of last year’s 1.654 billion Euros).

[From Gemalto : No Apple iPhone 5 Deal On The Table Yet |]

Quite. But let’s just go back over another main point: in order to provide payments, or other useful services, via NFC it is not necessary to have the co-operation of the carriers.

Visa’s approach “shows that basically there’s nothing that the carriers can do that the [payment] networks can’t do without them,” McPherson said.

[From Mobile Payments Set for Surge, But Who ll Set the Pace? – American Banker Article]

The mobile operators have no acceptance at retail POS so they have to work with payment scheme partners to reach scale, but other payments players don’t need the operators. They can put stickers on the back of phones, plug microSD into handsets or use the NFC interfaces that will be built in by Google, Apple and RIM. Since customers will come to expect these services, they will eventually get built in to all handsets. Unless the operators can launch highly functional NFC platforms quickly (which they probably should have started doing a couple of years ago) then they will be out of the loop.

Issuing hard SIMs is expensive, so if the operator’s connection with the customer is downgraded, there is no point in doing it and the operators would save money by providing soft SIMs to any UICC that they can bill to. So I think the situation is this: in the future, many devices will a UICC built-in. This UICC will function as an SE for NFC interfaces. The UICC will store a number of soft SIMs, not only for mobile phone communications but for future 4G and 5G communications. The UICC will also hold standard digital money and digital identity applications. And instead of Vodafone and Telefonica controlling the matrix, Apple and Google will.

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

With my peers

[Dave Birch] I went over to the FS Club to hear Forum friend Giles Andrews of Zopa give an update on their progress. He explained that one way of thinking about Zopa is as a bond market for consumers, but one that allows people to get a social return as well as a financial one. What an interesting description. And it was an interesting meeting. I won’t quote anyone, because the meeting was held under the Chatham House rule, but rather I will give some general impressions of the discussion…

We all know Zopa as P2P lending, a marketplace for money. It’s not that hard to set up a web site, though, so there must be more to it. What makes it work, seeing as their numbers have steadily climbed? Giles gave a few insights: he said, for example, that the core of Zopa’s business is their sophisticated credit rating model. I deduce it must be working tolerably well, since their bad debts over the last five years have averaged 70bp.

What I found particularly interesting was the relationship between Zopa and retail banks. In an odd way, the credit crunch came along at the right time for Zopa. Their lending went from £15 million in 2008 to £35 million in 2009 to £75 million this year. It seems to me that as public trust in banks collapsed (along with the interest rates) so more and more people turned to Zopa.

Recently Zopa have been lobbying for regulation of P2P Lending in UK.

[From New Datamonitor report on P2P Lending in the UK has some interesting analysis points « The Bankwatch]

This is true. In fact Giles has said that Zopa think they should be highly regulated and properly supervised. This would be good for them for two reasons: first of all it would create a structure for more competition, and more competition is good for innovation and excellence, and secondly it would further legitimise the P2P sector, thus bringing in more borrowers and lenders. It would also, presumably, bring in more competitors, which would be good for competition.

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