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When It Comes to Payments, COVID-19 Crisis Could Lead to Long-Term Shifts in Consumer Behavior [Q&A]

Katrin Boettger: How do you think the global health crisis and massive economic disruption caused by the pandemic will impact the predictions made in the new research?

Craig Ramsey: The key messages – that real-time is here, real-time is an opportunity for all payment players and real-time is driving increased digital transaction volumes – are even more relevant in these unprecedented times. We expect the current situation to accelerate the growth of real-time and new digital payment services. Right now, we see the use of cash and checks declining, with the WHO warning that cash use may even contribute to spreading the virus. And checks have become pretty much useless, as you can’t go into a bank to deposit them. Corner shops, convenience stores and smaller merchants who previously preferred cash are now preferring cards, and many consumers are shopping online for daily necessities and services. For businesses and consumers, electronic payments and digital payment services have become crucial to navigating the crisis.

KB: What do you see as the long-term ramifications and consequences?

CR: I believe that once the peak of the crisis has passed, many merchants are likely to continue to use electronic payments, and real-time payments could offer a cheaper, faster way to pay than cards that have interchange fees and slower settlement to the merchant. Consumers are adjusting their behavior now, but this may well lead to a long-term behavioral shift in how many of us are conducting our financial affairs. Once the initial crisis is over, we could see more innovation, and the launch of many more new and innovative payment services into the market to capitalize on the shift away from cash and check.

KB: What new use cases, underpinned by real-time payments, do you expect to see taking off in the next few months and years?

CR: Request to Pay (RtP) is the service that is likely to become more popular. It’s already a huge success in India and we are seeing the launch of new Request to Pay services in Europe and the U.S. very soon. Request to Pay will emerge as a viable alternative to cards, as consumers begin to interact directly with merchants. There are a number of key benefits; for many consumers, it will be the convenience factor, and in the current environment it would prevent people from having to deal with cash, cards or card terminals. For merchants, it means they have access to funds immediately, which can be crucial, especially for smaller merchants.

KB: Why is this research useful for the industry?

CR: For many years, we’ve seen banks struggling to define the business case for strategic real-time investment. ACI has worked with GlobalData, a leading payments market research firm, to develop the most detailed insight available into the growth of real-time payments transaction volumes around the world. We have analyzed the data and found five key indicators of a market’s real-time payments success. A national system or individual country does not need all these indicators in place for initial adoption, but a combination of two or more is enough to drive the initial growth explosion. This research will help all stakeholders to formulate a business case and understand the drivers and benefits of real-time adoption.

KB: What are the key takeaways for you?

CR: Our research clearly shows the evolution in the conversation around real-time; it has moved on from “whether we should support real-time” to “what we can do with real-time.” Around the world, the industry is creating new and innovative digital overlay services underpinned by real-time – this global research is a testimony to that fact.

And finally, a look at the “league table” of those countries leading the growth in transaction volumes shows that real-time payments are truly global. We see growth on every continent, and we think the next step in that evolution will be the move towards global interconnectivity and global cross-border real-time payments.

Download a copy of the Prime Time for Real-Time report

Principal Public Relations Manager

Katrin is a former TV business correspondent who moved to the ‘dark side’ of PR ten years ago. She leads ACI’s PR efforts across the EMEA region. Among her responsibilities are to manage external relationships with the press and to make sure ACI’s voice is heard across the region.