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How The Pandemic Restructured The US Real-Time Payments Conversation

In A Decade of Digital Transformation in 12 Months, 46 C-suite executives spoke with PYMNTS for its Q2 eBook on what the world will look like as recovery rolls on and the next iteration of normal rolls out. In this excerpt, Odilon Almeida, president and CEO of ACI Worldwide, discusses how American consumers are increasingly open to real-time and digital payments post-pandemic.

Read the entire eBook here.

For years, the industry has buzzed about the potential for real-time payments in the U.S., but the hype has been met with relatively slow execution. Then the pandemic hit, and consumers and businesses alike found themselves facing a myriad of challenges no one could have predicted. Expediency in payments for everything from corporate liquidity to individual financial assistance — along with limits of physical contact — became even more critical.

While we saw real-time innovations advance and transactions grow in 2020, we also recognize that the potential of this technology remains untapped. In short, it took a global pandemic to show us that when it comes to real-time payments, we are not where we need to be. The past year’s push toward faster, contactless payments is poised to shape the future. In light of the pandemic, it became clear that institutions should move their support for transactions that send money instantly and distantly into the mainstream.

The majority of today’s real-time payments activity in the U.S. comes from peer-to-peer payments, with many companies not yet engaged directly. As we learn more about FedNow’s pilot program and watch the growth of The Clearing House’s Real-Time Payments collaboration with Zelle, we will see more conclusive discussions around ubiquity and interoperability, with banks playing a leading role.

Over the next few years, the financial institutions that concentrate on real time will be poised to help shape the future of payments. Not only will corporates welcome the innovation driven by real-time, but they’ll also have the ability to improve cash flow and liquidity while reducing the impact of interchange fees. This opportunity to win big in certain markets will sizably increase as banks enable merchants and billers across verticals to offer value-added services such as Request for Payment (RFP). By sending messages that request payments in real time, RFP features have the capacity to make paying with real-time payments easier for the consumer and beneficial for merchants and billers alike.

Currently, integration of RFP technology is in an embryonic stage in the U.S. – and as with real-time payments overall, the potential is largely untapped. But when positioned together, the real-time payment rails and Request for Payment service can position banks and other financial institutions to better meet the post-pandemic merchant’s and biller’s wide range of needs.

The events of 2020 showed that the American consumer is increasingly open to real-time and digital payments. Mobile wallet usage continues to rise, QR codes are again mainstream and omnichannel payments are now an expectation. Institutions throughout the U.S. must take advantage of this unique opportunity to play a major role in defining the next era of payments.

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