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« Finnovation | Main | Time to do something about ATMs »

The magic number

By Dave Birch posted Feb 8 2011 at 8:31 PM

William Long and Kai Zhang, from our friends at Sidley & Austin, present a typically good summary of the main issues raised in the consultations preceding the implementation of the new E-Money Directive (EMD) in the UK in the recent issue of E-Finance & Payments Law & Policy (December 2010).

Generally speaking, things look very positive. The capital requirements are being relaxed so that anyone who wants to provide e-money services probably can do with too much trouble, so I predict that you'll see some major companies moving in now. The prime candidates to offer services are probably telecommunications operators and retailers, but transit operators, event managers, corporate "campus" suppliers and others will surely seize the opportunity. Some have already declared their intentions.

O2 will apply for an e-money licence this year, signalling its commitment to support contactless payments in the UK in the near future.

[From O2 to apply for e-money licence to support NFC payments - 2/2/2011 - Computer Weekly]

The French operators announced a similar move this week. I can't resist noting that this is precisely the strategy that we recommended to mobile operators a couple of years ago (that is, use the upcoming PSD/ELMI changes to start their own payment businesses). Competition is good for innovation, and bringing these new players into the payments business will be very positive for all of us.

The interest of mobile operators is natural, and they have to move quickly to avoid being cut out of the loop by handset-based secure element providers (eg, Apple) who may move quicker than the UICC-based secure element providers (eg, mobile operators). The interest of the transit operators is also natural, since they have the cards out there in peoples' pockets. I still think that we've yet to see the really big plays yet: these will come from the retailers, just as they are in the US.

Kmart has begun testing check cashing, money transfers and prepaid cards in stores in Illinois, California and Puerto Rico, with plans to roll out the services nationally later this year. Best Buy has installed kiosks in its stores for shoppers to pay utility, cable and phone bills. Wal-Mart has opened roughly 1,500 MoneyCenters that process as many as 5 million transactions each week.

[From Retailers offer financial services to 'unbanked']

The use of retailer-issued e-money pre-paid products as a low-cost alternative to bank accounts for the excluded is a win-win. It takes unprofitable customers away from the banks and gives those customers more convenient services. And the retailers could steer customers to use these products at POS, thus saving on their payment processing costs. Personally, I think the prepaid market is not competitive enough (the charges are still too high) but new entrants enabled by the ELMI, new entrants with economies of scale (such as high street retailers), could open up the market and drive down costs very quickly.

Finally, I was also very excited to note in the article that the Treasury is considering my idea of making the balance limit for simplified due diligence (under the Third Anti-Money Laundering Directive) for low-value electronic money "accounts" the same as the value of the largest banknote: in this case, €500. Although they are only looking at this for non-reloadable devices, I think this should be the guiding principle for reloadable devices as well. The link between the two, the "magic number", is entirely symbolic: it doesn't mean anything at all, but it's a good focus for debate.

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


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The suggestion around simplified due diligence is from the Treasury, Louise, not the FSA (as far as I understand things).

Good article, thank you. Can you tell me why I cant find reference to the 'major number' of Eur500 in the UK FSA's policy documents re the implementation of 2EMD? I was hoping to find something to confirm that they'll be allowing this simplified due diligence approach. I'll read the Sidley and Austin link too, that may shed more light...

The implementation of the new E-Money Directive (EMD) certainly paves the way for retailers and telecommunications providers to step into the e-money and payments space; thus further de-hegemonising the banking industry.
Dave Birch rightly points out that mobile operators need to attack this space before others, like Apple, take up market share. However, despite Apple already having a 160 million digital wallet customer-base to tap into, it doesn’t mean they are exempt from the challenges that other operators will face. For example, security and fraud are major issues that all players will need to overcome, and sooner rather than later, so as not to discourage uptake.
Likewise, retailer-issued e-money pre-paid products may open up an alternative option to the bank account for the excluded, and also offer up the opportunity to make micro-payments via an m-payments solution, but the reality is, purchases under £15 aren’t protected as chip ‘n’ pin isn’t required.

M-banking does dangle a new carrot to the pre-paid market, but what’s being done by the providers to assure customers that the technology is secure and their money is protected?

Comment from Hemant Lamba, Banking and Capital Markets Practice, Infosys, and posted by Infosys Press Team

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