Blockchain wins the race – final thoughts from Money2020

NCR's Andy Brown offers some final thoughts on the key trends and developments on show at the 2017 Money2020 US event in Las Vegas.

Money2020 US has closed for another year, so here are a few interesting trends and developments that I heard about in the conference sessions – though with several days of content and often four parallel streams I was not able to cover every session. The event does not seem to have any limits, having grown to over 11,000 delegates this year with more exhibition space as well.

While the main themes have not changed much from last year – security, speed, ubiquity – there was more talk on what more should be done to improve the reach of payments and banking services to reach the unbanked and underbanked which, even in the US, are a significant portion of the population.

So what stuck out to me as the main talking points this year?

Streamlining onboarding with data

One of the frustrating elements of signing up for a new service, such as a bank account or a phone contract, for consumers is the amount of information you need to provide. Where you have to print an electronic utility bill to prove your address is one example of the perverse nature of the process. For the business it has the challenge is validating the information to prevent fraudulent claims.

A session on Wednesday morning introduced a scheme being rolled out in Canada where business are willing to electronically share the data they hold subject to the consumer giving permission. So from my mobile banking app I can approve that my bank shares income data or address information to the mobile operator when purchasing that new phone contract.

But it also means they do not get too much information – I have not shared the entire banks statement which is the process today. Keeping the customer in control is essential in this process, but it looks to be an excellent example of where cooperation across businesses can remove friction from the purchase process.

A more contextual experience

Contextual commerce is an area which keeps on developing as data analysis gets better (which links to the sessions on the opening day I covered here). Correctly anticipating the customer’s demand is the nirvana state that many are trying to reach. One panel discussing this, suggesting there are times, though, when you need to stop and let the customer make the next move or initiate the action.  

As in many sessions, thinking about the customer, their experience and their situation is key to successful contextual commerce. It is great having buttons for instant purchase everywhere, but is the consumer going to interrupt their process to use the button? Could there be an automated process that anticipates the need for the purchase anyway. I wrote last week about anticipating the need to fill the car with fuel – that can be extended to other scenarios such as buying powder for the washing machine.

That same panel also raised the challenge of the proliferation of devices and mechanisms for ordering goods and services, all with their own menu hierarchies and options at each layer.  Something needs to happen to simplify this and the obvious mechanism to use is voice commands.

Understanding natural voice commands has come a long way with Siri, Alexa and others. so it is practical to make use of these capabilities in many situations. At NCR’s booth, we showed the use of the voice to request balance and other account information. Equally a single statement of ‘order a cheeseburger and fries pay with my debit card’ simplifies the process significantly.

Where the generational gap still exists

Of course differences in the generations came up in many sessions – but several presenters pointed out that in fact all generations have really adopted the smartphone. Making a process mobile first is therefore essential not just to meeting the needs of millennials and younger age groups but also to those of the baby boomers.

However, there are differences that do need to be allowed for. For instance, Generation Z will trade any of their information and are much less concerned about privacy. Accenture’s research indicated they were 11 times more likely to share payments data than baby boomers. So research data is important to recognize where there are differences.

Blockchain triumphs in Payments Race

One of the more interesting features was the Money2020 Payments Race, where five people had travelled from Toronto to Las Vegas using specific payments mechanisms with specific stopover points along the way. One individual had to just use gold for all his purchases, another contactless payments, another chip-and-PIN, another Bitcoin, while the last had a suitcase of one dollar notes. The winner? Perhaps surprisingly, it was the blockchain-backed cryptocurrency.

But why was this? We heard during the conference that significant volumes of transactions around the world are now contactless – in the case of Australia it is 91 percent of in person payments. But in the US it is less than one percent. So it not surprising that the person trying to use contactless failed to even complete the journey.

Surprisingly chip-and-PIN was difficult to use in some places. Cash was also challenging, as so many things are now expected to be reserved or paid for online, which is impossible with cash. So the person with Bitcoin actually won the race – but that was mainly because of the community of enthusiasts who supported the process.

As with any conference, there are some wild predictions, some surprising analyses, and some that were not surprising. But one strong impression from many at Money2020 was the collaboration that is underway between banks and fintechs to better service consumers recognising that there is a role for both types of organisation. Long may that collaborative nature continue.

Written by Andy Brown

Andy Brown

Andy is marketing director for payments at NCR. He has nearly 30 years' experience in e-payment systems from the delivery and support of systems in the Far East and Europe, from both the product management and marketing perspectives. Based in the UK, Andy is responsible for marketing NCR payment solutions.

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