Some of the U.S.’s largest retailers, tech companies and fintech players want the Federal Reserve Board to make money as easy to send as an email.
For the likes of Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, and Square, Inc., that could mean opening up the Federal Reserve system to more competition in the payments space.
“The lack of real time payments results in many lost opportunities for American consumers and businesses as the ‘financial payments chain’ lags ‘physical supply chain’ in many cases,” Google said in a Dec. 13 comment letter.
The letters were in response to the Federal Reserve Board’s request for comments on establishing a real-time gross settlements system by 2020.
Real-time payments and settlements would shrink the lag time between payment and deposit, and allow businesses and consumers to access their funds sooner.
The U.S. already lags behind many other nations in offering real-time payments and risks falling even further behind if the Fed doesn’t act, multiple groups said in letters sent before the Dec. 17 comment deadline.
Many tech companies said the Fed could enable application protocol interfaces (APIs) for non-banks to link into the payments system.
APIs could be a catalyst for more industries to adopt an interoperable settlements system, the Financial Innovation Now (FIN) wrote in its letter. The group represents Amazon, Apple, Google, Intuit, PayPal, Square and Stripe.
“Establishing standards for an open banking API layer across the industry will facilitate innovation in payments, as well as achieve the objective of financial inclusion,” Google said in its own letter.
That could lead to developments similar to Europe’s new open banking system. The European Union’s revised directive on payments services (PSD2) is expected to boost competition from fintech companies that could transmit payments and tap into users’ bank account information in new ways.
The Fed also could create the type of directory service used by payments apps like Venmo or Gmail’s 1.5 billion global users to its network.
That would allow consumers and businesses to make payments by email or phone along a low-cost payments network the way the current system uses bank routing and account information, Google said.
Walmart, one of the nation’s largest retailers, is eager for the Fed to establish a system that would offer alternatives to debit and credit card networks.
“It is our belief that the Federal Reserve’s involvement will allow small companies to develop and market solutions that will fill various niches in the ecosystem. The key to ensuring that, in our view, is developing a platform that will foster interoperability,” Walmart said in its letter.
Walmart wants the Fed serve as an “at cost” network operator, to bring something like the Automated Clearing House (ACH) model to a real-time payments system. Mandating shared standards, as well as low-cost and network interoperability akin to the ACH would be vital to the Fed’s effort, Walmart said.
ACH system costs have remained low over time, WalMart said. “That is in stark contrast to nearly every other major payments system Walmart uses to accept consumer payments.”