We seem to be getting a lot of media queries at the moment about electronic payments, how they work, and how quickly they happen. Maybe this is a consequence of the increasing use of mobile banking – people can see things happening on their accounts wherever and whenever. This means that the mechanics of payments are more “in your face”. In line with changing customer expectations, payments processing is speeding up, but doing this in a reliable and secure way itself takes time, given the size and importance of the system. Australia’s “direct entry” electronic payments system handles around 8 million payments a day, between about 35 payments organisations (banks and others). There are around 300,000 registered users – these are businesses that routinely use the system – and millions of account-holders. The system is the backbone of Australian business, supporting every kind of payment from big outlays, like commercial rents, through salary and wages (these days, nearly all of us get paid by direct entry) down to the little payments we make to each other on internet and mobile banking.
Change is pretty well the only constant when it comes to consumer payments. In Australia, we have seen a rapid uptake in contactless card use as well as increased use of online payments. Conversely, we have seen a rapid decline in personal cheque use as well as an ever-diminishing use of cash. Monitoring changing payment usage can be notoriously difficult. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and APCA collect and publish statistics from industry participants on cheques, cards and electronic payments as well the number of ATMs and POS devices. However, other types of usage such as cash use and the split between card-present (point-of-sale) and card-not-present (internet, telephone and mail) transactions are more difficult to track. Consumers and merchants don’t regularly record or report their own payments activity – meaning we only get a partial picture of how payments use is evolving.