July 17, 2012

Major banks launch person-to-person payments

Three of the country’s biggest banks have moved into a segment of the consumer market that has been dominated by non-bank companies.

Three of the country’s biggest banks have moved into a segment of the consumer market that has been dominated by non-bank companies.

In the past couple of months Wells Fargo & Co. has developed and rolled out a person-to-person payment system called ClearXchange that includes Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase.

The service allows customers of the three banks — which together hold a third of the nation’s deposits — to send each other money electronically using only a cellphone number or e-mail address.

It puts those banks in the same space as PayPal, an electronic payments provider owned by online auction company eBay that handles billions of dollars in electronic transactions annually.

Mike Kennedy, executive vice president for innovation and payments strategy at Wells Fargo and chairman of ClearXchange, said the service was launched because of customers’ request. He said there’s no reason that customers should have to move money out of the bank to a third party just to send money electronically to a friend, family member or business associate.

“We know how to do it technologically,” he said. “We know how to put in the risk control. And we immediately get about 50 percent of online banking customers.”

As of now, customers aren’t charged a fee for using the service, Kennedy said.

He said ClearXchange will work to bring other banks into the network, though he would not say how many more banks it’s targeting.

“Each of us do have an existing person-to-person service in place,” Kennedy said. “(But) we realize you don’t pick friends based on where they bank.”

David Kerstein, president of Peak Performance Consulting Group in Austin, a retail banking consultancy, said person-to-person payment services are in demand by consumers and banks and their technology vendors have begun offering the service.

“Utilization of services like this is high … so I expect it’s going to continue to grow,” Kerstein said.

Banks may be seemingly late to adopt such a service but there are reasons why.

“I think that there were just other things financial institutions were focused on to improve customers’ experience,” Kennedy said.

Kerstein said that banks have had more hurdles to address than non-bank companies in person-to-person payment services.

“It’s not a level playing field in terms of what banks have to do to maintain transaction security,” he said, noting regulatory oversight as another obstacle for banks to overcome. “To be fair to banks, it’s been a little more difficult to innovate in this space.”

Kerstein said it’s a wise move, however, because aside from the startup costs, it’s a cheap and easy service to offer and maintain for banks, and it helps them build relationships with their customers. He said it also affords banks the opportunity to see customers’ “transaction habits and who they’re paying, and that ultimately will help them serve their customers better.”

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