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Data Snack: Real-time payments contribute a meager 0.9% to US transactions, FedNow expected to change that

  • The US real time payments industry is small, with just two networks, neither of which span across the country.
  • Federal Reserve’s country-wide real-time payments network initiative, FedNow, is expected to become one of the biggest payment clearance settlement systems in the world upon release.
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Data Snack: Real-time payments contribute a meager 0.9% to US transactions, FedNow expected to change that

Real-time payments are no longer the most novel idea in the realm of payments. However, with limited prevalence so far, experts argue the technology’s true potential is yet to be unlocked, and that is expected to remain the case for the short-to-medium-term future.

ACI Worldwide, a provider of payment solutions to banks, recently released a report studying the global landscape of real-time payments. The report tracks RTP volumes and growth globally and measures the economic benefits of RTP for consumers, businesses, and the broader economy.

A global view

The report argues that governments and central banks must look at enabling RTPs to unlock economic growth and accelerate financial inclusion for today’s fast-growing gig economies. The research indicates that governments that are proactive in building a fast, frictionless, and thoroughly connected payment system will create a ‘win-win situation for all stakeholders.’

RTPs are expected to help traditional financial institutions future-proof their business by speeding up their modernization, moving to the cloud, and becoming more data-oriented. They may also help national governments boost economic growth by reducing the size of their shadow economy and creating a fairer financial system.

Some of the things that governments gain by promoting RTPs are more obvious, like the fact that they could promote market efficiency and address cash flow concerns for economies by settling transactions instantly and securely. The argument here is that RTPs reduce the payment float time while also addressing the uncertainty and information asymmetries regarding payment failures, hence making the market more efficient and payments cheaper to process.

However, RTPs could also help support the increasingly significant gig economy, for workers and employers both. They would enable workers to get paid more quickly, allowing them to plan their finances better.

Additionally, RTPs may present an opportunity to formalize informal sectors of the economy. The study revealed that for countries where the informal economy made up more than 30% of GDP in 2021, like Brazil, Nigeria, and Pakistan, RTPs, even with limited penetration, had encouraging results.

Real-time payments in the US

The penetration of RTPs in the US is limited. RTPs had only a 0.9% share of total national payments volume in 2021. That number seems negligible when compared to paper-based payments, at 21.4%, and electronic payments excluding RTPs, at 77.7%.

The industry is still young and small. Currently, there are only two RTP operators in the country, Zelle and The Clearing House, both of which were set up in 2017. Neither of them is an overarching real-time network that covers the entire country. The service has some consumer traction through Venmo and Zelle.

Yet, the role of RTPs in the American economy’s payments mix has been on a rising trend. The share of RTP in total electronic payment transactions volume has been growing at an increasing rate since 2016, and that is expected to continue. Between 2021 and 2022, the share increased by 0.5% to 1.6%, and by 2023, it is expected to continue growing to reach a 2.2% share.

By 2026, RTPs are expected to account for 8.9 billion transactions. A key reason for this is that FedNow – the Federal Reserve’s real-time payments network initiative that spans the US – is being piloted in 2022, with a full launch poised for 2023, and is expected to enable P2P, B2B, B2C, C2B, and G2C payments. It may evolve into one of the biggest payment clearance settlement systems in the world.

The benefits of RTPs for an economy can be broken down into three categories: reduction of payment float, net payment system cost-saving, and fewer failed transactions. 

Here are some stats about RTPs in the US in 2021:

  • Net benefits for businesses and consumers from real-time payments reached $648 million (less than 5% of that of China).
  • RTPs supported $1.35 billion of total national output (0.01% of formal US GDP), though it has the potential to serve $388 billion.
  • RTPs made up 1% of the US’ total transaction volume of 206 billion.

RTPs made up 1% of the US’ total transaction value of $107 trillion.

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