Supporting the next generation of cross-border payment solutions
25 / 07 / 2022
As the global financial industry continues moving towards instant and frictionless payments, there’s no doubt technology has a big role to play. How can technology be used to support this vision and further remove friction, optimise speed, and provide end-to-end integrity of business data? This question was at the heart of the Sibos 2022 session: ‘Star tech: Supporting the next generation of cross-border payments’.
In this session, Simone Löfgen, Head of Global Payment Platforms at Commerzbank was joined by Danielle Johnson, Head of International Payments at Westpac, Joanna Pamphilis, Corporate Business Platform Head at UniCredit, Kimmo Soramäki, Founder and CEO of FNA and Andrew Smith, CTO at RTGS.global.
Consumer, regulatory and market demands are rapidly changing. There is an increasing need for efficiency and speed, aligned with digitally intuitive and low-cost services, as digitisation is now widely recognised as the way to go. We closely followed this theme during Sibos 2022 and took an in-depth look at the technologies enabling the next generation of cross-border payments and how we can deploy them for the best results.
Reshaping cross-border payments through emerging technologies
Joanna (UniCredit) stated that: "It's evident that globalisation, digitalisation and standardisation are here. It's accelerating and the trajectory is that the pace means we need to be prepared. It's clear that this is not going away.” There are a few alternative trends making their way into the reshaping of cross-border payments. Cross-border fintechs seem to be a feasible backup, if not a challenge and as Joanna stated during the session, are “disrupting the business model” with lower fees and faster transaction times. They can also offer API integration, allowing businesses to easily connect their cross-border payment solutions with pre-existing accounting. As technology needs to be scalable and reliable – this is where APIs can shine.
According to Andrew, cloud-based services and APIs (application programming interfaces) are considered two of the most important stand-out technologies that businesses can utilise in future innovation. He stated that “APIs allow you to explore and evolve and be intuitive. However, cloud tech gives you that kind of fabric across the globe, which you need when discussing cross-border payments and security”. He also suggested that legacy has also been successful and that it doesn’t always need to be torn up. Embracing cloud technologies allows you to connect legacy with new processes across multiple regions.
The anticipation of industry-wide changes was discussed throughout the session, from consumer types and needs to future currency, market trends and regulatory requirements. As many companies now approach systems in a modular way, for example, through microservices and cloud-based architectures, they are engaging in fundamental changes that enable starting points in the journey towards better and more diverse cross-border payments.
The proliferation of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) also derives from this need to evolve and digitalise. Monetary sovereignty is considered to be the main motivation for central banks in advanced economies to issue CBDCs. In interbank payments, it could facilitate extended and faster settlement hours. In emerging economies, financial inclusion is also an important aspect of this transition which enjoys majority support, as CBDCs can ensure easy access to a monetary system while remaining low-cost.
Challenges in the market
A key challenge in the market that needs to be addressed is the current 'war on talent'. This was discussed at length by Joanna and Andrew, with Joanna, in particular, suggesting that the topic is significant within UniCredit and that skilled people are necessary.
The panel discussed challenges in attracting and empowering talent, with gen X, gen Y, and gen Z needing different approaches. Despite the market being well saturated with capable and talented individuals, the mindset of requiring several years of experience may result in companies being hamstrung by their own requirements. As Andrew (RTGS.global) suggested: "It's important to invest in courses and on-job training. It's also key to bring expertise from outside as well. In our industry, we often say you need three years of experience, despite the obvious talent. We should move away from this and create workforce diversity."
The question of speed is also a key topic. It is becoming increasingly important for banks and financial institutions to be reactive, efficient and fast in their processes. But are they currently fast enough? While standards such as API or ISO20022 are hugely beneficial, they do, in some fashion, impact the ability of banks to implement and secure quick wins when scaling infrastructure.
The audience was asked the following question: “Which technology will have, according to you, the biggest impact on improving cross-border payments?” More than 50% voted for APIs, while 30% voted for Distributed Ledger Technology. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud technology scored 6% each.
Kimmo (FNA) stated: “It depends on where we are with applying the technology. Are we still building the rails, or are we using the new rails? AI can be an innovation layer above these rails.” As an example, Artificial Intelligence can save intraday-liquidity requirements.
Move to standardisation?
Although there are several alternatives gaining shape in the cross-border payment systems, a number of challenges persist. The closed-loop nature of some of the fintech solutions can limit their market power. The complexity of the regulatory and legal environment for cross-border payments is also challenging. In addition, the sensitive data that is involved in these types of payments raise security concerns amongst businesses.
Regardless of these challenges, the future of cross-border payments seems promising. Whilst prior, customisation was seen as key to engaging customers or providing enhanced experiences and offerings, it may be that a shift in approach is occurring. This was suggested by Danielle (Westpac) when discussing about client-centric strategy and approach. "If we want to move as fast as the technology is moving, you can't have customisation in your technology; you need to be able to standardise and move quickly. And that's where our journey is now, where we're breaking down that customisation and putting in standardised, impactful technology that can help our customers." This preference for speed and standardisation is likely to become even more prevalent in the near-medium term.
In their final remarks, all panel members suggested that various but interconnected concepts and topics would be key to look out for short to medium-term. They expect payments to become invisible, more defined roadmaps for APIs, cloud systems and AI integration, the smarter rollout of technology and increased discussion and emphasis on the metaverse. There will be challenges regarding data, especially regarding the use of AI; however, the future of cross-border payments is promising, with CBDCs also expected to play a role.
As CBDCs remain a practical addition to the ongoing system, Worldline has been at the heart of the development of the digital euro, by creating a dedicated taskforce that directly engages with the European Central Bank, aiming at delivering a prototype for one of the target use cases of a digital euro.
At Worldline, we strive to maintain a continuous launch of new payment experiences for our customers, such as the optimisation of cross-border payments. To achieve this, we keep up with disruptions in the market structures and with new emerging ecosystems, while always keeping an eye on the fundamental changes of digital transformation and globalisation.
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