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A DATA-CENTRIC APPROACH TO AUTHORISING CUSTOMERS’ ONLINE TRANSACTIONS

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Shagun Varshney, Signifyd Senior Product Manager, Payment Solutions

 

As online shopping continues to grow, so too does the level of fraudulent orders. But often, the most costly and damaging part of fraud for merchants is not the fraud itself, but the valid customer orders that are mistaken for fraud and are rejected by the merchant or bank – research suggests around 30% of declined orders are false declines.

Merchants are constantly battling a double-edged sword between allowing orders to be processed that run the risk of being fraudulent, or declining orders that seem suspicious and end up damaging relationships with genuine customers. In the peak season, this becomes even more challenging as order volumes increase, along with fraudulent activity.

Against a backdrop of upcoming SCA regulation changes, supply chain issues and increasing customer demand in the lead up to Christmas, retailers can’t afford to lose transactions and damage relationships with customers.

This perfect storm calls for a new approach to risk management, where retail fraud teams focus on optimising business. For instance, bringing value by maximising the number of orders approved and facilitating the newer ecommerce channels, such as click-and-collect.

 

How the payment ecosystem works

Online payments have become so lightning-quick and seamless (for the most part) that it can be surprising to learn how many hoops a transaction has to jump through in order to be authorised and settled. As soon as a customer clicks “buy,”  a whole series of digital cogs begin to turn, each of which can put the brakes on a transaction. It begins with the payment gateway:

Payment gateway: Payment gateways are the card machines of the internet: when a customer clicks “buy” in your online store, they are taken to a payment gateway to enter their payment details. The payment gateway moves the cardholder and transaction information among the different players. And it lets the customer know whether the purchase has been authorised.

Acquirer: A bank that works for the merchant, processing credit card transactions by routing them through the networks run by card companies such as Mastercard or Visa to the cardholder’s bank, or issuer. Acquirers sometimes look to third parties to help with processing payments.

Credit card network: The acquiring bank and issuing bank communicate with one another via a credit card network. Visa and Mastercard are examples of credit card networks.

During a transaction, the credit card network will relay authorisation and settlement messages between the acquiring and issuing banks, charging a small fee to each. Some credit card networks are also issuing banks (e.g. American Express) but most are not.

Issuer: The issuing bank is the financial institution which provides the customer’s bank account or credit card. An issuing processor sits in front of the issuing bank and handles authorisation requests from the credit card network on its behalf. It then authorises and settles the transaction.

 

Why false declines occur

Banks and payment companies decline payments for a host of reasons, some of them quite reasonable. Most often a payment is turned down because a card’s credit limit isn’t sufficient to make the purchase. Transactions are also scotched if card information is entered incorrectly — say the CVV code offered is wrong — or if the card or information provided is outdated.

Payments are also declined to protect both the consumer and the merchant. If a bank believes a lost or stolen card is being used it will decline the transaction. Technical hiccups, such as an outage at the issuing banks can also cause a decline.

While protecting customers and merchants is all well and good, problems arise when banks mistake a good order for a fraudulent one. These payment rejections are referred to as false declines.

The good news is the majority of declines are not due to nefarious activity and are therefore recoverable. But maximising your authorisation rate – i.e. the percentage of customer payments you take which are approved and settled – can still be a real balancing act.

 

A data-centric approach to improving authorisation rates

  1. Provide more data. Large issuers such as Capital One and Amex have reported that submitting additional data from the merchant-side led to a 1% to 3% increase in authorisation rates and significantly reduced false declines. Providing more merchant-side data to issuer banks and payments companies gives them more evidence a transaction is legitimate.
  2. Use quality fraud tools. Effectively managing online fraud carries benefits beyond the obvious. Yes, merchants lose less revenue through bad orders and are able to confidently ship more good orders. And they also build a reputation with the financial institutions. Retailers that turn to highly effective machine learning and artificial intelligence driven solutions send cleaner traffic to the banks reinforcing the idea that their orders are highly likely to be legitimate. Conversely, retailers that send a relatively high percentage of fraudulent transactions to banks, will find those banks broadening the set of transactions they decline. It becomes something of a death spiral for revenue.
  3. Authenticate payments when required. Besides deploying innovative fraud solutions, European merchants need to be deliberate in the ways they authenticate customers in the era of PSD2 and strong customer authentication (SCA). The key to success rests in intelligently managing exemptions and exclusions when deciding the most efficient route meeting new payment regulations. Wisely relying on exemptions will allow a significant percentage of transactions to be exempted from SCA and will ensure that each individual customer is receiving the best customer experience available. Properly deploying exemptions and exclusion — which apply, for instance, based on the order value, the origin of the transaction, and a merchant’s fraud history — is a complicated prospect, but an ecosystem of providers has grown up to help with the challenge. Adding intelligent exemption tools goes hand-in-hand with relying on robust fraud protection solutions. Establishing a record of sending clean transactions to the banks will encourage them to become less conservative in authorising orders. High authorisation rates begetting high authorisation rates becomes a virtuous cycle.
  4. Accept digital wallets. Be discerning when selecting a payment service provider. For instance, be sure you’re able to accept Apple Pay, Google Pay and other digital wallets, as they require two-factor authentication and are more likely to pass fraud filters.
  5. Enable card account updater. Many payment processors can automatically update your customer’s card details if they expire or are renewed. Check with your processor to make sure they offer an account updater, and that it’s enabled.
  6. Payment Routing. Payment routing solutions analyse your particular payment ecosystem and use historical data to determine the transaction route which is most likely to result in a successful authorisation. This can be especially useful if your customers are from all over the world, and not based in just one country.

Being deliberate and thoughtful when it comes to building your authorisation optimisation strategy can make a real difference in the conversions you see every day. As importantly, taking the steps to increase authorisation provides your customers with a better shopping experience and a bigger incentive to visit your ecommerce store again and again.

 

Finance

WHY THE EXPLOSION IN LOCAL RETAIL DEMANDS NEW PAYMENT METHODS

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Kasper Enggaard Krog, CEO at mobile payment and business technology firm, Vibrant, explains why micro businesses are being badly let down by contactless payment providers while local retail has boomed.

 

Before the pandemic, between 40[i] and 47[ii] per cent of micro businesses didn’t accept card payments, depending which statistics you prefer. This includes everything from corner shops to cafes and builders to barbers. They relied on cash, cheque, or where suitable, perhaps the laborious process of an invoice and bank transfer.

This is despite there being 6 billion contactless cards in the world and 47 per cent of people preferring to pay with one when at a physical point of sale[iii]. At first glance, it might seem that these small traders were cutting their noses off to spite their faces. Customers wanted to pay them with cards, why wouldn’t they just allow them to do so?

 

What was stopping merchants?

The answer is simple. Because for the smallest of merchants, accepting a card payment has always led to expensive ongoing fees, results in slow settlements, requires admin and calls for an up-front investment in cumbersome and basic technology.

It won’t be news to anyone in the industry that the recurring costs all add up. Transaction fees are typically between 1 per cent and 3 per cent, not to mention authorisation fees and merchant service charges[iv]. A credit card reader might be about £20 and the same for a receipt printer. This all eats into profit, not to mention time.

 

Kasper Enggaard Krog

The pandemic changed it all

Yet the pandemic has forced micro businesses to reassess their reticence to take card payments. Two reasons are behind this. Firstly, there has been an explosion in people shopping where they live. When lockdowns swept across Europe, it became hard to get to larger retailers. Local merchants of all sorts became a lifeline[v].

Not only that, but many people were forced to reconnect to their communities and realised they enjoyed shopping on their street and wanted to support independent businesses. The data proves this. According to research, the convenience store sector grew by 6 per cent in 2020[vi].

This led to the second factor, contactless payments were considered safer than handling cards or cash. The overall impact of more shoppers and the threat of infection led to a boom in contactless payments. In fact, the number of purchases made in May 2021 via contactless technology doubled compared with the same month a year earlier and was up 50 per cent on May 2019[vii].

 

Woefully underserved

This shift to accepting card payments among the smallest of businesses should be applauded. There are currently £2.25 trillion in cash and cheque payments made in Europe[viii]. They’re now opening themselves up to this huge market.

This is undoubtedly good for consumers and merchants alike. But it does beg the question, why did it take a pandemic to cause the change? Why did they have to face the prospect of potential infection or financial ruin to make the move?

Simple, the existing model is broken. The barriers to accepting card payments remain – high cost, poor tech and slow settlements – but they’ve been overcome through necessity rather than benefit. These businesses remain woefully underserved yet have been forced to accept what is on offer. There must be another way.

And there is. For the first time, the technology now exists for market traders, stall holders, car washes – any number of micro businesses – to take contactless payments using only their phone. No additional tech. No annoying dongles or readers that take up space and will ultimately add to the vast rubbish bin of obsolete, single-function peripheries. These will soon join calculators, MP3 players and digital cameras.

Furthermore, this tech not only takes payments, but within months is expected to allow merchants to run their whole business on their phone. They will be able to add product lists, inventory details, accounting tools and much more. It’s like a mini enterprise resource management system for the tiniest of firms. And the fees are transparent, predictable, lower than the market rate and don’t have binding contracts. Importantly, it also has the backing of Visa – and Vibrant is leading the roll-out.

The business is proud to do so and sees a huge opportunity. Micro businesses are now worth £1.85 trillion to the European economy[ix]. Their importance will grow, and they need the payments sector to take note of their needs and do better. It’s no longer acceptable to foist poor products and services upon them and allow the pandemic to drive change rather than innovation.

The explosion in local retail demands new payment methods – and they must be made available. In many ways, it’s a scandal that it took a pandemic to force change.

 

[i] 40% of the UK’s micro businesses do not accept card payments
[ii] Visa data
[iii] 40% of the UK’s micro businesses do not accept card payments
[iv] Credit card processing fees
[v] Local heroes: The retailers benefiting from the rise of localism
[vi] Lumina Intelligence UK Grocery Data Index for 2020
[vii] Contactless payments dominated as lockdowns eased
[viii] Visa data
[ix] Visa data

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Business

IS SCARCITY OF TALENT THREATENING THE UK’S FINTECH CROWN?

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Opinion From Rafa Plantier, Head of UK and Ireland at Tink

 

From the Square Mile to Canary Wharf, London has been the historic centre of global finance, with long-established trading exchanges and trusted financial institutions. In the digital era, it has also ensured that it’s moved with the times to become a thriving hub for fintech.

But the UK financial services sector is now at an inflection point. In the past year, London’s position as a global fintech leader has been under threat. Earlier this year, Amsterdam overtook The City as the largest European share trading hub. The European Banking Authority moved from London to Paris. And Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt are all competing to win a greater share of the European financial marketplace.

The culprits of the shift are the twin challenges of the pandemic and Brexit, combined with the speed of technological transformation in financial services – disrupting the traditional flow of people, capital and ideas. So the pressing question for the industry is: how do we maintain and, more importantly, accelerate momentum to retain London’s fintech crown?

The answer revolves around one key thing — people.

 

Diverse talent drives innovation

Attracting the best talent is crucial if the UK financial services sector is going to continue to thrive and retain its global position as the preeminent financial centre.

In February 2021, the Kalifa Review laid out a strategy and delivery model for the UK to lead the fintech revolution, covering five key areas. These included skills and talent, investment and international attractiveness and competitiveness. But what became clear was that access to the right level of highly skilled talent was one of the biggest challenges for UK fintech, with barriers spanning both domestic skills shortages and the need to access foreign talent seamlessly.

As a native Brazilian in the UK, working for a Swedish-owned fintech, I understand these challenges as well as anyone. I love London, but we must recognise that fintech firms need unique talent and skills, and such a talent base can’t be met by a single city – not even one as resourceful as London. Not only do fintechs require technology and data specialists, but also experienced managers with good knowledge of high-growth companies and financial services.

As someone lucky enough to have worked with startup and scale-up fintechs across the world,  I understand the unique grounding that comes from being a part of a high-growth global company. That’s why I believe it’s vital that we attract people from across the world with commercial experience at ambitious, rapid-growth businesses — so they can bring this experience to bear on the UK financial services sector.

At the same time, many companies face renewed pressure to create new services and products to meet expectations for growth. That is why it’s critical that the UK has access to people with the right technical skills in areas such as software engineering, DevOps, Cybersecurity and data science.

Put simply, having the smartest minds delivering the best products is good for everyone. It drives efficiency, productivity,  growth and, ultimately, prosperity.

 

The UK is open for fintech

The UK should be proud of being a fintech pioneer and the driving force behind legislation that helped usher in the era of open banking. There is now an exciting opportunity to take this even further. Having access to a diverse pool of talent and skills will empower the financial services industry to create innovative products to tackle complex social challenges, such as better B2B payments, financial inclusion and climate change.

The good news is that the UK government clearly recognises the role the industry has to play in driving growth and innovation. The 2021 Autumn Budget reaffirmed commitments to reskill the nation. With £3.8bn budgeted for skills and a formal criteria for the long-awaited Scale Up Visa, the Chancellor announced a set of proposals that will support the breadth of our sector — from startups right through to unicorns and incumbent banks. This will be essential for fintechs like ours to continue to trailblaze and for the UK to differentiate itself on the global stage.

In an increasingly competitive global landscape, and to sustain momentum, we must keep talent avenues open to attract the best of the best in the industry. As one of the fastest-growing areas of the UK economy, the benefits of nurturing UK fintech to drive productivity, growth and lead the UK’s post-pandemic recovery, cannot be overstated. 2021 has seen a surge of activity in the industry and I am eager to see what London’s fintech sector can achieve in 2022.

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