Seamless Europe 2023, a highly awaited event held in my hometown of Berlin from October 18-19, brought together an array of businesses and experts from the global payments, fintech, retail, and e-commerce sectors. With 2,844 attendees from over 84 countries, the conference centered on thought-provoking discussions about the future of several industries within the European landscape including open innovation in fintech, the future of banking, retail and e-commerce growth, reimagining customer journey in 2030. Among the highlights were several captivating panels and presentations, three of which I was able to attend.
These sessions delved into key trends in the financial and payment industry, including Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) and embedded finance. They also examined the ongoing transition from cash to digital payments within the European market and explored the fascinating realm of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). These forward-looking discussions shed light on the transformative trends that are shaping the financial and payments landscape in Europe.
BNPL (Buy Now, Pay Later) and embedded finance have been revolutionising the retail business for both retailers and customers. BNPL lets customers purchase products and pay in several installments over time. However, because they are at liberty to do so with many products, often they fall into the trap of debt.
Alexandru Dorobantu from Delivery Hero asked, “Is BNPL morally dubious?” The panelists agreed that it was worth discussing how to make BNPL more responsible and how to deal with bad behaviors or financially irresponsible customers.
Contrary to popular belief, BNPL is not threatening card issuing revenue either, because it depends heavily on the country’s location and dominant payment method. While lending functionalities may not be an issue, a better user experience can be. Surely, one of the most important factors for a product in any industry is customer experience.
Embedded finance is another innovative financial service that centers around customer experience. Often extended to gig workers such as retailer services to delivery drivers or students as a package, embedded finance can be a tool for financial inclusion by offering financial services to customers and giving access to the unbanked and underbanked.
The domain of financial products presents a set of hurdles stemming from the localized nature of both the products and the regulatory framework.
This localisation hinders scalability, with language, regulatory conditions, and varying consumer requirements all playing integral roles in these limitations.
The shift from cash to digital payments in the European payments market
The next panel I attended delved into the intricate transformation unfolding withinthe European payments market orchestrating a profound shift from conventional cash transactions towards the dynamic realm of digital payments. Several European legislations have created conditions for fintechs to flourish including PSD2 and the upcoming PSD3, which differentiates them from the USA whose conventional banks are still very strong.
However, Europeans are still fighting to continue paying with cash. Indeed, it is tough to compare different markets as the US, EU, and Asia are all very different payment markets, and Europe is not even a single market. In Germany, while digital payments are on the rise, a substantial portion of the population still prefers to use cash. This inclination has created a disconnect between merchant acceptance and readiness to embrace new payment methods and consumer wishes for alternative options. Cash remains significant in markets like Germany for several reasons. It offers financial inclusion to those without access to digital services, provides a level of anonymity, is a secure backup for emergencies, and works offline when digital infrastructure is unavailable. These attributes make cash an essential part of the payment landscape.
Whereas in Nordic countries like Sweden and Denmark, cash usage is quickly declining. According to a 2022 Riksbank survey, only 34% of the Swedish population reported that they had paid with cash in the previous month.
There has been an effort to overcome such differences in each European market called the European Payments Initiative and to connect them through a unified and innovative pan-European payment solution leveraging SCT Inst. Rumors of its death are premature. EPI is still very much alive and is developing an account-based scheme called Wero for retail payments, utilizing the SCT Inst (SEPA Instant Credit Transfer) infrastructure.
The present state of a digital euro project: European CBDC’s updates, opportunities, and challenges
The world of digital payments is rapidly evolving, with new technologies and innovations constantly reshaping the landscape. The last panel discussed various aspects of this transformation, covering topics ranging from the concept of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) to the role of distributed ledger technology (DLT). The following insights and ideas emerged during the discussion:
First, the panel explored the idea of using distributed ledger technology (DLT) as a means of payment. Then a thought-provoking question surfaced: Should this advancement take the form of a central bank digital currency (CBDC), or could alternative digital forms like commercial bank tokens, effectively serve the same purpose? Some panelists expressed reservations about adopting a CBDC, as it could disrupt the existing two-tier system in place.
A representative from the Central Bank of Georgia, Varkan Ebanoidza, shared their perspective on the dilemma of balancing innovation and regulation. They noted that regulators are now taking an active role in driving innovation, recognising that they must also address the pain points of customers. This proactive approach marks a significant shift in the role of central banks in fostering technological advancements in the payment industry.
The discussion concluded with a crucial point: CBDCs and other technological innovations should be viewed as a means to an end, rather than a solution itself. This perspective encourages stakeholders to look beyond the narrow scope of payment rails and consider the creation of an ecosystem that reduces barriers to entry and fosters financial inclusion.
From technology-driven innovations like tokenisation and smart contracts to the rise of fintech companies supported by progressive legislation, the financial landscape is continually evolving.
In the aftermath of the recent Seamless Europe 2023, a resounding realisation occurs: the trajectory of payments is breaking free from the confinements of traditional methods of the past. The combination of consumer preferences, regulatory environments, and technological advancements will shape the future of payments. Embracing these changes and the technologies that drive them will be key to navigating the constantly developing world of finance and payments successfully.
Author: Leo Lipis, Director, Berlin, Payments Consulting Network
Drawing on 25+ years of expertise in payment market analysis and product development, Leo offers invaluable business insights for strategically managing product and service innovation. Internationally recognized as a payment system design authority, Leo possesses comprehensive knowledge of payments and related industries.
Payments Consulting Network was one of the media partners for the recent Seamless Europe 2023.
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