With 2024 right around the corner, Vineeth Subramanyam, managing director and global head of Spring by Citi, told Karen Webster that the unstoppable push toward personalization and automation in payments will take a cue from innovations stretching back into the early days of the millennium.
“The magic,” of the past 15 years, he said, “is that there have been lots of players that have taken specific portions of the payments value chain and have become very good at it.”
For the firms in a commerce ecosystem that want to set up holistic solutions across a given vertical, the opportunities are there to partner and build new experiences that weave transactions deeply into the fabric of everyday commerce.
The rise of connected devices can help enable transactions anytime, anywhere, across almost any use case.
“There is a lot of diversity in the ways that these flows are initiated,” he said.
Uber stands out here, said Subramanyam, who added that the ride-hailing platform has become synonymous with invisible payment, a milestone set with the company’s founding in 2009. But since then, there’s been a proliferation of cards on file, tokenization of credentials, and the rise of subscriptions — all of which has done much to render payments an easy experience.
“The best way to deliver an experience is not to have an experience in the first place,” he said of payments.
But there are still verticals where automation is not as developed, where plastic, tapping and PINs still hold sway. Filling up the gas tank is a clunky experience, as we swipe or insert cards at the register or the pump.
Healthcare is another area ripe for improvement, marked as it is by a bewildering array of charges, statements and paper invoices. Even transit — although apps and tap-to-pay have gained ground — still has the ticket as its central conveyance of payment.
For many of these industries, Subramanyam said, striving to improve payments is a complicated endeavor. Simply put, there are a lot of moving pieces, and in healthcare, there can be several players in the background as payments are split and disbursed among patients, insurers and providers.
“To automate all of this is quite tough,” he said.
Biometrics and authentication via advanced technologies are helping to address those complexities.
Biometrics and authentication via advanced technologies are helping to address those complexities. In-car commerce is an example, as companies are using fingerprints as a way to initiate payments, and analytics inside the car can tell an owner just how much gas they need to fill the tank.
Before payments automation, however, comes payments simplicity and consistency, agreed Webster and Subramanyam. As consumers become more comfortable engaging digitally and paying digitally, they know what works well and what doesn’t, no matter if the payments are initiated on a device, with a finger or on a website.
He added that there remain several parties in any commerce ecosystem — ranging from card issuers and networks to acquirers and processors to gateways. The chance is there for these far-flung stakeholders to work collaboratively, opening networks and technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) to FinTechs and startups.
“But whoever ends up seeing the majority of these payments flows ends up having the responsibility of making sure that they are upholding the trust of the consumer — and multiple folks have to come together to make this all work,” he said.
Trust — with robust fraud protections in the background — leads to a willingness on the part of consumers to share their credentials and interact with the “front doors” of the devices and websites in the first place.
With those building blocks as foundations, he added, firms including Citi are thinking about building a “stack of payment services” that can personalize the payment methods offered to clients depending on the regions they’re targeting, specific use cases and how those enterprises envision their payment flows.
“The future is really automation, as you won’t have to think about what you need to pay, or when,” Subramanyam said. “And that means more of your life will be automated, which is the pinnacle of a good experience.”