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Organising payments industry is ‘like herding cats’

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A revolution is underway in the global payments infrastructure and that makes it a necessity to re-design systems to keep up with the “payments Joneses”

According Chris Hamilton, new chief executive officer of BankservAfrica, speaking at the recent Payments Association of South Africa (PASA) International Payments Conference 2016, discussions about payments infrastructure design are like discussions about plumbing and sewerage: “We all really need it but we don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it.”

He described streamlining the payments industry as being “like herding cats”.

Hamkilton was chief executive of the Australian Payments Clearing Association Limited (APCA) for the past 10 years, allowing him insight into the approaches of different markets when redesigning payments to keep up with the demands of business and consumers.

“As an industry, we need to find a way to talk about this needed, fundamental change and do so systematically. System design doesn’t happen by itself, it needs intense collaboration.”

“To meet the future payment needs of our community and our economy, payments businesses need to approach payment system modernisation empirically, inclusively, holistically but above all collaboratively. The design process really matters.”

Payments systems vary between and even within countries. They are complex, and serve different agendas and business needs. One only has to look at the variation from PayPal to Bitcoin, Visa to Mastercard; and the range of secure options offered by individual banks.

Given the complexity, infrastructure redesign is costly, complicated and highly contentious, and thus only takes place every 20 or 30 years.

“The time for a new South African design, however, is now,” says Hamilton. “Otherwise, the SA economy will not have the basic plumbing it needs for the future. The world is undertaking a step-change in national payments infrastructure, from overnight batch with basic data to real-time, data-rich, flexible and layered. South Africa must join the trend, or be left behind.

“In doing this, all the hard questions are not technological, they are social and political.  What will our users and our economy need in 10 years’ time?  How do we resolve all the competing business and political agendas to make sure they get it?  What is the role of the national regulator?  There is much to learn from mistakes and successes overseas.”

Hamilton talked the delegates through various global “adventures in international payments modernisation, looking at what the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States of America have done towards renewing their payments infrastructure.

The results, he says, show the intricacies and difficulty in getting all parties – and agendas – synchronised.

“Since time immemorial, we have been expecting our customers to adapt the way they pay to our available ‘set of rails’. So if you want to buy something at the shop, you get out your card; if a business wants to pay a supplier, it must do so by scheduling a payment with its bank or, heaven forbid, write out a cheque the supplier must then present to another bank. There is nothing wrong with this; it is just the way the world looks right now. But will this do for the digital economy of the future where other aspects of our lives are fully online, real time and automated?

“We need to start thinking creatively now because new systems take a very long time to develop – at a minimum five years. This is not because of the technology; it’s because of all the competing business and policy interests. We must work out how our payment system is going to be used in 10 years’ time.”

This approach calls for a rigorous, inclusive process. The USA – the world’s largest and complex payment market – is the least designed because it is just too big. There are 13 000 payment institutions with millions of interested parties.

“The Federal Reserve Bank has taken on the job of trying to rationalise the USA’s payment system. They have in the last two years published their own consultation papers and received thousands of responses. They put together a task force of 300 people – made up of consumer and business representatives, service providers, consultants, and banks – to have a massive, industry-wide discussion happening in a public way.”

Australia’s New Payments Platform (NPP) felt like an overnight success because, in 2013, the Central Bank came out with a strategic review that compelled the industry to build a real-time payment system, he said. But the industry had already done most of the thinking work, starting in 2008. So the payments community was able to put together a well-designed proposal very quickly.

“So in 6 months we actually put together a community of bankers and published a proposal for a real time payment system which became the new payments platform.

“My view of the world is that, there is no substitute for the industry players doing it themselves, together. I’m accustomed to hearing, over my 15 year career in this game, banks saying: ‘We don’t like to work with other banks because it’s too high risk and never works.’ Yes it is high risk, but also high return. Co-created networks are always better than government-built networks or compliance-driven outcomes.  Only the participants know how the whole thing really works.”

The base of good payment systems is empirical research that is “inquisitive, inclusive, and intentional,” plus gets business to lead.

“Streamlining the payments industry is still like herding cats. But a business-led process can be powerful and galvanising. It can also radically reduce the cost base, while revolutionising the industry.”

Arts and Entertainment

Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist

Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.  

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Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.

The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.  It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.  

“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time.  We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”

The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba.  It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.

Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.

“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”

This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.

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Sports streaming takes off

Live streaming of sports is coming of age as a mainstream method of viewing big games, as the latest FIFA World Cup figures from the UK show. Africa isn’t yet at the same level when it comes to the adoption of sports streaming, but usage is clearly moving in the right direction.

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England’s World Cup quarter-final against Sweden was watched by just under 20 million viewers in the UK via BBC One. While this traditional broadcast audience was huge, it was streaming that broke records: the game was the BBC’s most popular online-viewed live programme ever, with 3.8 million views. In Africa, the absolute numbers are lower but the trend towards streaming major sports events on the continent is also well under way.

According to DStv, live streaming of sports dominates the usage figures for its live and recorded TV streaming app, DStv Now. The number of people using the app in June was five times higher than a year ago, with concurrent views peaking during major football and rugby games.

Since the start of the World Cup, average weekday usage of DStv Now is up 60%. The absolute peak in concurrent usage for one event was reached on 26 June, during the Nigeria vs Argentina game. The app’s biggest ever test was on 16 June with both Springbok Rugby and World Cup Football under way at the same time, resulting in concurrent in-app views seven times higher than the peaks seen in June last year.

The World Cup has also been a major reason for new users to download and try out the app. First-time app user volumes have tripled on Android and doubled on iOS since the start of the tournament.

“While we expected live sports streaming to take off, it’s also been pleasing to see that the app is really popular for watching shows on Catch Up,” says MultiChoice South Africa Chief Operating Officer Mark Rayner. “Interestingly, some of the most popular Catch Up shows are local, with Isibaya, Binnelanders, The Queen and The River all getting a significant number of views.”

With respect to app usage, the web and Android apps are the most popular way to watch DStv Now, with Android outpacing iOS by a factor of 2:1.

“We’re continuing to develop DStv Now, with 4k streaming in testing and smart TV and Apple TV apps on their way shortly,” says Rayner. “The other key priority for us is working with the telcos to deliver mobile data propositions that make watching online painless and worry-free for our customers.”

The DStv Now app is free to all 10 million DStv customers in Africa. The app streams DStv live channels as well as supplying an extended Catch Up library. Two separate streams can be watched on different devices simultaneously, and content can also be downloaded to smartphones and tablets. The content available on the app varies according to the DStv package subscribed to.

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