Real Time Payments Network

Bank Note Money Usd Funds Bills Us-dollar DollarThe clearing house has released business principles that outline the operation of the real time payments (RTP) Network. A full set of guidelines is here.

These are important inasmuch as they set out key points, among them most importantly:

TCH runs the RTP network as a utility for the benefit of the industry and RTP fees shall continue to be flat for all participants regardless of size, and shall not include volume discounts or minimum volume requirements.

It does though, contains a super-clause, which is typical of the monopolistic “free market” here in America. In an effort to restrain competition, and limit the ability of smaller financial institutions, the clause reads:

These principles apply so long as the RTP network is the only provider of faster real-time clearing and interbank settlement.

So here we are again, with another great example of limited competition. Who would provide an alternative, well, as listed in a prior post, the big tech companies are not likely to sign-up and get locked into RTP charging. Also, the Federal Reserve is considering a Faster Payments Network.

Sigh, here we go again, more glacial progress and lack of choice. Don’t stop ordering checkbooks anytime soon.

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‘Why does a check take as long to clear today as it did in 1982?’

The latest American Banker Podcast mirrors my recent post about Tech taking over the banks. Aaron Klein, a Brookings Institute fellow, makes a compelling argument for why the American banking system needs to be updated, unlike my general frustration, knowing that better is perfectly possible.

Among other reasons, Klein points out that people who are unfortunate enough to have their bank account balance at or near zero, deserve better. They need to know how long a check will take to process, how long before the deposit is final, and when they can plan payments for bills based on availability of funds. It’s well worth a listen. You can hear it below, or take the link over to the American Banker.

Faster Payments – Will tech eat the banks?

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Checks and Pony Express

At last the big, big tech companies are driving the US Federal Reserve to sponsor and get behind a faster payments initiative.

Amazon, Apple, Google, PayPal, Square, Stripe and Intuit, have all co-signed a letter supporting the the Fed being in charge of the development of a system that can connect all the banks and credit unions in the U.S. to speed up payments. I’ve long complained here that the US System is laughably out of date, and the system Automated Clearing House and its associated network is still loosely based on the delivery times of the Pony Express and definately around checks.

The ACH itself still describes itself as a using batch processing and a store-and-forward system. And that’s exactly the problem, the store-and-forward part and the regional centers deployed to support it are largely based on the old Pony Express delivery model. The ACH and it’s partners have pivoted since the push by the tech giants, to lauding their fraud and safety. Largely the only reason they can is because of the huge inefficiency and delays built into their system, rather that the inherent security qualities they’ve developed.

While a fast payments network should not be implemented over the public Internet, it’s simply both unbelievable, and unacceptable that my bank cannot not directly send money from my account to your account. This isn’t about Bitcoin and similar nonsense, it does require databases that have the attributes of a Blockchain, but it doesn’t require a Blockchain. This isn’t spin to invest in some imaginary new technology, it is merely a plea to move to a modern switching network, with updated apps.

I don’t transfer money around in Europe or the UK anymore, maybe once a year or so. However, I’ve been able to use the UK Fast Payments network via my UK Bank, FirstDirect, to instantly pay other banks/accounts in the UK, as well as transfer money from UK Pounds Sterling to Euro’s in a German bank in less than 2-hours, all at not cost to me, and using a single system, rather than a secondary system, branded app, or external service. Faster Payments isn’t just a year or two ahead of the US, it’s currently celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and will likely be on its 15th before the US has anything.

That’s mostly why services like PayPal, Stripe, Square, PopMoney exist. To allow the banks and credit unions offer a service they themselves can’t offer. Also, when originally launched it was a way of charging extra for a service that was faster and more flexible than their ACH system offered. Any institution currently charging for these services is charging for lipstick on a big now.

pronto

I first came to the USA in 1983 to work on the server-side of worlds first home banking system, Pronto, at Chemical Bank in New York; in 1987, I was hired by IBM UK in their London Banking Branch, to help London banks like Lloyds Bank, NatWest and TSB, as well as Abbey National, prepare their systems to start Year 2000 (Y2K) testing.

Finally, in 1998, was the Chief Architect for IBM in their NatWest (Business) Online implementation. The first at-scale version of Internet banking at National Westminster Bank, after failed projects by Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.

nwol

I have some idea of the complexity of updating and integrating batch, hub and spoke systems, it’s no cheap or easy. While it’s easy to assert the banks don’t want to change because as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”. They are really not, in any meaningful way. What they are doing is simply avoiding making key investments and dressing it up under the guise of safety and security. Now they are blaming the “lack of a mandate“.

as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”

And that’s what is likely to be their undoing. They’ll continue to push back and resist, until so much of their business has shifted to non-core systems. While the likes of Amazon and Google have to be in the ACH, and have Fed backing and security, they can increasingly provide a home run around the traditional banks.

Retail vs Investment Banking

I’ve no idea what long term this change will make, but was delighted to receive this notification from my UK Bank, first direct, and HSBC subsidiary.

Something we are (very) unlikely to see here in the US in the near future.

Letter from HSBC

What is says is

We wanted to let you know that in line with new regulations introduced after the global financial crisis, later this year HSBC will be changing the way it’s structured in the United Kingdom (UK).

The new rules mean all banks with deposits of UKP 25bn or more will have to keep their “retail banking” business seperate from their “wholesale and investment banking” businesses, also known as ‘ring-fencing’.

Of course, this won’t stop another global financial meltdown, but at least in principle, they won’t be gambling with our money. If it happens it will still have as dramatic impact since the stocks, shares, futures, and companies will be hit the same way and everything will lose value as it did before. When all is said and done though, this is a good move.

Your move Elizabeth Warren.

Just checking in…

My disdain for the US Banking system should be obvious to anyone who follows my blog. Their attempts at modernizing, really are just “lipstick on a pig”.

While most countries are looking for ways to get out of the check processing business, and many to avoid it all together, using micro-banking and straight-through-processing to enable both a more effective user experience, and also reduce risk inherent in a real-time banking system. The UK even initially announced an end-date for the use of “cheques” in 2018, although that was later withdrawn. It’s still possible to transfer money between accounts in different banks within the UK banking system almost instantly and within 15-minutes, and for free.

Not so here in the USA. Much to my disappointment, I recently ran out of checks for my Texas FCU. It was the easiest and most effective way to pay some big bills for the construction work we’ve been doing, as well as bills for our wedding. I went online to the FCU and clicked order checks, it took me to an external website, where I was unable to order checks. Turns out the 3rd party had my address from when I first ordered 250 checks back in 2006.

You can’t change the address online, I had to call the FCU, they had to go through the update process and order the checks for me. Sure enough 8-dys later they appeared in my mailbox.

Mobile Ready Checks

Much to my “surprise” the checks have changed, just a little bit. They now include accommodation of the process which allows us to pay cheques in by taking pictures and submitting them on out phones via an app. I’m sure someone is feeling pretty smug, they’ve just invented pig lipstick.

Everything a consumer or non-financial institution does in terms of moving money around depends on the ACH, it’s not just checks, it’s pretty much anything online. Hey, but there’s an eCheck API.

Bloomberg had a good article on America’s addiction to checks back in July, by @kate_robertson – I think though they tackled it from the wrong angle, the reason people are addicted is because they work, and the patchwork of alternatives and restrictions on how they can be used has put them off if they’ve tried them.

My local credit union, Elevations FCU does a pretty good job at working within the confines of the American Clearing House and Federal Reserve straight jackets. Their technology is pretty solid, and their process limits, reasonable. Their mobile app has fingerprint sign-in, a good UI, and access to Popmoney, with useable daily and monthly limit. Their effectiveness and ability to innovate though is still hampered by the “system”.

My Texas FCU, Amplify, so mirrors their roots and seems incapable of escaping them. They started life as the IBM Federal Credit Union in Texas in 1967, and they’ve struggled much like their namesake to move with the times. While they have Internet/Web banking, I’ve had numerous problems and one acknowledged defect between their web and backend systems which frustrated my efforts to avoid paying by checks. They also claim Texas State rules prevent them from allowing various amounts above $1,000 in an out of accounts, especially Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) accounts.

Everything wrong with the US Financial System in one man

I’ve been avoiding blogging during the election cycle to stay away from turning my blog into another pile of steaming bile.

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Image from occupy.com

The more I learn about Strumpf(any coincidence to John Olivers #makdonalddrumpfagain purely coincidental), the former CEO of Wells Fargo, the more he becomes the poster boy for everything wrong with the “too big to fail” banks.

The head of any organization sets the strategy, and the tone of the implementation of the organizations strategy. Bad ones do only one, or neither. Strumpf seems to be in the later category based on his testimonial to a House panel on the recent Wells Fargo creation of unwanted accounts, charges etc. When a major corporation has to fire over 5,000 lower level employees, the is no way the CEO wasn’t responsible for the culture that allowed this to happen.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this morning I read Kathy Kristofs article about Strumpfs stock sale, prior to announcement of the settlement over the illegal activities. While reading this it’s worth making a mental note of the numbers and sheer scale. Remember that ordinary bank customers were charged around $2.4-million in charges related accounts they hadn’t asked for. Apart from this at least having the appearance of insider dealing/trading it reveals the absurd and clearly unjustified amounts of money in the system.

Stumpf sold nearly 3 million Wells Fargo shares in 2016, which is almost 10 times the 351,991 shares he sold the previous year, according to SEC filings. His profit on the 2016 sales amounted to $65.4 million.

Strumpf must be investigated for this, and an example made of him. Otherwise, the country and it’s leaders are sending the same message to the financial industry titans, as they would be sending to their organizations, bending and breaking the rules is OK.

For more on Strumpf, Nomi Prins has a list of his “crimes” and failings while CEO.

Shared, Co-operative banking

2897D64F00000578-3077773-image-m-7_1431445606983[1]I’m still mystified over banking here in the USA, some 20-years after leaving the industry in 1986. Arcane rules; differences from State to State; duplication, overlap and the too-big-to-fail banks. I’ve complained here before.

My current frustration comes from trying to maintain two different credit union accounts. One in Texas with Amplify FCU (the ex-IBM Employee credit union) and another in Colorado, Elevations FCU. Elevations web and mobile apps are far better than those from Amplify. But both seem to be “hand-tied” by rules that were credited back in the 1980’s.

Today’s frustration is summarised in these tweets.

This, after trying to move $1,000 online from an account at Amplify, to another Amplify account, only to be told that Texas laws only a minimum of $4,000 to be transferred daily, after you transfer $4,000, you can transfer back $3,000 the same day. Huh ?

Either way, money takes forever to move around, and often comes with a heavy charge. Miss the 2:30pm deadline for transfers in Texas, that’s a different charge if you go overdrawn. Meanwhile, I can transfer money from one bank to another in the UK in less than 15-minutes, no charge. I can also transfer money from a UK Bank to a German Bank within 2-hours, no charge.

War and BREXIT

I wasn’t surprised to wake-up this morning to an email from my regular “hater” Rick. Back when I lived in Austin I’d regularly get anonymous letters, sometimes just pages from magazines with words highlighted to make messages. Much more often than that though, I’d get emails from Rick.

Today’s email Rick said:

As I’ve told you before, you should get off your high horse and stop blogging; you are just conflating two things to suit your own agenda, I just wish you’d go away, no one cares about your opinion.

While the Iraq war might seem to have little to do with the BREXIT vote, it actually has everything to do with it. Last nights Panorama, where reporter Adrian Chiles goes home to the West Midlands to meet Leave voters. [Currently(Rick) you can watch it here and here on youtube, but neither are official and both likely to be taken down].

Listen for the causes for the justification to vote LEAVEs, lack of jobs, lack of school places, problems with Doctors and Medical, Pensions and more. All of those things have been hit by the austerity required to attempt to address the debt occurred from the British involvement in recents wars. Rather than discuss wars, the blame is squarely put on the EU and the open borders, thus the immigrants.

Typical of the people interviewed is Tracy, she says she isn’t racist and that a few racist people are giving the leave voters a bad name.

It’s got nothing to do with race, I mean, immigration is what makes the world go around, it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. To me that’s how the world should work.

I feel like this country is falling apart, I voted leave because I don’t feel like the government isn’t putting enough back into the community, our councils, our housing situation. We are helping everybody else yet we are forgetting here.

For the record, I totally believe Tracy when she says she isn’t racist, but what she is confused about are the causes of her anger and frustration, and simplistic reasons for believing LEAVE will solve her problems.

It isn’t that the immigrants have been taking what’s “theirs”, it’s that along with an overall decline,  it’s that with the increased cost of war, the British Government cannot afford to invest to keep up with demand, and hence even maintaining levels of spending leads to austerity.

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Source: http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk
As a follow-on from my post of yesterday, Blairs willful denial of the true cost of Iraq, I went to look for the cost to Britain of some of the recent wars and on defense spending.

So while Britain now spends 3% annually of GDP on defence spending, and notionally the UK will now no longer have to pay and annual £12.9Bn to the EU, that is less than half defense and war spending. The UK though has the 3rd largest defence budget, larger than Russia, Germany, France, India and everyone except the USA and China.

The British Pound has now fallen below the Argentinian Peso as the worst performing currency, and the consequences of this, plus the other financial issues, will mean that the LEAVE voters will have to get used to things getting worse with little outlook for them getting better. OK Rick?

The Post BREXIT Pound Era

Watching former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speak in response to the Chilcot report, was depressing. Blair clearly hadn’t grasped, or at least wasn’t prepared to acknowledge the sheer cost in lives and money of going to war. Wars are expensive, very expensive.

As of writing this morning, the UK/British Pound is worth $1.2989. Essentially an all time low. My prediction is that it will settle around $1.25. That is a staggering decline over the last 100-years from all time high of nearly $5.

I’ve been sorting through my archives over the last 5-months, written, photographic and audio. I’ve even spent a few days building shelving to organize it, from scrap wood discarded by the local construction projects. I came across the WQXI Atlanta news piece last night, and it reminded of the first time I became aware of the exchange rate.

I was only 10 years old at the time, but I can still recall to this day how serious the devaluation of the pound was at the time. The devaluation was done over the weekend and in a broadcast at the time, Prime Minister Harold Wilson said this, which I can still hear in my head and a phrase that came to Haunt Wilson.

It does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalue

The Pound has declined in lockstep with the fall of the British Empire. The first major fall was post the failure of the classical Gold standard in 1914; when the cost of entering the World War meant the British had to assume massive debt. and as a result, devalued the pound. After the war was finished, Britain spent 10-years trying to return the pound to it’s prior value, using severe fiscal and monetary austerity. In 1925, Britain returned to the Gold Standard for a short time until 1931, post the great crash, when Britain again devalued the Pound.

The Pound bounced back again shortly later in the 1930’s, but rather than being a strength of the pound, it was actually due to the weakness of the US Dollar following the 2nd FDR New Deal reflation.

With the start of the Second World War, Britain again took on great debt; by 1944, that debt, combined with the debt from the First World which they’d never paid off, forced another devaluation and for Britain to join the Bretton Woods Exchange rate system which fixed the pound to the US Dollar, and the dollar was still linked to the Gold Standard. While the British could argue they’d defeated the Germans and ensured the freedom for all Europeans, it was at a massive cost that Britain has never recovered from. Politicians of the time tried, they’d set the exchange rate too high for a damaged economy. By 1949, they were again forced to devalue by 30% and the pound fell for the first time to sub $3.

For the next 18-years Britain struggled, and the government had to go to the IMF more than once for help. The Pound was finally allowed to float freely against the US Dollar in 1979, but only after 1978’s winter of discontent. What followed for the next 30-years was increasingly futile efforts through the disastrous entry into the ERM, informally linking the Pound to the German Mark, and more, all to no real effect.

Britain has consistently failed to recognize the real impact of the fall of British Empire, and the loss of the Pound as a reserve currency. Prior to World War 1, Britain, and by implication the pound was the dominant currency. It has gradually declined  since then and while Britain still likes to think of itself as a global economy, but it really isn’t.

When politicians like Andrea Leadsom, Former Economic Secretary to the Treasury and leading contender for next British Prime Minister, deny the financial impact of BREXIT, she clearly hasn’t learned the lessons of the past. Prime Minister Wilson’s government denied devaluation 27 times the same year they went on to devalue the pound. If Britain were in a fixed exchange rate system, BREXIT would have been another devaluation. The fall of the Pound since the BREXIT vote is the biggest since  1967 potentially. Welcome to the era of $1.25 and pray the Pound never falls below the mythical $1.00 rate.

Making Britain great again… didn’t happen under Blair, won’t happen under Leadsom.

 

 

*Footnote – This is of significant interest to me as I have an inheritance in the UK that I’d like to transfer to the US, and a former employer’s pension is both impacted by BREXIT and will be paid in UK Pounds, so it’s already worth less, and given the exchange, has probably halved in value this year.

Laughing at US Banks

aka too big to do anything useful.

So, most mornings lately, during breakfast, Chase Bank has been running these commercials on TV. Yep, they are selling their bank on the basis of being able to make easy check deposits. Most US Banks and Credit Unions provide some form of ATM check deposit, similar to this…

no-checks-400x506[1]So while most western countries are running from checks as fast as they can, some have even announced the end of checks/cheques as we know them, the US is not only persisting with the check model and clearance process, they are making ATM’s better at accepting checks and spending money to promote it.

Meanwhile, I can login to my UK Bank, and for free, transfer money to my Son in Berlin in a different country, and different currency and it is in his account in about an hour. To send money to people in the UK, it’s even quicker, less than 15-minutes on average. I’ve had the account for nearly 15-years and not had a checkbook for the last 12-years.

The easiest, simplest and by far thecheapest way for a person in the USA to send me money is to write a physical check, take a picture of the check on their cellphone, and email me the picture. I remote deposit it in either of my USA Bank Accounts. Way to go USA.