Unlocking the Potential of Instant Payments: The Federal Reserve’s New Infrastructure

Jeff Diamond
Fika Ventures
Published in
5 min readMay 11, 2023

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Strap yourselves in! Instant Payments is on its way!

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Unlocking the Potential of Instant Payments: The Federal Reserve’s New Infrastructure

The payments industry is on the cusp of a revolution. Thanks to the Federal Reserve’s new instant payments initiative, transactions will soon be faster, more secure, and more cost-effective than ever before. This initiative promises to benefit consumers, small businesses, and banks of all sizes. With its potential to completely change the way we make payments in the years to come, now is the time to start exploring the broader effects of this new infrastructure.

A Background on the Initiative, Its Mission and Objectives

The mission of the Fed’s initiative is to reduce fraud and increase security across the payments industry by creating a platform with the speed and convenience to meet customer needs. To achieve this, they have developed an efficient, real-time system that allows for immediate, 24/7 cross-party fund transfers with the goal to reduce processing time while increasing transparency for the movement of funds across accounts.

In addition to reducing fraud, this new infrastructure will provide cost savings for both customers and institutions alike. By eliminating lengthy verification processes, customers can save money on transaction fees while also accessing their funds more rapidly than before. And, institutions can benefit from lower costs associated with processing transactions, as well as improved efficiency in handling customer service inquiries related to payments.

Current regulatory changes are also driving this move towards instant payments as regulators are requiring financial institutions to have heightened visibility into large cash flows across multiple accounts in order to prevent money laundering and other illicit behavior. The Fed’s initiative will not create a new central banking currency, but will instead provide a payments platform for both traditional banks and non-banking financial institutions, which will improve compliance with current regulations while continuing to provide an efficient payment service for customers.

Who Will Benefit from Instant Payments and the Challenges It May Bring

Instant payments have the potential to bring a range of advantages to multiple groups. Consumers can look forward to more rapid, secure, and cost-effective transactions, and small businesses can enjoy reduced costs and fewer fraud and security concerns.

Additionally, this will allow smaller financial institutions like community banks to offer the same level of service as larger banks, or modern fin tech companies, and support further migration to online banking. In effect, this could reduce the need for physical locations due to the reduction of check flow, which will improve margins for traditional banks. Since there is no risk of overdrawing one’s bank account, or paying overdraft fees since banks verify fund levels before initiating instant payments, this will hugely diminish the costs that banks currently incur for settlement costs and fund verification.

While some might argue that this will temper the proliferation of Web3 and crypto technologies in banking, we beg to differ, as we believe it will actually allow for the transfer of technology where some risk management and fraud mitigation, which were built for crypto (real time risk assessment), are in fact going to be highly relevant to financial institutions

Nevertheless, the introduction of instant payments could have an impact on current payment platforms, such as Zelle, PayPal, and Venmo, as their core value proposition of speed is no longer a core differentiator. Certain SMBs might now choose to embrace it if they were previously reliant on off-banking methods for income and traceability.However, FedNow could introduce new tax liabilities and reporting obligations.

What Investment Oopportunities It Might Bring

Overall, the new infrastructure for instant payments presents both interesting opportunities and challenges. The immediate opportunity we see is risk management. With instant payments, increased risk of fraud and potential scams could occur as transfers might be harder to recall once they are activated. We believe that the startups t who are building across the following categories will provide relevant service to participants in the FedNow program.

  • Digital footprint analysis: A feature that leverages digital data to answer the question: “Am I dealing with a real person, and are they who they say they are?”
  • KYC (Know Your Customer) checks: Customer ID verification is a huge part of KYC checks. Good banking fraud detection software should help with that.
  • Real-time monitoring and alerts: Understanding how fraud happens at a bank is one thing. Setting up real-time monitoring and notifications is the next step.
  • Machine learning suggestions: Fraudsters are adaptive. One must ensure their fraud detection software can also adapt to new attack vectors. This is where ML (machine learning) can help suggest new risk rules tailored to your risk challenges.

As discussed above, we also believe that certain risk management technologies that were built for the crypto space will become increasingly important due to real-time monitoring capabilities.

The other compelling opportunity is with SMBs and assisting them with their transition to a system that depends on instantaneous, traceable payments. This could be tax reporting and preparation, or even managing accounts payables and receivables, which will be increasingly different in a post-FedNow world.

While instant payments offer numerous advantages and have the potential to benefit individuals and organizations alike, it is critical for startups to develop solutions for the challenges that FedNow presents, which will ensure successful implementation at all levels for SMBs or larger institutions leveraging this system’s capabilities.

What’s Next for Instant Payments?

The Fed’s new infrastructure for instant payments promises to revolutionize the payments industry. As this technology takes shape, it is vital to observe the impact on existing payment platforms such as Zelle, Paypal, and Venmo. These services can no longer hang their hat on speed and will need to expand their product offerings in order to differentiate themselves which could take the form of financing, rewards programs or other value-added services.

Additionally, peer-to-peer commerce, enabled by instant payments, could potentially create an entirely new market for individuals who wish to bypass credit cards, or the need to utilize platforms like Paypal for their transactions. And, it’s possible that more companies could build their own payment platforms with FedNow rather than relying on traditional same-day settlement providers.

All of these possibilities point to a future of increased convenience and accessibility for processing payments. The Fed’s initiative has opened up a window for innovation, the effects of which could be realized as early as next year. It will be interesting to see how banks, fintechs, and even consumers respond over time and the type of products that come out of this shift in payment technology.

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Jeff Diamond
Fika Ventures

Investor @FikaVC. Previously Tech Entrepreneur, Greenspring Associates, @BeePartners, @SkyDeck_Cal, Berkeley Haas MBA.