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Research Note: Global payments revenue to fall 7% in 2020

The public health crisis triggered by COVID-19 has had an impact on nearly all aspects of daily life for people across the globe, has put the world economy on an uncertain footing and has caused global payments revenue to fall by 7%.

For the payments industry, the pandemic and its consequences have accelerated a series of existing trends in both consumer and business behaviours, and introduced new developments, such as a restructuring of both supply chains and cross-border trade.

Ongoing shifts toward e-commerce, digital payments (including touchless), instant payments, and cash displacement have all been significantly boosted in the past six months. And while a degree of reversion to past behaviour is likely for some of these shifts, the overall trajectory for these trends has received a strong push forward.

Overall, the crisis is compressing a decade’s worth of change into less than one year—and in areas that are typically slow to evolve: customer behaviour, economic models, and payments operating models. As with most structural shifts, challenges will inevitably arise.

The impact of the crisis has not been consistent across sectors or geographies, of course. Travel and entertainment, which had been among the most advanced e-commerce sectors, was hit particularly hard and faces an uncertain path to recovery.

Payments providers in regions that have lagged in digitization, meanwhile, in many cases possess greater potential for revenue increases in the new environment.

On the other hand, a protracted period of low interest rates, which began before the current crisis, will pressure payments revenues, as will a persistent slowdown in economic activity.

This is the context in which McKinsey has release its annual report on the global payments industry. As always, these insights are informed by McKinsey’s Global Payments Map and by continuing dialogue with practitioners throughout the payments ecosystem.

Given the impact of the changes and challenges in 2020, however, the report takes a different lens to the analysis, focusing more on the current moment and on the future, than on examining past growth.

Global Payments Revenue

The first chapter briefly tells the story of 2019—a solid year with broad-based revenue growth—but focuses primarily on current developments and takes a forward-looking view of the payments landscape. It also details the actions it believes payments providers will need to take to weather the pandemic and position themselves for the “next normal.”

The “now-cast” analysis of 2020 paints a contrast between H1 and H2 of 2020—namely, an estimated 22% payments revenue decline in H1 will be softened somewhat by stronger performance in H2.

Still, the report expects full-year 2020 global payments revenue to be roughly 7% lower than it was in 2019—a $140-billion decline roughly equal to recent years’ annual gains, and 11 to 13% below pre-pandemic projections. Beyond this, in some countries and segments, the likely sustained increase in digital penetration could result in a recovery of revenue pools to levels matching our pre-COVID-19 expectations for 2021.

Global payments revenue

In following chapters, the report explore four areas of payments it considers critical to achieving success in the context of accelerated change. Like many aspects of payments, the merchant-acquiring business was already undergoing significant transformation.

Consolidation had driven scale economy imperatives, and non-bank market entrants were gaining inroads with underserved verticals. The report details the need to redefine acquiring offerings to encompass a full suite of value-added services extending well beyond payments settlement—including fraud controls and cart optimisation for the fast-growing e-commerce segment.

In a separate chapter the report focusses on the specific opportunity for small- and medium-size enterprises, a segment that has historically been expensive to serve for large incumbents, but which has been the focus of many FinTech attackers and is well overdue for a closer look.

Supply chain finance has long been considered to be a source of untapped value, but unlike other payments sectors, has struggled to develop enough momentum to address its structural challenges.

Given an expected increased focus on working capital, a step change in digital adoption at scale, and the potential geographic re-shuffling of roughly $4 trillion of cross-border supply chain spending in the next five years—the value embedded in supply-chain finance will become even more attractive. The question is whether it will be enough to spur a long-anticipated transformation.

Finally, in the overview of global payments, the report look at a challenge many established payments providers are facing—the need to transform the operating model to meet the growing imperatives for efficiency, scale, modularity (e.g., Payments-as-a-Service), and global interoperability.

With many banks likely unwilling to commit the hundreds of millions of investment dollars needed to modernise existing payments infrastructure, it outlines various paths worth considering before more focused players can establish an insurmountable advantage.

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