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The evolution of payments technology

Five trends we expect to have a significant impact on payments in 2021.

For years, many companies have spoken about becoming more digital, transforming their business, and reducing waste, but always in the context of those journeys being multi-year projects.

But 2020 proved to be a year of rapid acceleration of these plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses were unexpectedly forced into a situation of closing physical premises and instead relying on remote working, and this initiated change at a pace that has never happened before.

And this new way of working was coupled with rapidly changing consumer habits; in payments new trends such as acceleration of non-cash transactions methods, a reliance on new digital solutions to improve customer experience, and now needing to integrate with payments companies in a more sophisticated way, have all contributed to a need for operators to increase the speed of their tech upgrades.

But what does that mean in practice? Here are five trends we expect to be at the forefront of payments technology innovation in the next 12 months.

Further migration to distributed cloud

A key area of focus for payments businesses in the next 12 months will inevitably be how to create even easier ways for customers to consume payment services, including how to develop and distribute some of the technology that will enable payments to be more frictionless. Allowing payment technology companies to focus on the innovation of products and solutions without having to worry about the underlying supporting infrastructure is important to ensure rapid scalability and resilient solutions. Operating now in a distributed cloud mode blurs the lines of ownership of the physical infrastructure further than has been seen before.  This trend of cloud evolution will continue to enable payments companies to deliver solutions to merchants and consumers in a way that is highly flexible to meet the needs of the rapid changing digital environment we are now in.

Expanded use cases for AI and deep learning

When thinking more specifically about those new capabilities distributed cloud will facilitate, the potential of Artificial Intelligence will become more significant. We are going to see new trends come to the fore related to how companies think about analysing data, leveraging the immense power that comes from being able to tap into almost an infinite level of resources and processing capability. In payments that is going to be particularly prevalent around identifying consumer trends, mass personalisation, and without doubt fraud and Know Your Customer (KYC).

The concept of using technology to create digital identities, all the way from a retailer through the payments mechanism, will enable you to know the consumer more thoroughly using AI and deep learning technologies to assess all of the data point we now have. The palette of data has become much richer now to enable better decision making.

A renewed focus on 5G

The growth of 5G wasn’t the game-changer in 2020 many thought it had the potential to be at the start of last year, almost entirely due to COVID-19. That is because the demand that potentially could have been created among people who were constantly on the move isn’t there; if you are stuck at home you simply do not have the need to go out and buy the new 5G contract, but this will change and I think a rapid accelerate of the adoption of this technology is now on the horizon.

But looking ahead, for many businesses  5G is going to create a level of connectivity and speed of data transmission that has never been possible outside of a physically connected world, and that is also going to bring significant benefits in payments to areas that aren’t physically connected. For example, the ability to get data connectivity to remote areas of the world to enable people to set up businesses and to transact online is going to be a big growth area. Equally, the ability to deliver more immersive online experiences though remote devices will be transformational for the gaming industry.  5G is also going to enable companies to shift more data globally to enhance the power of AI even further.

The drive for greater remote working

Clearly many companies are not going to be rushing back to the world of being in the office full time any time soon. To an extent the new normal of working from home has already been established as companies have adapted during COVID-19, but for a permanent, efficient transformation to regular at-home working to be successful more progress needs to be made. This means not only how you think about enabling employees to work from home for effectively generally, but also a specific focus on running operational and heavily interconnected teams in a distributed manner and coming together in a way that hasn’t happened before.

Achieving new levels of security

And then finally, all of these enhancements must be wrapped in new levels of security. COVID-19 has resulted in the need to think about a different dimension of security being pushed to its limits, for several reasons. The first is that, unfortunately, criminals tend to thrive in a crisis, and unprincipled fraudsters have used the pandemic as an opportunity to leverage it for their own gain. This is creating pressure on companies to step up and look at more tooling to combat the threat, and not only how we think about protecting the company but also colleagues and end users as well.

The second is another consequence of remote working. As employees are becoming more distributed, we don’t always know where people are going to be working from or what they are going to be connected to, which creates an additional challenge. As this looks set to be the status quo moving forward, it will be a key area of focus for payments companies in 2021.