Instant payments, along with other types of faster payments, are quickly gaining popularity around the world. In 2019, the number of countries with faster payment systems increased to 54 – which has nearly quadrupled since 2014.1 This rapid increase in the use of faster payments has made its way through countries such as China, India and the U.K., and the United States has started down this path as well.
India: India is experiencing rapid growth in faster payments with its Unified Payments Interface (UPI) platform, which launched its pilot in 2016. Three years after launch, UPI began processing more than 1 billion transactions a month,2 and has maintained exceptional growth in volume in the first half of 2020 with a 69 percent increase compared to the same period last year.3
This growth is due in part to UPI’s open application programming interface (API). According to a Wharton FINTECH article (Off-site), “[t]hrough a set of [APIs], UPI linked disparate user interfaces, provided seamless authentication and authorization, and ultimately ensured interoperability among existing players. The APIs provided by UPI enable two entities to execute a payments transaction by exchanging the bare minimum amount of information required.” Access to the APIs enables Google Pay app, WhatsApp and other non-bank platforms to reduce friction in accessing UPI to make money transfers.
China: China’s faster payments growth was also notable with a 20 percent increase in volume and a 50 percent increase in value since 2018.4 Its two new payments schemes, both of which are closed loop, consist of mobile payments through digital wallets and Quick Response (QR) codes. These platforms are run by two big tech firms, Alibaba and Tencent, and essentially remove the bank from the payment transaction.5 Although there are a number of reasons China’s payment system went in this direction, one of the reasons, according to a Brookings article, China’s Digital Payments Revolution, is pushback from merchants regarding card reader fees and the cost to integrate technology and run the card readers. This challenge, coupled with high smartphone adoption, paved the way for alternative routes to payment.
Singapore: Faster payments in Singapore have seen strong growth with its Fast and Secure Transfers (FAST) system, which launched in 2014. This system allows customers of participating financial institutions to complete near real-time electronic funds transfers 24/7. In 2019, FAST processed 93 million transactions, a 55 percent increase in volume over 2018, their highest annual increase since launch.6
The country’s faster payments capabilities expanded in August 2018 with the launch of the PayNow corporate service, which enabled transfers using information such as mobile numbers in place of an address. This service broadened the user base for faster payments by enabling businesses to move away from checks and cash toward electronic payments.7
Europe: In response to faster payments demand in Europe, TARGET Instant Payment Settlement (TIPS)8 was launched by the European Central Bank (ECB) in November 2018. This pan-European system based on the SEPA Instant Credit Transfer (SCT Inst) scheme enables payment service providers to offer instant fund transfers 365x7x24 and settle the payments in central bank money. At launch, this system settled instant payments only in euro, but with the goal of settling other currencies in the future, such as the Swedish Krona.
Sweden: Sweden’s Swish payment system was launched in 2012 by six of the country’s largest banks. This payments system enables instant payments between two parties via a mobile app connected to the user’s bank account.9 Initially the system focused on person-to-person (P2P) transactions but expanded to merchant and e-commerce transactions over the next five years. More recently, Swish has incorporated additional functionality, including QR codes and request to pay, which as the name implies, enables payees to request payments through the faster payments system. According to Swish’s website (Off-site), transaction volumes totaled more than 55 million and value totaled more than 28 billion SEK (Swedish Krona) in July 2020.
Also important to note is the development of the P27, which began in 2017. According to the P27 Nordic Payments website (Off-site), this initiative aims to build the world’s first real-time, cross-border payment system in multiple currencies across the Nordics. Initially, the platform will allow instant payments between people and businesses in the countries of Denmark, Finland and Sweden, though ultimately, the design will be built to be expandable. And in June 2019, Mastercard was signed on to operate the platform.
Moreover, in April 2020, Sweden became the first country outside the Eurozone to join TIPS. The ECB announced in April (Off-site) that TIPS will support the settlement of electronic payments in Swedish krona to support the nation’s instant payment service. The arrangement between ECB, the Eurosystem and Sveriges Riksbank is targeted to take effect in 2022.
The U.K.: The U.K.’s Faster Payments service network is now 11 years old. Faster Payments broke the record for highest amount of payments processed in a single year in 2019, with 2.4 billion payments, a bump from the 2 billion in 2018. The second quarter of this year saw continued growth with 650 million payments processed by Faster Payments, a 10 percent increase from last year.10
Faster Payments continues to innovate with two new overlay services slated for future release, including Confirmation of Payee, which assures users are sending their payments to the correct recipient, and request to pay.
Australia: Australia launched its New Payments Platform (NPP) faster payments system in February 2018. This platform allows users to make real-time payments 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long with no cut-off times and is intended to support products and services that enable back-office efficiencies and cost savings. Since launch, NPP has processed over 384 million payments, totaling $344 billion (AUD),11 with significant acceleration in January 2020 when NPP processed a daily average of more than 1.1 million payments, worth $1 billion.12
Along with many other countries, Australia’s NPP offers an alias service called PayID that allows customers to link their financial accounts to personal information, such as mobile phone numbers and email addresses, where users then provide their PayID to businesses or individuals to receive payments.13 This service has seen great interest with more than 4.1 million PayIDs registered as of January 2020.14
United States: Faster payments are steadily gaining momentum in the United States as the industry realizes there is a desire for the speed and convenience that these payments provide. And with the introduction of the FedNowSM Service, adoption of instant payments can be expected to expand even further.
According to the Mercator Advisory Group, the United States will transact more than $900 billion in faster payments in 2020. Some of the key players include Zelle®, The Clearing House’s RTP® network, Visa Direct, Mastercard SendTM, Venmo, Paypal and Square Cash. A few of these platforms are still fairly new and do not typically report transaction volume data publicly, but according to occasional press releases, it appears that some are seeing noteworthy usage numbers. For example, in July, Zelle reported $133 billion sent through 519 million transactions in the first six months of 2020. Zelle also noted that 924 financial institutions are contracted to participate in the network.15 In January 2020, Venmo reported processing $102 billion in 2019 with 52 million active accounts.16 Instant payments, currently offered only by RTP, are also growing,17 particularly for business-to-business (B2B) use cases.
Faster payments have seen significant growth around the world due to major, ongoing innovation in the use cases these systems can serve – particularly use cases that may not be as well served by more traditional payment systems.
Here are highlights of a few that could gain traction in the United States and help drive volume growth.
QR codes: Both China’s and India’s use of QR codes for payments has bolstered the growth of faster payments in these countries. One attractive attribute of QR codes to merchants and their customers is that all the customer has to do is scan the merchant-provided QR code with their mobile device to initiate the payment. By scanning the QR code, which includes the relevant merchant information, the customer can complete the transaction quickly and securely. And the merchant is assured of payment because their information has been entered automatically and accurately. Another benefit is fewer fees and equipment for the merchant. QR codes can even be used in P2P payments.
Request to pay (or request for payment): With request to pay, the biller (payee) is able to present invoice details through the faster payments system to their customer (payer) and in turn, the customer is able to easily initiate the responding payment and automatically link it to the relevant invoice. With this feature, corporate payers may be able to automate their payables processing, and billers may be able to automate reconciliation of these faster payments against the related invoices. In the United States, The Clearing House’s RTP® network has developed a version of this service that enables participating financial institutions to offer it to their biller customers.
In addition, in the U.K., request to pay is nearing launch. According to Faster Payments, a part of Pay.UK, this service “will be overlaid on top of existing payments infrastructure as a new flexible way to settle bills between businesses and organizations as well as among friends.” Request to pay gives the payer more control by allowing them to either pay in full, in part, decline or even ask the payee for more time.
Although instant and other faster payments are used predominantly for P2P transactions in the United States at present, based on experiences around the world, it is likely that innovation in other use cases will pick up speed in the coming years. And given the volume growth rates of other countries, it’s not difficult to imagine a day in the not-too-distant future when instant and other faster payment options are in widespread use in the United States.
1FIS. “Flavors of Fast Report 2019,” 4.
2Calculated based on Retail Payments Statistics on NPCI Platforms (Off-site) as of 8/26/2020.
3Calculated based on Retail Payments Statistics on NPCI Platforms (Off-site) as of 8/26/2020.
4FIS. “Flavors of Fast Report 2019,” 14.
5Aaron Klein. “China’s Digital Payments Revolution,” Brookings, April 2020, 1.
6Calculated based on H2 2019 Retail Payment Statistics – Monetary Authority of Singapore (Off-site); Additional data to support highest annual increase since launch statement drawn from: H2 2018; H2 2016
7FIS. “Flavors of Fast Report 2019,” 55.
9Andrew Fawthrop, “What is Swish? The mobile payments system used by more than two-thirds of Swedes,” NS Banking, Jul. 15, 2019.
13FIS. “Flavors of Fast Report 2019,” 57.
15“Consumers and Small Businesses Significantly Increase Use of Zelle® In 1st Half Of 2020.” Zelle, 29 Jul. 2020. Press release.
16Donna Fuscaldo, “PayPal All In With Venmo In 2020,” Forbes, Jan. 30, 2020.
17Jim Daly, “The Clearing House to Raise RTP Transaction Limit to $100,000,” Digital Transactions, Jan. 23, 2020.
Aaron Klein. “China’s Digital Payments Revolution,” April 2020.
Andrew Fawthrop, “What is Swish? The mobile payments system used by more than two-thirds of Swedes,” NS Banking, Jul. 15, 2019.
“Consumers and Small Businesses Significantly Increase Use of Zelle® In 1st Half Of 2020.” Zelle, 29 Jul. 2020. Press release.
Donna Fuscaldo, “PayPal All In With Venmo In 2020,” Forbes, Jan. 30, 2020.
European Central Bank website. https://www.ecb.europa.eu/paym/intro/mip-online/2017/html/201706_article_tips.en.html (Off-site).
Faster Payments. “Request to Pay,” fasterpayments.org.uk/industry-news/request-pay (Off-site).
FIS. “Flavors of Fast Report 2019.”
“How TIPS Is Helping ECB Expand Its Real-Time Payments Reach,” PYMNTS.com, May 20, 2020.
“India’s Unified Payments Interface: Breaking the Billion Barrier,” ACI, Oct 15, 2019.
Jim Daly, “The Clearing House to Raise RTP Transaction Limit to $100,000,” Digital Transactions, Jan. 23, 2020.
National Payments Corporate of India website. https://www.npci.org.in/statistics (Off-site)
Nipun Jasuja, Piyush Khandekar and Sasi Desai. “Your guide to UPI – the world’s most advanced payments system,” May 11, 2017.
Reserve Bank of Australia website. https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2020/mar/two-years-of-fast-payments-in-australia.html (Off-site)
“SCT Inst scheme gaining further traction in Europe.” European Payments Council. 20 May 2020. Press release.
Swish website, https://www.swish.nu/about-swish (Off-site).