We can’t put a final lid on the year 2020 without addressing the big issues, such as how we changed, what we learned, what’s coming back and what will never be the same. PYMNTS TV spent the whole of 2020 talking to the experts on the ground in real time about the key issues driving the payments and commerce business.
“The pandemic has really highlighted that those who can adapt most quickly are in the best position to survive. That means it is necessary to stay on the trends [and] leverage the technology platforms that have made it easier than ever to do that. And you’ll never go wrong by focusing on the consumer and offering flexibility, safety and control.”
In a digital discussion with Karen Webster about the future of commerce in the holiday season and beyond, an expert panel agreed with Lisiewski that the options for digitizing retail — in terms of payments, loyalty, onboarding, etc. — are myriad, and there is no single right answer because every business has a base with specific needs. The core capability that 2020 made clear and 2021 will reward, he noted, is adaptability and the ability to be flexible and move fast.
“The folks who are viewing the videos, when their behaviors compared to the others, we’re seeing they are buying more assets, we’re seeing deeper penetration in certain products like credit cards — that is kind of the proof point there that says, ‘OK, well, we’re onto something here.'”
In a discussion with Webster and SundaySky CEO Jim Dicso, Sellers explained the power video has a communications and marketing channel with BoA’s roughly 40 million digital customers. A picture is worth a thousand words, and what BoA has seen is that a customized video is worth more than that in terms of tying customers closer to the brand.
“These are choices we’re having to make every day — like what is the most important thing to do for your health, but also to feel secure. Payment choice will be very important with respect to keeping your business afloat. Cards and electronic payments are becoming more and more important in an age where getting guaranteed funds quickly, getting money into the bank account to keep a business open, are the drivers both today and into the future.”
The future of payments, McCarthy told Webster in a conversation last spring, will be the future of consumer choice. The rest of 2020 saw consumers increasingly likely to choose merchants that offered them touchless and contactless options whenever they were shopping, wherever they were shopping.
“I think there are three words that come to mind when I think about the 2020 pandemic and merchants: ‘pivot, adapt and evolve.’ And I think all of our merchants and the industries that we’re in have had to do just that — mostly by thinking about how they were going to get back in business in a different way, which tended to be in an online environment.”
The year 2020 had no shortage of surprises, Fiorello told PYMNTS, and the only hard and fast rule merchants could do to ride the rough waters was be ready to pivot early and often to keep up with a landscape that was ever shifting.
“Our vision is to increase accessibility of tokenized, B2B payment through mobile applications. … The way we buy in our personal lives is a key driver. It’s low touch, it’s auditable and quick. It can also be done from any location.”
Progress in the world of B2B payment digitization has long lagged the digitization of consumer payments. But, Wood noted, the pandemic came along to change up the landscape and begin to push corporate payments toward their great digital leap forward.
“The future is going to be about convenience and access. Ten years ago, in our industry specifically, access was about the number of locations at the right spot to meet consumers where they are. But I think the aggregators have helped us turn that thinking on its head, so going forward I think access won’t look like new brick-and-mortar dining rooms and restaurants in the communities we serve. We might see a rise of digital-only kitchens.”
Among verticals hit hard, few can compete with the restaurant industry, which went from expecting big things from 2020 to rushing to pivot and find ways to hold onto its now-homebound customer base. And while dining in will return, the industry itself will never be the same as digitally reinvented consumers will get back to normal with some very new needs.
“I don’t think we’re going to be back to 2019 travel levels for a couple of years, but I’m very optimistic that we’re going to see really strong growth throughout the year from now until then and continue to see consistent improvements as consumers get more and more comfortable and economically able to get back out into the world.”
The travel industry was hit hard by the pandemic as the disease grounded flights, closed borders and more or less successfully deadened consumer desire to wander far from home for most of the year 2020. The good news? Travel will return. The less good news, according to industry experts? It might just be a long while before we see consumers truly return to pre-pandemic comfort levels.
“In many cases, we’ve decided, ‘Look, if we can’t build it all, and if somebody’s built a better mousetrap, why rebuild it?’ We’ll figure out a way to make a partnership.”
The future of financial services is looking increasingly likely to be digital first, which means legacy players like banks need quick paths to upgrading their offerings to keep pace with up-and-coming FinTech offerings. The future of banking is still being written, but it’s increasingly apparent the winners will not just be those that competed well, but those that found the right points of collaboration within the ecosystem and leveraged them properly.
“This year has seen a major, major shift. There have been changes that, if you would have asked me, sitting together last year, what we would be selling and thinking about, it’s very different. … This is going to continue to accelerate as you move up into the more complex, upper-middle market enterprise-wide, large corporates. It continues to evolve. But the pandemic really forced organizations to say, ‘I need to move into this digital environment because nobody is going into offices.'”
The pandemic reset the world, and perhaps no space more than the typically slow moving B2B payments industry in what Phalen referred to as the “consumerization and the digitization of the B2B space” pushed forward by the ever increasing need among corporates. Firms are finding that enabled by digital, they are no longer merely able to get the job of moving money done; they are able to do it with efficiencies previously unknown.
“Business transactions are happening in real time, and things are interconnected. We’ve had one corporate customer that has gone from wanting to do electronic payments to being live in less than five weeks, self-servicing themselves using APIs to initiate real-time transactions.”
The time has run out in the world of B2B payments for the paper-bound processes of the past through the pure power of inertia keeping them in place. Corporate payment needs have changed, and no longer struggling to get on the roadmap, digital payments have gone from a someday priority to priority one in the segment amid the pandemic, promising a very changed landscape in 2021 and beyond.
“We need to find a way to create something cool that solves a problem and helps our clients so they can get better and more efficient at running their businesses. The reason things haven’t accelerated faster than they have in the past is that no one has come together with that really compelling value proposition to make the move.”
Changes in corporate payments don’t just happen; being neat, new or cool has never proven to be enough to get the job done when it comes to purging the paper from the process. A pandemic, on the other hand, has stepped in powerfully to do the job, creating not just a desire to build something better and more functional, but an actual, demonstrable and continually growing need.