Banking on Change in Payments Market


In the first of a two-part series on the future of payments in Ireland, Ulster Bank’s head of payments, Celine Singleton, looks at current trends in a nation where cash remains king.

Ireland is a country of contradictions, no more so than when it comes to payments. Home to some of the most influential companies in the vanguard of developments in Irish payments technology, it is also a nation that still likes to use cash to pay for goods and services.


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What are the current and emerging trends in the Irish payment marketplace?

“Digital adoption rates in Ireland are driving demand for new payment options. 71% of internet users use digital banking and new providers that have entered the market on the back of the second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) are looking at payments as a catalyst for change.

“Irish consumers are second only to Germany as the highest users of cash for point-of-sale purchases and transactions in Europe, which makes it even more important that banks such as Ulster Bank offer alternatives.


“If banks don’t respond to these changes they risk becoming utilities, handing over customer account details to third-party providers”


Celine Singleton, head of payments, Ulster Bank

“There are generational factors at work – many older consumers will visit an ATM machine and withdraw the money they need for the week because they like the security of having cash in their pocket.

“The average Irish person visits an ATM machine three times a week with an average debit of €70, and many people keep a minimum amount of money (perhaps €50) in their wallet just in case they take a taxi that does not accept card payment, for example.

“Location is also a factor. When we talk to small businesses – particularly those in rural areas – we emphasise the security and cost benefits of moving away from cash. Many bank branches in Ireland will now only accept cash lodgements at certain times and, in some cases, specific days of the week and it is a risk to travel with large amounts of cash at regular times.”

Instant payments and PSD2 are emerging trends and regulations in the world of payment – how will they impact SMEs and customers in Ireland?

“By offering faster payments, suppliers and customers can pay their invoices any time of the day, reducing the amount of cash businesses have to hold on their premises.

“Faster payments should also help to reduce instances of late payment and bad debt. According to the Global Business Monitor 2017 by Bibby Financial Services, small businesses in Ireland have to wait longer than the global average for payment and 57% cited collecting payments from customers on time as the most problematic aspect of their cash-flow management. Almost one third of those surveyed had suffered from bad debt over the previous 12 months.”

What are the challenges and opportunities of open banking?

“Companies such as Revolut and Monzo are focusing on payments so they can build a customer base to which they can deliver other services when we reach a truly open banking environment. These developments are encouraging collaboration between banks and fintechs – we realise that we need to work with fintechs even though they are offering competing services.

“Accenture’s survey of Consumers’ Initial Reactions to the New Services Enabled by PSD2, published in 2016, found that more than three quarters would have most trust in traditional banks to deliver payment initiation services. In contrast, only 3% said they would use a challenger bank, suggesting that companies that are not already linked with payment activities may struggle to gain market traction and consumer trust.

“However, faster payments will also change customer expectations. Someone making a purchase online via Amazon, for example, might have to wait seven days for their item(s) to arrive yet their payment is made within seconds. In an instant payment environment, consumers will increasingly demand instant access to their goods.

“If banks don’t respond to these changes they risk becoming utilities, handing over customer account details to third-party providers who will initiate the payment. Established banks cannot respond as quickly as new market entrants, but they have the advantage of customer trust.”

What are the key challenges and opportunities to be aware of in the modern payment landscape?

“Accenture’s Irish SME Banking Survey 2018 found that 80% of small businesses were interested in using new services driven by technology, and that many were willing to pay for such services if they are convinced of their value and comfortable with the new technologies that enable them.

“Fintechs can move quickly, but they need the support of traditional banks. This is why Ulster Bank sponsored Dogpatch, a start-up hub located in Dublin’s Digital Docklands.

“We have an innovations team that sits in the hub alongside the programmers and developers and we have just started an ‘intrepreneurship’ programme where Ulster Bank staff who come up with ideas work with Dogpatch to bring these ideas to fruition. The days of assuming we can do everything in-house are over.”


Comments 1

Tara De Buitlear on Monday, 20 August 2018 13:43

Very interesting Celine - looking forward to part of this interview !

Very interesting Celine - looking forward to part of this interview !
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