Implications of the 2010 Federal Reserve Payments Study

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8 December 2010
Bob Meara
The Federal Reserve published a summary of its 2010 Federal Reserve Payments Study this week. Predictably, the study evidenced double digit growth in debit and prepaid cards from 2006 through 2009, alongside essentially flat credit card usage. The study evidenced a continued decline in check writing of -6.5% CAGR, from 33.1 billion in 2006 to 27.5 billion in 2009. The anatomy of check usage was well reported in the study as well, with an analysis of check writing by counterparty and purpose based on a random sampling of checks processed by a small number of large banks. The results show double digit declines in C2B check writing (-11%), modest declines in B2B (-2%) and B2C (-3%) check usage and a growth in C2C check writing. In other words, businesses aren’t kicking the check habit – much. [caption id="attachment_1945" align="aligncenter" width="513" caption="Anatomy of Declining Check Usage"]Anatomy of Declining Check Usage[/caption] The implications of these findings are many. One deserves special mention in my opinion. Less check writing alongside growing use of self-service channels is eroding branch foot traffic like never before. It’s no shocker that check volumes in the United States have been declining for most of the last decade. What appears less well understood is the long-term effect of this decline and what financial institutions should do in response. In addition to steady declines in check writing is a steady growth in self-service deposit activity taking the form of image ATM and RDC usage. The aggregate impact of these trends points to dramatic erosion in branch transactional activity – and with it foot traffic. The chart below shows a conservative Celent estimate of resulting average effect on branch foot traffic. teller-transactions This is a polarizing picture. For financial institutions with highly automated branch networks and well-trained personnel, these trends can point to significant cost reductions without compromising customer service. For other financial institutions, branch channel cost reductions will prove comparatively elusive. All financial institutions should embrace these trends as a mandate to quickly develop multichannel sales and service infrastructures to accommodate the quickly changing landscape.


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