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Technological innovation in retail payments: Key developments and implications for banks

By Karen Furst and Daniel Nolle


The United States still has a heavily paper-based retail payment system when compared with many other developed economies, but the shift to electronic payments has been bigger and more decisive than commonly perceived. For the first time ever, check use declined in the mid-1990s, and among electronic payments the adoption of debit cards has occurred at an extremely rapid pace. The purpose of this article is to promote greater awareness of the nature of recent changes in retail payments in the United States, and to explore some of the key implications of those changes for the banking industry. We describe recent trends in retail payments, highlighting the surprising drop in check usage, and consider the impact of changes in retail payments on bank revenue and costs. We conclude that, although banks are likely to realize substantial long-run payments-related improvements in productivity, they face greater-than-commonly-appreciated near-term challenges.Retail; Payments; Banking; Internet

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