Is there any doubt about the continuous increase in the electronic transaction volumes associated with payments? On the contrary, everything I read points to a more electronic world. And does everyone believe it's a perfect world in the performance of a transaction from start to finish? Well, I used to think it was pretty good, but I stopped using the word "perfect" after I wrote my first computer program.
Last week I spent a couple of days with a group of engineers. If I had thrown a pebble in any direction, I would not have been able to hit a banker. These folks look at payments transactions, not the way bean counters do, but considering how well (or imperfectly) the transaction moves through a path that can be very diverse and convoluted.
I spoke individually to eleven people who developed and continue to refine software that is completely outside the realm of the debits and credits function. Their job is to "x-ray" transactions in order to measure how well the process handled every transaction, and to report in real-time how the owners of a process can resolve a performance issue. And even though a bank's in-your-face-customer at an ATM or POS is a primary beneficiary of this optimization scrutiny, the system takes a top-down view of the process, examining every transaction in order to spot potential weakness at every touch point. With this degree of thoroughness, the operations people can optimize links, configurations and networks early enough to prevent serious damage down the line, or when capacity is nearing.
The Chief Scientist did a great job of dumbing-down what he does so I might have a better chance of understanding him. When he talked physics as it relates to the mind, and algorithms that take the place of human judgment, I wondered if he coulda helped the Texas Rangers win at least a second game in the World Series. I knew I liked him when he referred to my not-so-famous "My Idea of a Complete Banking System" chart and asked me where his system is displayed among the 176 pieces of the chart. "Oops, it's missing because you are too new," I said, "but it should be in the box marked electronic payments."
My new friends are trained to spot things, and their contribution to the payments business seems to fit very nicely with the growing volume of electronic transactions. Other people I talked with pointed out the system's completeness. They mentioned the 99.9% factor that IT shops take comfort in. Who would argue with the nines syndrome? But these guys go further. That reminded me of an ER doctor who was participating in a discussion among IT guys who were boasting of the superb reliability of the mainframe that achieved 99.9% up time. The doctor later translated the reality of that metric. "I just computed what your uptime means. When that 44 minutes of down time (.1%) occurs while my patient is on a gurney and I can't retrieve his electronic medical record, I won't be too impressed with your 99.9% uptime."
Payments aren't a matter of life or death, folks, but after three years of wounds inflicted on the banking businesses of the world, it might be a good idea to put payments processing optimization on the top of a bank's priorities. It's only going to become more critical down the road.