The business of payments is changing. With encouragement from the Federal Reserve, the U.S. is moving toward real-time payments. Bank of America and U.S. Bank recently announced they will provide real-time, peer-to-peer (P2P) payments through Early Warning’s clearXchange. In February, First Tech Federal Credit Union joined the network as well. According to Deloitte, the U.S. has more than 20 P2P apps already.

New Opportunities for the Banking Industry

Banking experts have suggested that with real-time capabilities, banks could offer solutions such as micro-travel insurance, hourly payroll or instant loans. James Wester at IDC suggested that banks would gain the most benefit from a central payment hub to handle all types of payments. Coupling it with analytics to better understand their customers, banks could offer corporate services such as liquidity management and supply chain finance.

On the flip side, businesses that haven’t reviewed their banking costs may be missing out on potential innovation and savings. “As money starts to move as fast as email, there will be a massive opportunity for those first movers,” wrote Jordan Lampe, director of policy affairs at Dwolla, a real-time payments platform, in the Harvard Business Review. “In much the same way that broadband Internet changed the way enterprises interact with data, companies will literally flourish or die based on how they can best adapt to this new financial environment.”

Benefits for Businesses

Dwolla offers businesses and individuals a way to make and receive real-time payments without checks, whose soft costs can run $30–$60 each to process. Starting at $25 a month for businesses — and free for individuals — Dwolla can also support variable electronic payment for billing that depends on consumption, such as car rental companies or utilities.

This new model offers important benefits for a variety of business types. Design With Benefits, an eco-conscious online store, devotes a percentage of its net profits to creative projects that use design to solve social problems. A buyer purchasing a handsome leather bike handlebar bag from Detroit Cargo has a choice at checkout to pay with a debit or credit card, or Dwolla. A customer who checks “Dwolla” is taken to the Dwolla site to either sign in or sign up, and complete a transaction which pulls a real-time payment directly from their bank account. Dwolla is a web app, so it works on any smartphone.

API to the Rescue

Clicking over to the Dwolla site is more of a problem for a company like GOAT, a mobile marketplace for buyers and sellers in the $1 billion luxury sneaker resale market (who knew?). The company has more than 25,000 sneakers in its database along with authentication data on each to support users who buy and sell on its site. Its experiences with incompatible mobile wallets grew so convoluted that it began accepting credit cards, whose two to three percent fees were killing profit margins. GOAT turned to Dwolla, and within 10 days its developers implemented Dwolla’s white-label application programming interface (API) and next-day automated clearing house (ACH) transfers, cutting time to liquidity for sellers from up to seven days to an average of two. Ben Milne, Dwolla’s CEO, says that the API incorporates 540 pages of rules for the ACH system that delivers payments electronically across the U.S.

Beyond Payments

Sweep, a mobile consumer savings app aimed at millennials, integrated the Dwolla API to let users organize their funds for various goals and expenses such as a wedding, a car or a down payment. Sweep was designed to make saving simple and automatic. A user could set it up to transfer $100 from a bank account each payday into a savings account, for example, while tracking progress on their mobile phone.

Dwolla also recently partnered with Lenny, a mobile lender which aims to help millennials develop credit scores by providing them with micro-loans that can be partly based on their GPAs. The partnership will enable Lenny to extend new offerings, including transfers, account creation and verification through a much cheaper and faster in-house payment operation.

Learn more about how FinTech innovation is changing the payments landscape for businesses and individuals.

Posts By

Tom Groenfeldt

Tom Groenfeldt covers a range of finance and technology topics, from retail banking to high-frequency trading in capital markets to big data, supercomputers and cloud. He is a regular contributor to Forbes and to International Finance Magazine in London. In 2015, The Financial Brand named him number 20 out of the top 25 global influencers in financial services. He is a contributor to American Banker and the Financial News, and has appeared on Brett King’s internet radio program, "Breaking Banks." Follow Tom on Twitter @Tomgroenfeldt

View more posts by Tom Groenfeldt