Transactions in the UK are ‘as good as it gets’, Joe Garner informed media and delegates at The Payment Association’s Pay360 conference this year.

Delivering the opening keynote speech at the ExCel Centre this week, the former Nationwide CEO and author of the Future of Payments Review shared his views on the direction the British payments and fintech space is taking. 

Unsurprisingly, the government-commissioned review Garner produced was one of the main talking points. After completing the review, which he described as ‘generously independent’ and within a ‘gloriously short timeframe’, Garner lauded the position of British payments, but emphasised there are still areas for improvement. 

Overall, the UK is home to a ‘fabulous customer journey’, he noted, though there is an issue in the customer verification process often being ‘too persuitive’. The biggest issue for the UK at the moment, in Garner’s view, is that account-to-account payments are ‘too clunky’.

“If we don’t improve over the coming years, we will start to look old fashioned,” he cautioned the London audience, adding that he has noted some frustration among merchants at few alternatives to cards.

“Choice is as important as value in this space,” he remarked.

So what more can be done and what more will be done? Like many other countries, the UK is increasingly embracing the latest innovative products and technologies, such as digital wallets, but also Open Banking.

This latter area was perhaps one of the most significant areas of Garner’s Future of Payments Review, in which he observed that the country has a robust Open Banking network but that consumer protection is a major gap in British regulation of the space.

Open Banking had a ‘difficult birth’ he said, and although it has now developed to the point of being used for ‘impressive customer journeys’ it requires more ironing out in two areas.

There is a greater need for sustainable commercials on Open Banking and much more work is needed on consumer protection, Garner reiterated his arguments from the Payments Review.

“It can grow without it, but do we want it to?” – Garner posed this question to the audience to emphasise his belief in a need for greater consumer protection on Open Banking.

Predicting the future of any industry is never an easy task. The phrase ‘crystal ball’ is often thrown around – in the context of no one having one which we can use to see into the future.

For Garner and his Payments Review, the former Nationwide CEO stated that the main difficulty in predicting where British payments will be several years down the line is that the world is currently going through a ‘replatforming of money’.

This is something that humanity has gone through on three notable occasions during its economic history, he argued. First was the transition from bartering – swapping a horse for building supplies for example – to the use of precious metals like gold and silver as a means of value.

People trading with gold, silver and other high value items then transitioned into money and the use of the cash we have seen for the past couple of hundred years. We are now seeing a digital transition, Garner said, saying that the next replatforming will see ‘some form of the tokenization of money’.

It is hard to envision a future of payments during this replatforming, but if Garner’s projections are correct we can expect to see ‘money move from a static holding to a visible token’, perhaps on blockchain technology, and with the potential for tokensied ID also.

Amidst this changing economic and technological backdrop, the UK needs to ensure it has a ‘North Star’ which it can pinpoint its payments vision on, Garner asserted to the crowd.

“There is no clear vision or strategy of where we’re going overall,” he said, cautioning that this risks increasing fragmentation, something which most payments and finance stakeholders can likely agree is not good for anyone.