While real-time payment technology is a hot topic among banks in the U.S., real-time data analysis is likely to come much faster.

Real-time data can improve the effectiveness of a bank or merchant's marketing, but "it's not used well yet," said Todd Ablowitz, president of Double Diamond Group LLC. "It's used more for risk management today than it is to determine purchasing behavior and target offers."

That said, some larger retailers such as Amazon.com and Walmart already collect and analyze big data in-house to target marketing more effectively. And the retail industry is becoming saturated with new technology that amasses large amounts of data to better engage customers in stores and online.

There are plenty of companies trying to help clients tap into big data, but these business intelligence systems can take days or even weeks to get their findings to customers.

Sydney-based Integrated Research (IR) has built a real-time data monitoring and visibility tool called Prognosis, which sits on top of a company's payments value chain to capture how transactions are moving through the system and where delays and fraudulent transactions occur.

"For years, we've relied on a tightly controlled and closed financial services system," said Darc Rasmussen, CEO of IR. But the prevalence of startups taking on the payments industry "gives consumers more freedom with payments and financial services…but brings about security challenges, managing all that," he said.

IR has been in the payments industry for 25 years and re-invented itself a number of times, said Rasmussen. The company has 1,000 enterprise customers worldwide, including American Express, MasterCard, First Data and Wells Fargo.

Now it's focusing on consolidating data into a single perspective for its customers.

This strategy is similar to that of WorldPay and other payment processors, which are working to expand their service offerings to stay relevant. WorldPay is focused on becoming a data hub for merchants so they can connect information from their physical, online and mobile channels.

"This idea for real-time analytics has been a bit of a Holy Grail," Ablowitz said. "It's all about the utility…and doing something that matters to the end user. But frequently [big data] has been so powerful and capable that no one knows how to use it."

Deborah Baxley, international payments consultant at Capgemini, agrees. Retailers have had real-time data for years since most of their transactions are card payments, which have real-time authorization, she said.

"The trend in the future is that more and more of everything is going to be real time," said Baxley.

And these solutions are going to burgeon soon.

One of IR's large U.S. bank clients (which the company wouldn't name) suffered the effects of a merchant data breach. The breach affected 200,000 of the bank's cardholders. Instead of blocking the stolen cards, the bank wanted to work with law enforcement agencies to catch the fraudsters, said Rasmussen.

So IR built a system that activated cameras at ATMs where the stolen cards were used. In seconds, the bank and law enforcement were alerted of the crook's activity so they could be apprehended.

Not only have IR's customers used its real-time data to mitigate fraud, but others have used the platform to improve the customer experience.

Another IR client was able to identify high-net-worth cardholders and would alert premium customer service when any of those customers had a transaction issue, such as multiple tries of PIN entry at an ATM, declined transactions online or not receiving a receipt. 

The problematic transaction was displayed to agents, who then called the customer to work out the issue.

While issuers are adept at using real-time analytics to detect potential fraud, merchants haven't had the visibility or wherewithal to take advantage of big data, Baxley said. Merchants are dependent on acquirers to do that, but acquirers have lagged in this area, she said.

Amazon.com stands out as an exception. The online retailer "uses data in the most prescriptive and beneficial way for themselves and their customers," Baxley said.

For example, Amazon proactively issues refunds for streaming video rentals when it detects issues with playback. One email to a customer said: "While Amazon Instant Video transactions are typically not refundable, we are happy to make an exception in this case." 

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