There's a lot payment companies can lean from downfall of the Pony Express, according to Brett King, founder of the financial services startup of Moven.

"The riders would deliver mail on horses and look at the telegraph wires that were going up around the West and think, 'The wind's going to knock those down, that doesn't look sturdy at all,'" said King, whose company leverages mobile devices, digital budgeting tools and prepaid accounts to build customer relationships.

"The first transcontinental telegraph was finished on October 24, 1861. How long did it take the telegraph to displace the Pony Express? Two days later it shut down. We're seeing the same thing in banking today. It may not take two days, but there is a disruption going on," said King, who delivered the keynote address at Nacha's Payments 2013 conference.

Payments companies are pressured to respond to technology that's relatively early in development but is changing consumer use patterns, said King.

"In the payments business, there's a ton of history and legacy," he said. The historical artifacts of the industry include account numbers, passbooks, and debit cards. "We think that history is protection, a barrier to entry for disruptors. But there are other industries that have gone through these changes as well…with mobile, you can get feedback at the point of sale every time you spend."

Traditional payment enablers such as financial institutions are watching startups such as Square and LevelUp ply mobile technology and social tools to tap into changing consumer behaviors, he said.

King's company, Moven, attempts to adapt to these changes by focusing more on the customer relationship than the value of specific technology, he says. "Whether you are paying with a secure element or a contactless sticker the objective is to change a person's connection to their money."

Moven's app is designed to provide more feedback than consumers would get from paying with a plastic card. Moven also encourages people to save money and set goals for saving that are tied to payment transactions.

"Using plastic that tells you if you are approved for a transaction and nothing else is just dumb. There's no context," King said.

When using the Moven app, consumers see the present purchase, the amount of money spent at that retailer in the past month, as well as money spent in the entire category—along with available balance.

"We're not telling you if that behavior is good or bad, but you know if it's healthy or not," King said.

Traditional financial institutions risk falling behind in providing payments because they are not anticipating the future needs of consumers based on current changes to how people access technology, said Janet Estep, chairman and chief executive officer of Nacha, while introducing King's address. Estep referenced what's called the innovator's dilemma, or the slow erosion of incumbents at the hands of nimble challengers because the older companies don't immediately recognize how the new companies are altering the market for a product. 

"If you are focusing on today's customer needs and today's solution, the problem you may encounter is you are not anticipating tomorrow's needs," said Estep.

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