Over the course of the NACHA Payments Annual conference, ACI conducted a survey to capture the sentiment of our industry experts and practitioners on hot topics impacting the payments ecosystem. We included mobile payments and real-time ACH, the latter of which generated interesting feedback and spirited discussion that was both insightful and directionally important to where we are headed as an industry.

Overwhelmingly, 70% of the payments professionals and industry experts with whom we spoke believe that real-time ACH will be a reality in the next 1 to 2 years. That 70% figure balloons to a whopping 90% when you include individuals who answered that real-time ACH will be a reality within in the next five years. We weren’t asking what they “wanted to see” regarding real-time, but rather if/when they felt it would be a reality. Their overall sentiment was “we have to get there,” and that much we can agree on as an industry. In total, we received 120 responses over the course of 2 days. Respondents ranged from senior-level bank personnel to corporate practitioners to financial technology providers.

The Federal Reserve believes it will take about ten years to establish real time ACH. The Fed's wild card is: what will the market bear? There is clearly a market demand brewing for a real-time payment system for the masses (I say for the masses because the U.S. does have a real-time payments system today with our Real Time Gross Settlement System, Fedwire, but it is costly and not designed to be an efficient way of sending low value payments from consumers). Today, this market need is beginning to be bridged by the “Industry Disrupters,” and while mass market adoption of their products has not occurred yet, it has started to materialize.

Real-time, any-to-any payments are a market need, and if banks don’t serve this need, consumers will move to where they can fulfill this requirement. As electronic payments continue to grow and we move to an even more digital world, including new innovation such as Google Glass, Pebble or Galaxy Wearable Tech, the need to move money in real-time, to anyone, anywhere will continue to grow as well. So while the Federal Reserve sees a real-time ACH system coming to fruition in ten years, the market will demand it sooner, a la our survey respondents; and we as an industry have to stand up to meet that demand or be prepared to move aside for alternative technology providers chomping at the bit to take this business for themselves. 

Mark Ranta is senior product marketing manager at ACI Worldwide.