Life In The Time Of COVID-19: One Industry Was Ready

By Kristia Poppe, Vice President of Celero, FI Channel Relationships, Celero Commerce

The payments industry has been central to business innovation for the last generation, one defined as the technology revolution. From the dawn of the internet, with ecommerce as the driver for payment gateways, and the advent of the smartphone, a vehicle for mobile payments, to wireless developments like near field communication as a boon for contactless acceptance, the payments industry has always been first to make those driving technologies really work and reach their potential to turn our wildest dreams into everyday reality.

What’s interesting to me about this dynamic among the payments industry and its adjacent technologies is the varying speed with which societies around the world adopt the payment methods afforded by new frontiers of innovation. And as advanced as we think we are here in the United States, we often lag—by years—in the adoption of new payment technologies behind our counterparts in Asia and Europe, especially. 

Adapting to Survive

Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, American business is responding to the crisis by adapting to survive. In March, our company launched its own COVID-19 Survival Kit, which features a set of currently available technologies that many small and mid-sized companies had simply failed to integrate. The pandemic has made fringe or “nice-to-have” technologies central and essential.

Among these technologies are advancements that we in the industry may have taken for granted and quietly acquiesced to a slow-march of adoption, instead of hustling, as we are now, to make these tools more accessible to our customers and bank partners. These tools include:

• Contactless/NFC payments like ApplePay

• Virtual gift cards

• Payment gateways

• Mobile payments

• Point-of-sale systems with integrated management applications

• Virtual terminals

If You Build It, They Will Come

The beauty of these technologies is that we’ve been building them, as an industry, all along, based on our knowledge that early adopters would fund the existence of each respective technology until the time arrived where they would be universal in application. Unlike many industries, those of us in payments were actually ready for COVID-19. What we had to adjust was our mentality, particularly with regard to each merchant and their needs.

Before COVID-19, we may have underestimated each merchant’s needs for solutions that would “weatherproof” their business for virtually any economic season, whether it was a housing-fueled downturn, cyclical cooling of the economy, or, as we’ve seen, a 100-year public health crisis. And due to the lack of urgency associated with good times, perhaps we could afford to underestimate the situation.

Changing Our Mindset

Not anymore. Now, the small-town boutique not only needs a good card terminal at the counter, but also a mobile solution to do curbside transactions, a payment gateway to enable ecommerce, virtual gift cards to enable easy community investment for the future, and contactless to protect the health of its employees and customers, not to mention an integrated system that keeps financial and operational performance in-sync.

Fortunately, we were ready, and we’ve mobilized quickly. While we haven’t triaged every American small business, just as the federal and state governments haven’t gotten assistance to every individual and business affected by the pandemic, we are well on our way. Just give us time. And by the time we’re finished, looking at those comparative technology adoption rates among countries will be remarkably different. But if we can certify one thing for our partners and merchants, it’s the fact that we will never stop innovating, so that we can be ready for you and whatever you’re facing.

What we love most about our industry is how tightly aligned our survival is with that of our partners and merchants. Unlike some industries, the payments industry feasts only when our customers do, and when they starve, we do, too. Knowing that value proposition, and living with it every day, keeps us honest and keeps us moving forward. Together.

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