Payments Processing: Battle for the Rails

Traditional payment rails, including credit cards and wire transfers, have long served as the backbone of the financial ecosystem. However, institutions and markets are now revising these methods to keep up with the digital landscape.

Historically, credit card transactions involve high processing fees, lengthy settlement periods and susceptibility to fraud and chargebacks, while slow processing times, exorbitant fees and complex cross-border regulations burden wire transfers. These limitations have created opportunities in the market, paving the way for innovative solutions such as T+0 transaction times, seamless cross-border payments and the enablement of new payment models such as micropayments, which are all achievable with blockchain technology.

The long and winding road of payment processing

As it exists today, payment processing involves various steps, including authorization, authentication and settlement. 

Here’s a brief overview of how payments are processed:

  • The payment process begins when a customer initiates a transaction, either in-person or online. If the transaction occurs in a physical store, the customer typically presents a payment card, which can be a credit card, debit card or even a mobile payment option.

  • Once the payment information is provided, it is sent to the merchant’s payment gateway, with some of the most popular being Fondy, PayPal, Stripe and 2Checkout. The payment gateway acts as an intermediary between the merchant and the financial institutions involved. It securely transmits the payment data to the acquiring bank, which is the bank that maintains the merchant’s account.

  • The acquiring bank forwards the payment request to the appropriate card association, such as Mastercard, Visa or American Express. The card association routes the request to the cardholder’s issuing bank, which issued the payment card to the customer. The issuing bank is responsible for approving or declining the transaction based on the available funds, account status and fraud detection mechanisms.

  • Upon receiving the authorization response from the issuing bank, the acquiring bank relays the information back to the payment gateway, which then communicates the response to the merchant. If the transaction is approved, the customer’s funds are reserved for settlement.

  • The traditional settlement process occurs separately and involves the transfer of funds from the customer’s issuing bank to the merchant’s acquiring bank. Settlement typically takes place in batches, where multiple transactions are grouped together for efficiency. The acquiring bank deposits the funds into the merchant’s account, minus any applicable fees.

  • The final step involves the merchant reconciling the transactions and confirming that the funds have been successfully deposited into their account. This entire process, from initiation to settlement, generally takes a few seconds to a few days, depending on the payment method, banking systems, and any additional security measures in place.

Today, payments are processed through a complex network of communication between the customer, merchant, acquiring bank, card association and issuing bank. Each entity plays a crucial role in ensuring the security, authorization and settlement of transactions, allowing for the seamless flow of funds in the global economy. 

In the future, a new technology will win out in helping upgrade this process by augmenting or even replacing the current system and thereby securing the payment rails of the future with a process that will be faster, less costly and more efficient.


What are payment rails?

Payment rails are the underlying systems and technology networks that facilitate the transfer of money or assets from one entity to another. They provide the infrastructure and protocols necessary for payments to be initiated, processed and settled between a payer (the person or entity making the payment) and a payee (the recipient).

Traditionally, financial markets have established payment rails using various methods such as wire transfers, Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfers, card networks (like Visa and Mastercard) and other financial intermediaries. These systems often operate on centralized platforms and may have limitations such as operating hours, settlement delays and high costs.

While blockchain technology may not replace the existing payment rails, it has the potential to introduce a new mechanism for payment initiation, recording and settlement. By leveraging the features of blockchain, such as immutability, security and transparency, new payment systems can be developed. These systems can enable open payments, and bridge the gap between the fragmented payment rails that exist today and a digitized, instantaneous and accessible world of payments supported by blockchain technology.

Open payments refer to systems allowing seamless and efficient transactions across various platforms, financial institutions and countries. With blockchain-based payment rails, trades can be executed faster, with lower costs and with increased accessibility, transcending geographical and temporal barriers. This can lead to a more inclusive and efficient global payment ecosystem.

It is important to note that while blockchain technology offers advantages, enterprises must address challenges such as scalability, regulatory considerations, and interoperability with existing financial systems. However, the potential of blockchain to revolutionize payment rails and contribute to the evolution of the payment landscape is an area of active exploration and development.


Stablecoins on a blockchain revolutionize transaction facilitation

Stablecoins–a type of digital currency that is pegged to fiat currency and operates on blockchain technology–is introducing a paradigm shift in payment processing and has emerged as a formidable contender in the battle for a payment rails solution of the future. By leveraging the decentralized ledger system, these digital currencies enable seamless and near-instantaneous transactions, irrespective of geographical boundaries. 

Furthermore, stablecoins offer enhanced transparency through real-time audibility, which can ensure higher trust and accountability. The integration of smart contracts further bolsters stablecoin utility by enabling the automated and secure execution of complex payment agreements.

A smart contract is a self-executing contract with the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller being directly written into lines of code.1

1 Frankenfield, Jake, Investopedia,

The potential impact of blockchain technology on payment processing

Blockchain and stablecoin technology can transform payment processing by offering secure, decentralized and transparent transactions at scale. These impacts extend value throughout payment networks:

Saving resources with fewer costs

Blockchain reduces the need for intermediaries, ensuring faster and more efficient cross-border payments with reduced costs. By facilitating direct peer-to-peer transactions, blockchain minimizes the fees associated with traditional payment systems. The decentralized nature of blockchain removes the need for costly third-party verification and settlement processes, streamlining the payment process. Additionally, blockchain reduces the expenses related to currency conversions and regulatory compliance in cross-border transactions.

Extending transparency

The transparency of blockchain enables accountability and traceability for every transaction, recording every transaction in a public ledger accessible to anyone on the network. This ensures that payment details are openly verified, minimizing fraudulent activities. The transparent nature of blockchain fosters accountability and trust among participants, creating a more secure payment ecosystem.

Fostering financial inclusion

Blockchain powered payments processing promotes financial inclusion by allowing the unbanked to participate in the digital economy, regardless of location. The technology’s expansive access is far-reaching, revolutionizing traditional systems and offering new possibilities for businesses, individuals and global economic interactions.

Empowering trust and security

At the core of stablecoins lies the revolutionary technology known as blockchain. This distributed ledger system allows for the transparent recording and verification of transactions, ensuring immutability and resistance to fraud. The decentralized nature of blockchain mitigates single points of failure and reduces the reliance on intermediaries, which enhances security and reduces transaction costs. Moreover, integrating cryptographic algorithms safeguards sensitive information, reinforcing the resilience of blockchain-based payment systems.

Envisioning the future landscape of payment systems

The battle for the rails signifies a pivotal moment in the evolution of payment systems. The landscape is poised for significant transformations as stablecoins gain traction and challenge traditional payment rails. The convergence of blockchain technology, decentralized finance (DeFi), and regulatory frameworks will likely shape the future of transaction facilitation in these and other ways:

Regulatory considerations and standardization

The rise of stablecoins has prompted regulators worldwide to assess their operation and potential risks. Regulatory bodies are exploring governing frameworks in an attempt to balance innovation while safeguarding financial stability. Most experts believe that establishing clear guidelines and standards will contribute to the credibility and widespread adoption of stablecoins, ensuring further interoperability and seamless integration with existing financial infrastructures.

Collaborations and partnerships

To navigate the competitive landscape, payment networks and systems must adapt and forge strategic alliances. Collaborative efforts between traditional payment providers, fintech companies and blockchain startups are increasingly common. These partnerships capitalize on each participant’s strengths, combining traditional players’ established user base and infrastructure with blockchain-based systems’ technological prowess and innovation. Such collaborations are enabling the exploration of hybrid solutions that will leverage the benefits of both worlds by fostering an ecosystem that satisfies the evolving demands of consumers and businesses.

Evolution of consumer behavior

Consumer behavior and preferences will play a pivotal role in determining the trajectory of future payment systems.  The growing digital-native generation is increasingly comfortable and familiar with technology, and open to a more seamless, user-friendly payment experience. Trust, security and convenience will be key drivers for widespread adoption. Payment networks must continually innovate by leveraging emerging technologies and user-centric design principles to deliver intuitive, frictionless, personalized payment solutions.

Addressing merchant services relevance

To address the issue of relevance, companies must prioritize aligning payment solutions with evolving merchant needs. This involves understanding industry-specific requirements, streamlining transaction processes and providing value-added services such as data analytics and personalized customer experiences that align with consumers’ evolving values. 

Considerations when outsourcing cloud and platform infrastructure

In the pursuit of scalability, flexibility and cost-efficiency, businesses increasingly outsource their cloud and platform infrastructure. However, this practice introduces new challenges and considerations, particularly in payment systems. Outsourcing critical infrastructure requires stringent security measures, regulatory compliance and robust data protection protocols. 

Businesses must carefully assess service providers’ reputation, reliability and expertise to ensure the integrity and security of payment processes. Establishing transparent service level agreements and contingency plans mitigates the risks associated with outsourcing and safeguards against potential disruptions in payment operations. While outsourcing cloud and platform infrastructure offers numerous benefits, it also poses risks that companies must carefully navigate

By leveraging service providers’ expertise and specialized resources, businesses can streamline operations, reduce costs, and access cutting-edge technology. However, they must also maintain control and oversight to protect sensitive customer data and ensure compliance with privacy regulations. Striking a balance between outsourcing benefits and risk mitigation requires robust vendor management practices, including regular audits, ongoing monitoring and continuous evaluation of service quality and security measures.

Beyond the rails

The ‘battle of the rails’ is shorthand for describing a series of large and complex issues facing our financial market infrastructure. Traditional payment rails face significant challenges from disruptive alternatives such as stablecoins, which leverage the transformative power of blockchain technology. These new, innovative payment methods offer the potential for frictionless transactions, enhanced transparency and traceability. 

However, to thrive in this competitive landscape enterprises, payment networks and systems must embrace technological advancements, collaborate with key stakeholders, comply with the highest standards of regulation and align with evolving consumer preferences. By understanding the intricate dynamics of this battle, stakeholders can better position themselves strategically to shape the future of payment systems, ultimately delivering seamless, secure and efficient transaction facilitation on a global scale.

Want to learn more about how blockchain and stablecoin technology can transform your enterprise?

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