Merchants are increasingly moving their customers in the direction of embedded payments, not only because businesses crave fewer abandoned carts, but also because consumers are demanding an easy, convenient experience, says Kim Kacal, who is the payments lead for North America at the global consulting firm Accenture.

That consumer attitude is carrying over to what companies want from each other in terms of commercial payments, she said in an interview last week. While U.S. businesses have lagged consumers in adopting digital payments, they’re in a better position now to prod their banks for improved payments services due to the higher interest rate environment. That said, Kacal still expects both U.S. consumers and businesses will move away from paper checks at a “glacial” pace. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

PAYMENTS DIVE: What are the hottest topics in the payments industry today?

KIM KACAL: On the consumer side, I would say one of the one of the strongest trends we see right now is the move to embedded payments, and getting to something that is frictionless for the consumer that uses those payments. We see a lot of people trying to figure out “OK, how do I make this process as seamless as possible?” Because as a consumer, the biggest frustrations out there are: it’s slow; it won’t take my payment method; or heaven forbid it rejects. Those three things are the reasons that consumers walk away and abandon carts. And so, as people who do online commerce are looking at their sites and their applications, making that embedded payment experience more frictionless is absolutely key.

What does “embedded payments” mean to you?

Embedded payments to me means that as a consumer, I do not have to leave your platform to go make my payment. It is embedded in the flow, in the purchase that I’m doing. It’s those single-click purchases, as opposed to ‘Okay, time to make a payment,’ and it opens another window and throws you to another website. The other thing that you see with true embedded also gives you more options. It’s not just the traditional payment methods.

Are merchants gravitating to embedded payments as a means to put sales through more quickly?

There are two aspects to this for merchants. It’s faster so they can do more. But if you can keep everything within your platform, you also have a tremendous amount of data. And that data allows you to provide what we call an omni-channel experience. Merchants will know how that customer buys. So the merchant can meet them where they want to be. Do they buy online, pick up in a store? Do they buy online, return at a store? Do they buy a certain product at a certain time every month so that I should be targeting and making that smoother? But more importantly, it allows me to harness the data I have to target them with promotions that are relevant to them.

Kim Kacal

Kim Kacal

Permission granted by Eric Becker


So, what are the hot trends on the commercial side of payments?

Commercial payments is really, really changing and why is that? We’re in an interest rate environment we haven’t seen in 10-plus years. These days when corporate and commercial customers can move their money, and their money is worth more, the commercial banks are having to fight for those deposits. And when you fight for those deposits, what’s important is, am I providing them mechanisms to move their money and manage their money that are differentiated? And for commercial customers, their top asks are: I want you to help me prevent fraud; I want you to move this fast; and I want you to help integrate this data into my enterprise resource planning platform. They’re essentially saying: I want the data in my system, and I want to be able to use it so I can do my own analysis.

Why are these changes happening in the commercial side?

We see consumer-like themes of fast and frictionless, as in “I want it where I want it, and I want it now,” going up-market into the commercial space. Because let’s be honest, all the buyers in the world of business transactions are also consumers and they see how things have changed. And they’re pushing the limits of the notion: what can my bank offer me, and does it get me what I need, when I need it? And so there’s a degree of competition for commercial payment providers that we haven’t seen in a very long time.

What about paper checks? Are businesses still using them in large numbers, or moving away from them?

Businesses are moving slowly away from it, but we’re still not away from it. It amazes me. I truly thought back in the mid-2000s, when the Check 21 law came out, that we were going to see the demise of the check. And any banker in the U.S. that you talk to will tell you that the bane of their existence is check, and check fraud, because it’s still there. Although there are tools they can use that help manage that, it’s still out there. We’ve seen markets around the world that put either regulation in place, or put some deadlines in place, that really drove check traffic down, but that’s not something we’re likely to see in the U.S.

Why does it have such staying power in the U.S.? 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know. I don’t remember the last time I wrote a check. But there are areas of the economy, and there are segments within the consumer base that still use them. There are still people out there who say “I’m going to give you this check — just don’t cash it till next week.” There’s still some of that going on. And you know, in certain segments of the country, we see a lot more checks.


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