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Online Payment, Billing and Banking Schemes

Online Payments Technologies





IBM Electronic Commerce



Netbill Project


USC's NetCash


Sandia's E-Cash System

Security First Network Bank, FSB


Mark Twain Bank
Link to the bank that was the world's first DigiCash underwriter. Of historical interest - and useful for perspective. (It's disconnected.)

Articles, Scholarship and Links Relevant to Electronic Payment Schemes

Electronic Money in the United States A report for the European Commission. (9/96)

Financial Issues Working Group The FIWG is part of the Electronic Commerce Actions of the European Commission (DGIII) the EC directorate charged with appraiseal of payment systems and transaction mechanisms within the European Union.

NetCard The NetCard project is developing solutions using a smartcard scheme to manage authentication, delegation, authorisation, accounting and revocation.

Open Trading Protocol The OTP standards offer definitions of protocols for a framework that is usable for all forms of electronic commerce.

Java wallet

Digital Money Online A review of some existing technologies, from Intertrader Ltd.

CAFE project. Conditional Access for Europe project to develop a secure electronic payment system and other applications which protects the privacy of the user. Material devoted to the banking industry.

Verifone Internet Commerce Division Point of sale software for Internet transactions.

SET (Secure Electronic Transmission) Remember SET? (from VISA)

Outreach Communications Provides secure transactions processing for micropayments (CyberCents) and Internet commerce (Mall Manager).

Electronic Payment Schemes By Dr Phillip M. Hallam-Baker, with related links. (12/95)

Joint Electronic Payment Initiative (JEPI) White paper (4/97)from the W3 Consortium.

Digital Signatures and Digital IDs A primer from Verisign, Inc.

Network payment mechanisms and digital cash A collection by Michael Peirce.

Payment mechanisms designed for the Internet Links to existing payment schemes that were designed for, or are in use on, the Internet. By Michael Peirce.

EFF's Digital Money An archive of articles, organizations, and other links (10/96) from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Clickshare A system to track movements and settle charges for digital transactions.

Paiements Electroniques A survey of electronic payment mechanisms (written in French.)

Smart Cards, Credit cards, Payment Systems A list of related sites.

Prepaid Smart Card Techniques A 1994 paper by David Chaum.

The Money Page A Net Guide to Banking and Finance.

Perils and Pitfalls of Practical CyberCommerce A paper outlining the first year of the star-crossed First Virtual. (10/94)

Payment Systems on the Internet (in Italian) A set of links to various payment systems.

Showdown over E-cash An article by Howard Anderson on the impact of electronic cash. (1/96) from Upside Magazine.

E-Money Mini-FAQ A list of questions and answers relating to why and how electronic cash works.

Electronic Money Maintained by Roy Davies.

Financial Services Technology Consortium A group of financial services providers that is working on interbank technical projects.

InterPay: Managing Multiple Payment Mechanisms in Digital Libraries A paper by S. Cousins, et. al. at Stanford (in PostScript). (3/95)

Transaction Net Profiles payment systems that are relevant to the internet.
Behold the Automated Till
Passive Payment Systems Bow To Perspicacious, Provocative Schemes

by Peter Cassidy

For all Internet traders operating retail-level businesses and/or offering goods and services to the general Internet population the greatest mystery of e-commerce is the transformation of peripatetic, jaded Web surfers into real, live buyers or subscribers. The numbers that we're bombarded with seem to shout out loud about this failure. You've seen these reports, claiming that one site or another is receiving more user sessions per day than there are people in most countries - yet the business is still seven-figures into the red.

Digital artifacts can be delivered by digital media, in theory, bringing the point of sale to the desktop of anyone with an Internet connection. Getting a retail customer past the initial arousal and getting him to commit the act of purchase, however, requires an orchestration of marketing and promotional activities, the deployment of technologies to animate them and to vend the products and, last but not least, the initiation of payment by that customer.

Toward that end, retail payment mechanisms will have to be as flawlessly designed as possible for the sake of their own acceptance. They are essential to give on-line consumers the total buying experience - from initial arousal to issuance of payment and final acquisition of goods - as in the physical realm. That cycle has to be completed with the same - or greater - ease than a trip to the mall if Web-surfing shoppers are to become regular and substantial patrons of the digital bazaar. Ultimately, payment schemes will be seen as competitive advantage. The most intelligently and elegantly deployed automated till will be the fullest.

None of this is easy. In fact, these application scenarios are gnarly enough right now that specialist transaction service providers like iBill, OrderTrust, CyberCash and CyberSource have made fast-growing businesses out of providing just those kinds of services: mediating payment, paying applicable taxes and auditing payments and deliveries of products for e-commerce merchants who don't want to wrestle with protean payment technologies - or commit the resources to taming them.

Payment services like these can get the job done, but the most progressive and successful payment schemes we will see developing today and in the future will be persistent, provocative and appropriate to product and demographic set being engaged. What do we mean by all of that?

  • Persistent: Payment systems must be integrated and inseparable from the product. It should be impossible to remove a payment mechanism from an IP object without breaking it - like the bar-code printed on the back of a paper-back book. Wherever possible, the payment system should be integrated with the copy protection and licensing mechanisms. Crippleware should remain disabled until it is licensed - whereupon it should be stamped with the user's ID and copy protected so that it cannot be used outside of the terms of license. Images and sound files and, if possible, software should be linked to payment mechanisms that, during the sales transaction, will take consumer data and embed them into the final IP object that is vended to the consumer.
  • Appropriate: Payment schemes must match the IP object being vended in scale. For instance, a publisher might not want to sell annual subscriptions for an information service - such as tips for Michigan trout fishermen - that might be of only momentary interest. They also must make sense with the demographic niche being mined. Sometimes, it may even mean taking payments off-line. Marketing programs should never be completed for Web-vended products without consideration of the appropriateness of the accompanying payment mechanisms. Would the targeted demographic have credit cards? Do credit cards fit the product? Would the client prefer a way to make sure that the product does not appear on a credit card statement? Many kids do not have access to credit cards, but can get money orders, for instance. Many couples share credit card accounts and a surprise gift could be revealed on a shared card statement.
  • Provocative: Payment mechanisms have to display themselves and invite the consumer to pay in as many different methods as is possible and in as many vending scenarios as can be expected that the targeted consumer will respond to. An automated till should make itself as obvious and inviting as possible - as frequently as it can without being obnoxious. Payment mechanisms should instantly available and gently assertive. Some software vendors and distribution systems do this very well with demonstration versions of software that asks the user if he would like to pay for the software or continue mooching and using the demo version. They could do better. We'll discuss some ideas at the end of this discussion of today's most prevalent retail payment mechanisms.

The e-Proletariat Cometh

On-line retailers have no choice but to create payment systems for their Web-borne clientel. Last Summer, BancAmerica Robertson Stephens projected that the number of Internet-mediated retail business transactions in the United States would grow from 94.6 million in 1998 to 480 million in 2001, roughly doubling every calendar year.

Those coming on-line today are not the elite, technically adept early adopters that were coming online five years ago. The proportion of American households coming on-line are representative of the mass market: they buy with cash and checks and they will respond to relatively low-tech approaches like deep discounts and coupons. The population coming onto the Web now is the same crowd that goes to WalMart. In Cyberspace, as in the mall, it's just us and our ancient credit cards, checks and cash.

Their Inelegant Coin:

The payment technologies that have flourished have improvised systems cobbled together by e-merchants, technologists and service providers. In the absence of purely electronic specie and payment instrumentation, all manner of innovation has bloomed - albeit of varying security and audibility. They will no doubt be superseded in the long-term by payment and billing systems that include analogues of vital signing and auditing mechanisms that are missing in today's payment regimes.

E-Money: The Anemic Purebred

Sadly, the great promise of digital cash remains unfulfilled. You can go to the library and find a book written in every decade since the 1970s with the words "cashless society" in their titles. It must be some kind of rite of passage for affluent societies uneasy about carrying around fat wallets.

With the explosive growth of the Internet in the early 1990s,. a spate of electronic cash and micro-payment systems were drawn up and released.

Schemes like DigiCash's eCash, CyberCash's CyberCoin, Barclays' BarclayCoin, Digital Equipment Corporation's Millicent and dozens of others that have been proposed allow merchants who are selling items worth only a few cents to use a transaction medium with inherently low transactional demands. Those concepts of digital commerce, however, continue to run headlong into the technical conservatism of merchants, the recalcitrance of consumers to participate in electronic cash schemes and the innovative power of payment services and technology companies to effect much of the functional equivalency of micropayment systems though subscription access schemes that give consumers content limited by the kilobyte or time period.

First Virtual Holdings, which had a form of digital cash that used credit card accounts to create escrow reserves against which micro-payments were debited, eliminated its micropayment service last July.

CyberCash's CyberCoin offering, meanwhile, was unable to attract a constituency leaving CyberCash to spend most of the past couple of years re-invented itself as a credit card payments processor for on-line merchants. DigiCash - purveyors of eCash - last November announced a Chapter 11 reorganization.

Last fall, Chase and Citibank closed down their smart card trial on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in which they gave 100,000 consumers special smart cards that can be reloaded at ATM machines which they refused to use and merchants refused to accept.

The Visa Cash card at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta sputtered to a near-halt with most of the participating banks withdrawing from the program.

MasterCard closed the introductory test of its Mondex smart card system in Swindon, England last year and, as well, MasterCard suspended a similar test in Guelph, Ontario.

There is a business case for smart cards and electronic cash - but it looks a lot like the business case for debit cards and, to a certain extent, credit card systems. The European experience with smart cards has been much better because there, smart cards were not pre-empted by cheap telephony and card-reading terminals that have established credit and debit systems thus obviating the need for electronic cash systems.

Those barriers will remain in place for the foreseeable future. For on-line merchants, this will leave a troubling gap in the payment instrumentation that would drive businesses based on a bubblegum vending model. For those that are built within this kind of framework, they will have to reshape their enterprises to fit a more or less subscription model for their payment regimes.

The Winners: Scrappy Mongrel-tech

The dominant payment mechanisms used on-line today are strictly kludges, inelegant hybrid solutions that have lots of problems, mostly in terms of security, that are solvable, though the solutions are often more expensive overall than bearing the risks - and their costs - that are inherent in mongrel-tech solutions.

A good example of this dynamic is the Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol co-sponsored by the VISA and MasterCard associations to be the next generation of credit card transaction security mechanisms. It promised to eliminate the risks that merchants bear for on-line transactions. The banks and merchants weren't about to pay for the ramp-up costs and provoke the ire of consumers who had to wait through all the processor-intensive operations that SET required.

The truth is that the merchants and banks have learned to mitigate those risks pretty well on their own, using instruments that have been available for some time - warts and all. (The banks also enjoy nailing merchants for premium transaction fees associated with the heightened risk the bank bears with on-line transactions.) These instruments work, mostly, so why fix cheap and good enough?, they apparently ask.

Here are the most popular and, I think, most promising instruments available to retailers on-line today. These instruments are:

  • Credit Cards (processed on line and off-line via phone and fax)
  • 900 Numbers
  • Electronic checks: virtual and cryptographically enabled systems.

Credit Cards

Credit card payment systems are the dominant payment mechanism for retail Web commerce. You all know that. What is intriguing is the way they are handled at the merchant end. The LL Beans and's of the world, with fully automated credit card payment systems are, however, relatively rare enterprises.

There are a good number of "on-line" business that still process their credit card receipts by hand - literally. It is still very common for a Web merchant at the end of his day to pull down the credit card order file and sit with by his Verifone terminal and just punch in the information by hand.

The Web research firm, ActivMedia, Inc. announced in October, 1998 that a survey found that even by the beginning of 1998, a full 92 percent of credit card charges were processed manually - meaning someone intervening to move the transaction along. Fewer than one in ten Web sites surveyed have automated systems to process incoming sales without staff intervention, the survey found. By early 1999 some 38 percent of survey respondents said they anticipated having automating transaction services. Around 30 percent of the respondents said they will automate Web transactions in the next 12 months. Employee-free commerce is apparently still largely a drawing-board concept.

How Credit Card Orders Arrive

  Proportion of total
CC direct at Website 59%
CC off-line (tel/fax/E-mail) 41%
SOURCE: ActivMedia, Inc.  

Use of credit cards on the Internet has always been problematic. The popular press never stops reminding consumers that hackers everywhere are constantly trying to figure out ways to intercept credit card numbers for vague but most assuredly diabolical ends. Secondly, and less a public issue,. is the fact that online merchants are exposed to charge-backs from consumers who protest on-line charges. It's only tough luck if the merchant is selling his own digital wares. When he is distributing them for someone else - or has to pay licensing fees for embedded technologies in every copy of a software program he licenses, losses can mount quickly.

Here's why: If a consumer disputes a charge, the first thing a bank will ask for is a copy of the signed receipt. If the merchant can produce one, he can avoid the chargeback. The trouble is the Web merchant deals only in "card-not-present" transactions when he takes his orders on-line.

What is worse, credit card fraud falls in the cracks between law enforcement domains. The Department of the Treasury's Secret Service officially won't go near cases less than $25,000 but the practical minimum is closer to $500,000.

On-line fraud can also very difficult to investigate. A stolen credit card number mailed around among fraudsters on the Internet may be hit for a dozen charges from a dozen different perpetrators in any number of jurisdictions in under an hour. This makes it much more difficult for any single perpetrator to gain large enough mass to attract the attention of the police. Web merchants just have to avoid frauds because law enforcement solutions are almost futile.

Against all these odds, the credit card system has become the de facto payments vehicle for a great deal of the retail traffic on the Web. Although there is a great deal of trepidation in some quarters about the security of on-line transactions, federal consumer protection laws still make it the most consumer-friendly form of payment with limits of liability and established business practices that more often than not give the consumer the benefit of the doubt.

900 Numbers: Pornographers Know How to Get Paid.

For a lot of sites all that is required to subscribe or take delivery of a digital artifact is a simple password that can be easily vended by a 900 system that gives the user his token and acquires payment through his phone bill. It has a lot going for it.

It is established technology that is used effectively and without incident every day by all manner of enterprise - psychic and horoscopes services, phone sex services, dateline and personal services, sports and gambling services and even charities' fund-raising campaigns. Technologically speaking, it is simple to program. Tokens delivered by this method can be time-bombed or set for single-use applications. Web merchants can roll their own or use a 900 system like iBill's Web900 site access service.

What appears to be happening with 900 payment schemes is that, again, adult entertainment sites are leading the way - followed closely by Web businesses that have also used these systems for telephone-only trade, including specialized advisory and information services and subscription services.

Typically, a visitor at a Web site like Horse Sense <> or ThrobNet <> who wants to gain access to content or services will be directed to a payments page. The instructions there will tell him to call a special 900 access number that will provide him with a password for the site for a specified fee.

After hanging up, the customer types in his password and can be on his way. Typically, the charge will appear on the consumers; next month's phone bill. There is a lag time between the billing of the user, however, and the posting of payment to the merchant - typically up to 90 days.

e-Checks: Virtual and Cryptographically Enabled

One old-fashioned payment technique that has evolved with the Web is the demand draft - often defined as a "virtual check" by Web merchants who want to dress it up as an whiz-bang Information Age payment widget. The electronic check just may be the Web-payment instrument of the future.

Of all the conventional payment instruments, however, checks have the most promise given the depth of their acceptance, the ubiquity of their use and the robustness of the checking processing infrastructure in the US. Both businesses and consumers have checking accounts - unlike credit cards which are not usually used for business-to-business transactions.

Checks dwarf credit cards by dollar volume. In 1997 there were about $1 trillion in credit card charges made. In the same year, there were about 64 million checks written with a value of about $75 trillion. Development of the framework to divert this raging river of payment instruments onto the Web is well under way, in large part propelled by banks who already have a trustworthy check processing infrastructure in place.

Part of their enthusiasm is borne of experience. Non-paper checks are not exactly Buck Rogers. Insurance companies and mortgage bankers have been using the demand drafts for years to draw payments from customers' bank accounts. (Consumers would sign a release allowing the business to debit their accounts every month for a given amount.) A change in the law in 1996, however, made it simpler and cheaper to use them, precipitating a flourishing increase in their use by all manner of businesses.

Had those laws been amended in 1986 instead of three years after the Web Wide Web sprang to life, virtual checks might well have been the reigning currency of the Web today, instead of credit cards. Here's how they work for merchants in the Web context today:

A customer sends an authorization via e-mail, allowing a business to make out a demand draft for an agreed-upon amount to be debited against the customers checking account. (Web merchants typically have pages with fielded forms that allow the customer to fill in his banking data.) Once the authorization arrives, the merchant creates a document that includes the customer's name, bank number and checking account - naming him or his business as the payee.

There are programs like CheckMan by Nelson Publications in Bloomington, Illinois for this purpose, creating printed checks from forms that look like normal checks. The only difference is that with a demand draft, payees write into the signature field something along the lines of "Signature Not Required. Draft Authorized by Depositor". The merchant takes that check and deposits it the same as any other check. As well, there are merchant service providers like DMR Internet Services that will provide a template page for consumers to fill out and process the drafts for their clients.

The intriguing thing about electronic check systems in general is the big banks' enthusiasm for them. That is a powerful and important constituency to have in the development of any "new" electronic payment instrument. The demand drafts used on the Internet now are lacking the signing mechanisms of paper checks. As well, they are not totally "on-line" since a paper draft is actually created.

The banking community has been working diligently to create e-check formats and payment protocols to provide those missing elements that are required to effectively create a true and wholly electronic analogue to the paper check.

The Financial Service Technology Consortium (FSTC), a group of major banks such as CitiBank, BankBoston, NationsBank and the Department of the Treasury has been trialing electronic checks - so called e-checks - and an Internet-mediated payment system this year that uses the existing Automated Clearing House and the Electronic MICR Network - which is the primary clearance networks for paper checks.

The e-check project has established formatting requirements for the check itself and for the (digital) signatures that are used to sign them. The instrument has a lot going for it. It can ride on established paper-check processing networks, be recorded (and audited) more cheaply and the signatures can be verified more quickly since it was applied digitally.

Meanwhile, the FSTC began a trial of the Bank Internet Payment System (BIPS) with Mellon Bank and Pennsylvania Power & Light, allowing customers to pay their utility bills on-line. The system essentially provides a sequence and format for messages that a customer can use to instruct his bank debit his account to pay his bills.

With the communications protocols and e-check instrument formats in hand, the banking community has made real strides toward digitizing the existing payments infrastructure and diverting some of that $75 trillion in check payments to the Web.

The question that remains is who will underwrite the smart cards that are required in the e-check system. Currently a mag-stripe card can be replaced for under a dollar. A chip-based smart card can cost more than $15 - and also requires a smart card reader. (Readers for them would become a part of the basic PC if smart cards ever became widely deployed in the United States.)

In Europe smart cards were popularized by the fact that telephone connectivity was non-ubiquitous and unreliable. Off-line payments using smart cards were, therefore, cost effective. In the US, rock-solid telephone connectivity is cheap - so transactions clearing through a live network became a standard practice, retaining its cost-effectiveness against off-line smart cards systems to this day.

For industry, smart cards might be a bearable cost given the reduction in paper processing. But to make them ubiquitous and to make electronic checking instruments a vital part of the payments infrastructure would take a commitment by the banks and other payments card issuing institutions like retailers to bear the cost on the rationale of the long-term savings smart cards would engender.

Putting the POS Everywhere with Embedded Payment Systems:

Credit card payment systems may or may not be the dominant payment mechanism on the Internet 5 years from now - but this instrument has certainly been useful in displaying the possibilities for making payment mechanisms an integral, provocative part of the overall vending model.

In particular, "Try-Before-You-Buy" wrapper systems have showcased everything that can compelling about distributing products and taking payment for them on the Web. The leading wrapper systems these days are ZipLock ESD by Preview Systems of Portland, OR and SalesAgent by Release Software of Menlo Park, CA.

These systems bring the storefront and the point of sale (POS) right onto the desktop, demonstrating the software and bringing the customer through the payments process in a easy fluid manner. Take SalesAgent by Release Software of Menlo Park, CA, for example. SalesAgent is being used by Egghead software to distribute and mediate payment for the software it vends from its Web site <>.

The SalesAgent Turnkey package incorporates the terms of usage rights into the program, giving the publisher and distributor a lot of flexibility in sculpting a demo package. When consumers download a program from Egghead's site, it is usually missing some log files, a registration number and some other vital components. Those are kept on the publisher's own server.

When consumers fire up the demo-abled software, an announcement is displayed asking if the user would like to "try it" or "buy it". After the trial term the demo expires, the wrapper the consumer from even operating it in demo mode; getting around it requires the skills of a highly advanced programmer/hacker and even then will only yield access to a demo version of the software . Should a consumer decide to buy it with the trial term, he is prompted to choose a payment method. He can be with a credit card via Internet, dial-up Modem, voice telephony, fax or mail - or by mailing a check.

If the consumer chooses the Internet, he is prompted for credit card data. Once completed, that data is forwarded to the Egghead. At the company's server, the credit card data is handed off to Release Software which authorizes the card through their merchant banks. If Release's server reports back that the card has available credit and the card is good, the publisher sends the remaining parts of the software back to the Web consumer and hands off the final credit card transaction to Egghead's servers which acts like a traditional retailer and bills the credit card through the same merchant credit card account it uses for its 1-800-Egghead telephone sales.

Although Egghead's site is providing the traffic to attract customer to the different software titles, a vending site is not a requirement of this acquisition, demonstration and payment regime. The software can be downloaded from anywhere and still effect all of the same advantages to the publisher and consumer. Consumers can e-mail the demo setup file to friends and colleagues who can likewise evaluate it.

In this way, these wrapper systems are the purest example we have to date of the Superdistribution concept at work. Superdistribution is a vending model that encourages the free flow of digital content by charging for use, not possession. The requirements for this model are a secure container and unlocking mechanism that gives paying users access - but still protects the intellectual property (IP) object.

These wrapper systems do not generally provide persistent protection (though Preview and Globetrotter, a vendor of license management systems that protect software from piracy, have formed an alliance to offer ESD systems that incorporate LM technologies.) They are, however, the most important examples to date of why payment systems should be embedded into IP objects to effect the most compelling on-line vending model.

Future: Provocative Payment Schemes

Retail payment mechanisms will merge with the technologies that drive the vending of IP objects on the Web. They will join with affinity schemes and marketing campaigns into gloriously enchanting consumer-seduction architectures.

Interactive pages will query a user's ID or affinity group after parsing the user's activity and divining an appropriate product or service to pitch. Using available data it will present the product either with the payment mechanism - or proffer a product that is already conditioned with an embedded payment mechanism.

Intellectual property objects with embedded payment systems will be able to "phone home" via the Internet and look up latest pricing. discounting and product update data, instantly writing up an up-to-date sales ticket with a number of options, no matter how long it has languished off-line. A consumer picks up an old version of software and initiates a payment transaction? No problem. He gets the latest discounts and updates arrive at no charge - or they arrive, announce themselves and try negotiate a payment before installing themselves - depending on the product and the vendors business model.

Further, these sales transactions will either animate other marketing mechanisms or play some role in perpetuating them.

Consumers who copy and forward IP objects that they've enjoyed to friends - who buy them, in turn - will be rewarded through marketing affinity programs that promote post-sale distribution of (copy-protected) IP objects. When payments from copied (and erstwhile copy-protected) IP objects arrive, the forwarding consumer will be awarded affinity points or some other kind of premium. If Joe Consumer sends five copies of a program to friends and four buy it later, he may get an upgrade free.

Imagine software that you download and demo. Instead of just displaying "Buy" or "Try" buttons during boot-up, it offered four different discounting schemes that related to affinity schemes or other products or discounts for members of certain groups that are certified though public key systems. Imagine, too, if that software were time-stamped and date-stamped and displayed an announcement that offered a time-sensitive discount that dropped by a point every day - 50 percent off today, 49 percent off tomorrow - possibly showing the savings being lost every time a user boots up.

In a very real way, the payment mechanism will become the business model for the companies that are heavily invested in the Web as a distribution channel. By tying "opting-in" marketing strategies and affinity premium schemes into payment transactions, on-line retailers can not only sculpt products more exactly matched to consumer needs - but payment and discount scenarios that give consumers all the more reason to press "Buy."

(c) 1999 TriArche Research. Readers are invited to post this analysis in its entirety or to quote from it with attribution in all contexts save profit-making sale of its contents.

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