A need for speed in the nationwide payment process (among other things) led the Federal Reserve to form the Faster Payment Task Force, which in turn led to an exhaustive report, which included 10 recommendations. And that has led in turn to … what, exactly?

There have been some strides taken since the task force completed its work in July 2017 — notably creation that fall of a real-time payments system called RTP by The Clearing House — but there are miles to go to meet the stated goal of a new nationwide payment system by 2020.

As pointed out in one report, challenges remain, particularly in the area of interoperability, before the U.S. literally gets up to speed — before a payment system is in place that task force head Sean Rodriguez described as “faster, ubiquitous, safe, broadly inclusive, safe and efficient” in a video on the organization’s website.

The task force, composed of some 320 volunteers from financial institutions, government agencies, consumer advocacy groups, retailers, standards bodies, et al., convened in May 2015. It wrapped things up 14 months later, after some 252 meetings and teleconferences, 19 surveys and votes and some 120,000 hours of work, according to Lauri Giesen of bai.org. The body’s report consisted of two parts, the first released in December 2016, the second in July 2017.

While some have judged the goal of a 2020 launch to be overly ambitious, there are many others who believe an overhaul is long overdue — that the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world in the immediacy and efficiency of its payment system.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a new payment system,” one panelist, Clearing House senior vice president Steve Ledford, said in the task force’s video, adding that it was going to take efforts from many sectors to make the new system a reality.

Financial institutions, he said, are going to have to deliver new products and services. Those building the infrastructure are going to have to work in concert. Organizations and news outlets are going to have to educate consumers. And the consumers themselves must keep expecting more.

The latter is, of course, at the heart of the matter. Consumers want to be able to pay their water bill immediately courtesy of an online application, as opposed to experiencing an illusion of immediacy, as is the case at present — one that sees them make an online payment, only to discover that it might not be processed for a number of days.

That works in reverse as well: Consumers don’t always have immediate access to funds from businesses, financial institutions or employers.

Speed and efficiency were among the primary topics explored by the task force, as was ubiquity — i.e., the assurance that payments can be sent and received by any consumer or business. Security, legality and governance were also examined in depth.

The 10 recommendations center on those matters — establishing a framework, developing cross-border functionality, researching emerging technology, et al.

But again, strides like those taken by Ledford’s Clearing House are rare, the challenges many. As mentioned, one of the main ones involves the interoperability of the U.S. system with those already in place throughout the world, of which there are many.  

The need for speed, in other words, remains. And it is not confined to our borders.