Understanding the payments industry in the U.S. can be a complex endeavor. The landscape is a crowded place, comprised of thousands of banks, credit unions, fintechs, and other organizations that offer a variety of products and services tailored to different aspects of the payment experience.
Then there is the issue of compliance. Companies must obey the myriad of regulations and laws governing how and when payments should be made, and what information needs to be requested, provided, recorded and stored. These rules can vary by payment rail, further adding to the complexity.
To navigate these challenges, many companies hire consultants to access their needed expertise. One such group is Nacha’s Elevation Consulting, which works with both national and global organizations – including startups, corporations, financial institutions, fintechs and more – to help them understand how to successfully utilize and optimize payments.
To learn more about Elevation, PaymentsJournal sat down with Samantha Carrier, senior director of Advanced Payment Solutions at Nacha. Joining us in the conversation was Aaron McPherson, vice president of Research Operations at Mercator Advisory Group.
During the conversation, Carrier and McPherson discussed the type of consulting work undertaken by Elevation and for whom, as well as Elevation’s payment calculator tool, and the challenges and opportunities posed by the ISO 20022 standards.
Elevation consults on more than just the ACH Network
Given that Nacha is the steward of the ACH Network, you would be forgiven for thinking its consulting arm would focus exclusively on questions related to ACH. However, Elevation’s offerings go well beyond the Network.
“While we certainly have quite a bit of depth on the team when it comes to ACH expertise, [many of whom have the] Accredited ACH Professionals credential to offer clients, our portfolio of businesses is actually pretty diverse,” said Carrier. “With so much going on in the industry, our team has really had an opportunity to work with a lot of different players in the banking system.”
Banks, businesses, technology providers, and others hire Elevation for a variety of reasons. Some seek payments advisory and strategy, while others seek custom education and even custom rulewriting. Additionally, Carrier explained how Elevation often helps smaller financial institutions develop their digital strategy as it relates to payments.
“With those engagements, we’ve been working with financial institutions to look not only at how to better leverage and expand what they’re doing with ACH, but also to look at things like RTP and Zelle,” said Carrier. “We’ve even done work for clients in the wires and card space. People may be surprised that Elevation helps companies from a broader payments perspective.”
Carrier noted that due to the high volume of innovation currently going on in the payments industry, Elevation often works with fintechs as well.
Elevation also helps foreign clients
Elevation’s clients aren’t confined to the U.S. “When we first launched Elevation, we had assumed that our primary focus would be on U.S.-based businesses,” said Carrier. “And while that does comprise the vast majority of engagements that we work on, we’ve seen growth in terms of our clients that are based outside of the U.S.”
For example, a foreign company looking to bring its product to the U.S. market might work with Elevation to better understand which of the available payment rails is optimal for a specific use case. A foreign company can also rely on Elevation to better understand compliance rules.
Elevation currently has clients in Europe and Latin America, and Carrier predicts that the number of foreign clients will continue to grow.
Education is key for Elevation
Another part of Elevation’s engagement portfolio is customized education and training offerings. “It’s very targeted training for a specific client and perhaps a specific product that they’re looking to work on or expand,” said Carrier.
For instance, perhaps a company had high turnover in its ACH operations group and wants to get the new recruits up to speed. Or perhaps a company recently invested in new technology that impacted its payments system. In either case, the company can hire Elevation to provide highly specialized training.
For one recent engagement with a fintech, Elevation provided training opportunities for the company’s product managers, sales team executives and others. “The training covered quite a bit of content inclusive of ACH, but also emerging payments technology such as helping them with how APIs are driving change in the industry, payment speed, interoperability, cross-border payments and more,” Carrier said.
Elevation’s emphasis on education comes as no surprise, as Nacha offers a wide variety of educational resources, both online and in person. In a sense, Elevation’s custom-made educational approach complements Nacha’s broader educational resources.
The online payments calculator
When you visit Elevation’s website, you will find a helpful tool: the Cost Calculator. Once you input information related to your company’s payments mix, the calculator will point out potential areas where you can achieve savings. For example, perhaps there is an opportunity to save money if the company switched more of its payments to the ACH Network.
“It will give you a gut check on how payments mix have cost implications,” Carrier said. Elevation also offers a more sophisticated calculator. In that case, the Elevation team meets with the client and conducts a deep dive into their payments mix.
Working to help clients understand ISO 20022
As the consulting arm of Nacha, Elevation is well-versed in the ISO 20022 standard. Nacha remains deeply involved in the ISO 20022 community, explained Carrier. “We’ve actually worked on developing [payment] messages that are part of ISO 20022.”
Specifically, Nacha has recently done work leveraging the ISO 20022 standard in the development of APIs.
Against this backdrop, Elevation is well-positioned to help financial institutions and other organizations understand how the format can be useful, and how it can be used for specific business use cases. “There’s an education gap there in some cases where Elevation has been able to offer support,” explained Carrier.
While Nacha’s Elevation Consulting does provide a lot of expertise related to ACH, its value doesn’t end there. From helping businesses create payment strategies to providing education on the newest regulations, Elevation is helping diverse organizations get a better handle on the payments industry as a whole.