Economic Benefits of Real-Time Payments Remain Largely Untapped
The adoption of real-time payments is still limited in the U.S., accounting for only 0.9% share of total payments volume in 2021, which is not significant compared to paper-based payments and electronic payments (excluding real-time payments) at 21.4% and 77.7%, respectively.
The U.S. recorded 1.8 billion real-time transactions in 2021, which resulted in an estimated cost savings of $648 million for businesses and consumers. This in turn helped to unlock $1.4 billion of additional economic output, representing 0.01% of the country’s GDP.
With real-time transactions set to rise to 8.9 billion in 2026, net savings for consumers and businesses are forecasted to climb to $2 billion. That would help to generate an additional $5 billion of economic output, equivalent to 0.02% of the country’s forecasted GDP.
That means for the largest global economy, the potential economic benefits of real-time payments still remain untapped. According to the Cebr, the theoretical impact of all payments being real-time could add 1.7% to formal GDP by 2026. However, these are theoretically modeled benefits; they do not suggest that there is no place for non-instant electronic payments or paper-based payments in the future.
Future projections for real-time payments are expecting strong growth as the volume of real-time payments are projected to grow at a CAGR of 37% from 2021-2026. This growth can be driven by the gradual decline in cash usage in the U.S. and the launch of the Federal Reserve’s own real-time payments scheme called FedNow, which is being piloted with ACI Worldwide.
As of now, there are two real-time payment solutions in the U.S.: Zelle and the RTP network from The Clearing House (also connected with ACI Worldwide), but their adoption at a national level is still limited due to the dominance of cards in the market. Both platforms were launched in 2017. But despite the presence of both the RTP network and Zelle, the U.S. is still lagging behind other countries that have already implemented a real-time payments network.
RTP and Zelle are not overarching real-time networks that cover the entire country, which is necessary for providing this service at a national level. Economic impact of RTP is thus expected to be low in the immediate and medium term; much of the RTP functionality is already available to consumers in one form or another, mostly through private companies such as Venmo and Zelle.
Real-Time Payment Types
Year of Real-Time
In straightforward terms, we expect growth in real-time payments for the U.S. market to accelerate in the coming years — and banks, other financial services and payment processors may soon need to pick up the pace on their current measured preparations.
FedNow, the central bank’s instant payment service is being piloted through 2022, and will eventually enable P2P, B2B, B2C, C2B and G2C payments (the full launch is slated for 2023). Given the size of the population and the national economy, it could easily grow to become one of the largest payments clearing settlement systems in the world.
To some executives, it might be tempting to see real-time payments as simply a novel way to process payments. Actually, these payments are a critical component of new and disruptive economic functions. The gig economy, for example, is growing at a tremendous rate thanks to digitization and mobile connectivity. But the nature of the work and the services it supports requires payments to be settled on delivery, not at the end of the month. The movement of money in real time is already lagging, and yet many more business models will also soon depend on real-time payments to enable customers, merchants and financial institutions to work more effectively together.
If the market’s payment players are not preparing now, they should start soon by getting a handle on what FedNow compliance looks like: the infrastructure required and how the transition will be sequenced. They need to establish critical milestones, priorities and contingency plans. To help with this planning process, banks and financial institutions should drill right down to the level of specifics, so they have a clear idea of the requirements of real-time payments for both their organization and its customers.
When the time comes, any real-time payments infrastructure must be flexible so that payment players can respond to future changes more easily than they can today. Service-oriented architectures, sourced from multiple suppliers, are likely to play a role, so orchestration between them will be critical. These services need to mesh elegantly and be reliable and resilient. With a more complex framework of systems in place, a failure in any one would make executing and processing transactions harder.
Mobile Wallet Trends
% of adults who have a mobile wallet and have
used it in the past year (2021)
Real-Time Total Participants
Real-Time Payments (RTP)
Population Banking Level
Number of debit, credit and
charge cards per adult
Index to global average
F5 Yr CAGR
Payments Fraud Rate
Population who reported being a
victim of fraud in the last 4 years
Top 3 Payment Fraud Types
|% of fraud victims||Trend|
Card details stolen/skimmed in person
Card details stolen online
Share of Volumes by Payments Instrument
- Paper-based payments
- Electronic payments
- Real-time payments
Real-Time Payments Volume and Its Share in Overall Non-Paper-Based Transactions, 2015-26f
The United States is one of the world’s wealthiest countries per person, ranking as the world’s largest economy in 2021 (Cebr World Economic League Table, 2022). In 2021, the United States accounted for 16% of global GDP after adjusting for purchasing power parity.
However, considering the U.S. is the largest economy in the world, real-time payments usage remains nascent in 2021, accounting for less than 1% of total transaction volumes. As a result, the current overall economic impact is limited, while the untapped potential is significant.
In 2021, net benefits for businesses and consumers reached $648 million (less than 5% than that of China), supporting $1.4 billion of total national output (0.01% of formal U.S. GDP). The primary factor generating these benefits was the ability for real-time payments to formalize activity in the shadow economy by reducing cash usage. Given the scale of the U.S. economy, the country’s 8% shadow economy share represents an estimated $1.86 billion in informal output. Despite the relatively small transaction share in the U.S. of real-time payments, they have the ability to formalize a relatively large level of informal economic activity.
Looking forward to 2026, approximately 3.8% of the payments mix is anticipated to be real-time, tripling the anticipated economic benefits for businesses and consumers to almost $2 billion. The economy-wide impact also rises significantly to $5 billion, representing a 0.02% share of forecasted formal output, or the equivalent of 31,542 additional jobs.
For Businesses and Consumers
Net savings stimulated by real-time payments
Projected net savings stimulated by real-time payments
of economic output
of GDP facilitated by real-time payments
Projected of economic output
of GDP facilitated by real-time payments
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