Monday, September 15, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Paying attention to how we pay for things

With so many ways to pay for a good or service, regulators must catch up with the technologists to make sure consumers understand the costs.

Paying attention to how we pay for things

Many of us have pulled back on our use of credit over the last three years.

In my case, besides paying down more of what I owe, I decided not to use the credit card whose terms annoyed me the most.

For much of the last year, I have used just one credit card and find that holding to such a limitation has caused me to think twice before paying with plastic.

In a speech in Philadelphia on Thursday, Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth Duke said the “recent period of economic weakness appears to have caused some consumers to shift away from credit cards not only as a source of credit but also as a method of payment.”

Duke was at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia as part of a wonky conference on the fast-evolving consumer credit market.

We live in an era when there are more methods to pay for a product or service than ever before. Besides cash and credit and debit cards, there are all sorts of prepaid cards. As Duke’s remarks made clear, the prepaid card isn’t always a card. You can pay with a cell phone, or a chip imbedded in some other device.

Of course, I’m the type of consumer who persists in paying by check for many things rather using a debit card, or automated electronic payment system. I am the caveman as consumer.

I rationalize doing so believing it to be a more hands-on method of keeping control of my household cash flow. In fact, these are probably irrational, inefficient responses.

But the Philly Fed’s Payment Cards Center didn’t gather a bunch of experts together to smile and grin at the change all around. They were discussing how to collect and analyze more micro-data about why people like me would choose to use a credit card to buy gas but write a check for the $124 of nothing I pick up at the supermarket.

Duke was there to encourage that research, but also to wave a red flag.

Consumers, she said, cannot be expected to know the differences in pricing and regulation of all the types of methods of payment they might choose. Regulators need to catch up to the innovators.

Monetizing

Monetate Inc., of Conshohocken, has raised $5.1 million in venture capital to expand.

If you bought something online using the QVC Inc., Urban Outfitters Inc. or Sports Authority Inc. websites on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it’s possible that Monetate helped seal the deal.

Founder and chief executive officer David Brussin told me that this is the third holiday season that Monetate’s technology has been used by retailers to test, target, and personalize their electronic approach to consumers.

Investors in this latest round include Conshohocken-based First Round Capital L.L.C. and Floodgate Fund, of Palo Alto, Calif.

The company has 30 employees, has been cash-flow positive since the middle of 2009, and is looking to fill 20 positions, Brussin said.

Monetate is Brussin’s fourth technology start-up. He’d been the chief technology officer at TurnTide Inc., started by First Round’s Josh Kopelman and serial entrepreneur Lucinda Holt. TurnTide, an anti-spam company, was bought by Symantec Corp. for $28 million six months after its launch.

Kopelman and Holt are on Monetate’s board, as is the former head of Dell.com, Sam Decker.

Put Brussin in the optimistic camp for the holiday shopping season. Monetate saw more activity, more transactions, more dollars spent in online purchases this year than last, he said.

That suggests that retailers are getting the right products in front of the right customers and those shoppers are in turn motivated to buy.

No refinement

Fitch Ratings Inc. was in a cranky mood Friday after Sunoco Inc.’s announcement that it would sell its Toledo, Ohio, refinery for about $400 million.

The Chicago credit rating agency said it revised the Philadelphia oil refiner and marketer’s outlook to “negative” from “stable.”

Fitch did the math and found that after selling the Toledo refinery, Sunoco would be left with refining capacity of 505,000 barrels per day, down from the 910,000 bpd it had a few years ago. Fitch said it believes the sale of its Marcus Hook refinery is a “future possibility.”

Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
About this blog
Mike Armstrong blogs about Philadelphia corporations and business-related topics. Contact him at 215-854-2980. Reach Mike at marmstrong@phillynews.com.

Mike Armstrong Inquirer Columnist
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