Implementing Zelle® to Create an Integrated Payments Experience

Part Implementing Zelle® to Create an Integrated Payments Experience

By Ian Macallister, Head of Customer Success

Many financial institutions (FIs) understand that offering person-to-person (P2P) payments has become table stakes as more and more consumers are demanding an easy, safe, and fast way to make payments. Moving forward with P2P payments is a no brainer; the question is, what options do FI’s have once they have decided to offer P2P and/or Zelle®? And how should a bank approach integrating with a new payments platform?

The answers to those questions largely depend on the FI’s unique environment. Every FI has their own specific way of integrating various products and solutions into their systems, and the FI’s motivations and methods for integrating can vary depending on infrastructure, technology, policies, cost, and priorities. In this first installment of a series of discussions, Kara Ford, a Senior Payments Consultant from Levvel, a technology implementation company, will explore some of the most important things FIs should consider during a Zelle® integration, including some critical focus areas and potential challenges of implementation.


Ian: First, thanks for sharing your insights with me. For those that don’t know, can you start by explaining what Levvel does and how you work with Zelle®?

Kara: Thanks so much for the opportunity, Ian! It's a pleasure to share a little about Levvel and explain how we help our clients make the most out of their Zelle® implementations. Levvel is a full-service consultancy providing both strategic and technical services for our clients. We were founded by members of the payments communities at leading banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Ally, and our philosophy is that we are uniquely positioned to serve banks since that's where we gained our expertise. We serve our clients in a number of ways, including assessment of business goals and strategic fit of digital products like Zelle®, finding the right vendors and partners, designing the proper technical architecture and building and implementing the solutions that best fit their customers' needs to help them get to market quickly and efficiently. 


Ian: Great, thanks!  Zelle® is a new payments system that needs to be integrated into existing banking platforms. There are a lot of moving parts depending on the platform.  When it comes to integrating, which groups within an organization should be brought into the discussion first?

Kara: Since Zelle® is broader than traditional payment networks, many banks and credit unions underestimate how broad the reach of Zelle® can be within their organization, and problems arise when key participants aren't at the table early enough. We'd recommend including the following critical players as early as possible: Technology, Channels (Digital, Online, Mobile, Banking Center), Segments (Consumer, Affluent, Wealth Management, Small Business), Operations (Customer Services, Fraud, Disputes, Accounting Ops), Deposits and Cards, Network and Vendor Relations (MasterCard, Visa, ACH), Legal, Risk, Compliance, Government Relations, Marketing, PR, Social Media, Complaints Monitoring, and Corporate Treasury when planning to launch disbursements.


Ian: Should clients integrate Zelle® into their mobile channel, online channel or both?

Kara: Most FIs seem to follow the strategy of "be where the customer is." If most customers use desktop or tablet banking, then that's a good place to start. But we advise FIs to pay attention to engagement patterns among demographic groups of strategic importance to help guide decisions. For example, if the FI's growth strategy is to gain relevance with millennials, then that group’s engagement style should drive the strategy for customer experience development. The decision should lie less in where today's customers are, but rather where tomorrow's customers will be.


Ian: In your opinion, should a FI work with a vendor to connect to Zelle® or directly integrate with Early Warning?

Kara: Due to an FI having to manage the integration without a central vendor, a direct connection traditionally is more complex, requires a higher initial investment, and often comes with increased time to market. It does provide the most flexibility with today’s architecture and tomorrow’s strategies and larger institutions are generally the ones that should use this approach.

Partnering is ideal for institutions managing their fixed costs, especially institutions that leverage vendors for key technology projects. They may already have a relationship with a partner that provides a Zelle® solution, a mobile or online environment, and the ability to add Zelle® with only a few tweaks. One point of caution: if the FI’s technology stack is diverse, this approach can be complex across channels, depending on the IT environment. Another option is a customized integration, which will utilize a vendor for certain aspects and keep other pieces internal. This works best if the FIs want to ensure future flexibility as the product evolves, and potentially take advantage of opportunities such as real time payments, payment hubs, etc.


Ian: How should an FI evaluate different vendor options for integrating Zelle®?

Kara: We recommend doing a detailed analysis of what vendors they are currently using. Likely, they are already using a vendor that provides Zelle® implementation services, and, if that is the case, there are often advantages to using them that way. One point of caution is sometimes the products offered are wrapped within a payment hub or similar offering, and this may dictate a more complex solution than they need. It is best to start with detailed business requirements, and adhere to those when choosing a vendor.

FIs should think about what use cases they intend to support, and analyze each current vendor based on that need. After this process, they may find that the best option is to start a net new vendor relationship, which sounds cumbersome but has proven to be the best option for some institutions. For instance, new payment hubs or other tools may be important strategically, and the Zelle® use cases might be the perfect impetus for that broader strategic move in your payments framework.


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About the Author:

Ian Macallister is vice president and Head of Sales and Customer Success for Early Warning, with responsibility over Early Warning’s sales organization. He brings substantial industry and leadership expertise to the role with a focus on how to always keep the customer at the center of product and service solutions.