At a Time Like No Other, the U.S. Payments System Showed its Resiliency
In a year in which life was turned upside down, many of the institutions we depend on came close to the breaking point. Hospitals set up tents in parking lots, or makeshift facilities in convention centers, to care for COVID-19 patients. The U.S. Postal Service was overwhelmed by the volume of packages during the holiday season. State unemployment websites and phone lines crashed as those left jobless by the pandemic sought urgently needed benefits.
One thing you won’t find on that list, however, is the nation’s payments system. In fact, it’s noteworthy that the electronic payments system infrastructure operated normally at a time when few things were “normal.”
Along with new work environments to cope with, there were also changes to the types of payments being made. While a shift to electronic payments was underway well before the pandemic, it accelerated dramatically after lockdowns began last March. Consumers stayed out of retail stores, driving additional volumes of commerce online. Businesses lost in-person access to accounting systems and mail delivery, hastening the need for electronic B2B payments. Mail slowdowns also made timely check payments less practical, leading not only businesses but consumers to turn to electronic options.
All of the changes and turmoil could have upended America’s payment system. They didn’t.
I’m proud to say that the ACH Network was among those rising to the challenge, as we handled increased volume from the shift to electronic payments, as well as two rounds of Economic Impact Payments, hundreds of millions of which were made by Direct Deposit.
Those challenges didn’t end when the calendar flipped to a new year. The nation—indeed, the world—has a long road ahead to get back to the “normal” many of us long for. But know that whatever 2021 brings, America’s payments system remains resilient and will be there for American consumers, businesses and government agencies.