About the Book

Huge volumes of payments flow every day through a labyrinthine network of networks, enabling vast amounts of value to move around, backwards and forwards – from you to me and him to her, company to company, bank to bank and country to country. The system serves a wide variety of economic flows, from my phone bill to your lunch; from corporate payrolls to drug deals, dividend payments to divorce settlements and much, much more besides. 

 

On average people make at least one payment every day – but how often do we think about what has happened? Was it free to pay? Who saw us pay, and how much information did they get in the process? How did the money move? When did the beneficiary actually receive it? How much did they get? How many organisations, machines or people were involved along the way? How do they link together? Who pays for them? Who controls them? And what would happen if it all stopped working?

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Written by Gottfried Leibbrandt and Natasha de Terán, this book is the first attempt to look at payments bottom up, top down, inside and out. It's about the mechanics of payments, yes, but it is also a book about the power, profundity and perversity of payments, and about the things that you have never even thought about: the modernity and antiquity of today’s systems; the singularity and universality of payments; the consequences – social, economic, geopolitical and otherwise – of our payment choices. 

 

It tells of the rapid speed of change and the slow death of habit, of the immutable hold of legacy systems, national customs and corporate incumbency. And it delves into technology and sociology; liquidity, bits and bytes and cyber thefts; coins and crypto; cards, cash, cheques and all the myriad connections between them. Exploring payments from the layman’s perspective the book deciphers the geek-speak; disentangles the multitudinous layers and processes; and tries to resolve the central conundrum – how it is that money rarely ever moves but still keeps making the world go around. 

"Fascinating, thrilling, intriguing and well written with deep inside knowledge and understanding."

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Rich with anecdote, the book features Alan Greenspan alongside Che Guevara, Mark Twain, Bob Woodward and Julian Assange; North Korean hackers rub shoulders with the Sandanista National Liberation Front; and GCHQ, the CIA, the NSA and Interpol all make the odd appearance. No book on money would be complete without the movies – and this book winks to more than a few. Nor could any proper book on payments be written without reference to the Bank for International Settlements, the Committee on Payment Market Infrastructures or the Bank of England. (Or, for that matter, without the US Federal Reserve, FinCEN and US Treasury; the EU Commission and European Central Bank; the Reserve Bank of India and the People's Bank of China; the Bundesbank, the Dutch National Bank (DNB), the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) The Royal Mint, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Payment Systems Regulator; the IMF, the World Gold Council, the World Bank Group and the Bank of Albania). Others we owe a reference (or debt) to include: Transparency International, the Access to Cash Review, FISGlobal, Cardtronics, Mercator Advisory Group,  BCG, Ernst & Young, S&P Global, Brookings, Oliver Wyman and McKinsey.

Citing research from the University of Bristol, MIT, Wharton, Oxford and Cambridge as well as the BIS Quarterly Review, the American Economic Review, the Journal of Finance, the National Bureau of Economic Research; the Economics of Network Industries, the Federation of American Scientists, the US Centre for Responsible Lending; the Review of Financial Studies; the Journal of Consumer Research and the American Economic Review, the book also sources the BBC, Reuters, The Economist, the Financial Times and FT Alphaville, The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post and Foreign Policy. Alongside those, co-star Which, the Daily Mail, the American Banker and China Daily; CNN, CNBC, Forbes, Deutsche Welle, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung; Finextra, Wired, Coinbase, CoinMarketCap, Coin Telegraph, Politico, Financial Crime News, Denergo and Het Financieele Dagblad (FD).

As well as your common-or-garden bank, the card network giants, Visa, MasterCard and UnionPay, feature newer-comers like PayPal, Diem (formely Libra), Transferwise (now Wise), Revolut, Venmo, Tink, Plaid, Apple and Google Pay. These sit alongside the Chinese digital giants, Tenpay and Alipay, Kenya's mPesa, and good old Western Union, to name but a few. Flanking these household names, are the lesser known but equally important infrastructures – the Eurozone's TARGET, the UK's CHAPS and the US CHIPS; Australia's NPP and India's UPI; cloud service providers like Azure and AWS and payment platforms you've almost certainly used, may never have heard of but will wish you had invested in – Adyen, FIS and FiServe, Stripe and Square.

To cap all that, the book is rich with history – medieval Italy and occupied Holland; the Truck Act and the free banking era; the Iran-Contra scandal and the Bay of Pigs fiasco; the Irish banking strike and Edward Snowden's revelations; the Wirecard, BCCI and Bangladesh Bank scandals, and the effects of regulations like PSD2 and the Durbin Amendment. The dominance of the US dollar is explained alongside the rise of cryptocurrencies and stable coins; wire transfers and wholesale payment flows are put in plain words, together with settlement risk, smart contracts and social media fraud, while the Stephenson Gauge, the Space Shuttle and the Swift network help evidence the power of standards and network effects.