The Global Real-Time Payments Evolution

In June, our team participated in The 2021 Payments Canada Summit, Canada’s premier payments conference. One of the main topics raised at The SUMMIT was the future of payments: why real-time payments (RTP) will be a game-changer for Canadians and the financial industry.

The trend towards instant and faster payments is a global one. While Real-time Rail (RTR) is expected to go live in Canada in 2022, other regions have been using RTP for several years. Its implementation will bring significant changes to the way we do payments and business in Canada.  As we prepare for payment modernization, let’s take a look at some of its impacts in two regions that have had years of experience using RTP.


Japan was the first to launch a domestic real-time payments system (Zengin) in 1973. Korea had systems up and running in the 1980s, but the technology and regulations for the new digital age lagged behind. It took quite a few years before South Korea launched a near-modern real-time payments system in 2001 and now has the world’s highest amount of RTP transactions per capita. In 2014, Singapore introduced FAST (Fast and Secure Transfers), which allows the electronic transfer of funds from one bank to another. 

According to a 2020 report from FIS Global, India is now the global leader in RTPs, handling 41 million transactions per day. 

Due to COVID-19, many countries in Asia adopted the local real-time payments solutions at a much faster rate than before the pandemic. reports that in Japan, the Core Time System saw the largest value of instant transactions in March 2020, compared to the five months before and the seven months after. The Philippine’s IstaPay saw three-digit growth rates in transaction values in volumes between January 2020 and June 2020.

For Asia, there was another reason for the fast adoption of real-time payments – the ongoing push from governments and local regulators to stimulate the economy and improve financial inclusion. This is what helped India push RTP development. With a population that was historically underbanked and reliant on cash, the Indian government set in motion payment modernization initiatives to empower digital transformation.


In Europe, Swiss Interbank Clearing (SIC), launched in 1987 on behalf of the Swiss National Bank (SNB), was one of the first real-time payments systems operating worldwide. At the end of 2018, 325 Swiss and foreign financial institutions were participating in SIC, while the system handled a daily average of 2.4 million payments with the value of CHF 156 billion.

The COVID-19 crisis was one of the main drivers for the adoption of digital payments: McKinsey reports a jump from 81% to 95% – a significant rise that would have taken two to three years in most industries before the pandemic.

The UK was one of the first in the region to launch their RTP system – Faster Payments Service (FPS) in 2008. Since then it has enabled millions of peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions between consumers’ banks. In the last quarter of 2020, FPS processed 791 million payments.

According to a recent report, Western Europe is going to be one of the top markets for the adoption of real-time payments by 2025, with its share anticipated to become close to one-fifth of the world’s total. In the European Union, about six in ten Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) payment service providers support real-time fund transfers. The European Central Bank has set an objective to ensure the full deployment of real-time payments across the euro area by the end of 2021.

The jump in the adoption of RTP brought both opportunities and challenges to the financial services industry in this region. It gave a real opportunity to previously excluded financial institutions, who could now build their customer base by offering real-time payments as they competed with traditional players in the market. 

While RTP development provided a perfect chance to offer an improved and personalized digital customer experience, faster services brought more opportunities for fraud, especially for opportunistic criminals.

As the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) noticed: “Digital banking is a powerful tool. But powerful tools need safety features, especially when fraudsters are becoming increasingly inventive… (for) …the practiced fraudster, it’s relatively easy to convince people to transfer money to them.”

Real-Time Payments Challenges

Rapid technological changes in the last few years have led consumers to expect that almost everything should be available in real-time, including payments. As we live in the age of instant gratification, businesses and financial institutions are challenged to delight their customers with better and faster service. Even more mature RTP ecosystems have to continue developing new solutions for multiple use cases.

The next big challenge for those systems is cross-border payments. Some current RTP systems and platforms are specific to country-wide or regional use. For cross-border transactions, they need to adopt a set of new technological standards and comply with new regulations.

Rapid RTP adoption has already stimulated payment service providers to evolve new products for the benefit of the merchants and consumers who are dependent on regional instant payments networks. At present, the challenge of inter-operability and universal connectivity remains unmet, while consumers wait for true global real-time transactions to become a reality.