Courtneidge has been in the Payment Industry since 1990, when he started working at Citibank. He qualified as a solicitor and moved inhouse to look after the UK Consumer bank, Citibank Life and Diners Club. This is where he received his first taste of payments which was to follow him the rest of his career.
Always a commercial lawyer with a technology bias, Courtneidge’s career led him into a number of roles in law firms working for many big-name clients but he was always there to help new players too. These start-ups became more prevalent as FinTech’s became a significant force post-2000. We are lucky enough to interview Courtneidge in his now semi-retired role while still working in the industry he loves.
How did you get into Payments?
In Courtneidge’s first inhouse role at Citibank, he was given responsibility for Diners Club, a three-party card scheme like American Express (different to the four-party card schemes of VISA and Mastercard).
This involved drafting all the documentation for the card issuing and card acquiring and opened his eyes to the world of payments. Courtneidge developed a love for the sector at this point and never looked back! Many of the documents used in the industry today evolved from Courtneidge’s documents drafted at this time.
Who were the key players in the 1990’s and how has that changed over time?
Courtneidge says that Payments were very different in the 1990s. All the players were banks back then, and even consumer lending was not seen as a money-maker, just something ‘dirty’ that you had to offer your customers. It was only late into the 2010s that fintech arrived on the scene and provided quasi banking services.
Courtneidge recalls emoney businesses were not even allowed to use the word ‘account’ at that time, so they were inventive and created the word ‘eccount’ for emoney. Indeed, Citibank even purchased one of these companies called ‘eccount’! Today emoney is an old hat, and Open Banking is coming to the forefront. The McKinsey 2021 Global Payments Report states the following;
“…digital currency is entering a critical new phase. Prominent private firms are planning the introduction of stablecoins, while a growing number of central banks are proceeding with plans for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and simultaneously considering enacting new regulations with the dual objectives of consumer protection and preserving the efficacy of traditional monetary policy.”
Hence, once again, we are looking at a new digital future.
How did you come to form the Prepaid International Forum (PIF)?
Courtneidge formed PIF alongside Ken Howes from Edgar Dunn & Co and Chris Reddish from Mastercard. PIF was formed in 2006 in response to uncertainty around the legal framework for prepaid, limited industry tracking, concerns over robust and profitable business models and the need for a consistent voice for the industry.
Courtneidge was Chair of PIF for several years but then stepped down in 2016 because of other commitments. Whilst Courtneidge no longer has any formal involvement with PIF, he follows its progress and is often in touch with its Executive Director, Diana Brocklebank, who has also been with PIF since the beginning. It recently changed its name to the Payments Innovation Forum in line with its focus away from simply prepaid solutions.
Name some of the highlights of your career?
Providing the legal work in prepaid to enable the Post Office Card Account to be set up to move benefit payments onto a card. This enabled great financial inclusion (a dispensation was added to the JMSLG to allow homeless people to get their hostels to vouch for their address, and if even that was not available, the letter you collected from the DoE could also prove who you were).
· Being involved from the start, in 2004, in the recently re-named Payments Association. The Payments Association (previously the Emerging Payments Association or EPA) is for payments firms, big & small, helping their members navigate a complex regulatory environment and facilitate profitable business partnerships.
Their stated purpose is to empower the most influential community in payments, where the connections, collaboration and learning shape an industry that works for all. They operate as an independent representative for the industry and its interests and drive collaboration within the payments sector to bring about meaningful change and innovation, working closely with industry stakeholders such as the Bank of England, the FCA, HM Treasury, the Payment Systems Regulator, Pay.UK, UK Finance and Innovate Finance.
They run five stakeholder working Project groups: Inclusion, Regulator, Financial Crime, International Trade and Open Banking. Courtneidge is on the Project Regulator team with other like-minded individuals from law firms and the industry to help develop the regulatory framework for payments in the UK and globally
· Being named Industry Influencer of the Year in 2015 – such an honour to be selected for the great work I had done in the industry over the years.
· Helping the legal industry create new categories of law around payments and working with the main registers (Chambers & Co and the Legal 500) to define them;
· Being a judge on all the key payment awards since their inception, namely The Card and Payment Awards (2004), The Emerging Payment Awards (2006) and the Payment Awards (2015);
· Speaking and chairing conferences worldwide and evangelising about our wonderful Payments industry. Courtneidge has been speaking in conferences for many key producers like Money 2020, Pay 360, Qube events, Informa Group and Clarion Events, to name a few. Courtneidge excels when chairing and is great at getting the best out of the speakers with inciteful questions and a great depth of industry knowledge.
· Taking on start-up clients that subsequently grew beyond recognition, such as:
What are your thoughts on the growth of regulation in the industry?
In 2017/8, following the ‘review’ the FCA has highlighted some key areas where the payments industry, being a relatively new industry, had failings. During this time, the FCA has issued two “Dear CEO letters” republished its approach document on payment services and electronic money (December 2021), created a proper onboarding process under MLD5 for the registration of businesses that touch crypto as well as HMT developing its Special Administration Regulations and draft regulations on the treatment of stablecoins and CBDCs.
As a result, there has been a marked improvement not only in the level of understanding and implementation of the relevant regulations in line with the FCA’s guidance but also a far better practical ability to put that guidance into practice, and I believe the UK’s EMI and PI industry has grown up a lot.
Last but not least, we should not forget the new EU AML package being debated at EU level. This is intended to strengthen the resilience further and fight against money laundering, with a supranational Anti-Money Laundering authority and directly applicable and uniform requirements under new regulations.
Did you expect the explosion that is blockchain and cryptocurrencies?
Whilst it is unlikely that anyone could have predicted the growth of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies over the last decade, Courtneidge does foresee a digital future for money in the blockchain with stablecoins and CBDCs taking over from traditional money in the next 10-15 years.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are really quasi investments and a hedge against other assets like shares and commodities. Courtneidge does not believe they were ever really going to be a replacement for fiat currencies even though in Satoshi Nakimoto’s original white paper, he envisioned this:
“A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a
There are many reasons for this including, the cost of transactions, the energy wasted in mining the blocks, the incredible volatility of Bitcoin and the slowness of transactions (Bitcoin processes seven transactions per second whereas Visa processes around 1,700 transactions per second on average and Mastercard utilises a network that claims to handle around 5,000 transactions per second).
However, Courtneidge’s research shows that some of the new blockchains, for example, in April 2021, A blockchain network (ParallelChain, developed by Hong Kong-based blockchain start-up Digital Transaction Limited) delivers unlimited scalability and a record-breaking 100,000 transactions per second — features that could transform the way this technology is used.
It is the first blockchain platform in the market that has successfully solved first-generation blockchains' three major pain points with no compromise: Scalability, speed, and security.
As these blockchains are brought in to provide the basis for CBDCs and Stablecoins (both of which can have complete stability of price by being tied to a fiat currency), then we can really see a future in which everyone is their own wallet holding their value in these tokens in a safe and secure environment being able to transfer value to anyone anywhere in real-time and with the least friction—delivering the vision from Satoshi Nakimoto’s White Paper.
What does the future hold for Robert Courtneidge?
Courtneidge enjoys the flexibility of working from home for a number of small fintech businesses whilst continuing to work with The Payments Association on Project Regulator and related assignments. He is focusing on health and fitness, playing tennis, doing yoga and working out whilst spending more time with his family. Courtneidge favourite pastimes are London theatre, food and art, and travelling to France each summer.