But now that 2017 is in our rear-view mirror, it’s time to look into next year’s crystal ball to see what’s in store for payments in 2018. To get a sense for what’s to come, we asked six TSYS executives to predict the #trending and hot topics for the upcoming year. Here is what they had to say.

Welcome to the machine

Karim Ahmad, executive vice president of global products and innovation

"Machine learning will go mainstream in 2018,” believes Karim Ahmad, executive vice president of global product and innovation at TSYS.

This futuristic-seeming technology gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. In recent years, machine learning has given us self-driving cars, speech recognition and more effective web search.

One area where machine learning will benefit the payments industry is with fraud prevention, said Ahmad.

“If fraudsters slip through, you can now block a fraudulent transaction at the processing level through machine learning,” he said.

New users for prepaid

Some people view prepaid accounts as a product strictly for underbanked consumers, but according to Trevor Erxleben, head of corporate strategy and development at Netspend, prepaid use cases are expanding.

Trevor Erxleben, head of corporate strategy and development for Netspend

"Prepaid has been the focus of a great deal of development and investment, which has significantly expanded the functionality of the product," he said.

This includes mobile capabilities that appeal to millennials, integrated payment acceptance for micro-businesses and sub-accounts that facilitate money movement for families or expense management for small and mid-size businesses.

“I think 2018 will be a year in which these capabilities really broaden the prepaid customer base,” Erxleben said.

More card volume, more media hype

Philip McHugh, president of merchant solutions at TSYS, couldn’t narrow it down to just one, so he made two predictions for 2018. First, he believes the volume of card transactions will expand this year.

Philip McHugh, president of TSYS Merchant Solutions

"People expect cards to flatten out over time, but I see that continuing to grow," said McHugh. "The internet of things will continue to grow and card transactions will be there to capture those payments."

Second, he predicted that we will continue to see substantial media coverage of new technologies, such as blockchain and peer-to-peer (P2P) payments, but that won’t translate into seismic change overnight.

“It will be more of an evolution than revolution with these technologies,” said McHugh.

Less federal regulations

Jack Marr, director of government relations at TSYS, predicted 2018 would be a year with fewer federal regulations.

Jack Marr

"The number of federal regulations that limit or harm the payments industry is likely to decrease, due to the change in policy and focus of the current Presidential administration," said Marr.

Specifically, he believes a current bipartisan initiative in the Senate Banking Committee could result in some regulatory relief for regional and community banks and credit unions.

At the state level, however, Marr predicted an increase in regulatory activity in certain states, such as New York, New Jersey and California, “in response to the recent Equifax breach,” he said.

A virtual boom

The volume of virtual card payments will soar in 2018, predicted Scot Yarbrough, group executive of commercial cards at TSYS.

Scot Yarbrough, group executive of commercial cards at TSYS

"Virtual cards are big in the B2B payments space, and 2018 promises to be an important year," said Yarbrough.

Virtual cards, including single-use virtual cards, are used to increase efficiencies across the supply chain and have become popular in converting invoice receivables from paper checks to electronic payments.

Some benefits of virtual cards, said Yarbrough, include improved reconciliation, better data exchange, faster payments and reduced fraud risk.

More mergers and acquisitions

One trend that will continue in 2018 is ongoing consolidation in the payments industry, predicted Carey Blackstone, group executive and head of corporate strategy and M&A at TSYS.

Carey Blackstone, group executive and head of corporate strategy and M&A at TSYS

"It's an active acquisition environment in payments right now," said Blackstone, "And I don't see it slowing down."

Blackstone is part of a merger and acquisition team at TSYS that has executed nearly $4 billion in acquisitions in the last five years. In December, TSYS announced plans to buy merchant acquirer Cayan for $1.05 billion.

Elsewhere, payments giant Vantiv purchased WorldPay for $10.4 billion in 2017, and First Data bought CardConnect for $750 million.

When it comes to payments, what are your predictions for 2018’s biggest trends? Let us know what you think on Twitter @ngenuityjournal.