The idea of creating a center that focused on payment cards emerged in planning sessions at the Philadelphia Fed in 1999. At that time, the largest concentration of credit card receivables was held by banks located in the Third District. Managing these accounts involved numerous ACH and wire transactions between banks each day as well as millions of checks written by consumers each month. These circumstances made the Bank an appropriate place to establish a center to foster the analysis of developments in the markets for consumer credit and payments.
Anthony Santomero, the Bank's president from 2000 to 2006, formally established the Payment Cards Center in 2000. From the start, the center defined its audience to include consumers and consumer groups, industry participants, regulators and other policymakers, and academic researchers. This interdisciplinary focus underlines how the center's activities encourage interaction with each constituency and explains why the Bank created the center as an independent unit. Rather than duplicating efforts, the Bank designed the center to facilitate collaboration across departments while providing its own unique expertise.
The center's basic agenda includes producing a regularly updated bibliography on consumer credit and payments, analytical discussion papers accessible to a wide audience, an internal workshop series, and conferences focused on issues relevant to the credit and payment markets. The center's staff track emerging issues and assemble groups of experts to engage in candid conversations. The staff then shares the lessons from these conversations with the public through the center's publications.
Gradually, the center has expanded its horizons and introduced new lines of inquiry, including a focus on consumer credit and payment issues that have yet to receive significant attention in formal research and studies of mobile payments and the application of payment cards to transit fare systems. The center has also produced a series of papers documenting new applications of prepaid cards, including government benefits, disaster relief, and medical savings accounts.
Among its many other activities, the center and the Bank's Research Department have co-sponsored a series of biennial research conferences on topics in consumer credit and payments. Four conferences later, these meetings are regarded as some of the best in this area of study. The center has also established a visiting scholars program to benefit from the expertise of outstanding researchers and to assist them in their research.
Over the course of its first decade, the Payment Cards Center has organized or co-organized numerous conferences, and the center's staff and its visiting scholars have written well over 100 papers and published more than 20 articles in journals and books. In addition, staff members have participated in dozens of industry and policy events. Looking back, the Payment Cards Center has served its mission well: to promote a deeper understanding of the markets for consumer credit and payments. But as recent events demonstrate, this is an ongoing task and perhaps more important today than ever.
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