teaser1APCA's 20th AGM has just taken place, and this round number has prompted us all to engage in some historical reflection. In so far as the past is a guide to the future, there is a lot in APCA's history to show that 'coopetition' – self-regulatory cooperation amongst competitors to enhance the system and marketplace they share – can deliver over the long term. I don't think I can improve on the words of our deputy chair, David Heine, who officiated at this year's AGM. Here they are:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the 20th Annual General Meeting of the Australian Payments Clearing Association Limited.

It is customary for the Chair to commence proceedings by saying something about the year just past, and perhaps some themes for the coming year. But as this is the 20th time the members of APCA have assembled to consider the progress of their Association, it seems appropriate to take a longer focus – to reflect on how much APCA's members have achieved in nearly 20 years, as a context for how much more might be done.

APCA was incorporated on 18 February 1992, but traces its history back through an earlier 'reform of the clearing system steering committee' established by the Reserve Bank to a 1988 task force set up by the Australian Bankers' Association to integrate separate clearing arrangements for different instruments and institutions. So although we will be celebrating APCA's 20th birthday next February, successful self-regulation of Australian payments has an even longer history.

APCA's first Annual Report in 1992 characterised the company's role as 'to oversee and reform payments clearing processes in Australia.' This reflects the operational priorities of the time, when paper instruments were 75% of Australian clearing values, electronic direct entry less than 5%, automated high value clearing still a work in progress and comprehensive unified rules for all payments clearing just a very good idea. Yet it is possible to discern in this original objective the seed of APCA's mission as it stands today: to improve the safety, reliability, equity, convenience and efficiency of the Australian payments system. The one has clearly grown out of the other.

A distinctive characteristic of the Australian payments system by global standards is gradual, evolutionary and decentralised change. Our payments system has historically relied less on big central processing and lock-step reform than many overseas counterparts. Sometimes, this leads commentators to the perception that things don't change, or don't change fast enough. But looking back over APCA's lifetime shows that gradual evolution can still deliver profound transformation.

Most of us know the headlines of Australian payments over the last 20 years:

But behind the headlines, the human interest stories are more informative. What matters is how well-served Australians are by their payments system. Consider these examples:

All these developments were competitive and market driven, rather than through centralised development. Yet industry bodies like APCA have a critical role to play. They provide:

The Reserve Bank's Innovation Review is generating debate not only about whether there is 'enough' innovation, but also about whether the structures we have can deliver the innovation we will need in the future. This is as it should be – we cannot be complacent. But at this, our 20th meeting, I want to suggest that our payments system has a history to be proud of, and that the role I have described for industry associations like APCA remains just as critical as it ever was. It is pleasing to note that in its 20th year, APCA is attracting more new members than ever, and continuing to expand its activities. Let us hope we can say the same in another 20 years.

It remains to make the traditional, but nevertheless sincere, thank-yous:

On a personal note, let me acknowledge the privilege I enjoy as a director on your board. Your board has experience in spades, notably Paul Inglis who dates his directorship from 1998. But it also had fresh blood, with the appointment of Tim Buckett, David Jay and John Murphy only this year. We value and need all these perspectives.

Thank-you all.


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