03 October 2019

Mapping the Shadow Payment System

Recent years have witnessed the emergence and rapid growth of a large, diverse, and constantly evolving shadow payment system. The shadow payment platforms (SPPs) that populate this system perform many of the same core payment functions as conventional deposit-taking banks: including custody, funds transfer, and liquidity. The crucial difference is that SPPs operate outside the perimeter of bank regulation, thereby depriving customers of the deposit guarantee schemes, lender of last resort facilities, special resolution regimes, and other legal protections typically enjoyed by bank depositors.

This paper represents the first attempt to map the global shadow payment system and identify what mechanisms, if any, SPPs use to protect their customers. Examining the business models and customer contracts of over 100 SPPs, we find that it is often difficult to ascertain information essential to evaluating levels of customer protection and, where such information is available, that customers generally enjoy relatively limited structural, contractual, or other private legal protections. This puts enormous pressure on public regulatory frameworks to ensure a sufficient level of consumer protection. The research also finds that the applicable regulatory frameworks in several key jurisdictions often provide a level of protection that is far below that enjoyed by bank depositors.

These findings suggest that, at least from a consumer protection perspective, SPPs are currently not an effective substitute for bank-based payment systems.

Download the executive summary here.


by Dan Awrey, Kristin van Zwieten

  • Cornell University
  • Oxford University