Book review “The Pay Off: How Changing the Way We Pay Changes Everything”


I usually do favorable reviews of book because I don’t write about the bad ones. However this book is even exceptional among the many very good books I have written about.

There are some books that give you a new idea and/or explain something that I could never explain myself. This book created so many “Aha “moments for me that I am not sure if I have gained the same amount of new knowledge from any other book in the recent years.

The main author Gottfried Leibbrandt has been working for and CEO of the SWIFT payment system for many years. Here is an interesting recent interview with him and his Co-Author about the books and payments and a shorter one here.

The book claims to be “only” about payments, but in order to understand payments, one needs to understand what money actually is and what banks are doing within the payment system. 

To my knowledge, this is the first book that I have seen that really describes the underlying “plumbing” of the payment systems and this in an extremely accessible way. He uses very easy examples to explain the functions of the main players (Banks, Credit Card companies, Fintechs, Crypto etc.).

A few of the “Aha moments” on my side were:

  1. the important role of bank liquidity in payments (no liquidity, no payments, this will also be the major challenge for Crypto)
  2. the strategic role of payments in a society (no payments, no society)
  3. so it is not such a surprise that China seems to try to dully control payments these days (Ant/Alipay, Crypto ban)
  4. the role of correspondent banks in international payments (money doesn’t actually move across borders)
  5. the quick adoption of electronic payments in China and India (China executing the most digital payments globally now, electronic payment in India growing like crazy)
  6. The outsized impact of “secondary sanctions” from the US Government on the global banking system due to the dominance of the US Dollar
  7. The profit pool of the Payment industry is gigantic, especially because of the persistently high fees on Credit Cards
  8. however banks are less and less able to tap into it in contrast to less regulated Fintechs which helps to explain the difference in valuation between banks and payment companies
  9. Especially in Europe, where the payment system allows for much lower fees, banks are struggling because of this
  10. There is a risk for banks to be forced to become fully regulated (and super boring) “payment utilities”
  11. In recent years, competition by Fintechs have pushed the traditional payment systems to innovate, for instance moving from one payment cycle per year to more or less instant payments
  12. even for a payment expert like Leibbrandt it seems impossible to predict the future for this field as things are moving so quickly 
  13. Money laundering is a big global issue and Crypto these days is clearly the Wild West of payments. Leibbrandt estimates that more than 50% of Crypto flows are money laundering or other illegal activities

Interestingly, Leibbrandt is not a big fan of 100% non-cash digital payments as he thinks that this would shut out certain groups form society. Another good point is that it might be a lot more difficult to teach kids about money and hwo to use it wisely without real cash.

Who should read this book ?

In my opinion anyone who is interested in Money, Crypto, Banks, Financial services, investing and society as a whole.

I have been always looking for an easy accessible but comprehensive book about payments and this is exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t written 10 years earlier.

In summary I highly recommend this book. I guess that most of my readers would gain something from this book and is actually quite easy to read, although it took me some time to read it because there is so much new information in it.

And no, I don’t get anything for writing this post, not even a free copy of the book 😉



  • Just reading the book at your recommendation. It is as great as you promised, big thanks.

  • Interestingly, my library had this on offer. Very odd for a new book. Thanks. I hope, I can read this through on time.

  • Hi, would highly appreciate if you could also comment regulalrly on the books you read that you dislike and would not recommend to others, might be even more valuable piece of advice than the recommendations.

  • Great recommendation, I will try to read it as soon as possible as its highly relevant for one my top holdings PAX Global which is one of the worlds leading payment terminal (POS) companies. And thank you for linking to my blog again! 🙂

  • Many thanks for the recommendation. I can recommend ‘Cashless’ by Richard Turrin, newly released book about the advent of China’s digital currency. Also, Marc Rubinstein’s weekly email Netinterest covers all topic financial and is excellent. He has covered payments in several issues.

  • Was there any discussion about the new ‘Buy now pay later” companies and what impact they might have ? I heard or read something recently that suggested these companies also know what you are buying i.e. the SKU which is something that master card or visa don’t know

    • Yes, Klarna and Co. are mentioned as well. Not too deep but one gets the idea.

    • @Christian: When you use Klarna as payment method in an e-commerce shop, Klarna receives the full cart (product id, image, name, price) and total price. This is later displayed to the user in the Klarna App/Web page, so that the user knows for what products they’re paying. If you re-use the same e-mail address across purchases, you will have a single home for all your purchases in Klarna. So a convenience feature for the customer became a giant data hub for Klarna.

      • When you pay with Klarna, you should never ever pay to late. They add directly 70 Eur lste paying fees to the bilm.

        • How is this even legal to have 70€ as fixed sum? After 30d you pay +5% yearly rate over the Basiszins and there are three levels of fees for the payment notices.

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