They are overlooked and underappreciated, yet they are effective and efficient. They have endured and evolved, and yet are ripe for improvement and innovation. They form an invaluable infrastructure for our nation’s economy, supporting countless users at any given time. Their innumerable entrances, routes, and off-ramps serve many voyagers embarked on vastly different journeys.

They are our nation’s payments systems. And like our nation’s transportation systems, their capabilities are constantly being upgraded, even as participants continue to rely on them every day. However, improving our payments systems will not be achieved without successfully confronting a myriad of challenges and obstacles along the way.

This year’s Annual Report essay focuses on these challenges and opportunities from the perspectives of various payments systems participants. As discussed in the essay, the continuing evolution of our nation’s payments vehicles is both desirable and inevitable. However, while the route taken by each transaction may be clear, the entire system’s development path is not. The travelers, through their choices, will determine the itinerary.