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Intro to Payments Reading List

So here it is: the top ten. It’s a subset of our full list of readings that’s focused on payments specifically. 

Rachel PikeCOO

When I was hired at Modern Treasury, I asked Dimitri for a list of things to read. Payment operations was a new area for me and I wanted to come prepared when I started a few weeks later. He emailed me with this opening line:

CCing Matt and Sam because we have Slacked these around but never put them in one place… here’s to the start of the MT bookshelf!

That was the beginning. As we’ve grown our team, launched this blog, and learned from our customers, we’ve compiled a list of over thirty primers that cover various topics in payments, finance, accounting, and fintech. It’s organically grown and keeps growing, and we share the list with everyone who joins our team.

In the last few months I have been asked numerous times by friends outside of Modern Treasury what to read to get up to speed on payments. After copying and pasting a bunch of times, I thought it would be faster just to publish the list. So here it is: the top ten. It’s a subset of our full list of readings focused specifically on payments.


  • A Piece of the Action by Joe Nocera. This easy read describes the history of financial innovation in the US through the big names of the last 50 years, such as Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and Visa.
  • Payment Systems in the US by Glenbrook. This is the “bible” of payments: a textbook overview of how wires, ACH, checks, and credit cards work and the pros and cons of each. In fact, we love this book so much we had the author join us for a coffee break last month.

Podcasts and Videos

  • The Invisible Plumbing of Our Economy by Planet Money. This episode describes how money actually moves through the ACH system using the illustrative example of trying to get money deposited after a Kickstarter campaign.
  • The Cost of Getting Your Money Back by Planet Money. This episode describes the returns process for ACH payments through the experience of trying to revoke an accidental Venmo payment.
  • Overview of Credit Cards by Khan Academy. We aren’t specialists in the credit rails, but we do expect everyone at Modern Treasury to have a working understanding. This video gives a clear overview and the visuals help explain how the money flows.

Blog Posts and Articles

  • How ACH Works: A Developer’s Perspective by Gusto engineering. A four-part blog series about the technical aspects of ACH money movement and the difficulty of integrating to your corporate bank.
  • Why are we all paying a tax to credit card companies? By Ryan Cooper at The Week. Ignore the provocative title, because the article is really about the history of the six pillars of the American payments system (cash, checks, credit cards, debit cards, wires, and ACH).
  • Real-Time Payments FAQ Page by The Clearing House. It’s hard to get basic information about the new Real-Time Payments network, so we’ve found the best thing is to go the source. This FAQ page is targeted at financial institutions, but it has a bunch of helpful overview information.
  • B2B Payments Tipping Point by Mastercard and PYMNTS. Despite being a couple years old, this report gives a good overview of the key pain points in B2B payments. It is especially helpful if you have mostly thought about payments from a consumer perspective.
  • Last but not least, I couldn’t write this without mentioning our blog, the Modern Treasury Journal. One of the reasons we decided to launch the Journal is that getting up to speed on payments is not straightforward. Our Payments Primers section in particular has a good set of getting started content.

If you have favorites that we’re missing, send us a note. We always want more on our bookshelf.

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