Behind the scenes in e-Payments, TT

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Above: Lorenzo Hodges, moderator, Aldwyn Wayne and Ian Alleyne answering questions at the Graduate Business School. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1189 for March 21, 2019

“If you know someone who is interested in moving out of that firefighting mode and to embrace a more strategic position, please let them know,” Faheem Mohammed, Programme Director of the Master of Information Systems and Technology Management at the Graduate School of Business said.

“We savour that real time practical transfer of skills.”

Mohammed  was quietly selling the degree course at start of a discussion on digital payment systems.

He couldn’t have been more prophetic.

Formally, the event offered perspectives on the local payment industry as seen through the experiences of Aldwyn Wayne, CEO of WiPay and Ian T Alleyne, founder and director of Paywise.

Paywise has been in business since 2013, facilitating the electronic transfer of cash using the National Lotteries’ (NLCB) payment system. WiPay arrived three years later, with a much broader mandate to facilitate e-payments in a local ecommerce landscape that was struggling with the concept.

They aren’t the only players in the space, but they were the ones on the stage at the Yara Auditorium last week telling their stories and responding to questions.

The two men couldn’t be more different, their challenges similar, but their responses mapped divergent courses and outcomes.

Alleyne came from a traditional finance background, spending nine years in IT at Royal Bank, working with the Development Finance company after taking his MBA then striking out with his own business.

He hit the stumbling block that all digitally enabled businesses must hurdle, accepting payments online and started his own network to solve the problem.

Alleyne rolled the nascent Paywise into the finance network that underpins NLCB, a service run by International Gaming Technology, the successor company to GTECH.

Ian Alleyne, founder and Director of Paywise.

NLCB’s advantage is an established network of 900 agents nationwide.

“Money is the business of trust, we won that trust through consistency, reliability and responsiveness,” Alleyne said.

“It took us a while to build that trust. If you don’t have that, all the marketing in the world won’t work.”

According to Alleyne, 65 percent of their business is from small businesses, the majority of those run by women.

Last week, Paywise notified its clients that “From April 3, 2019, NLCB agents will no longer accept Paywise payments.”

The company has since announced plans to rebuild their agent network.

Aldwyn Wayne offered a different take on tackling the payment problem.

Fresh from university and seeing his school friends head off to Silicon Valley, he instead came home to find a financial landscape he felt he could improve.

He didn’t go along to get along, preferring instead to confront assumptions and patterns by establishing WiPay and answering questions later.

“We must regulate sensibly, because innovators must be able to operate in a space in which the rules are clear enough and the space in which they operate is defined enough so that their success or failure can be clearly attributed to their business model.”

Ian T Alleyne

“There was a point when we had a Central Bank meeting every Wednesday,” Wayne recalled as he boldly strode across the stage with an undeniable swagger.

“You have to understand the law, understand the regulator. We were threatened regularly with shutdowns, but now we have a good relationship with the Central Bank.”

“We started on the credit card side to facilitate online payments and then discovered that people didn’t have credit cards so we had to figure out how to onboard all those people without the financial instrument.”

Like Paywise, WiPay established a relationship with the NLCB using a system inspired by phone company top-up slips.

WiPay needed to find an inflection point, somewhere to plant a lever to make a decisive change and got it when they beat four banks to build the CourtPay system for the Judiciary.

The company built it for $70,000. It clearly cost more, but it became the point of order in establishing WiPay’s place at the table.

Wayne is proud of the fact that his company got a mention from AG Faris Al-Wari in Parliament for CourtPay’s resilience. So much so that he found the clip on his phone and played it into his lavalier microphone.

“You cannot lead with regulations; you have to lead with innovation.”

Aldwyn wayne

Looking at the two men on the stage, Alleyne with an air of reserve and experience, Wayne with his kick-een the door brashness and indelicate bluster, it’s easy to see how the WiPay founder might have bundled the collective panties of traditional financiers into a tightly wound bunch.

“We needed to find a way into the government to demonstrate our capacity,” Wayne said.

CourtPay has enjoyed a first-year run of success, with no participants missing a scheduled maintenance payment. That helped WiPay to turn a critical corner in the local financial sector, winning other Ministries and a different relationship with the Central Bank.

Their surprise scoring of the project also made banks pay attention to what they were doing.

“We chose to understand. If we choose to be in this space, then 99 percent of the time, the answer will be no.” 

“The banks that are my partners now shut down WiPay’s account within a week.”

“The people who regulate in the space are risk averse. We needed to take the time to explain that this isn’t going to cause us to be derisked or blacklisted.”

Aldwyn Wayne, CEO of WiPay.

“You cannot lead with regulations; you have to lead with innovation.”

“We must regulate sensibly,” Ian Alleyne said, “because innovators must be able to operate in a space in which the rules are clear enough and the space in which they operate is defined enough so that their success or failure can be clearly attributed to their business model and not to an excess or lack of regulations in the environment.”

WiPay isn’t worried about IGT’s skittishness regarding local payment solutions.

“We have a relationship with NLCB,” Wayne said, “not with IGT.”

WiPay has always run its own network and is now taking that a step further with its own wireless payment terminals, designed locally and built in China, which it will deploy in NLCB’s network kiosks alongside the IGT terminals.

From there, it plans to deliver terminals to businesses at a planned cost of nothing, taking returns on the service fee it will take off each transaction.

“I am not a bank,” Wayne said, “I am Fintech.”

The new terminals will be able to do direct debit as well as direct credit, and can reach directly into accounts that are authorised as a resource.

If Wayne was excited for his audience to hear the AG talk, he’s absolutely giddy over a piece of paper he shows anyone who visits his Woodbrook office.

“We have the first non-objection letter from the Central Bank to deliver a terminal system in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said, “I show it to everyone.”

The audience at the Arthur Lok Jak Business School. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.