Point Fortin goes cashless

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Above: Aldwyn Wayne demonstrates the WiPay terminal on Tuesday. Photographs by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1232 for January 16, 2020

Aldwyn Wayne took a deep breath as he began his remarks at the auditorium of the Point Fortin Municipal Corporation. 

Wayne’s speeches are usually driven by a barrel-chested bluster that he’s made his signature, but for a moment, he was just a Point boy again. 

“I wasn’t on the programme, I was in Las Vegas, but I was feeling this one,” he said quietly. 

“I’m just glad it is in Point Fortin. This is home.”

Wayne cut short his annual attendance at CES and flew to TT to be at the launch of the pilot project to introduce cashless transactions in Point Fortin on Tuesday this week.

The Cashless City pilot project is a collaboration between WiPay, the TT International Finance Centre (TTIFC) and the Municipal Corporation.

The Wayne name has been part of business in Point Fortin for decades as the elder Wayne worked his way up a ladder of equipment repairs, from oilfield equipment to electronics.

Now, his son is back to fix business in Trinidad and Tobago and it meant a lot to him to start this phase  in his heartland.

It’s a bit of a stretch to describe Point Fortin as a city, but there’s no denying the growth of the town over the last three decades. 

Mayor Kennedy Kendel Richards Jr.

Directly opposite the corporation’s headquarters on George Street a massive sports stand is under construction at Mahaica Oval, the huge white girders brilliant in the sunshine.

In the 1970’s, it was the two roundabouts on the Southern Main Road that slowed traffic down enough to bring in business that didn’t come from the oil businesses that bordered the town. 

Navigating the town is considerably more challenging now. One of the roundabouts is blocked, and businesses have begun to spread into the small side streets threading off the Southern Main Road. 

Along those streets are vendors that Wayne wants to move from dollars to bits.

Sharing that vision is the town’s new mayor, His Worship Kennedy Kendel Richards Jr and the TTIFC’s CEO, Omar Sultan Khan. 

The first spark for Wayne was the murder of 30-year-old Daniel Vasquez, a Venezuelan man who was shot dead while waiting for his gyro to be prepared in September 2019. 

Point Fortin, Wayne always believed, was safe. Moving cash out of the system he believes, will reduce robbery as a motivation for crime.

The appointment of Jack as Mayor in December 2019, a childhood friend who was talking about using technology to build a digital municipality, added more sparks. 

Wayne had cashless terminals, Richards was keen to get started and the TTIFC was looking for sites to launch a pilot project, part of its National Cashless Society research project.

The whole initiative came together on a WhatsApp group.

The TTIFC had worked with TT Rideshare on cashless transactions and will do more work on implementing the concept this Carnival.

“Our goal is a Cashless Carnival,” said Khan, “one in which visitors can access goods and services without having to use money.”

TTIFC CEO Omar Sultan Khan.

“This initiative will become the bedrock for those looking to the FINTECH horizon, as we believe insights gained from the study will provide proof points for future FINTECH entrepreneurship.”

Khan then invited the corporation to “send a representative to sit on the Interim Management Committee.”

That, he believed, would signal to other municipal corporations the need to start thinking about digitally-driven institutional change.

For Richards, an experience as a teenager taught him that money wasn’t cash. 

“I rode a bicycle to school and there was one time when I had no cash, but I had my card and I could feed myself.”

WiPay will deliver 50 more terminals next week and plans to deploy 100 in total in Point Fortin at no charge.

The project began with four terminals and the first was put to use at the corporation. Three were deployed at what Richards described as “up and coming businesses with a good clientele.” 

WiPay will deliver 50 more terminals next week and plans to deploy 100 in total in Point Fortin at no charge. The pilot project targets small and micro-businesses and PWC will verify volume and value of transactions driven by the project.

Another 100 terminals will be deployed at another test city in a similar exercise. Wayne declined to name the city. 

The corporation will select the businesses and vendors. Participants must have a bank account to use the terminal. 

WiPay’s wireless terminals use SIM cards and accept payments from InfoLink (Linx) and credit cards. 

Payments on the service will attract a three percent transaction fee drawn from the customer’s account. After the yearlong pilot, it will be up to each terminal operator to decide whether to absorb the charge or to pass it on to the customer. 

The corporation’s IT lead, Joel Jack, will be the first point of contact for vendors experiencing hiccups or needing a briefing on using the devices. 

WiPay will back up that support system but really wants small businesses to experience the advantages of digital transactions. 

The company wants to demonstrate how easily it can pour digital transactions into an accounting system, eliminate lengthy financial reconciliation and free vendors to think both more adventurously and more digitally about the business backoffice.

“It will be a beacon of change for the rest of the country,” Wayne said. 

“This is the corner where we are making the turn.”

Salisha Corbie and Valerie Weekes with the WiPay terminals they received.