Next generation finance

Above: Rabindra Jaggernauth, Zak Rahaman, Glynis Alexander-Tam, Shernon Osepa and Aldwyn Wayne, panelists at the TTIGF discussion. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Published in NewsdayTT’s Business Day on February 01, 2018

At the second Internet Governance Forum in TT, the theme Shape your Digital Future was brought into focus in three discussions, on Digital Financial Services, Online Gender Activism and the Blockchain at the Chamber of Commerce in Westmoorings last week (Livestream recording here).

Hosted by the TT Multistakeholder Advisory Group (TTMAG), a membership organisation of Internet stakeholders, inclusive of civil society, academia, business, technical and government, the discussions on finance, in particular , explored trends that will shape the immediate and medium term nature of business in Trinidad and Tobago.

The digital finance forum spoke directly to practical experiences with electronic transactions from a range of practitioners, including young entrants on the business end, Zak Rahaman of Forward Multimedia and Aldwyn Wayne of WiPay.

Governance perspectives were represented by Shernon Osepa, Regional Affairs manager of the Internet Society (ISOC) and Glynis Alexander-Tam, GM of InfoLink Services, which manages the Linx system. The session was moderated by IT veteran Rabindra Jaggernauth.

Alexander-Tam established the robustness of the existing electronic transactions network by noting that the Linx system serves more than 8,000 merchants and registers 40 million transactions a year.

“If we can substantially increase electronic transactions,” she said, “we can increase GDP by up to four percent.”

“My competition is not credit cards; it is cash. The key thing is to get cash out of the system. There are significant costs to handling cash. Securing it is expensive, handling it is expensive. We need to make electronic transactions more pervasive.”

In support of that, the Linx boss was unwavering in her support for the recent and unpopular push by RBC to encourage online transactions and discourage in-bank presence.

Rahaman recalled the bad old days of 2011 when he started his business and created his first integration for electronic payments.

“It was with First Atlantic Commerce on the Magento platform and cost US$1,800,” he said, with no trace of nostalgia.

“People want a website that looks and works like Amazon,” the web developer explained.

“There are no roadblocks anymore, there are payment gateways available, there is no reason why online payment systems should not be implemented. With 200,000 credit cards in use, we need to bring more people into electronic transaction networks.”

That proved to be the motivation for Aldwyn Wayne’s work with WiPay, a local digital payment platform.

“I studied abroad and every time I came back home I’d wonder why we weren’t doing things digitally,” Wayne said. 

“We allowed people to digitise their cash. Eighty-five percent of the public is using cash, and we decided to work with the metaphor of phone credit, the most pervasive way that people turn their cash into digital value. This is inclusion for everyone.”

The challenge that WiPay faces isn’t very different from the one that the Linx GM has been working with for decades.

“How do we get a society that is centred on cash payments into a digital space?” Wayne wondered aloud.

Building trust in something new is difficult. 

“We are building faster transaction processing and interfacing with legacy banking systems to build assurance with the process. We’ve also found that it’s best to partner with established and familiar systems and brands.”

Fraud is also a major factor in the movement to electronic transactions.

“We can’t get ahead of the fraudsters,” Alexander-Tam said, “we can only try to keep up.”

Rabindra Jaggernauth was the devil’s advocate to the youthful enthusiasms of Rahaman and Wayne.

“Despite significant [digital adoption and advancement] gains between 2000 and 2008, progress by the government seems to have hit a plateau,” Jaggernauth said.

“Government agencies that don’t accept card based transactions have to change. If they looked at what the market is demanding, the approach would change dramatically. There are stumbling blocks, but they can be managed if there is the will to begin.”

“If you enable online services, you are in a position to collect taxes and payments more quickly and efficiently. We can do this in TT, there should be no need to dumb down after using these services abroad when you return home.”

[Edited to clarify the membership of TTMAG, February 07, 2018]