Originally published in the Business Guardian on February 13, 2014.
Eddy Devisse is enthusiastic. But he’s also wary.
We’re in a spacious and mostly empty room at Infotech Caribbean to discuss the company’s new mobile payment system, Yooz and he’s got more to tell than he should.
Devisse, the General Manager of Resonance Caribbean has a lot to say about the new system, but he’s got so much more coming down the pipeline riding on the infrastructure that he actually stops himself mid-sentence more than once to say that he shouldn’t be talking about one feature or another yet.
Resonance began operations in 2006 handling top-up distribution via non-banking point of sale (POS) terminals.
In 2007 they became the first provider of mobile point of sale terminals to the banking industry.
It was the right product at the right time, and the company had its entry point into the ticklish relationship between the conservative banking sector and an even more skittish merchant community.
The company now claims a network of 2,500 merchants and 250,000 consumers that make use of their servers to manage purely electronic transactions.
Which brings us to Yooz, which began life as a straightforward way of using text based short codes to top up your phone from a preset bank account.
Yooz uses Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) short codes, a feature of GSM phones which maintains a live, two-way connection between the company’s servers for the duration of the transaction.
If you’re receiving Facebook or Twitter updates on a phone that doesn’t have a data plan, chances are its making the connection for those notifications using USSD.
Resonance holds second place in the local top-up market after entering the competitive space late and began using the standard voucher system.
Two years ago they began innovating in the space with Yooz top-up, their first USSD product.
The company developed an existing platform working with partners in the US, India and South America.
In 2011, the company won an Excellence In Service Award from the TTCSI and in 2013 took home an award for Best Use of Innovation in Services.
Building on the top-up concept allowed Yooz to expand the market. The banking sector had become comfortable with the payment system, merchants owned the terminals and it was time to build on the infrastructure.
The next step for the company was launched three weeks ago with a USSD based payment system that allows users already signed up for the system or Republic bank customers to make bill payments to Flow and Digicel. TSTT, T&TEC and WASA are in talks to take part in the project soon.
Other services to be offered on the Yooz network include a digital wallet and basic banking transactions.
USSD is a live, secure system that links the phone’s SIM card to Resonance’s server and requires only a start code to open the connection. It’s straightforward, accessible on any phone and only requires a potential user to sign up at any of 55 locations, which include any Republic Bank branch, any Flow payment location and any of ten Digicel outlets.
“The global success story with mobile payments has been with top-ups,” says Lorcan Camps, CEO and marketing lead of Resonance, “because most people have a me-too phone.”
To meet that baseline technology requirement, Yooz is both phone and platform agnostic. An app for smartphones is planned for release during 2014, but it really just puts an attractive user interface on a character driven technology.
Resonance hopes to position Yooz as the electronic alternative to cash for transactions like buying cinema tickets or person to person payments, but Camps acknowledges that for most casual in-person payments, cash will still trump a system that calls for a bit of fiddling with a phone.
It’s in remote transactions, paying for something that’s being arranged over the phone or sending money to someone at an uncomfortable distance that Resonance hopes Yooz will find popularity.
Even the name of the service, a trenchantly hip corruption of “use” seems to be hoping to position the word in local street parlance, perhaps inviting people using the service to urge friends to “Yooz me.”
It isn’t hard to think of a social organiser running low on minutes while organising a lime or a buddy hitting up a friend for a small loan at a bar using the term as a cooler substitute for the far more clinical “send me some money please.”
“We want to reach the unbanked,” explains Camps. People who don’t have a credit card or debit card and tend to do most of their transactions in cash.
To achieve more of their goals, the company is working on improving and extending their existing relationship with banks and even considering discussions with the Central Bank.
If it can push Yooz to the next level with the cooperation of the local financial sector, a notably risk averse community, it hopes to extend its capabilities to business to business transactions.
Camps, who is also CEO of Infotech, estimates that there’s $100 million in cash moving around the country on delivery trucks and most of them are delivering goods to shopkeepers based on how much cash they have in the till to pay for restocking.
“Imagine if a shopkeeper can check his bank balance, even request a credit extension with a few commands and buy goods with Yooz based on his business needs instead of his cash on hand,” he says.
The technology is also country agnostic. Resonance plans a roll out of its service in Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana in short order and its next step is to bring more customer engagement to its business users.
The company already has a range of loyalty cards deployed among some of its higher end business customers but doesn’t see the service as something that’s reserved for the credit card carrying elite.
“There’s no reason even the smallest business shouldn’t have an electronic relationship with its customers, using polls and loyalty cards to build its brand,” says Eddy Devisse.