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Organising payments industry is ‘like herding cats’

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A revolution is underway in the global payments infrastructure and that makes it a necessity to re-design systems to keep up with the “payments Joneses”

According Chris Hamilton, new chief executive officer of BankservAfrica, speaking at the recent Payments Association of South Africa (PASA) International Payments Conference 2016, discussions about payments infrastructure design are like discussions about plumbing and sewerage: “We all really need it but we don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it.”

He described streamlining the payments industry as being “like herding cats”.

Hamkilton was chief executive of the Australian Payments Clearing Association Limited (APCA) for the past 10 years, allowing him insight into the approaches of different markets when redesigning payments to keep up with the demands of business and consumers.

“As an industry, we need to find a way to talk about this needed, fundamental change and do so systematically. System design doesn’t happen by itself, it needs intense collaboration.”

“To meet the future payment needs of our community and our economy, payments businesses need to approach payment system modernisation empirically, inclusively, holistically but above all collaboratively. The design process really matters.”

Payments systems vary between and even within countries. They are complex, and serve different agendas and business needs. One only has to look at the variation from PayPal to Bitcoin, Visa to Mastercard; and the range of secure options offered by individual banks.

Given the complexity, infrastructure redesign is costly, complicated and highly contentious, and thus only takes place every 20 or 30 years.

“The time for a new South African design, however, is now,” says Hamilton. “Otherwise, the SA economy will not have the basic plumbing it needs for the future. The world is undertaking a step-change in national payments infrastructure, from overnight batch with basic data to real-time, data-rich, flexible and layered. South Africa must join the trend, or be left behind.

“In doing this, all the hard questions are not technological, they are social and political.  What will our users and our economy need in 10 years’ time?  How do we resolve all the competing business and political agendas to make sure they get it?  What is the role of the national regulator?  There is much to learn from mistakes and successes overseas.”

Hamilton talked the delegates through various global “adventures in international payments modernisation, looking at what the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States of America have done towards renewing their payments infrastructure.

The results, he says, show the intricacies and difficulty in getting all parties – and agendas – synchronised.

“Since time immemorial, we have been expecting our customers to adapt the way they pay to our available ‘set of rails’. So if you want to buy something at the shop, you get out your card; if a business wants to pay a supplier, it must do so by scheduling a payment with its bank or, heaven forbid, write out a cheque the supplier must then present to another bank. There is nothing wrong with this; it is just the way the world looks right now. But will this do for the digital economy of the future where other aspects of our lives are fully online, real time and automated?

“We need to start thinking creatively now because new systems take a very long time to develop – at a minimum five years. This is not because of the technology; it’s because of all the competing business and policy interests. We must work out how our payment system is going to be used in 10 years’ time.”

This approach calls for a rigorous, inclusive process. The USA – the world’s largest and complex payment market – is the least designed because it is just too big. There are 13 000 payment institutions with millions of interested parties.

“The Federal Reserve Bank has taken on the job of trying to rationalise the USA’s payment system. They have in the last two years published their own consultation papers and received thousands of responses. They put together a task force of 300 people – made up of consumer and business representatives, service providers, consultants, and banks – to have a massive, industry-wide discussion happening in a public way.”

Australia’s New Payments Platform (NPP) felt like an overnight success because, in 2013, the Central Bank came out with a strategic review that compelled the industry to build a real-time payment system, he said. But the industry had already done most of the thinking work, starting in 2008. So the payments community was able to put together a well-designed proposal very quickly.

“So in 6 months we actually put together a community of bankers and published a proposal for a real time payment system which became the new payments platform.

“My view of the world is that, there is no substitute for the industry players doing it themselves, together. I’m accustomed to hearing, over my 15 year career in this game, banks saying: ‘We don’t like to work with other banks because it’s too high risk and never works.’ Yes it is high risk, but also high return. Co-created networks are always better than government-built networks or compliance-driven outcomes.  Only the participants know how the whole thing really works.”

The base of good payment systems is empirical research that is “inquisitive, inclusive, and intentional,” plus gets business to lead.

“Streamlining the payments industry is still like herding cats. But a business-led process can be powerful and galvanising. It can also radically reduce the cost base, while revolutionising the industry.”

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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