Cashless dreams : Time for Action & Regulation . A Primer for the CEO of Banks that Own 1LINK

A lot of talk has been on going and various claims have been made that Cashless/Mobile payments will lift the economy into its renaissance and document a lot of things that are in the grey today. All great banter, but concrete steps seem to be missing as to how the various 100 day actions or larger actions will be accomplished without focusing on the crux of the issue.

Even a betting man bets on multiple horses to diversify their odds but it seems we as a nation are focused that the Finance Minister some how; with so much other pressing items in tow, will over night wave a magic wand and things will self regulate. Had that been true, we would have had better sense prevail much sooner in the governments of the yesteryears.

Clearly we have the Central Bank, we have the Securities and Exchange Commission and we have some other players that if better sense prevails would enable by the flick of a switch(or in this case by sensible regulation or de-regulation) enable giants at our door step get into action.

On the one hand we have the likes of ANT who have already established their market lead/foresight by acquiring a Bank to get into the mobile/cashless payments race. Clearly they are giants in the space. But with all things regulatory and fit and proper tests and what not have you the time it takes from the day of the announcement to when the transaction closes, its just an engaged waltz between the investors and the investees, whilst the celebrity status seeking CEO of the carrier has spared no social media play; in the book to some how take credit for the transaction or make bold claims of when the AliPay services come to town.

It would be misguided to take these claims to be 100% on the money, most importantly because the Bank is not run by the carrier or like the carrier. The carrier commodity business, is fairly mundane and even the established folks are looking to come out on top by angling for the future. Nothing is wrong with that, they can have  Pictures with Jack Ma circulate in local and foreign media, it only helps the image of a nation struggling so hard, but clearly to those in the know or those who can see beyond the optics that the Telco doesn’t drive the destiny  of the Bank per say and the counterparts in China whilst they own the smaller 45% have this business down to a science and the real action will come from the Bank and their Chinese brethren. Every thing else is just noise.

I share the above not because I care about the optics or who is doing what, but because of the opportunity it presents. There is no way the Telco gent is over committing, he’s probably put in a buffer of sorts end of 2018 is fairly vague. Today in mid September all it takes for some one else to do this or get some interesting FDI going beyond people buying a Bank, takes very straight forward regulation that allows all the existing banks or at least the 11 or so Banks that own 1Link to be a stakeholder in the race to Cashless.

Change is coming, change is here, ANT did the industry a solid favor by going down the banking route, it made others(Banks and Telcos) uncomfortable and out priced most of the domestic competition, maybe along the way they or others buy one of the local wallet plays just for shits and giggles, but given their war chest, they could admittedly spend 2m$ and build 8X the user base in ½ the time its taken every one else. Its pure customer acquisition Math.

So here’s what worked across the border. Universal payment gateway/interconnect/interface. Its not rocket science. It exists today, it could be the rails that every one needs and wants, but no one is willing to get behind. Cant believe why with all the economists and banking evangelists and others advising the government, no one has put pen to paper on this yet.

The Banks are big and boring, they collect 10 Rs to X rupees per IBFT transaction and others, 1Link is the god send they all have that made them “Online” Meaning the shit that you don’t have to go to your own branch to bank any more. + You can transfer money via atm/web to other accounts. This gives bank additional “channel revenue” they don’t have to work hard for or perhaps never really worked for. No one wants to change a sure thing. True for the retail channel minons at the banks as well. Change has to come from the top.

But instead of every one building their own products and failing fairly miserably, to the Banks with an interest in 1LINK the best thing to do, is to call a Board meeting, invite both the regulators, the Central Bank and the SECP sit across the table and agree on a frame work to do inter bank transaction across the banks initiated by either party(Meaning Interoperable across the network). Further more have the Central Bank pass regulation to make sure this interconnect available ASAP and give 1LINK and its CEO the mandate to publish an OPEN API for any one to enable financial transactions following stringent fiduciary guidelines and KYC measures. Which BTW are fairly robust for any on with a SIM Card. SECP to make sure every one else plays ball and enabling a corporate structure that allows 1LINK to make good on said ambitions.

The Banks may loose money in the immediate short term, but as owners in the only service provider in the country that provides the rails for all future financial transactions, they would have taken the bull by the horns and made good on many fronts. 1ST would be to launch a service before the end of the year, second, sit back relax and let all the global players come in (if they don’t have the ambition to cash in on this them selves), like they did in India to use UPI and make a pretty penny when the value of 1Link grows leaps and bounds.

But first hire the requisite talent and take ownership of 1LINK across the Banks to really make it a world class institution. DO not please go out and hired a 60 some thing Banker past his prime to head 1LINK, or a box pusher or typically available talent in Pakistan, just because you are comfortable as the BANK to hire such talent even in your own roles. Do the country a service and not a dis-service, hire a professional global head hunter to recruit the talent to build these rails. There is no shame in being out of your comfort zone and asking for help.

You really want to do some thing transformative? take ownership of 1LINK buy out the other Banks if they don’t see the vision. Imagine listing the company down the road(yes further regulatory approvals will be required). Imagine the likes of Google and Whatsapp payments deciding to use these rails, you would provide the channel to them to compete against AliPay, or even allowing AliPay to strengthen its position by riding on top of these Rails. All situations point to a happy ending, only if the CEO and Boards of the banks try to understand what this means beyond building digital studios and doing asset backed loans. Where’s the fun in that?

There aren’t many sure bets in the world, this clearly looks like one. This opens the space for all the small tech/fintech startups and e-commerce companies that are forced to do COD, or those businesses that need, identity or trust issues to be managed, with 1LINK coming on side the way described above, it could be further integrated with Nadra to provide those Identity solutions as the SIM is verified today, Imagine the business applications that would be made possible if every one played ball.

The OTT services and their possibilities are endless, the Banks and their large institutional and family based shareholders must take their management teams to task and ask why no one has proposed this in any board meeting thus far? When was the last time, the Bank as a shareholder in 1LINK devised a strategy or met with the other owners to figure out whats next or have the CEO of 1LINK provide a strategic document around its API play.

Why does it take a 3rd person with admittedly very little background in Banking or Payments drag every one to discussing the possibilities?

The Banks today have this gift in the form of 1LINK, there are plenty of other quick start methods that people will bring to play and 1LINK will be made as irrelevant as it is today, if other interconnect or multi party rails come and they sure will, its just a matter of time and market need.

If the Banks don’t play ball the Central Bank should pass regulation to make the inter operably mandatory, and either Privatize 1LINK or give it to an independent Vendor or 3rd party Operator to run and manage with a clear Mandate or a new non-banking consortium that is able to buy out the shares at todays fair market value so as to not do a dis service to the population of the country, which is not even remotely touched by the foot print of all the banks combined.

The solution, what ever it may be and I am sure more financially sophisticated ones exist should be considered as long as they allow the country to unlock the value from this gift that we have and allow the startups and the youth of this country to benefit from having a level playing field where they can build out their companies and solutions and services to their hearts desire, whilst being able to exchange and transact in real time.

Here’s to hoping the Banks get their act together and appoint amongst them some one sensible enough to take the charge and similarly for the regulator to sense this opportunity and make it ever so easy for international or domestic parties to ride the rails to better financial inclusion and more transparency and larger taxation when every thing rides through documented sources of money transfer.

Last but not least, if an international player comes to bare, remember that the undocumented IT-Free lancers to the tune of XBn$ who use all kinds of un official tricks to bring in money back to Pakistan could use this and all of a sudden you’d have XBn$ of inward collections, only helping every one involved in the process being happier, richer and safer whilst appreciating our Bankers fondly.

 

“Remember when nurses, carers, teachers and students crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither.” 

― Fuad Alakbarov

 

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