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Promoted feature: Fintech in emerging markets

AstroPay's CEO Mikael Lijtenstein talks to EGR about the role of fintech in emerging markets and how it’s contributing to digital transformation and financial inclusion

Fintech, the integration of technology by financial services companies to enhance their offerings, is a rapidly growing industry. In emerging markets, user-centric fintech companies are becoming more mainstream, with users increasingly placing their trust in digital payments to meet their demands and preferences.

EGR: Please give us a brief history of AstroPay since it was founded and its USP today.

Mikael Lijtenstein (ML): AstroPay was originally established in Brazil in 2009 as a payment solution for people who didn’t use banks or were rejected by traditional financial systems. We developed a solution, the AstroPay Card, a virtual card that allowed users to load a balance and make payments online without having to share personal information. We expanded our offering to the whole of Latin America and then into Asia, Africa and Europe.

First and foremost, we are a user-centric company. We know customers want easy and painless payment journeys, and merchants want easy integration with simultaneous pay-ins and pay-outs. We are highly focussed on fraud prevention tools and cybersecurity and closely follow trends in the industry. We welcome feedback from users and pride ourselves on moving fast and being agile.

EGR: How did the Covid-19 pandemic accelerate the growth of fintech and online payments?

ML: Cashless transactions advanced all over the world. It was always inevitable but the pandemic sped it up quite rapidly. Paying with cash became difficult and the demand for an alternative spurred technological advance. We saw increases in cashless transactions, payment links and digital wallets in every market, so we rose to meet the challenge and developed our own solution, One Touch, in 2020. We also have a cryptocurrency offering.

EGR: How would you characterise the state of mobile payments in emerging markets such as Asia, Africa and Latam?  

ML: Mobile payments continue to evolve all over the world but particularly in emerging markets, where going cashless or cash-lite is more recent. Digital wallets have become increasingly popular. Take Brazil for example, the Boleto and PIX payment methods are widely used, especially by people who don’t have access to traditional financial services. Offering localised payment options, per region, per country, per market, reaches more people and encourages trust, which in turn leads to loyalty. In emerging markets there is no one-size-fits all solution.

EGR: Can you tell us about what AstroPay offers in emerging markets?

ML: As a fintech, our strategy is to be user-centric and create user-centric solutions. We focus on offering fewer steps in the payment journey and delivering frictionless experiences. It is especially important in emerging markets because there is so much variation. We solve this by having dedicated teams for different countries – a team for Brazil, Nigeria, India, etc. We want to encourage users to choose to pay via us, so we make it our business to get to know them.

EGR: What are the key lessons from operating in these parts of the world?

ML:  Know your customers. Through our dedicated teams, we learn what we can do to improve what we offer. Our teams are responsible for investigating new markets in terms of available technology and payment methods as well as general cultural habits, and we use those factors all the way through analysis to execution. We provide what users need and more critically what they want in a payment solution.

Another key lesson is to move fast as a company. The payments market is very competitive and the technology behind it is always evolving. Take cryptocurrency for example, we saw the advancements being made in crypto in recent years, so we quickly moved to investigate it and produce our own crypto offering.

EGR: How does AstroPay aid with payments in igaming and how much potential do you see in this area for the business?

ML: Igaming is a huge industry with a lot of potential. It’s a space where users’ expectations change very quickly and it’s all the more important to stay agile. Our evolutionary payment solution One Touch involves a simple integration whereby the user doesn’t need to be redirected away from the operator’s cashier. One-click checkouts are very important for online gaming as they allow the player to make transactions in a single click without disrupting their gaming experience. One Touch delivers an almost invisible user experience with minimal interaction.

EGR: What are the main challenges igaming companies face when it comes to payments?

ML: Security. Merchants want to know users trust their payment solutions and users want to trust the company dealing with their payments – all with as few steps as possible.

Security is one of our main challenges as provider. We must anticipate changes and/or issues and adapt our solutions accordingly. We have our own in-house fraud prevention tool that guarantees full security.

EGR: AstroPay has partnered with a number of high-profile football and other sports clubs. How does this help with credibility and brand awareness?

ML: We are a global company and we want to be seen in global events like the Premier League. We are thrilled teams like Crystal Palace and Newcastle United trust us to be their sponsors, and likewise Argentine tennis star Diego Schwartzman, our current global ambassador.

Partnering in this way widens our user base. We currently have more than five million users but having our brand visible in high-profile events means we are seen everywhere in the world. People recognise us and associate us with trust. This sort of exposure can mean the difference between a user choosing us over another payment provider.

EGR: What fintech trends do you see developing in emerging markets?

ML:  We already see the growth of QR code payments, mobile payment and payment links and this will increase in emerging markets for sure. The trend is set for faster and simpler yet secure payment routes.

EGR: Do you have any predictions for the future of fintech payments and what’s next for AstroPay?

 ML: Fintech is here to stay. Every day, new niche markets crop up with different users that have different needs. The entire process begins and ends with what the users want and technology is part of the evolution. New and different technologies will continue to be applied to payments such as voice, fingerprint and face recognition.

We are currently focusing on our crypto offering as well as working on payment links to meet the needs of new markets we’re entering. We are also focusing on our launch in Europe. Our passion is to always be thinking about what we can improve upon and bring innovation to the fintech payments sector.

Mikael Lijtenstein is the CEO of AstroPay, a pioneering payment solution for consumers making online purchases on international sites. Before becoming CEO in November 2019, he was AstroPay’s chief operating officer, responsible for sales and operations, product development and innovation across multiple markets including Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Lijtenstein has considerable technical expertise and experience in providing cross-border payments and connecting global merchants to emerging markets.

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