Mobile Payments

How Quisk ‘Digitizes Cash’ To Innovate Mobile Money

Nearly one year ago, MPD CEO Karen Webster spoke at Innovation Project 2015 about how mobile was disrupting the payments industry — and why the industry wasn’t looking back.

“More than any other, mobile is the ecosystem that has given rise to the sea-change taking place in payments today,” Webster said to a crowd of innovators at the event.

“The mobile devices that are owned by nearly every single human being on this planet, and never far from their reach — are part of an ecosystem operated by some of the most powerful players in the world. And, now, among the biggest names in payments. … Mobile has transformed virtually every industry it touches — and the payments industry is at the forefront of it all. Offline and online worlds have become one, and mobile is leading the way consumers live their lives and conduct business.”

Everyone who is anything in payments knows mobile is in, and everything else is eventually worth leaving in the dust. At least for now. As we all know, payments, mobile and technology are moving fast — and those who aren’t willing to keep up risk falling off the map of who’s relevant and who’s not.

One player who has just started making its name heard in the international world of mobile money is Quisk, a company that digitizes cash by providing a digital services and transaction processing platform for integrated mobile payments and marketing. Quisk partners with financial institutions and organizations to enable anyone to use their money without needing cash or cards.

Or as the company phrases it: “Quisk is your money from your bank. Without the cash. Without the cards. Without the wallet.”

But how does Quisk fit into the overall mobile payments ecosystem, how is its solution innovating the crowded mobile space, and how is it vying to get noticed in the very crowded room of digital payment players? To learn the answers to those questions, PYMNTS spoke with its CEO, Steve Novak.

Here’s what we learned.

PYMNTS: Let’s start out with catching up on what’s going on with Quisk. Tell us a bit about the company and its vision.

SN: Our vision is to create a new payment type. We call it digital cash, or digitized cash. And what we have built is an extremely efficient, next- generation electronic debit platform that we connect to the back end of core banking platforms and to merchant acquirer’s POS terminal networks.   A bank can issue a Quisk account just as they might be an issue a Visa or MasterCard account. But with Quisk, the consumer is paying with cash—digital cash—instead of credit.

PYMNTS: What does that entail? What does the Quisk solution enable?

SN: A customer’s Quisk account is accessed through the use of their mobile phone number, and PIN., We  enable what we call “Mobile Money 2.0,” a bank-centric, multi-issuer, open loop, interoperable system supporting 15 different transaction types and variants. “Mobile Money 1.0” systems, of which there are approximately 275 up and running in 90 different countries around the globe.  These systems typically support only 4-6 transactions types, are all mobile network operator centric rather than bank centric, and typically are closed-loop systems. And more than half of these are in Sub Saharan Africa — with m-Pesa being the poster child for such first generation systems.

PYMNTS: What’s the latest news for Quisk, in terms of lining up financial institutions to support the platform?

SN: We are currently just completing our first pilot with the largest indigenous bank in Jamaica, which also happens to be the largest merchant acquirer on the island. We have four other Jamaican financial institutions lined up behind it to also be issuers.  By the end of April, if not sooner, we hope to be live in Jamaica, after final sign-off on our system by the Jamaican central bank.

We announced in late December of 2015, that we have been chosen as the strategic partner by Dubai Smart Government Establishment (an agency of the Dubai government) to be their digital payment type, as they strive to be the smart city in the 21st century. There is a major initiative to be “the” smart city, and Dubai is probably ahead of most others. This is a tremendous endorsement that shocked everybody. We are in the process of signing a number of agreements with prospective issuers and acquirers in the UAE. .

PYMNTS: What does Quisk’s mobile cash future look like?

SN: Our real-time digital payment type does a direct debit to the account holder’s bank account. Among the different types of transactions that we support, is the use of the Quisk payment type on a merchant’s website for eCommerce. That’s significant, because in many countries around the globe there are so many transactions that are completed cash-on-delivery or COD, which, of course, is a big encumbrance to eCommerce growth in those markets.

PYMNTS: What are the trends in mobile money that you are seeing that you think are going to take off this year? 

SN: I think it’s going to be the first time we really see commercial banks start to move into leadership positions for mobile payments. Historically, it’s been the mobile network operators who were out front. In every jurisdiction or country with which we have had contact, the central bank wants to regulate mobile money — because, after all, that’s their job: to regulate the money supply. They have no regulatory authority over mobile network operators. They’ve gone through a variety of contortions to deal with that problem and they sometimes force banks to hold the license, but it’s really the mobile network operator who is doing all the heavy lifting. To our knowledge, we are the only digital cash offering, or mobile money system, that allows transactions to take place at retail at the point of sale. We can run transactions at the POS terminal. This is a very big deal to every prospect with whom we’ve spoken. When banks hear about our system they have very, very positive reactions.

PYMNTS: What is the reception you are getting from the banks?

SN: We have a very positive reception, in part because they love the fact that we can do merchant transactions at retail. They quickly understand that this is a source of potentially big, incremental revenues for them. Because right now, physical cash is a burden. It’s a cost center for them. It’s a cost center for merchants, who have to incur the expense of taking the cash to the bank. They are not collecting any fees on cash transactions. They collect a handsome fee on credit card and debit card transactions. This is an opportunity to expand that enormously. After 50-60 years of cards, 85 percent of transactions in retail are still in cash. We want to be to cash what Visa has been to credit.

PYMNTS: You’ve mentioned the banking aspect, but how are you creating a solution for the unbanked?

SN: We do have the capability to be very effective in that market. It’s important, in that respect, in that marketplace, that we don’t require a smartphone. In Jamaica, I was shocked with how many iPhones I saw, but many don’t have data plans. They are a status symbol, and frequently are being  used as a plain old feature phone. It really matters, especially in the developing countries, that we don’t require a smartphone or smartphone app. You can do transactions on our system with plain old SMS. … This a very efficient system.

PYMNTS: How is Quisk innovating mobile money and payments? And what’s next for Quisk in 2016?

SN: We’ve built a system that, to our knowledge, nobody else has done. This is a very holistic approach, because ultimately we’ll be able to do cross-border remittances a business banks would love to be in, and to use other funding sources than just demand deposit accounts. All of that is on the roadmap. .

For 2016, after more than four years of development, we will be “going live” in a commercial sense, processing transactions. We’ve kept a relatively low profile up until now because we have not been in commercial production anywhere. And that’s about to change. We b also have smartphone apps. At the latest Finovate in the fall in New York, we showed what we called our mobile POS application where a merchant, instead of having a POS terminal, can simply have this application on their smartphone or on their tablet and can do transactions. … It’s a potentially disruptive technology.

The other thing that we’ve integrated is loyalty and rewards that merchants can offer to their customers.  Presently, merchants have little to no information about their cash customers. Once consumers are paying with Quisk all of that begins to change. You will be able to reach out to the customers and offer various incentive programs to entice them to become more frequent shoppers.

Quisk will be among the innovators participating in the Innovator Expo at this year’s Innovation Project, taking place March 16-17 at Harvard University. 

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