Abdeslam Alaoui Smaili has little time for cash. It annoys him. He is no fan of the tool that has driven commerce for centuries, preferring to relegate it to history in his quest to streamline the transfer of funds.
And time will undoubtedly prove him correct. He has good reason to dismiss cash, of course. Abdeslam is the Co-Founder, CEO and Executive Director of Hightech Payment Systems (HPS), which developed a seamless electronic payment system that is rapidly reaching around the world.
“What is annoying is the mindset of some who still believe that cash is safe and cheap. It is not safe. It is probably the main reason for crime. And cash has a cost. It needs to be printed, transported, counted, secured, cleaned and destroyed,” he points out.
HPS is now regarded as one of the world’s leading card and payment technology companies, with services extending into 90 countries and providing over 400 clients with cutting-edge payments technology. It now has offices in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
Abdeslam co-founded the company in 1995 after seeing the early potential for electronic payment, realising that it offered genuine entrepreneurial opportunities for an IT professional without the need for huge capital outlays. How right he was.
HPS developed a software solution called PowerCARD, which migrates every facet of payments online, a transition many regard as the future of the payments industry. The PowerCARD software suite integrates with all current international payment networks and supports all the common back-office payment functions globally.
“Two things have changed,” Abdeslam explains. “The first is the fragmentation of the market. We used to have a bank and a customer, and that’s it. Now we have a lot of new players, a lot of intermediaries between banks, a lot of people selling financial services, and technology has been put in place for open banking and the PSD2 [the revised directive for payment services] in Europe.
This is a great opportunity for us, because we suddenly have many more customers. “The second real impact is the preference of customers for a user experience and the self-service that has taken place in all we do. It started with the internet, with most banks enabling internet banking. But now you can do everything you want through a mobile. You open an account, close it, you buy, you sell. This user independence is changing the way products are produced and sold. It’s really a fundamental change,” he says.
According to Abdeslam, there is another critical component in the transition. It’s something he likes to call the “G generation” and the expectations this group has for any new service or product that comes to market.
“A product is successful, or not, a couple of hours or days after its launch. The reason for that is the G generation, or the glass generation – the people born with a mobile in their hands. They know only the glass, not paper, and they have no patience. The product needs to be seamless and intuitive so they don’t need to learn about it. This has changed the way software products need to be put on the market and our way of doing things. I’m always saying to our people, ‘This is a value we share: it has to be seamless.’”
Abdeslam considers this seamless aspect as critical for HPS in everything it does to ensure that the customer and the transaction are not lost, because customers today are neither patient nor loyal.
“Any window that enables them to escape to try another thing, we need to open a bigger one to make sure they have the best customer experience,” he stresses. “This is very important and has to be at the heart of the customer experience.”
HPS is one of the few companies to cover the whole payment value chain, with all the software available from a ‘one-stop shop’ with its corporate strategy based on four pillars devised by Abdeslam to underscore the company’s ongoing success. It can be summed up in people, product, partners and procurement.
“The way to make sure we remain relevant is to innovate, not only in what we produce but also in how we produce it, test it, and how we deliver it too. The first pillar is our people and the talents we have. Most of our energy and our value comes from our talent. The second pillar is our product, which is secure, simple and seamless. The third pillar is our customer base and our partners, while the fourth is an acquisition program that will open some markets quickly for us,” Abdeslam outlines.
That includes new territories in Asia and southern Europe, which offer HPS potential for what Abdeslam sees as the next wave in payment technology. Some emerging economies will likely jump from cash to electronic payment without going through the plastic card, he suggests.
“I think the big thing in the next couple of years will be what is called invisible payment. That is keeping us busy. What if your car could have the necessary data to communicate directly with the pump station and pay it? If you see an advertisement on TV and you like it, you just press okay and it is ordered, paid for and delivered. That’s it, it’s done,” he enthuses.
“Invisible payment should be a smooth experience while you are buying. You don’t need to stop, you don’t need to lose time, you don’t need to interact to make this payment. Of course, this has to be secure.”
Abdeslam’s most memorable moment at HPS was when the company won its first customer. But he also recalls another time that was of particular significance.
“We gained the confidence of a Tier 1 bank. I think the most important thing was the acknowledgement of the work that everyone was doing. That was very special.” The whole team can surely bank on there being many more such special times ahead.