Behind the Idea Europe Fintech Paytech

Behind the Idea: Boku

Boku is a fintech pioneering the world’s first global mobile payments network.  With 45% of consumers globally using mobile payments compared to 18% that use cards, Boku believes the future of commerce is mobile-first.

Boku’s platform helps merchants attract, convert, and retain customers using mobile by providing standardised access to the most in-demand mobile-first payment methods from Alipay to Grab and GoPayd. By turning merchant payments infrastructure into a source of sustainable competitive advantage, Boku safely activates a range of new business models – from bundling to subscriptions – that delivers against the bottom line.

Jon Prideaux, CEO, Boku

Jon Prideaux has more than twenty-five years of experience in the payments industry. Today, he serves as the CEO of Boku, the world’s leading provider of mobile payment and identity solutions. Prior to Boku, Jon worked as the founding EVP for Visa’s Europe e-commerce division for over seventeen years and was one of the UK’s leading e-commerce platforms. When it comes to all things payments and e-commerce, Jon is an expert.

What has been the traditional company response to financial technology innovations nationally?

At Boku, our mission has always been to help businesses around the world with mobile payments. To do this, traditionally we worked with mobile operators to reinvent carrier billing as a payment method. Prior to our work in this space, buying stuff and charging it to your phone bill in most markets was severely restricted, limited to specific digital goods and often operating in a regulatory framework designed years ago to handle ringtone downloads. The result was a cumbersome offering that didn’t attract consumers or merchants. To innovate and provide a better experience, we launched a regulated payment product that allowed customers to buy all types of goods and services. By partnering with major mobile networks, we were able to combine e-Money with the convenience of charging purchases to customers’ phone bill – staying true to our core belief of putting experience at the heart of everything we do.

How has this changed over the past few years?

Our approach has changed as the world of payments has changed. Mobile payments are not just limited to operators anymore, they are the leading global payment method today. Regardless of where you are in the world, consumers are gravitating away from cards and moving towards mobile wallets and “super-apps” like Grab that offer a better user experience, better security, and better rewards.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this change. As physical retail all but shut down across most of the world in 2020 there was a push into e-commerce for almost every demographic in almost every geography. As retail shifts to mobile, the lifeblood of retail – payments – also needs to shift. Card payments that dominated the physical retail era were ‘crowbarred’ into the e-commerce era. Cards weren’t designed for e-commerce as anyone who has tried to put a 16 digit card number into a mobile browser will tell you.

Now, these outdated payment types are rapidly being replaced by mobile wallets. So if merchants want to attract, convert, and retain customers they need to accept the payment methods consumers have and want to use.

But providing a consumer’s preferred payment method is just the start.

Mobile payments are a powerful marketing, customer acquisition, and value-creation platform. Bundling-as-a-service for example allows merchants to find and reach prospective customers through premium subscription partnerships with popular mobile payment types.

To empower merchants to harness the potential of the world’s most popular payments, a mobile payments network is required. Mobile payments are highly dispersed across different payment types and geographies, with different technical, business, and legal requirements. To overcome this, a mobile payment network that has access to all relevant mobile payments around the world, with greater standardisation, through one single connection, is needed.

Therefore Boku’s focus has changed from carrier billing to building the biggest mobile payments network in the world, that standardises access for merchants, along with a platform. Together they allow merchants to significantly increase their revenues by moving from a single transaction model to a recurring revenue model with bundling at the focal point.

Is there anything that has created a culture of change inside the company?

We believe the mobile payment opportunity, especially around mobile wallets and super-apps, is both gargantuan and dramatically underexplored.

Our vision for the market is a future beyond cards where commerce is truly digital and payments are mobile-first. And our mission is to become the mobile-first payments network for digital commerce.

This new focus has created a culture of change in the company. We are more customer-centric, we are more innovative and we’re more global than ever before. And that means our culture has become highly collaborative, both internally and externally – we believe a mix of cultures, viewpoints and experiences are vital for a global company like ours – and increasingly ambitious. We want to attract and retain the best entrepreneurial talent and that means solving the biggest challenges facing our industry today.”

What Fintech ideas have been implemented?

To become the mobile-first payments network for digital commerce, we need to embrace the latest fintech thinking and innovation strategies. This includes:

Specialist – Fintechs have seen success by focusing down on a specific part of the financial services ecosystem to solve a specific problem often through providing a better experience. Mobile payments will be the lifeblood of e-commerce for decades to come but connecting to them en masse for merchants is near impossible. While there are many companies that work within payments, only Boku is dedicated to solving this specific problem.

Collaboration – There are 100s of mobile payment methods around the world. Today, most merchants need to connect to each one individually which is, frankly, a nightmare. To solve this problem we’ve collaborated with mobile payment and wallet providers to reverse-engineer these methods into our enterprise-grade platform, ensuring all back-end systems are uniform and simple to connect to existing retail management systems.

API – Accepting the most in-demand, global payment methods can create operational nightmares for e-commerce merchants – hundreds of new non-standard providers, complex local regulations, tax, foreign exchange and settlement. Through collaboration, we have been able to standardise access to these methods around the world. And today merchants can connect to a universe of mobile-first payments quickly and easily through APIs.

Give consumers what they want – While Boku doesn’t build products for consumers, our technology enables our customers to be much more consumer-centric by offering the payment types that they prefer to pay with. As fintech increases the pace of innovation and competition for consumers, our customer-centricity is becoming about consumer centricity.”

What benefits have these brought?

Implementing these fintech approaches has enabled us to be the perfect partner for merchants, e-commerce companies and marketplaces looking to attract, convert and retain customers using mobile – especially in fast-growing markets where mobile wallets are dominant.

The resulting benefits include:

  • Scale – Boku has connected to 200+ payment methods, and has the biggest payment network for a future of mobile and digital payments.
  • Expertise- Boku has unrivalled experience with mobile payments, initially with direct carrier billing, and now with mobile wallets. The decade of experience our company has with mobile payments uniquely positions Boku to deliver on a global network of mobile payments
  • Customisation – We are a company that is built on working with enterprise customers that demand customisation, and so our platform is built to have the flexibility to support them.
  • Beyond transactions – Our platform approach combined with our payment network means that Boku supports consumer acquisition, conversion and retention, and the creation of new business models that mobile payment methods enable such as subscriptions and bundling.
  • Reliable and resilient – Boku’s platform is enterprise-grade to ensure merchants can always employ the 200+ types of mobile payment that card-first PSPs can’t handle.

Do you see any other industry challenges on the horizon?

Brands are ‘going direct’ to consumers in a way they have not before, as super apps and social shopping remove the need for local retailers to provide a channel to market. As the pandemic has accelerated this trend, brands are fast discovering that they must hyper localize if they are to successfully attract multinational consumers.

Broadly speaking, credit cards are a ‘Western’ payment method and the infrastructure is so fortified that in the West wallet tech is trying to adapt to drag cards along. But globally, credit cards are already less than half as popular as non-card, mobile-first methods. As Asian and increasingly Latin American consumers skip cards and move straight from cash to mobile wallets like WeChat, Alipay, Grab and GoJek, merchants need to accept these methods or face being left behind.

Can these challenges be aided by Fintech?

Yes. Speaking generally, fintech has and will continue to move in the direction of more accessible, lower friction and lower-cost payment options that empower a multitude of merchant business models. Fintech’s role in payments has enabled billions of people around the world to transact online, lowering the barrier to digital payments, because of this, mobile wallets are not only displacing credit cards but are also displacing cash at an even greater rate.

Seeking to simplify payments, merchants are likely to start onboarding Real-Time Bank Payments options for consumers. These schemes, like the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) in India and PIX in Brazil, remove the payment intermediaries and elegantly move money straight from the customer’s bank to the merchant’s bank securely and instantly.

Mass adoption of smartphones is enabling real-time bank payments to function primarily through mobile apps, replicating the convenience that have made mobile wallets so popular.

In markets and regions where mobile wallets have become popular, that trend is likely to continue if not accelerate. Other markets in which mobile wallets have yet to catch on, could leapfrog directly to real-time payments.

Boku is already employing fintech tools and strategies to help merchants stay ahead of their competitors, and will continue to invest in new technologies from APIs to machine learning.

Final thoughts…

Merchants shouldn’t see payments as commoditized transactions. Payments are a powerful marketing and customer acquisition tool. By evolving their payments infrastructure – including the ability to tokenize payments and establish subscriptions – merchants can significantly increase their revenues. At Boku we believe that payment types should be business model agnostic and flexible to the needs of merchants and consumers.

Author

  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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