Behind the Idea: Tribe Payments
Behind the Idea Europe Paytech

Behind the Idea: Tribe Payments

Tribe Payments provides payment technology to banks, fintechs and payment companies that in turn offer financial services to consumer and business customers. It offers technology to service providers to make payments – through issuer processing, white-label digital wallet and connections to banking rails – as well as take payments – through acquirer processing and POS systems.

Unlike most vendors, Tribe Payments provides all aspects of payments technology via a modular platform, meaning functionality can be mixed and matched without risking disruption or downtime. Tribe’s disposable technology means it is the only provider to fully break the ‘legacy cycle, ensuring zero obsolescence and use of containerisation to minimise risk.

Tribe’s modular approach to technology has allowed the company to pioneer new services.

It has been difficult for fintechs to embrace Open Banking because of the investment and resource required in developing APIs. And overall, this has slowed the progress of Open Banking.

Late last year, Tribe announced that it was the first issuer processor to allow fintechs to harness the power of Open Banking without developing their own APIs. This is just one of the areas that Tribe will be developing further over the coming months and beyond.

Alex Reddish is Chief Commercial Officer at Tribe Payments. With his extensive experience in both issuer and acquirer processing, bank-to-bank payments and digital wallets, Alex’s role is to lead the business and ensure that Tribe harnesses the latest technologies to deliver the best services to its clients.

Alex has previously held roles as both Head of Issuing and Head of Business Relations at Valitor, and Head of European Business at Raphaels Bank, giving him a wealth of knowledge and experience in the payments and the financial services industry.

What has been Tribe’s response to financial technology innovations?

I would argue that Tribe itself is a response to financial technology innovation.

Nimble fintechs and fast-following incumbents need a first-mover advantage to win over innovation-hungry customers and gain market share. This has led to a technology arms race, where service providers are seeking to deliver the next “killer app” that will give them an unfair competitive advantage. This has increased the pace of innovation.

However, while front-end customer-facing services have been invested in heavily and seen dramatic improvements, there is a limit to what can be achieved here. And this limit is the back-end infrastructure that underpins these services.

Plastering over the cracks with APIs will not be enough to prepare service providers for the future and enable them to deliver on the next wave of innovation—they need to change right down to the core.

In response to this need for sustainable technology innovation, Tribe was born.

Most service providers’ back-end systems resemble Jenga. Like Jenga, any major changes may result in the system falling over entirely. Providers need a platform that works like Lego, where services and functions are independent yet interconnected. Where products can be quickly built and then disposed of for short-term volume gain. Where one change won’t disrupt the whole system.

Unlike other players, Tribe stops the ‘Jenga-effect’—all programming code is isolated, minimising risk whether the partner is adding a new service or just tweaking functionality. This means concepts can be delivered in days not weeks, pilots in weeks not months, and launch in months not years – without impacting on security or resilience.

How has this changed over the past few years?

Tribe was born in 2018 and we launched to the market in 2019 with a platform that is containerised in concept and design and was built from the ground-up to be modular at both micro and macro levels. This approach allows us to react quickly to market changes, and pioneer new initiatives and services.

In 2019, we launched the first complete payments sandbox allowing developers to experiment with new payment products and capabilities across both issuing and acquiring.

In 2020, Tribe was the first issuer processor to allow fintechs to harness the power of Open Banking – including A2A payments – without developing their own APIs.

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

Tribe recently updated its company values that are the cornerstones of our company culture and commitment to our customers. One of our values is “Be Curious”. Tribe was built to not just offer the very best payments technology, but the best expertise.

Often what works in theory, doesn’t work in practice, the secret to getting it right is people. It takes decades of knowledge and understanding to successfully anticipate and implement change; and clear vision to create capability without compromise.

We believe a combination of curiosity and hand-picked tech experts, means Tribe solves payment problems and creates new opportunities before others realise they exist.

And because our technology is modular, our experience and expertise can be rapidly baked into new products and capabilities today, not in a few months’ time.

What Fintech ideas have been implemented?

Tribe has implemented numerous fintech ideas from microservices architecture to cloud-native infrastructure and developer sandboxes.

For example, last year we partnered with Currencycloud to launch a new BaaS solution to tackle high foreign exchange rates for SMEs across Europe. We also partnered with Telleroo to streamline its bulk payment service for accountancy firms and bookkeepers, to create a single unified workflow for payroll and supplier transactions on behalf of their SME clients.

The work we are doing with our partners is changing the fintech and payments landscape in the UK, bringing innovation to the forefront.

What benefits have these brought?

Tribe believes that payments have always been a compromise between speed and scale. For service providers to deliver something at scale means it is slow, and to deliver something at speed means that it won’t scale. This compromise is the reason it is hard to utilise new capabilities like Open Banking payments for example.

By offering modular technology with Plug’n’Play applications through the cloud that can be customised and tested in a secure sandbox means that service providers can develop exciting new payment propositions with uncompromising speed and security.

Do you see any other industry challenges on the horizon?

Open Banking got off to a shaky start with question marks over adoption of services. However, in September 2020 it was revealed that two million people are now using open banking-enabled products, and this was widely seen as a success.

The reality is that Open Banking is failing to deliver on its objective which is to drive innovation, choice, and security in financial services for consumers and businesses. Two million users is only 3% of the UK population. And beyond basic account aggregation, the services available are limited.

To steal an old computing adage, Open Banking needs to move from “read-only” to “read-write”.

Can these challenges be aided by Fintech?

Open Finance will arrive and deliver on the promise of Open Banking. Open Banking has been held back largely due to a lack of a rich ecosystem. This is because only the big banks were mandated to open up and most fintechs cannot afford the cost of accessing their APIs which has limited the reach and scope of potential services.

Open Finance is different because a wider range of financial service providers will be required to open up customer data, creating a network effect that will drive stronger and more innovative use-cases, and ultimately the adoption needed to deliver real change and economies of scale.

Final thoughts

In the next decade, I believe the person will ‘become the payment’.

Fintech is such a varied and vast domain and we’re only at the start of discovering what’s possible. From the payments part of the fintech ecosystem, we’ve seen first-hand that the 2010s laid the foundation for digital payments and the 2020s are going to build on this and take it a step further – soon the person will ‘become the payment’.

For food delivery or online taxis, the payment increasingly takes place completely in the background. And in some retail stores, the payment terminal is already a thing of the past as customers are recognised upon entry and exit of the store, with funds being debited for those items that they leave with.

In the next decade expect to see connected cars communicate with other connected devices and point-of-sale systems using biometric voice technology to facilitate payments for goods such as fuel, toll roads, vehicle maintenance, and parking—effectively embedding payments into the car so that transactions can be automated for speed and convenience.

What is consistent here is that there is no act of payment. Whether in a car, or ordering a taxi, or walking out of a store, the transaction happens in the background. This is and will increasingly be driven by biotechnology. The Uber app knows it’s you through face recognition, Whole Foods through an iris scan, and your Toyota Prius through voice confirmation.

Suddenly the person has become the payment. And this will see the biggest change in payments since the credit card was born in the 1950s.


  • Gina is a fintech journalist (BA, MA) who works across broadcast and print. She has written for most national newspapers and started her career in BBC local radio.

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