The Straits Times on January 08, 2018

Cashless may be the buzzword of the day but for home-grown firm Mobile Credit Payment (MC Payment), cashless technology has been its bread and butter for nearly two decades.

As early as the turn of the century, the payment solutions firm had developed technologies for mobile phones – like then popular brands Nokia and Motorola – to carry out monetary transactions on the go.

This was well before the days of the smartphone, which took off only in the late 2000s.

“We came up with a software that allowed customers to pay using a credit card through the Nokia cellphone, and for merchants to accept credit card payments via the phone,” said MC Payment founder and chief executive Anthony Koh. “We also deployed it to taxis.”

Its limited capabilities restricted its use but he added that the situation could partly be due to the lack of regulations as well. As a result, the platform did not give MC Payment the big break Mr Koh had hoped for, but he was undeterred.

MC Payment reached its first major milestone in 2010, when the firm, in a tie up with an international merchant bank, rolled out a mobile point-of-sales system on smartphones, allowing the bank’s insurance agents to sell their products on the move.

“This helped to show other financial institutions that we have the technological capabilities to support and grow their businesses,” said Mr Koh.

“But, of course, it was a very long process. It took more than a year for them to be convinced by a start-up like us,” he added with a laugh.

MC Payment now has about 60 employees, with a presence in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Australia. It provides services to over 2,000 merchants, and its proprietary products include e-wallet applications, business-to-business invoicing and payments processing, mobile point-of-sale systems, and non-cash payment products.

The firm is also slated to be among the first fintech firms to be listed on the Singapore Exchange.

Last October, Catalist-listed Artivision Technologies said it has entered into a conditional and non-binding proposal to buy all of MC Payment for $80 million. The acquisition, if done, will result in a reverse takeover of Artivision.

The proposed acquisition comes amid a push for cashless payments in Singapore.

“Artivision’s acquisition of one of Singapore’s earliest fintech firms is timely as it allows its shareholders to participate in a business with a proven business model, which has the potential for significant growth,” the two firms said in a statement at the time of the announcement.

MC Payment has recently also submitted a proposal in response to the Government’s request for information on a cashless payment solution.

Said Mr Koh: “As a listed firm, the clear advantage will be more credibility, so we can work with larger banks and players in this region, and they can have more confidence in us.

“We also plan to use the listing platform to scale up and expand, so that we can achieve our goal in a shorter time. It’s all about timing and the readiness for growth, and right now, we are at a stage where we should embark on a new journey for further growth.”

Mr Koh said MC Payment’s total revenue last year was $11.4 million. It is not yet profitable, given the heavy investments in technology and infrastructure, but the firm aims to turn in its first profit next year.

“The main focus now is still scaling up. If we focus on only profitability, it will be at the expense of growth and entering new markets, which is an investment in itself,” he said, adding that it “should be enjoying the fruits of our labour very soon”.

For MC Payment, the next step is to expand further into new markets, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, in the coming two years.

Mr Koh said many consumers in South-east Asia, especially in the emerging countries, still face challenges with cashless payments – a gap it aims to fill.

In addition, the region’s large population, coupled with China’s One Belt One Road investments, all spell opportunities for growth.

He said: “But the payments landscape is changing very fast. I see this window of opportunity opening up, and we don’t know when it will close. With the changing landscape, increasing competition and consolidation likely happening in the years to come, we see an urgency to grow faster, and establish a foothold in the region. If we miss that, we’ll become outdated.”

At the same time, MC Payment is moving into various vertical businesses, including retail. For instance, it worked with local online fashion platform iFashion Group this year to develop digital tokens for use across iFashion’s retail network, both online and at brick-and-mortar stores. The tokens aim to create a new “movement” for millennial spending, he said.

MC Payment has also grown through its recently acquired unit Genesis Payment Solutions, which is licensed by Chinese online payments provider Alipay to acquire merchants. Genesis has deployed hundreds of QR code payment solutions for local retailers such as Royal Sporting House and the Robinsons department store.

Mr Koh said the firm’s broader goal is to become “one of the leading brand names in the region that people look for in the unified payments platform space”.