• Says merchants are less accepting than consumers
• On track to double processed payments to $200 million
By NEIL HARTNELL
Editor-in-chief of the Tribune
A Bahamian payments provider announced yesterday that it is aiming for “manageable” 25-30% annual growth in digital wallet users while pledging to do its part to reduce the “fear” surrounding electronic transactions.
Jeffrey Beckles, chief executive of Island Pay, told Tribune Business that merchants have been more reluctant to embrace digital payments than consumers due to historical fears that financial “game changers” are failing to deliver the promised benefits.
Speaking as the Central Bank and its licensees prepare to launch a campaign to educate Bahamians on the benefits of phasing out the use of checks by the end of 2024, he added that despite the “trepidation”, Island Pay has “doubled” its number of merchant customers to around 1,500 in the past year.
Describing the reluctance of some in Bahamian society to embrace digital payments as “a good call to action”, Mr Beckles said the rise in usage “is still going in the right direction, but maybe not at the pace we want”.
He added, however, that he was on track to double the annual amount of financial transactions it will process to “well over $200 million” from last year’s $100 million, as the greater convenience, security and lower costs associated with digital payments are beginning to take hold. hold.
“There has been a consistent and very strong uptick, especially over the last eight months starting in the fall of 2021,” the head of Island Pay said of digital products and payments “as things started coming back online, business activity increased and more people came back to work, people started looking for alternatives, so there was a steady level of adoption.
“We still have room, ground to catch up on the educational level. There’s probably more trepidation on the merchant side than the consumer side when you start operating with digital wallets and sand dollars… We can say from the beginning that digital payments enable significant savings, but until the consumer and the business see how it works, we will be pushed back.
Mr Beckles added that “the concern over this transition is not unique to the Bahamas”, but pointed to the fact that several countries such as South Africa and Namibia have already taken steps to eliminate the use of cheques, as this method of payment is now increasingly rare in the Bahamas. Europe with some states eliminating it in the 1990s.
“In our case, I think there’s a bit of trepidation because any major change, especially in the financial space, there’s a pushback because people are worried it won’t work out,” he said. he declared to this newspaper. “I was talking to someone the other was saying, and I was like, ‘When checks were introduced, people thought it was a game-changer, and now it’s not the game-changer that it is. was’.
“We are at this point where there is another major game-changer, which comes with worry, fear and uncertainty, and therefore our work – and we are seeing this at Island Pay, as we are receiving more questions today that we never did before; is it safe? is it secure? can we access our funds in real time? – is to educate the consumer and allay those fears. I don’t think that the decline will last too long.
Asked how quickly Island Pay’s digital wallet user base is growing, Beckles said, “If I had to put it in one word, if we had ten consumers last year, we would probably see an increase of five or six at this stage of the game. We now have over 50,000 Bahamians using our services on the consumer side, and on the merchant side we have doubled that number to 1,500 from the same period last year.
Acknowledging that this number may seem small compared to the total number of businesses in the Bahamas, he added: “Last year we processed over $100 million in financial transactions, and this year we will be well over 200. millions of dollars. We are going in the right direction. It’s not at the pace we want, but progress is being made and that’s where we’re walking.
“Our biggest and best fruit at hand is to continue to work with the Central Bank, stakeholders and the Ministry of Finance on the education narrative. What is important is to bring people to download the app and get used to paying and collecting on time. I don’t think we’ll see a significant number of people say go back to cash. The benefits that come with that are huge.
Mr Beckles said Island Pay is aiming for “steady” annual growth of 25-30% in its digital wallet customers. “People can say, ‘You don’t want more than that? ‘” he told Tribune Business. “What’s important in this market is that it doesn’t matter to us. If we get 25-30% more, that’s good. For us, it’s about steady growth, manageable growth, not pushing more than we can handle in this space.
“It helps set the parameters for our call center to manage what we have and look to make it easier for customers to spend so that we continue to scale and meet their needs instead of them meeting our needs. During For a long time, companies looked at it that way and lost.
Emphasizing that the development of Family Island “cannot happen without digital solutions being part of the conversation”, the head of Island Pay said, “The more the Bahamas becomes digital, the easier it becomes to do business and the more our destination becomes attractive.
“Today’s investor is a digital investor. His whole life has been digital. There’s no point in him coming to the Bahamas and being expected to do business the old-fashioned way. He expects us to do business his way; the new way.