TECHNOLOGY

Digitizing Myanmar: How This FinTech Company Helped Cut Local Payments from 5 Hours to 5 Minutes

ConnectNPay Myanmar’s pivot from the e-wallet space to data digitization is enabling the country’s fintech economy to emerge

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BY Tricia V. Morente - 07 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

“No person in Myanmar, no consumer, would probably know who CNP is,” says Patrick Kershaw, the CEO of ConnectNPay (CNP), a fintech company that built the digital financial infrastructure now enabling locals to pay their utility bills and taxes online in Myanmar.

“They have no idea, and they don’t need to,” he continues. Instead, says Kershaw, what consumers need to be able to do is transfer digital value from point to point.

Before CNP, a joint venture between Singapore start-up Leo Tech and Myanmar Computer Company (MCC), there were only two ways for locals to pay utility bills: either they line up for four to five hours in a payment center or they hire a black market operator to do it for them. “It was a payment system that was totally broken, so we began exploring in 2013 how we can get involved and try to improve that,” shares Kershaw.

Initially, the JV partners launched an e-wallet as the solution, but as computer data was needed to make this work, “and no bank or telco would talk to us,” the venture failed miserably. Realizing that Myanmar lacked the financial architecture needed to support digital payments, the fintech company pivoted into data digitization, rebranding as ConnectNPay, and started building the pipes needed to digitize bills. “We rebuilt Yangon city’s utilities billing platform and converted the entire city’s billings—everything from land, taxes, and water—into digital format,” he says.

Working behind the scenes

These days, paying bills only takes locals a fraction of the hours they once spent lining up. “Interestingly, it was the businesses that first transacted through our platform. As soon as the banks started building and connecting with our infrastructure, it was a very easy transition for businesses to transact across the platform because it just saved them enormous amounts of time and money,” says Kershaw.

Last 2016, CNP processed over $50 million in bills. “That is just under one percent of what we can see as far as transactions currently available on the platform. In 2017, we will process over $150 million,” forecasts Kershaw.

With three mobile money operators launching before the end of 2017, Kershaw says this year will be when Myanmar will see real consumer growth for digital payments. “I think that Myanmar is going to be a mobile money success story. There’s a lot of things here that there’s no playbook for, and I’m excited to see who among these players will win the digital wallet,” he says, adding, “We believe this is a multibillion dollar market where digital payment mechanisms are being rethought on the back of what didn’t work in Africa and Asia to date. The same mistakes are unlikely to be made again. This is largely driven by Brad Jones (CEO of Wave Money) and Jacques Voogt (CEO of M-Pitesan), having learnt from their previous businesses.”

Leaving the wallet battle to mobile money operators—“We will never ever go into wallet again”—Kershaw shares that CNP’s job is to make their partners’ addressable market as big and as fair as possible. “If we can create a fair market, then we will create the largest market we possibly can. And if we can create the largest market we possibly can, then the consumer wins,” he says.

With their goal to reduce fragmentation in the market, the year ahead is looking to be packed for this fintech enabler that’s working behind the scenes. “We just need to keep on building the pipes. The way I think about what we are is, if the digital payments ecosystem were the ocean, and the banks were the whales, and mobile money operators were the sharks, then we’re the reef. We don’t compete with any of the sea creatures, and instead we build the ecosystem. In some ways we don’t get any glory, but that’s kind of our DNA. We don’t need that, we just quietly go about our work,” says Kershaw.