Interview with Anand Ramakrishnan, CEO of Opus Consulting: Getting the Ecosystem Ready for EMV, 100% Commitment to Payments and More…

In May 2014, MasterCard announced the acquisition of ElectraCard Services Private Limited (ECS), a leading provider of software solutions and processing services headquartered in Pune, India. ECS was a subsidiary of Opus Consulting Solutions, which is a leading payments domain-focused, technology-services provider in the US today. Opus Consulting Solutions recently announced the accomplishment of their MasterCard Emerging Payment Support Accreditation

(MEPSA). Against the backdrop of the company undergoing rebranding and its new partnership with MasterCard, we had an opportunity to interview CEO Anand Ramakrishnan to gain deeper insights into Opus Consulting’s future plans around EMV migration in the US and its commitment to the payments industry.

LTP: Can you shed some light on your recent MasterCard Emerging Payment Support Accreditation (MEPSA)? Was it a difficult and a stringent process and how long have you been trying to get the accreditation?

Anand Ramakrishnan: It’s a fairly extensive process. If you see the EMV world in the US, there is very limited acceptability for EMV technology to a point that US is the only country that hasn’t deployed chip-and-PIN yet. EMV migration will take out the counterfeiting side of the fraud but what that leads to essentially is a whole lot of issues around how to use EMV. There are a lot of issues involved around training, transitional and educational activities. So what MasterCard is trying to do is not just have a bunch of experts educating people but they want to educate in a standard format via the MEPSA. They want people who understand this world to be involved in the program. There are about 13 companies including Opus Consulting who have the MEPSA. A massive rollout like this is a significant opportunity for us, primarily because if you see where the migration is at this point, the US is still nowhere ready for the liability shift, which is supposed to happen very shortly. So, MasterCard is finding people who are committed to help this migration happen and they are looking to invest in finding knowledgeable people. There was a rigorous process of making sure we have enough certified people, enough skills and the required knowledge base. It was a fairly drawn out process what we went through. It started when we completed the sale of Electracard to MasterCard. At that point when we were talking to them about other relationships, MEPSA popped up. It could have been done a little quicker but given that they were doing it for the first time and we were going through a transition, the long process is justified. The rigor around having IP and skilled and trained people was what they wanted to make sure we had. And that is what took a lot of time.

LTP: Does MEPSA add a lot of value to the company or is it a ‘good to have’ element for Opus Consulting?

AR: There are 2 or 3 stakeholders who are going to benefit from working with companies like us having MEPSA. One of the biggest stakeholders impacted by this are retailers who are the consumers of the POS. The biggest issue for them today is educating themselves and their front end employees about what has to be with the EMV technology and how to deal with the chip card. There’s a lot of spoon feeding that needs to be done in that area. Stakeholders like retailers are underestimated and that’s the opportunity we see. If you look at the time frame that’s left to roll out EMV and if you see the number of places that have actually upgraded the POS, it is very miniscule. Over the next few months, many retailers will want to migrate and that will create a lot of transition issues that we want to help address via services around education, support and helping those to want to help themselves.

LTP: What are some of the leading edge solutions you have provided and some great customer stories that you can share with our audience?

AR: Let me first explain what we want to do as a company at Opus Consulting. We have built many of our services with our customers and that has led to some interesting success stories. Opus is 100% dedicated to payments much like Let’s Talk Payments. We have 5 focus areas for our efforts and intellectual capabilities:

The first one is remittance compliance. An integral part of the Opus solution DNA since the birth of the business, our Compliance Service Line professionals ensure that financial institutions are able to adapt to the business changes driven by regulations.

The second area of focus is platform transformation. You and me don’t want to deposit the check and get access to the funds after 3 business days. We want them to be available the next minute. The front end part of this that is the mobile app is made available by every bank. What they don’t have is the backend. Marketing departments of the banks have convinced the banks that millennials will leave banks if they don’t have real time money transfer capabilities and they will run to Venmo and PayPal. So, banks created a masked version of payments. The money doesn’t get actually transferred but they make it available to you by putting themselves in risk. They have to go over an intensive process to complete the transfer. I believe that over the next 5-10 years, the backend infrastructure for payments will go real time and what we are doing is working on things that will enable a real time payment architecture. Banks will have to migrate their backend systems to real time processors; the ACH network needs to go real time too. So, we are working with some of the leading technology vendors to specialize in real time payments. TIBCO is well known in the capital markets and telecommunications world for doing real time processing. We believe that partnering with TIBCO for getting into the real time payments world is our future and we are building the capability around it. Our customers are happy that we are doing it. Opus was built by a bunch of guys who had deep expertise in real time systems. So, we retook that DNA and looked at new technologies coming up in the space; however we understand what it takes to bring real time processing in this space and we are building IP around it and we have got a whole depth of capability around it. I have seen customers who have chosen Opus as their provider because they know that we understand real time systems.

The third area of focus is the digital service line. We believe that there’s a huge transformation still required in the retail side of the house where the checkout experience needs to be very good. We are putting together a bundle of solutions where we are doing everything including intelligent POS, intelligent ATM and intelligent retailer ecommerce experiences, which is all enabled by taking out the intelligence from hardware and putting it out in the form of APIs. We are one of the few people who have actually done it. I see digital payment transformation as a big vehicle for growth.

The fourth area of focus is analytics. We are doing 2-3 use cases with a bunch of cool companies. One of the companies we have partnered with is called 4C. They have some very cool technology. They have a generic toolkit for targeted marketing and customer analysis via social media. We are taking their technology and tailoring it for payments. Essentially we will go to merchant acquirers, issuers or payment processor companies and provide them insights on spending money in a better way via this tailored technology. Another company that we have partnered with to empower analytics in payments is Semantify.

The fifth area is testing. We are not simply a testing shop like everybody else. We have a device lab which is really payments focussed.

LTP: So, are these the 5 areas you are going to focus on in the upcoming years?

AR: Absolutely. We want to stay true to payments and we will stay true to payments. I believe that we don’t have to worry about spreading thin anywhere else for quite a few years since this is an exciting field. It is a large opportunity for somebody who can focus on it. When I ask my customers why they chose Opus and whether they chose us because of our low costs, they say that we don’t really have the lowest costs but we are chosen because we have the best answers.

LTP: How long do you think the adoption for real time payment processing will take in the US especially when something like EMV adoption took more than a decade?

AR: I believe that by 2020, half of the payments in the US will be real time.

LTP: Let’s Talk Payments and our readers love to discuss the FinTech industry. Has Opus Consulting been associated with any FinTech companies? What do you think about the emerging FinTech industry?

AR: Companies like 4C, Semantify and TIBCO might not be focussing on payments but they have technology related to payments and that’s what we are chasing. On the other front, there are a lot innovators in the payments world that we want as customers and partners. Companies like Ripple have a bright future. While we don’t have a partnership with Ripple today, I want to spend time cultivating that. When Ripple becomes mainstream, we want to be the ones who understand it and who play in that space. Similarly, there are a few companies doing really well in the mobile wallet space. PayPal and Xoom are doing wonderful things. Even traditional guys like Western Union have started doing some cool things around integration with chat. In the remittance space, Transferwise has a very good concept of transferring money cross border. What used to be called ‘Hawala’ in India, they have legalized it. We really want to partner with such disruptors.

LTP: It has been less than a year since you joined Opus Consulting. What are some of the changes the company has seen in the recent past?

AR: We are rebranding ourselves and our new website will be out soon. As I mentioned previously, we are reintroducing our services by focussing on five areas, which are analytics, digital services, compliance, platform transformation and testing. There are a few structural changes within the company in terms of the roles of our key employees.

LTP: Anything else that you would like our readers to know about Opus Consulting?

AR: The key message is that if you are looking for a partner who is looking to innovate and has the depth to innovate in payments and who can do it in a cost effective way using teams in India, they should come to Opus Consulting because we want to be the innovation payments partner of choice for banks, payments company and retailers.