Q&A With Amir Wain, Founder and CEO, i2c Inc.

LTP recently got the opportunity to interview founder and CEO of i2c Inc. i2c is a global, cloud-based provider of next-generation integrated payments and commerce solutions.

As founder and CEO of i2c, Amir is responsible for defining a clear vision and setting strategic direction for the company. Recognized as a pioneer in the prepaid/stored value industry, Amir founded software development firm Innovative Private Limited in 1987 and led the global launch of the transaction processing platform FastCash. Propelled by the success of Innovative, he founded i2c, Inc. in 2001 to bring next-generation processing solutions to the payments industry. Contributing to the company’s expansive growth curve, under Amir’s guidance, i2c has introduced a number of industry firsts, including card-linked offers, event-driven account holder communications and gift card voice personalization.

LTP: Could you provide an overview of i2c Inc. and some details of your journey along with key milestones that you have achieved? (We read about i2c having a reach of more than 200 countries and presence across five continents with offices in Sydney & Australia.)

Amir Wain: i2c’s mission is to create better payment and commerce experiences for consumers and businesses around the world. Our credit, debit and prepaid payment solutions enable financial institutions and brands to deliver high-impact, personalized payment and commerce experiences that build loyalty and engage consumers in new ways.

What sets i2c apart is our single, cloud-based payments processing platform that not only has proven to be extremely reliable, but also provides the flexibility to quickly deliver virtually any card-based, virtual, or mobile payments capability anywhere in the world. We are the only global payment processor that runs from a single code base. So when we develop new capabilities for one customer or make improvements to our platform for another use case specific to a region, these individual improvements and features are automatically available to all of our customers; everyone uses the platform’s benefits. Continual, cumulative improvement is an elegant benefit of a cloud-based architectural approach that leverages a single code base. At a minimum, we issue new code releases every month.

In addition to i2c’s issuer processing platform, our suite of solutions includes a loyalty and marketing solution, settlement and reconciliation, mobile, acquiring capabilities, and program and portfolio optimization services.

Over the last 18 months, we have focused on expanding our operations globally. We opened an office in London to serve the growing payments market in Europe. We’ve seen significant growth in the Asia-Pacific region—Australia and New Zealand in particular—and recently opened an office in Sydney to support our customers in the region. We were named a Visa-preferred processing partner for prepaid in Latin America & the Caribbean and signed on several major new customers across the Americas. We saw similar growth in the Middle East and Africa, signing several new customers.

LTP: Could you brief us more about your services, specifically, on the e-humanitarian payment solutions?

AW: We have a full suite of services our customers can take advantage of, including full global program management support and aftermarket services such as fraud management, 24x7x365 customer service in multiple languages, and compliance and portfolio performance analytics, among others.

We are very proud to be a part of the Oxfam electronic prepaid solution program for people in the Philippines affected by the typhoon Haiyan. We worked closely with our partners in Oxfam and Visa to provide a solution that delivers quick access to disaster relief funds. Distribution of disaster relief funds in this manner is faster and more secure than cash alternatives. It’s also much more efficient and reduces aid distribution costs, which means more money gets into the hands of people who need it most.

A fact that often gets overlooked is that for individuals and families in these communities, recovering from disasters takes many months or often years. Providing access to basic financial services as the community recovers and rebuilds is just as important as distribution of funds immediately following a disaster. Reloadable cards are a really smart solution for this use case, and an excellent payment vehicle for workers whose livelihoods were interrupted by disasters but who could be employed in temporary jobs, such as reconstruction efforts.

One of the key capabilities i2c brings to this project is the ability to rapidly deploy new instances of the solution to support Oxfam anywhere in the world, as quickly as an emergency situation requires it. The program will be expanded globally.

LTP: What is your view of the current payments and transactions processing market? Where do you see it evolving in the future?

AW: There is a real need and opportunity for it to be disrupted. I see a real gap between the needs of the market and the payments infrastructure that supports it. Consumers have high expectations about personalized commerce and payments experiences. They want to be at the center of the commerce equation and experience. They are digital, social, interconnected and increasingly mobile, and they expect purchasing and commerce experiences that are timely and relevant to their unique situation.

The problem is that the traditional legacy payment processing systems built decades ago are designed with the endpoint transaction as the center of the commerce equation. That formula doesn’t work anymore. People and their purchasing experience are at the center. A modern payments platform has to support this reality—architected so that people and their commerce experience are the focus, not the transaction.

Because most processing platforms do not support this type of flexibility, there is a real opportunity for disruption—and for modern processors to lead the charge. Uber has succeeded in disrupting the taxi business with a technology platform that focuses on making the consumer experience frictionless; the same can be done with payments.

A disruptive payments processing platform must be able to recognize, leverage and act in real time on relevant contextual information about the cardholders’ commerce journey and build processes for more meaningful engagement. The goal is to focus on the purchase journey and to make the payment invisible.

That’s what we mean by an integrated commerce experience. The consumer is at the center, not the system or the transaction. This makes payments a key part of the commerce strategy. It empowers consumers, and it gives brands and FIs more control and engagement with the consumer.

LTP: What are the major trends you see in the prepaid card market?

AW: Consumers will continue to demand a great experience with prepaid applications. They are looking for solutions that make it easier and cheaper to manage their payments and their money. Building a better experience requires new thinking around where payments fit in the buying journey. A payment used to be thought of as a finite transactional event, but payments really need to be part of an overall commerce journey, providing value to both to the consumer and the payment brand well before a payment transaction ever starts.

We also can’t forget the obvious: a major part of the payments experience has to be reliability and trust. It goes without saying that reliability is a critical part of the cardholder experience and the trust the consumer holds in the brand or bank behind the card. With all the innovation being driven by i2c’s platform, we consistently hear from our customers that reliability is their number one concern. In prepaid, credit and debit, outages still occur. Our customers demand innovation, but they need reliability.

At a higher level, I think people will recognize more and more that prepaid is not a product, but rather an entire payments category. Prepaid is a solution that supports business and consumer finance need, and is a real engine of innovation. Powered by the right platform, prepaid can enable virtually any use case and embed an exchange of value into a business process. Prepaid provides access to a broad spectrum of use cases and sectors, such as reloadable multi-currency wallets, multifunction cards that combine loyalty features with payments, travel, GPR and transportation. As use cases get more sophisticated, we’re seeing growth in prepaid, especially in the middle and high-net-worth households. That will create additional opportunities.

LTP: Where do you see new-age FinTech companies causing maximum disruption in the payments space?

AW: Many of these companies have very interesting solutions, but, for the most part, they are point solutions that alone can’t address the payment ecosystem as a whole. I believe disruption would require more of a platform approach. This is not a short-term play. This is a ten-plus-year journey that involves building the right bank-grade technology and building bridges & addressing the ecosystem as a whole. A good analogy would be the mass adoption of hydrogen fuel cell cars. Wholesale change and large-scale adoption would require a new network of fueling stations countrywide. The same can be said about disruption in the payments space.

LTP: What is your focus segment by industry? Is there any specific industry segment that you see to have increased potential, but have not yet penetrated?

AW: We don’t focus on one specific industry segment or vertical. We have a single global platform that works across all verticals and geographies. We are shifting more of our focus to credit where for years there has been very little payments innovation, and we think our platform can have a tremendous impact on providing differentiated offerings as use cases for electronic payments expand. We have a long track record of success in innovating and executing flawlessly, especially in the prepaid space where the bar is set very high. The market is telling us they need a better way forward in the growing credit space, and we’re in a great position to help our customers deliver better solutions to the market.

LTP: How many customers do you have and can you give us an indication of the size of transactions which happen through your platform and your business model?

AW: Our customers use our platform to serve cardholders in 216 countries and territories across 24 time zones. We process over half a billion transactions a year. We’ve never had a major platform outage, and our service-level agreement (SLA) with customers is 99.99%.