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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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First Atlantic on the backend of TT e-commerce

First Atlantic Commerce CEO Christopher Burns. -
First Atlantic Commerce CEO Christopher Burns. -

If the name First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) doesn’t ring a bell, it doesn’t mean you haven’t come into contact with what they do in TT, and all around the Caribbean for that matter. The fact is FAC handles millions of online transactions per year around the world and they work with with over 200 companies in TT, including the major banks. Business Day caught up with FAC’s chief executive officer, Christopher Burns to learn more about the e-commerce economy.

Based in Bermuda, FAC has worked in TT for more than 15 years, said Burns who finds financial technology an exciting industry to work in, having been FAC CEO for seven years, and with the company for as long as it has been in TT.

Burns has held business development roles within the company before becoming CEO, and truly enjoys working with people, from the FAC team, to customers and partners. He admits to a having geek side when it comes to financial technology. “I may not be able to code but I am definitely very interested in technology in general, the payments space, the digital space and the fintech space. It’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time in.”

So what does it all boil down to? How does FAC help people do business online?

“From our perspective, if a business is looking to get online, it really starts with technical integration into our gateway," Burns said. "All our technology is back-end. The merchant would have a software developer integrate their payment page into our gateway platform and that gateway platform is integrated to all the e-commerce acquiring banks in Trinidad and throughout the Caribbean as well. So for us, it’s really about providing all the technical plumbing, all the interfaces, but providing a very simple front-end interface for people to integrate their websites to.”

Burns said a consumer shopping online does not need a FAC account to use their services. “It’s very simple. You put your card details in, and your personal details and we route your transaction directly. We don’t force you to sign up for an account.” FAC works with the merchants to make the process easy and secure for every consumer.

“We are focussed as a business to providing the best possible technology and interfaces to each customer. And we have the most comprehensive network of banks on the back end of our gateway. So no matter who you are banking with, as long as that bank is an e-commerce acquiring bank in the Caribbean, you can use our platform and we will route all of your transactions there.”

FAC, he said, works with most of the local banks in TT. “We work with all the banks who have an e-commerce acquiring licence. The majority of the big ones do – RBC, First Caribbean International Bank, Scotiabank, First Citizens and Republic. They are all connected on the backend of our platform.”

As for how a bank acquires an e-commerce licence, Burns said banks have to apply to the credit card associations. “You have to apply to Visa, MasterCard, Amex to be an e-commerce acquiring bank, to basically be able to set up e-commerce merchants to accept these card transactions.” He agreed that the credit card companies exist at the top of the pyramid when it comes to e-commerce.

“You have to be able to connect to their networks to then connect to the bank that issued that card itself. Then to verify that the funds are available and then hold those funds for the transaction.”

As for regulation, Burns said there are several industry requirements that have to be met. “The backend processing is very technical and has complex infrastructure which a lot of people don’t think about, unless you’re in the industry. Really you want your card to work and you want to buy whatever you want to buy, and now. But the infrastructure that is behind that and the support staff is vast. And there is a lot that goes into that to make sure it works, it works fast and is very, very secure.”

As for fraud, Burns said FAC has an anti-fraud system in their gateway. “It is a very complex algorithm that helps determine whether or not that transaction essentially is fraudulent or not. There’s an AI (artificial intelligence) platform within it and it takes hundreds of different data points, on each transaction, and then feeds that into a system that is processing effectively billions of transactions a year to help you, as a merchant, determine whether that is a good transaction or a bad transaction.”

Burns said FAC works with all companies, including the small business community

“We work across the entire spectrum when it comes to the size of company that we work with. Because we have a lot of big brand names, such as Digicel, Flow and Sandals and other companies like that, people think that’s all we do but we have a lot of smaller merchants, start-ups and entrepreneurs that are on our platform and using it today. The way we look at the Caribbean region, and being based in Bermuda, that it’s more than running a business. It’s more that we have been at the forefront of helping to grow the e-commerce economy in the region. We are probably processing the majority of e-commerce transactions within the Caribbean and we’re adding hundreds of new clients every year on to the platform.”

FAC is introducing new products as well, as the technology and customer demands continue develop. “We just launched this year what we call e-commerce in a box, which is in partnership with a company called Fygaro and more specifically, Fygaro shops. That product is designed to work with merchants of all sizes, from the smallest to someone who might be more established and looking to grow internationally," said Burns.

"That product includes electronic invoicing, it has payment buttons already pre-built into it, that’s already integrated into our gateway, so there’s no technical work that a merchant would need to do. They would just need to sign up for the service and pay a monthly fee and then they begin to email invoices to their customers.

"Let’s say you’re a service provider, say a small cleaning business for example and you want to be able to send your invoices out to your customers and you want to get paid online. You simply send out the invoice, the person clicks the payment button that’s on the invoice. A payment window pops up and the person can enter their card details right then and there and pay the invoice and it will up date the system to say the invoice has been paid.”

As for what’s next, Burns said there is a product that incorporates the card present world into the e-commerce world, which, he claimed, is a first for the Caribbean region and FAC is moving into Central America with its e-commerce solutions.

It's an exiting time, Burns observed as FAC continues to work in what is considered a small part of the world to develop its e-commerce capabilities as it competes with the rest of the online world.

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