Simon Fortune, founder and CEO of Pesh Money Ltd, went to Central Bank one day in 2019 hoping to discuss his “new” idea with Central Bank officials and have a conversation on the possibilities and what would be needed to make his idea a reality.
To his surprise, he realised that his idea was not so new.
“I was told that it was the fourth meeting concerning fintech they had that week,” he said. “This was before the e-money policy, before 2020, before covid19. I was surprised. I thought I was breaking ground, but the ground was already starting to be paved.”
He said this was an indicator of a growing interest in adopting fintech solutions for finances.
His company is now one of three which were granted licences to be e-money issuers earlier this year.
In the budget 2024, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said more than 40 applicants are in the pipeline for review by the Joint Regulatory Committee of the Central Bank, which is more evidence to Fortune that not only is Trinidad and Tobago ready for digital transformation, but several people are interested in the service and many others are eager to invest in what has the potential to be a fast-growing industry.
TT is ready
“There is going to be a point where digital currency is everywhere,” Fortune told Business Day in an interview last Thursday. “You won’t even realise it, but the frameworks and the laws allow for that. I am very excited to see where TT is in five years.”
Fortune said, in many ways, there is already a significant penetration of cashless transactions, with people using debit and credit cards for transactions and others using digital means to transfer money from one individual to another and even more using credit cards and digital payment methods to order online. He said while most countries may not go fully cashless, fintech products such as Pesh Money will serve as another option for consumers to manage their money.
“The moment you go to the bank and you put your bank card in, that is a digital transaction. Your bank account balance is just a number on a database,” he said. “The jump now is saying, 'I can use my credit card or debit card, I could use cash, or I have this third option where I don’t have time to go to the bank.'
"With Pesh, you eliminate all that walking. The wallet is connected to your bank, so you just have to withdraw it, send it to the person and they can decide when they want to withdraw.”
He said since the launch of the company on November 20 and the app going live on Google Play Store, there has been a rush of people signing up and beginning to use the app.
“The sign-up has been way beyond what we expected. It may take a couple of days for them to really get into it, but they signed up, added their bank accounts, are going through the validation and are now starting to top up. We saw this morning people putting in $5 and $10 just to see if it works,” he said.
Fortune believes the growth and adoption of Pesh and other fintech solutions may happen organically with people trying the products and then talking about it. But he said there will be a tipping point where the convenience of the technology will drive adoption forward.
Imbert, in his budget presentation, said TT is now poised to improve the functions of the financial sector by increasing its digitalisation.
Pesh, TSTT and Paywise were registered as e-money issuers on September 1. Imbert said the interest that companies have in registering as e-money issuers is a good indicator of TT’s economy.
“As observed in other emerging markets, mobile money has the greatest potential to increase our financial inclusion levels while providing economic opportunities to promote TT as a fintech hub,” he said.
Amendments to the E-Money Issuer Order of 2020, which facilitated the registration of the nation’s first three issuers, were proposed in the budget. These proposals included removing the limits on the size of transactions for individuals, increasing wallet sizes and monthly transaction limits for individuals in the micro economy, raising monthly transaction limits for businesses and removing limits on monthly transactions and wallet sizes for large enterprises and the Government.
He also mentioned One Fintech Avenue, at the Waterfront Complex in Port of Spain, which is a platform that offers a collaborative environment for stakeholders in the fintech space to work, connect and collaborate on projects.
“Ultimately a clear fintech platform will be established locally,” Imbert said “This platform will provide solutions to help encourage investors, donors and partners interested in financing opportunities for emerging fintech, capacity building to prepare applicants seeking to apply for licensing or regulatory certainty for the use of technologies and research to collect data to benefit the centre to advance digital finance and financial inclusion.”
Pesh – a simple, safe fintech solution
Fortune explained his entire career was in providing solutions.
Born in TT and currently living in Minnesota, US, Fortune has worked in software development in one way or another since 2009.
Fortune said he saw a gap in TT’s utilisation of technology to which he felt he could provide solutions.
“Why did I start Pesh? Because I just like to solve problems. I’m kinda weird like that.
“I saw that TT has this gap in that everyone has a cellphone, but we are heavily cash-based. So there was a divide there that could be bridged.”
“Personally, if I leave home without my wallet I am not too concerned, but if I leave home and I forget my phone, that is a problem. So I kinda merged the two together.”
He said in his experience cashless transactions have made life simpler for himself and his family – whether it is paying the babysitter, paying back friends for dinner or simply paying back a person who just bought you two doubles with slight pepper.
“Transactions that you do every day, that you reach for your wallet and wonder if you have the cash, Pesh removes that friction.”
He added that micro businesses such as barbers, creative practitioners and vendors could also use Pesh for their business transactions.
He used his knowledge in programming and business management to develop Pesh – a safe, simple solution to person-to-person digital transactions.
“It had to be super-easy to use. The same way you take out your wallet and take out cash to give someone you can take out your phone, tap the person’s name and pay them. That’s all you need to do.
“For us, it was really important that you had one method to add and withdraw funds and there was one fee. It also had to be intuitive – you need to be able to pick it up and use it.”
The Pesh app, downloadable on the Google Play App Store, charges $5 for transactions from the bank to the digital wallet. However, all other transactions are free.
He said beta testing was very helpful in getting the kinks out of the app. About five people were given several iterations of it to use throughout the development of what is being used today.
“Usability testing has been going on since we did the first line of code,” he said. “It's gone through quite a few iterations to make it seamless. We had to add instructions and remove them where we needed them and consolidate as few taps on your phone as possible.”
Refinements came as issues arose with the seamlessness of the app. He said, for example, as part of the Know Your Customer requirements, people need to upload their ID cards or another form of identification. He said to ensure that aspect operated at its optimum took about four different iterations of the app.
A key requirement was security. Both Pesh developers and the Central Bank were keen on making the app as safe from hackers as possible. He said the framework of the app was built to be protective, but not intrusive.
“We really focused a lot on making sure that your banking information and personal information is private. Because of how Pesh is, you can just search someone’s name and make requests, but we are continuously trying to build walls around your information so the process is secure.”
With more customers coming to Pesh to simplify their day-to-day transactions, Fortune said TT can only move forward in its journey to become cashless.
“I think it is a step forward, not just for Pesh but for all the fintech solutions coming to the market. The e-money policy does not just cover e-wallets, it covers e-currency. There are a lot of ways that you can look at that. I am excited to see how the country grows this and build something new.”