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First Global Data CEO Andre Itwaru talks to Cantech Letter

First Global Data
First Global Data
First Global Data Chairman and CEO Andre Itwaru.

The fintech space can be a confusing one.

Between blockchain, digital wallets, P2P lending, Ethereum, and BaaS (that’s “Blockchain-as-a-Platform”, in case you didn’t know), one could be forgiven for just throwing up their hands and moving on. Or, you could heed the advice of many a wise investor and simply follow the money, and exercise that usually helps to uncover better positioned companies and coincidentally or not happens to be a place that is a little more free of trendy buzzwords.

On Monday, a little company called First Global Data Ltd. (First Global Data Stock Quote, Chart, News: TSXV:FGD) announced that its December revenue figure would be in the $2.9-million range. Not annual, not quartely, just for the month of December. What’s going on at this nascent firm?

Turns out First Global Data was the response to demand not the creation of an entity wishing to fill one they hoped to find. Founders Andre Itwaru and Nayeem Alli are Guyana residents who found millions was pouring into their country from family members abroad. They also discovered people looking to use their cell phones to pay bills and top up phone cards, among other things. Their bet was that there were many other places the “unbanked” could use a streamlined, purpose-built solution.

First Global Data was born with its DNA in mobile and cross border payments and its a bet the company thinks will ultimately dwarf its surprise December numbers. Cantech Letter talked to CEO Andre Itwaru about what’s next for the company.

Andre, can you tell us how First Global Data got started?
Our CFO, Nayeem Alli and I traveled to Guyana, South America, where we are both from, to explore opportunities to provide technology solutions to the government. We discovered that in a country of approximately 600,000 people, according to the government there was close to $300-million being sent from family members overseas. We also saw that people were lining up to pay bills and buy phone cards to top up their mobile phones. After researching the sector, we realized that the market was incredibly large, yet there was not a single company focused on delivering these payment services through technology. We designed a technology platform that would be able to deliver payment services both domestic and cross border, launched, and never looked back.

How would you describe PayQwik?
Payqwik is one of the most comprehensive, portable, interoperable mobile payment services in the world. It provides consumers with the ability to pay for goods and services with their mobile phones in both the bricks and mortar and online world. Consumers will be able to travel from country to country, change currency on the PayQwik platform, shop and spend, and remotely reload funds. It is very different from any other mobile payment service as it has a compliance core built in which screens each and every transaction to prevent against terrorist financing and/or money laundering. This compliance core allows us to offer cross border payments.

All of these alternate services require customers to be banked and/or to have credit cards. PayQwik is designed to allow all customers to use our payment services, whether the customer is banked or unbanked

Why would someone use PayQwik as opposed to PayPal or Google Pay?
All of these alternate services require customers to be banked and/or to have credit cards. PayQwik is designed to allow all customers to use our payment services, whether the customer is banked or unbanked. We enable customers to make payments via their mobile phones and at bricks and mortar locations also.

The fintech space seems so crowded right now and its seems like there are scores of companies offering the same service or solution? How does First Global Data differentiate itself?
There are other companies attempting to provide mobile payment services, though they are primarily country centric and do not have cross border capabilities. First Global evolved from the money transmission world and as a result built our technology so that it has very strong automated compliance capabilities, which enable this cross border capability. First Global is one of the only companies in the world that has a full suite of comprehensive payment abilities, from bricks and mortar, to online, to mobile. Customers can transact on their mobile phones, push and pull funds from their bank accounts, travel and exchange currency, shop and spend, reach back to their home bank account to reload their mobile wallets, and push and pull monies from a prepaid credit card. This is unparalleled. We do not sell software nor are we attempting to acquire customers under our brand, which has been proven by other organizations to be very costly. We partner with large organizations to penetrate their existing base of customers and drive high margin revenues for both First Global and our partners. Given the large user base for app penetration and the high dollar ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) of a FINTECH user, our goal is to achieve “Unicorn status” which by definition is a start up tech company valued at more than a billion dollars.

Who are the “unbanked”? How big is the phenomenon of the unbanked, financially?
The “unbanked” are defined as customers who do not have bank accounts nor access to banking facilities. Generally speaking, this represents 80% of the world’s population.

We bring financial services directly to the consumer through their mobile phones. We provide merchants with the ability to accept payments on their mobile phones, and this is transformational for merchants like street vendors who were not traditionally able to do so

What kinds of problems are you solving for your users and what were they doing before you came along?
We are solving a variety of different problems for users which include our partners such as banks, customers and merchants. For example: we provide our partners ease of entry into the mobile payment world. We enable them with leading edge, compliant mobile payment technology, which they need as the world is shifting to mobile payments. We do not sell software but rather partner with key organizations to penetrate their existing customer bases, and to attract new customers and share revenues. A very different approach. We enable access for the unbanked and under-banked into the world of the banked, so they are able to shop and spend and access financial services. Banked customers are driving a shift to easy to access, convenient, value added services which our mobile technology solves. We bring financial services directly to the consumer through their mobile phones. We provide merchants with the ability to accept payments on their mobile phones, and this is transformational for merchants like street vendors who were not traditionally able to do so. These are just a few examples.

Tell us a bit about your bank partnerships in India. How are those mutually beneficial?
There is a major movement of banks adopting mobile payment technology in India. One of the key drivers is the recent demonetization of certain rupee notes which is driving the consumer shift to mobile wallets. We enable our bank partners with mobile payment technology and an ecosystem for their existing base of customers to shop and spend and access services that they might not have traditionally been able to access. This is new incremental revenue for our bank partners. We work with our bank partners to penetrate their existing base of customers which means that the capital cost of customer acquisition drops significantly.

Are you focused on the second and third world consumer, or are the things First Global Data offers applicable to places like Canada and the United States?
There are no limits to the markets that we are actively working to penetrate. Mobile payment services are in demand globally. Yes, we are very focused on penetrating markets like Canada and the USA.

Could your solution be used for organized crime and other nefarious purposes? How do you ensure that you remain on the right side of the law?
As noted, our technology processes and procedures are designed to prevent nefarious activities such as money laundering and terrorist financing. We are a licensed money service business in Canada, the USA and other parts of the world, which means that we are audited on a regular basis by the various regulatory bodies and must maintain strong compliance controls.

Our mobile payment service has been growing approximately 22% week over week in terms of new customers, and approximately 20% week over week in terms of transactions

What kind of growth are you seeing right now, revenue and customer wise?
Our mobile payment service has been growing approximately 22% week over week in terms of new customers, and approximately 20% week over week in terms of transactions. Our model indicates that a FINTECH user will generate approximately $280 in revenues per year. This is a blended amount which includes varying geographical regions including Canada and the US. We have partnerships that allow us to access more than 74 million consumers. Our short term objective is to penetrate a minimum of 1 million of these consumers who shop and spend actively per month. We feel very good about the prospects for the company in 2017.

Are you sufficiently capitalized or will you go back to the market for more money?
We are adequately capitalized, though we are open minded to increasing capitalization with strategic money at a value reflective pricing.

Andre, you just announced record revenue for the month of December which in effect puts you at a $35 million annual run rate, do you see yourself as a potential target for a major?
Our revenue is at a starting point for positive trajectory and we see ourselves growing exponentially. Any major FINTECH player would be attracted to not only our growing revenue, but our partnership model, and our globalized approach to mobilizing the large unbanked population.

What do you want to accomplish in the next twelve months?
Our objective is to increase revenues and profitability in a significant way, and to continue establishing key partnerships which will propel more rapid and explosive growth in key markets around the world.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.

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