[Interview] Brian Richardson, CEO, WIZZIT, South Africa
Brian Richardson is CEO and Co-Founder of WIZZIT International, a global pioneer outfit in the digitalisation of financial services and in particular, the use of mobile technology directed at financial inclusion, with a current focus on Africa.
Could you introduce your company?
WIZZIT was founded to make economic citizens of the world’s unbanked. We utilise technology – particularly mobile – with a strong focus on financial inclusion. In doing this we promote digitalisation and demonstrate to Financial Service Providers that they can exceed their strategic and financial expectations and we build confidence in consumers by providing safe and secure payments technology on their channel of choice – WhatsApp, Phone and Card. We have been described as disruptive innovators and are regarded as global thought leaders.
Today WIZZIT is primarily involved in providing chat banking platforms, including WhatsApp together with the WIZZIT Authenticator platform that ensures secure transactions across all the channels that a bank offers their customers.
Africa is moving to cashless and this presents a major challenge to the 700 million Africans that are financially excluded but provides the most incredible opportunity to innovative and alert FSPs. Imagine providing this captive market with totally secure chat banking – enabling full participation in this increasingly digital world. The reality is that 70% of the African population is immediately and automatically excluded from any innovation because they simply cannot pay – even if they want to.
Where does WIZZIT currently operate?
WIZZIT operates across three continents but in Africa has offices in South Africa and partners in Egypt, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, Senegal, Reunion, Angola and Cameroon.
When was the company founded and by who?
I started WIZZIT with Charles Rowlinson in 2002 and the company went live with our first client in 2004 as the first digital and branchless bank. WIZZIT is privately owned but had as a founding shareholder the International Finance Corporation.
Who specifically are your clients?
Leading innovative banks, typically. This has grown to include other FSP’s including the Telco’s, Mobile Money Operators, Micro Finance Organisations, Savings and Credit organisations, PSPs (Payment Service Providers), EMI’s (Electronic Money Issuers) technology and security companies. Today the challenge is finding the balance between the critical need for state-of-the-art security on the one hand and frictionless user experience on the other. Clients include all entities that have a need to protect themselves and their customers from fraud and cybercrime.
What are WIZZIT's top selling points?
WIZZIT has a massive differential advantage and competitive uniqueness in that we have an 18 year track record and reputation yet still are at the forefront of innovation and pioneering state of the art digital solutions. More than this, WIZZIT does not only provide technology but because we run our own FSP, we can give our customers a proven and functional model with a viable commercial business case. Further, WIZZIT has a deep understanding of banking and payments and all the complexities that this involves including the non-negotiable requirement for security. Combine this with a passion and enthusiasm and understanding of customer needs and you have great recipe. Brian has worked across cultures all his working life, and prior to launching WIZZIT ran a management consultancy business with operations across 37 countries. This global experience and exposure gives WIZZIT a further competitive advantage.
How is the company financed?
WIZZIT is privately funded and all investment in R&D and technology development comes from operations. We have some very exciting new developments we are scaling across the globe. and because of the competitive nature and the speed at which the digital world is moving, an accelerated go to market may require additional funding but we will see how it goes. More important than the dollars is the strategic and culture fit and alignment of vision.
How has the unbanked in Africa received your service?
Being pioneers and innovators always has its challenges but there is a high level of trust in our existing clients and they continually look to us for new ideas. I think that they “enjoy” being challenged in terms of the massive changes that are happening in their industry and that if they do not keep up, they are likely to get left behind. It is not easy to hear that their traditional branch banking model may have a very limited life span. It is hard to swallow that having invested significantly in APPs that they will have to transition their customers to chat banking if they are to remain relevant. As a bank, I would rather cannibalise my own channels than have my customers stolen by more innovative and aggressive competitors. We see ourselves as strategic technology partners with our clients and not simply as vendors.
What are the ambitions of the company?
WIZZIT is already an international company with operations across three continents and 14 countries. We would like to get to a minimum of 30 countries with a strong focus on Africa where there are so many opportunities. We are also growing our presence in Latin America and South East Asia and with our latest products and services we are exploring opportunities in the developed markets of UK, Europe and Australia.
What does the company need to achieve this growth and expansion, and to thrive?
As with any business, success breeds success and this comes through hard work, determination and focus. The danger is in trying to do too much and spreading yourself too thin. Having excellent people who share our passion and enthusiasm and who can execute is critical and we are very blessed to have a truly remarkable team of very talented people. Although we are a technology company, our clients rarely buy technology – they buy solutions and “opportunities to grow” – not technology per se but what it can do for them. Clients today want to use their channels of choice in interacting with their bank or doing transactions. Once banks and FSP’s understand this and accept that the days of them dictating channels to their customers are over they have an amazing opportunity to provide access to their services at very low cost – and WIZZIT can help them do this.
As WIZZIT's CEO, in what direction are you taking the company this year?
Back in 2004 we were heavily criticised by senior bankers telling us that no one would ever do a financial transaction on a mobile phone! I almost got crucified every time I mentioned that branches were dying.
Fifteen years later I get bemused looks when I mention that 700 million Africans are being excluded from any form of e-commerce – a $75bn opportunity – and that being able to authenticate mobile banking over WhatsApp is a rapid route to accessing this market. Only time will tell.
The opportunities that we are working on this year include:
Assisting clients implement their Digitalisation strategies
Assisting FSPs to transition from APP to chat;
Assisting FSPs to transition from USSD to chat
Assisting FSPs to address the fraud and cybercrime issues and to mitigate the massive financial and reputation risks that comes with this
Enabling our clients to deliver a simple, standard, user-friendly authentication experience for their customers - for call centres, POS, ATMs, Internet, mobile, App or chat.
What is the latest news from the company, anything noteworthy?
We have cracked a very difficult problem for our clients – we can authenticate end-users in all chat platforms, including WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, WeChat, Viber, etc. Our industry compliant (NIST, FIPS, COTS, PCIDSS) solution enables our clients to rapidly implement a chat channel, assured that the authentication component of the experience has been implemented with the latest, state-of-the-art encryption technologies.
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