Wednesday, August 12, 2020
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian digital payments provider yesterday said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped it exceed first-year expectations "by almost 100 percent" as it targets 50,000 active users by 2020 year-end.
Keith Davies, Kanoo's chairman and chief executive, told Tribune Business that while he "would never have wished COVID-19 on anybody" the circumstances created by the pandemic had produced an "exponential increase in demand" for the electronic payment services facilitated by the company's app-based product.
Yet while the virus has accelerated The Bahamas' transition towards the 21st century digital economy, Mr Davies warned that this nation must "move faster" and be more "aggressive in our approach to implementing digital solutions" for a wide range of consumers needs and problems - especially when it comes to accessing government services.
The Kanoo chief, who is also the Bahamas International Securities Exchange's (BISX) chief executive, said the company had already shown how it can assist in this area by providing "seamless" digital vouchers to persons enrolled in the Department of Social Services' food assistance programme.
He added that it was fulfilling a similar service for non-profits and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), having issued 650 cards simultaneously through "the push of a button" to beneficiaries of Hands for Hunger's aid via their mobile phones.
Kanoo, Mr Davies, said had also "signed up a number of new merchants" seeking to use its digital platform to participate in the government's National Food Distribution Task Force initiative, which according to the prime minister is now feeding 110,000 Bahamians - more than one quarter, or one out of every four, of the population.
Conceding that he did not have exact figures available, Mr Davies told this newspaper that Kanoo had "crossed over" in terms of both active user and merchant numbers, and now expected to "eclipse" projections for an inaugural year that began with the December 9, 2019, launch.
"We're counting users in the thousands, and not the hundreds any more," he disclosed. "We are well on our way to 9,000 active users just as a result of the activity going on. We crossed over the 8,000 mark just at the end of last month.
"Our goal is to get 50,000 users into the platform this year. We'll be well on our way by the end of this month with approximately 10,000, or sliding into next month. We expect to increase demand with the satisfaction we're providing.
"We're getting merchants calling, saying they'd like to be part of this. We're getting the referrals from satisfied customers and merchants that see the value in this. That's the difference. Digital is obviously the way to go."
Hitting the 50,000 user-target set by Mr Davies for 2020 year-end will still take some doing for Kanoo, whose user and merchant apps contain multiple payments solutions including digital wallets, mobile shopping malls, and the ability to benefit from exclusive deals, discounts and coupons/gift cards issued by vendors.
However, the lockdowns and numerous restrictions imposed by the Government to fight COVID-19 have increasingly driven Bahamians to digital providers due to the increased convenience and efficiency associated with conducting financial transactions electronically - especially since face-to-face payments have become difficult, if not impossible.
"I would say we have exceeded our expectations by almost 100 percent," Mr Davies told Tribune Business of Kanoo's first year. "We're still not even at the end of the first year and have exceeded our projected growth for the user and merchant population. We're in the process of re-doing our projections and plans in terms of our expanding reach and impact we've had helping individuals and bringing people into the Kanoo ecosystem."
While the financial technology (Fintech) start-up has clearly been aided by the pandemic, he added: "I would never have wished COVID-19 on any country, I would never wish this on anybody. In response to COVID-19 and the need for services like Kanoo, this has accelerated the adoption by users and merchants and, because of that we have seen an exponential increase in the demand for our services.
"We didn't choose the circumstances we are in. We are responding to that, and providing solutions to the problems it has created." Mr Davies added that Kanoo now has more than 100 active merchants using its solution, with several hundred more seeking demonstrations of its services and "several dozen" in the process of being added.
He said a number had signed up to facilitate their participation in the Government's national food initiative, especially smaller 'Mom and Pop' type food stores. Kanoo has also developed a 'Pay with Kanoo' feature, similar to how PayPal operates, with Bahamian companies able to install it as a link on their website and receive instant payment from customers through that mechanism.
"It's accelerated it exponentially," Mr Davies said of COVID-19's impact on The Bahamas' digital transformation, "and I think we need to move faster. You use opportunities when they exist. People need services, access and answers to problems. The solutions are there.
"With the digitisation of the country we need to be aggressive in our approach to implementing digital solutions in terms of accessing information, making and receiving payments and providing solutions to individuals.
"We have a solution every government agency should accept without question. There is no impediment to it happening. Government accepts Visa and Mastercard. We are no different. Today, Kanoo considers itself an essential service. We are an essential service for the country, and are going to act accordingly. We are a Bahamian payment rail, so the money stops here."
Mr Davies said the solutions that Kanoo is already providing on the Department of Social Services' behalf are enabling food assistance beneficiaries to avoid queues and maintain COVID-19 health protocols.
"We're providing facilitation and support to that programme with the issuance of digital food vouchers through the phone," he added. "It's a seamless process. We're provided with a name and number, the beneficiary signs up to Kanoo and they instantly get their benefit.
"We literally had someone standing in the store. They reached out to the Department and we were able to confirm their number, and they were able to shop right there on the spot. For us we have perfected the process. We have an entire platform designed for benefits. Right now we're just doing the food assistance, but we could do the cash benefits.
"We are working with Hands for Hunger, and just yesterday [Monday] morning with the push of a button we issued 650 cards to beneficiaries. It was seamless."