Interview: Aldwyn Wayne

What barriers do financial technology (fintech) firms and start-ups face in Trinidad and Tobago?

ALDWYN WAYNE: Tech start-ups tend to lack initial capital, and obtaining a licence and funding to become an e-service provider is challenging. Permitting alternative avenues such as sub-licensing would allow smaller companies to test a product in the market without such high levels of capital.

In T&T the majority of industries are dependent on the government. Nine out of 10 times, profitable companies were kick-started through a government programme. Whether the company is involved in sports, fintech or hackathons, or is a start-up, its success is often due to such assistance. In the digital space there is an increasing number of small companies that are showing promising signs.

In what way can tech companies help governments improve revenue management?

WAYNE: Much of the issue surrounding government revenue management across the Caribbean region is the slow or archaic infrastructure through which solutions are provided. The process of collecting data or revenue may be smooth at the outset, and the systems may be well built, but revenue management and data input are both done manually. As such, there is significant room for human error. It is not a question of fraud or pilferage, as we are often quick to think, but instead it is simply the fact that the systems are inadequate to manage the type and sheer volume of transactions. Managing thousands of transactions on a daily basis requires innovative digital solutions.

E-payment solutions would remove human error, and countries that utilise this technology would experience exponential efficiency gains. Digital services and e-payments would not only make payments easier, but they would also improve the overall execution and accuracy of revenue management.

How are digital solutions helping to reduce socio-economic disparities?

WAYNE: For a long time people across the Caribbean have been underserved by banks because of limited access, restricted services and high service fees. This has contributed to low levels of formalised banking, not to mention difficulty securing a loan.

There is clearly a market for those who have an adequate salary; however, banks are not providing services to low-income individuals. Standard banking may no longer fit the needs of someone who makes TT$700 ($103) per week, especially as their entire weekly spending goes towards groceries. Their purchasing power should not be affected by the cost of using an ATM or by having a card with high transactions costs. These individuals should be able to make payments without incurring service fees.

Technology is the biggest democratiser and socio-economic equaliser. This is a great time for people in the Caribbean and the world because of the advancement of more inclusive fintech services. Technology allows countries like T&T to skip the steps that most of the world’s advanced economies have gone through. Take the M-Pesa mobile money system from Kenya as an example: it is more advanced than payment programmes used in the US. Meanwhile, in China the WeChat social media and mobile payment app offers services that rival those of developed countries.

To what extent would digital solutions help lower crime rates in a high-risk country?

WAYNE: Security is the top priority for e-money providers. A cashless society reduces the rate of petty crime because it would bring improved security and data management. Possessing a piece of plastic or a two-factor authentication app on your phone minimises such risks. Carrying around less cash means less temptation, vulnerability and crime.