Q&A with Michael Maokhmphiou, Operations Manager at Lightning Box

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As a provider of digital payments for the entire high street, fintech firm OKTO stands out as having a unique cashless solution that caters to the nuanced needs of the UK’s highly regulated land-based gaming sector. As demand for such solutions accelerates due to the global pandemic, Dimitar Shopov, OKTO Wallet Commercial Owner, explains how crucial it is that operators pick a partner that understands the specifics of their industry, whilst also evolving its technology to keep up to date with global fintech trends.

On a global basis, how busy has OKTO been since the start of the pandemic? Has there been a notable increase in interest and urgency for the installation of cashless systems?

It is a question we are increasingly asking ourselves as a society: “Do we still need cash?” The decline in the use of cash and the concurrent rise in digital and card payments has been charted for years, but the pandemic definitely marks the real beginning of the end of cash in many mature markets like the UK who is a fast adopter, ushering the interest and urgency toward cashless systems.

A combination of contributing factors play a role here; tech advances, measures from authorities, and actions from big retailers across the world that have already adopted the use of digital payments as a safer method to maintain social distance and contain the spread of the COVID-19. Cashless systems have increasingly become the new norm, simply due to the fact that society demands it.

Now, all our partners are asking us how we can help them transition to cashless operations and the driver is always the same; the ability to respond to their users’ demands, leverage user services and experience and reduce cost and risk of cash. And that is what we deliver with our OKTO.WALLET solution.

Is the UK a market you are monitoring in respect to its uptake of cashless payments?

The use of cash has been falling around the world and the pandemic along with the fear of infection from bank notes are accelerating the trend away from cash towards digital payments. The UK ranks higher than all other countries in the EU when it comes to cashless payments for a few years now.

Naturally, not everybody is ready for a digital switchover, but it’s apparent that more and more people turn to digital payment options. Cash’s share of in-store transactions in the UK plummeted from 45 percent in January to 23 percent in July, per a report from Square that analyzed data from hundreds of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) across the UK while the digital will likely retain greater popularity. Therefore, as a fast adopter, the UK was a natural fit for us to invest in this market, creating a powerful solution, designed to address the needs of the Pub & AGC sector with the main mission to be the enhanced user experience.

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And here comes the question: Will we ever have a digital alternative that offers the same mix of convenience and freedom as cash? For me the answer is yes. Contactless forms of payment have created a new level of convenience for people around the world, and this has provided a real boost for certain industries, from gaming and betting to hospitality sectors. OKTO.WALLET solution is not only the safe and fast transactional tool that both users and merchants demand but it also offers users the freedom to move and use their funds as they wish instantly.

How do you think Covid-19 has accelerated this increasing disdain for products and services that require cash payment? Does another round of government restrictions in the UK spell further worry for cash-only businesses?

A few years ago, while I was walking through London, I noted some signs dotted around a pub that announced the complete move from cash to customers: “Apologies, but it is the digital age.” Don’t forget that there are benefits in digital payments that make life easier not only for the pubs but for all retail businesses. Think about it, at the end of the night whatever the retail business is, the people there need to count up endless piles of coins, managers need to transfer bags of cash to be lodged at the bank, also there are the additional charges to processing cash transactions versus digital ones and so on. All these can be eliminated with the digital cashless payments.

The trend was there and Covid-19 came and sped up that trend. All the cashless benefits along with the fact that banknotes and coins have been identified as a medium for transmitting the pandemic is clearing the way for another stellar rise in digital payments.

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I cannot see the crystal ball and make the prediction for further pandemic-related worries for cash-only businesses, but when you hear announcements from World Health Organization back in March, recommending people to turn to cashless transactions to fight the spread of Covid-19, and rapidly a number of governments and retailers across the world took action, you can realize the evident concern. This shift should not be underestimated, as cashless transactions become the norm and rapidly impact niche industries like hospitality and gaming.

A cash-free future is getting closer, and the new lockdown is further accelerating that shift, but this change won’t be a 100 percent switch over night, there will be a prolonged period cash and digital payment options living side by side. After all, consumer payment choice is one of the most essential ways to maximise a merchants revenue potential, and operators should ensure that they will offer their customers the same level of choice in payment options as other sectors of the leisure industry, offering cashless facilities and we are here to assist operations in this transition.

Despite being a fintech provider to many markets across the world, OKTO clearly sees gaming as a particularly important one. How does this focus on gaming, whilst also offering all the benefits of neo-banks such as Monzo and Revolut, put OKTO in a better position to serve the market than competing cashless solutions in this space?

There are plenty of cashless solutions available and it can be confusing at times, what and why different digital solutions are better suited to certain sectors, and this is especially true in gaming.

But, it’s crucial for any operation to back the right horse. It’s imperative to choose a reliable solutions partner and few providers are focusing on the nuanced needs of gaming operators, especially for land-based, which make us unique in what we do. At OKTO, we want to assist our partners to make informed decisions for both their businesses and customers. Now with the industry to face more challenges than ever gaming operators need a payment service to ease the burden rather than add to it. Industry-specific, mobile-first and open-loop are the keys here.

A payment provider with a mobile payment platform, tailored for the gaming industry that aims to reduce payment friction, enhance the user experience, allowing real-time e-money fund transfer in a simple, secure and fast way is the answer to their quest. When this comes with a universality, then this is a sure bet, as consumers can use, move and collect their funds anywhere, not just for gaming.

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Having a dedicated team on gaming, are you confident OKTO is well-equipped to cater to the needs of such a heavily regulated industry, where the expectations for compliance, data protection, and social responsibility are higher than any normal consumer market?

It’s vital to choose the right partner as I previously said; one that utilises field-proven technologies and has the extensive know-how of key integrations across all physical touchpoints of a gaming venue ranging from gaming machines to Self-Service Betting Terminals and Cash Redemption Terminals as well as a strong understanding and proven ability to integrate the wallet with digital touchpoints. We have exactly this 360 approach through our OKTO.WALLET solution, that the operators need to get ahead.

Heavily regulated industries are not unknown to us. We have an extensive understanding of the current climate; and we have developed solutions that ease compliance issues. Utilising the highest level of data encryption, we ensure all users data are fully encrypted while also all fund transfers are audited using market-proven algorithms to detect fraudulent activity including not only Money Laundering but also game manipulation and cash peripheral attacks.

Social responsibility is also at the top of our minds. With tools available through the OKTO app, we cover the social responsibility quota, incorporating a strict age verification process, time-out periods, betting limits, and profit and loss calculator tools that further enhance consumer protection as well as a dedicated section embedded in the app with national problem gambling helplines.

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