Interview with the CEO of Accomplish Financial, Guy el Khoury
Director General of the The Payments Association Tony Craddock speaks with Guy Raymond El Khoury, CEO of Accomplish Financial, a complete solution provider in the Issuing space and an active Payments Association member, on the real success of his journey in the emerging payments sector.
Tony Craddock (TC): Let us start at the beginning. Why did you decide to set up Accomplish Financial?
Guy Raymond El Khoury (GREK): We noticed that there was a gap in the market for servicing of innovative and new FinTech type products. This was before the word FinTech was common or even really being used – and there was nowhere for these projects to go. At the time, there were three or four major international processors active, banks that were issuing their own products, the concept of BIN sponsorship was still something new and uncommon and a few programme managers.
We felt that there needed to be a single service organisation that could assist, and guide partners interested in innovation and take them through all the project steps from end to end whilst also delivering the solution in-house. This meant from the paperwork and back office tasks, the technical parts all the way through to the scheme and regulatory parts. By removing the need for our clients to worry about the entire service part, they could focus more on their product and how it would interact with their target audience. This is the reason Accomplish Financial was formed.
TC: So that’s the business reason, what about the personal reason? Why do you want to do this?
It’s a risky, exciting roller coaster of a ride running a tech business.
GREK: It absolutely is, and honestly, I don’t know if I’d recommend it to everyone. In my case, I wanted to prove that not only can it be done, but that it can be done properly. It has definitely not been easy, and it always takes longer than you want it to take, especially when you do things correctly. However, it is starting to show results, and I genuinely get true satisfaction and joy out of seeing the whole industry and technology progress. It’s fascinating to watch the advancements in tech, but I’m also driven by how we can help shape consumers’ lives. I’m not an artist, a music composer or a good singer so I can’t produce traditional works of art to make the world a better place, therefore I try instead to do my tiny little bit in my area of expertise to make people’s lives better.
TC: You’re very modest and don’t underestimate the importance of being an early market entrant, because when you and I were starting out maybe 10 years ago, there really wasn’t anything. It was very early the smattering of enthusiasts, a few technology companies and a few big people looking in from outside. What changes have you seen since those early days?
GREK: Oh wow, first, the access granted by regulators, especially the FSA (now the FCA) which, back then and most definitely still today, is one of the world’s leading regulators. Without a doubt, the access given by the regulators which allowed this innovation to thrive has been of utmost importance, and the fact that they were willing to listen and understand the goals that businesses wanted to achieve, was extremely important. This evolution has been identifiable and very helpful.
The emergence of lots of service providers in the space has also been a very clear sign of the growth of the market. Back when we started, there were a handful of processors, BIN sponsors and a couple of program managers at most, and that was it. If you want to create a project yourself, you had to figure it out on your own. By that I mean that most people would have to guess where to start and they then had to slowly begin to learn all the jargon and after meeting with several entities begin to understand what a card manufacturer does, comprehend the differences between a BIN sponsor versus a using program manager or even going to an issuing bank. The industry now has matured significantly, we have also made serious advancements in the time it takes to take a project live. Back then, back when we first started, it would take anywhere between three to six months, and in some instances, even a year for projects to go live! Now? It can be as little as take two days, so it’s a massive, massive difference.
TC: What demands does that place on your organisation and on your clients, who then discovered they can do a new program today and another new program next week and another new program next week?
GREK: Well, it has had interesting results and reactions! In one case we were brought in to present our solution in response to an RFP and we were told, by the payments consultants handling the RFP during the presentation meeting that it was ‘impossible’ and that ‘no one can launch a product so fast’. There is of course the fact that the project didn’t need cards to printed by a third party. In those cases, it can add a few weeks of time to a project. However, in the instance that virtual cards or electronic wallets of products are required, it generally takes us a day to set up the project and we allocate ourselves another day to test and run QA to ensure that everything is working well. I have had several clients benefit from it. One of them called us on a Friday evening informing us that their board had asked for a new variant of their product to be shown on Monday, and that they wanted to be able to demonstrate it working. We worked through the weekend, and it went live on time.
TC: Wow, how exciting.
GREK: Well the idea is that people get innovative and cutting-edge ideas all the time, correct? However, between innovation, thought, and execution, sometimes the market moves, competitors come into your space and a multitude of things can change. If you cannot take an idea and move as fast as the industry moves, then you’re not benefiting from it. If it takes a year to set up a product, many things may change by the time you go live, in some cases even rendering your product obsolete before even launching.
TC: I love that. That’s a great lesson for the industry, you’ve got to match the timing in the market.
So, if you were to have to choose two programs, one of which you think is the most successful and one of which you think is perhaps your personal favourite that you run, what would they be?
GREK: Actually, both would probably be the same program at the moment; Raris. The Raris card is manufactured in the UK by The Royal Mint and is an 18K solid gold hallmarked card. It was quite a long process to get this project up and running, due to the very steep learning curve involved into learning and understanding the world of bespoke card manufacturing. It was a global effort and it spanned new areas for us from physical product testing (and destruction!), certification of the card manufacturing process, designing and approving the card’s security features through to ensuring that both Mastercard and The Royal Mint’s high standards were always adhered to. It was a new challenge in expanding our knowledge and expertise in our field which we thoroughly enjoyed. We are extremely honoured and proud to power Raris. It was a chance for complete innovation for us. It is rare that we get to innovate on a physical level and help make something tangible that we can then bring to life with our technology. Everyone who has seen a Raris card has been captivated by it and truly loves it. There is something very special about it.
TC: That is amazing.
TC: Please tell me more about how Accomplish Financial helps with innovation.
GREK: One of the advantages of launching products quickly, other than of course beating your potential competitors to market, is rapid prototyping. The industry also genuinely suffers from being overpriced for an innovator and this in turn also discourages prototyping. We solve both these challenges.
What do I mean by this? So, imagine a scenario where you’ve come up with an idea for the latest and greatest product. We’ll call it the Tony Card and the Tony Card does it all. The features and the benefits you have attached to it are unbelievable and you may have developed a really cool and sleek companion app where if you wink at the phone, it just knows exactly what you are trying to buy, and makes the payment for you.
As a next step, you are now looking to take the Tony Card to an investor or go to the market and move fast in order to give the product as much momentum as possible. You want to show people how it works, that it’s fantastic and all you need is just a pilot or proof of concept in order to get going. We have made it such that you don’t need to go and spend hundreds of thousands or even millions in development, hiring staff wasting months and years trying to figure out how to implement every component. What you need is a robust service provider on which you can build your solution. And that’s what we really enjoy providing; bringing products to life!
Circling back to the product question, we don’t actually push our own products in the market so, for example, you won’t see an ‘Accomplish Financial card’ – it doesn’t exist. What we have in the market are our clients’ products, and we are there to support our clients. We’re not a B2C company we’re a B2B service provider. Think of us as a solid foundation for people to build their products on and that they can rely on us to fill the gaps they have in taking a program live. With the exception of the marketing of course. Businesses can run their innovation and not worry about how the financial aspects need to operate, certainly not at that stage.
PART TWO WILL BE RELEASED IN THE COMING DAYS.