E-payment market steaming

FINANCIAL houses are still eyeing the remnants of the Alliance Financial Limited (AFL) empire, the latest being the e-payment card market which the company once dominated.

The operations of AFL, a finance and transactions company, crumbled at the end of 2021 under a regulatory crackdown which affected its principals.

Sagicor Group has since made an offer for the company, but meanwhile, other companies in the finance space are seeking to take over and grow business lines which have been mothballed or left vacant.

The Jamaica Observer reached out to the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) for transaction values in the e-payment segment in 2021, which could have served as a proxy for market size. However, a response is yet forthcoming.

The prepaid card market covers companies which use digital format to offer debit cards, cards with monthly lunch stipends loaded for employees, fuel cards for travelling officers and lately, remittance payments.

The best assessment of transactional value was recorded in the year end 2020, when Alliance Financial reported its Prepaid Mastercard, issued to remittance customers which allowed them to load remittance proceeds, comprised 29,000 cards with over $1.0 billion loaded.

The market's potential is also indicated by the total remittance market, where inflows in 2021 in Jamaica were valued at $3.5 billion.

In addition to the direct-to-card remittance, the Alliance ePay Mastercard featured bill payment, purchase of talk time, person-to-person transfers and more.

On Valentine's Day, February 14, 2022, JMMB Group Limited indicated that it had inked a deal with Norbrook Transaction Limited, a subsidiary of Norbrook Equities Partners (NEP) to offer its own electronic payment (ePay) card to several schools, corporate and institutional entities as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

This reintroduction followed the discontinuation of the ePay card that was formerly offered in partnership with AFS.

LASCO Financial Services Limited (LFSL), meanwhile, which had previously partnered with Alliance Payment Services Limited to launch its co-branded ePay MasterCard, is now looking to another solution from Visa.

That original card, branded LASCO PAY, had allowed remittance customers cashless transactions with merchants.

In an update this week, LFSL Managing Director Jacinth Hall Tracy indicated that the company is pursuing a new partnership with Visa for its ecard roll-out.

Hall Tracey outlined, “LFSL's LASCO Gold Visa Prepaid Card is currently being tested in the market by friends and family, as part of our quality control prior to rolling it out to customers. The testing is currently being carried out under the BOJ's sandbox regulatory framework.

“This is to ensure that once we launch, customers will enjoy the benefits of the Visa experience. Our card will be targeted at all customer segments.”

The managing director said, meanwhile, some e-payment products have been suspended. She outlined, “LASCO Pay is a co-brand product in association with Alliance Epay Mastercard programme. Given that Alliance's service was suspended by the BOJ, this effectively also suspended our LASCO Pay card. Since then, LASCO Pay cardholders have been able to use the balance on their cards but they have not been able to load new funds.”

She noted that LASCO Pay cardholders still have access to the mobile app; however, “the service is suspended until further notice. The LASCO Gold Visa Prepaid card will be supported by its own app.”

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