THE Future of Business (TFOB), the NCB Financial Group financial technology (fintech) subsidiary which operates the Lynk digital wallet, has set its eyes on taking a piece of the remittance market even as it continues to build out its push to move Jamaica away from using cash. The NCB Financial Group is the parent company for both NCB and Lynk.
"We expect to be able to launch remittances at some point in the near future but I won't commit to a date now because we are in a process but yes, we will have remittances and the ability to fund your wallet through transfers from overseas in very short order," Vernon James, chief executive officer of Lynk said at a press brieing on Tuesday.
Pressed further for details on the move to enter the remittance market, James told the Jamaica Observer that he cannot give a better commitment to how soon Lynk will start offering remittance services because the entity is awaiting the approval process from the Bank of Jamaica. He however hinted that he would like Lynk to get approval before the end of this year to take advantage of the heavy remittance traffic at Christmas time.
Remittances aside, the Lynk CEO on Tuesday officially unveiled its ABM Cash-In/Cash-Out feature. This latest innovation gives Lynk users, especially those without a bank account, the ability to fund their Lynk wallet using the National Commercial Bank's (NCB's) extensive ABM network.
"We have to make sure the ABMs are all over," Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance and the public service, said as he pressed NCB to ensure accessibility of the digital wallet which uses the central bank digital currency (CBDC), Jam-Dex for its transactions. He also quipped that digital wallets such as Lynk may soon make ABMs obsolete.
Of the 800 plus ABMs across the island, NCB operates more than 325. However, with the perennial issue of ABMs malfunctioning, questions were raised about how reliable it will be to access Lynk using that medium.
Septimus "Bob" Blake, chief executive officer of the National Commercial Bank, while acknowledging the issue, pointed out that downtime for the machines has been reduced in recent years as the bank makes investments in their operations and maintenance.
"Last year, as an example, we spent $800 million for investing and maintaining the ABM machines," Blake said in reply to queries about investing in the ABM network.
He, however, outlined that a number of issues relating to both hardware and software continue to plague the operation of the machines.
"I think we can solve this through further investment, vigilance, holding ourselves accountable, and being very transparent," Blake opined.
Those issues aside, the finance minister urged Jamaicans to register with Lynk and said he will participate in a programme to get his constituents using the digital payment method with Jam-Dex as soon as this year.
"We want to work on a pilot for this Christmas work and I will offer my constituency; there may be others who want to offer theirs. We will do the work up front to make sure people are signed up and importantly, merchants within the space are signed up," Clarke said.
Under that programme, he said, he will be paying workers in his constituency with Jam-Dex through digital wallets such as Lynk.
Clarke, however, stressed the need for public education "to ensure people are aware and knowledgeable about options and choices.".
Lynk, for its part, called for other banks to embrace and offer Jam-Dex through their own digital wallets so asto make the system completely interoperable.
"What I want people to understand is that they don't need cash for their transactions as long as everyone uses a digital wallet," James told the Business Observer after the press briefing.
For those still on the sidelines of deciding whether or not to sign up for the digital wallet, certain factors were emphasised.
"It's cardless, so some of the fraud that you see happening just from the use of the physical card, we escape that because we are cardless. We also do employ the highest level of security standards."
So far, Lynk has been on a drive to register as many merchants as possible to make the app more appealing to the public as a medium of exchange.
However, issues were raised earlier this year about accessibility of systems that use Lynk. Governor of the Bank of Jamaica Richard Byles in April told the Diaspora conference that issues related to the compatibility of point-of-sale machines were to be sorted. The company was asked if that has been done so far to fix the situation.
"We have shortly to launch merchant interaction. We need people to be able to pay wherever they go — small, medium and large. For the small merchant we have P2P [point-to-point]. For the medium we would soon launch our QR code where you go and scan and you are able to pay. And for the large we are committed to two journeys — one through the current point of sale and the other through direct integration to allow everybody to go and pay. We expect that we will cover all three journeys within the next six months so that people can use it wherever they go."
Patrick Hylton, chief executive officer of NCB Financial Group, told the audience at the press briefing that having seen the work that is being done to roll out the digital wallet, "It is no surprise, then that since the launch of Lynk just a few short months ago, approximately 145,000 individual customers and almost 3000 merchants have been onboarded, transacting over $500 million across the platform." Lynk said it aims to "triple" the number of merchants on its system in the next six months.
Hylton said the company decided to create digital start-up Lynk because, "We have witnessed too many companies that did not take advantage of the shifts in technology or take decisions to make the significant changes to their business model required to survive and thrive. As I have said before, we at NCBFG will not wait on others to disrupt our business model, we will disrupt it ourselves."
He pointed out that Jamaica became the only country to pass legislation to legalise CBDC in June of this year and is fourth among the ten leading countries issuing CBDCs today.
Lynk's ABM feature follows other innovations such as mobile top up and bill payments using the app. The company has indicated that in the coming months, it plans to launch a merchant platform for medium to large businesses, a remittance feature, and several other features that fit the ever-evolving Jamaican lifestyle.