As many parts of the world begin to assume some degree of normality, and various sectors seek to commence the recovery from the economic turbulence of COVID-19, financial innovations have never been so important. 

Wi5 CEO Prask Sutton spoke to Payment Expert about the ways that fintech can play a pivotal role in paving the road to economic recovery for the hospitality sector. 

Payment Expert: Firstly, can you tell us more about Wi5, and what it is that sets the firm’s offering apart?

Prask Sutton: Wi5 is a highly scalable, multi-tenancy Order & Pay solution for the hospitality industry. We’re not the only B2B2C SaaS player in the space, but the other offerings are either bespoke and expensive, or cheap and off-the-shelf. Most hospitality operators won’t pay for the former and are underwhelmed by the latter. 

Focusing on scalability and automation, we’ve built an application that builds applications, so operators get a high-quality product, customisable to their brand at a price that makes it a no-brainer.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a flurry of Order & Pay options flood the market, most of which have been put together in light of the opportunity created by the rise of pickup and delivery within the sector. However, most of these are rehashed e-commerce solutions that don’t meet the needs of food and beverage sales. 

More importantly, most of these — along with a lot of existing players in the space — are very light on the InfoSec side of things, at best relying on the PCI compliance of their chosen PSPs. We take information security incredibly seriously, as we all should. As an example, we’re the only mobile Order & Pay offering that we know of accredited with ISO/IEC 27001 certification, which we’ve held for a couple of years.

Payment Expert: Generally speaking, what are some of the key consumer focuses in terms of payments in the hospitality space?

PS: Both ordering and paying for things in hospitality suffers from the issues as elsewhere; you have to wait your turn. Whether it’s in a queue or trying to catch the eye of a server. The timeframe isn’t on the customers’ terms. So, there’s a desire from customers to be able to instigate the process, to order and pay when they want to. This is pretty standard in hospitality, but at Wi5 we look a little deeper. Specifically, we look at two things: paying for something vs. being charged for something.

When you pay, there’s an action required, with a commensurate effort. There’s no joy in this. It doesn’t enrich the experience. “My favourite part of the meal was when they brought me the bill!” said nobody, ever. Customers aren’t getting a hit of dopamine or serotonin when they see that PDQ being brought to the table, as the thrill of ordering and consumption has likely passed, so we’ve dovetailed the payment part of the journey into the ordering experience, so it’s over and done with and you can get on with enjoying your vegan burger, dirty martini, or whatever.

Many dining experiences do involve rounds of ordering, but we’ve built those flows and functionality into our product to ensure diners and drinkers don’t have to change that experiential behaviour that is core to the activity.

Despite the above, the very fact that payment needs to be actioned is far from ideal, and we’re fast working towards invisible payments, where the customer orders and is charged, but doesn’t have to go through the motions of paying, i.e.; where payment doesn’t need to be explicitly actioned. Think of the Uber ride-hailing experience. One of the reasons it’s great is because you’re charged for the ride, but aren’t moved to pay.

Payment Expert: How has COVID-19 changed the way payments are made within the hospitality industry?

PS: Pre-COVID, there was already a clear move towards mobile Order & Pay and we were seeing sales double month-on-month in Q1 of the year, but there was still interest around touchscreen kiosks, too. Since the pandemic took hold, the move towards cashless has greatly accelerated, but for similar reasons both consumer and operator interest in touch screens has gone through the floor, as who wants to touch another surface if they don’t have to?

There’s been a lot of research (and we’ve commissioned our own) around touchscreens in hospitality. Pre-COVID, these mainly reported what other substances are generally found on these when swabbed, and you can guess what those results yielded. More recently, the research shows that people are far more comfortable with BYOD offerings, as any physical interaction that can be avoided — whether with staff or communal technology, even tapping a credit/debit card — is welcomed as an opportunity to lower the risk of transmission of infection. This has certainly accelerated the adoption of mobile Order & Pay.

Payment Expert: As spaces are limited when it comes to the number of consumers they are allowed inside, how important are fast payments?

PS: Fast payments are crucial. In order to service as many customers as possible, given the reduced capacity that’s being enforced, operators are relying on speeding up both the ordering and payment aspects of the guest experience. Even hospitality businesses that aren’t traditionally throughput operations per se are still seeing the increase in customer and table turnover times as key to their ability to service enough customers to remain viable whilst these limited service provisions remain in place.

Payment Expert: How crucial will fintech be in enabling the hospitality sector to recover from the crisis? 

PS: The hospitality industry operates on wafer-thin margins. As we’ve seen of late, many of these businesses have little to no buffer to protect them and ride this out, so every little thing counts. Without sounding too “technology will save us!”, the role of fintech here is clearly a pivotal one and the operational efficiency these solutions bring will be the battleground on which hospitality’s war against COVID-19 will be won.

Payment Expert: Has the crisis accelerated the expansion of innovations to more users and do you anticipate this continuing? 

PS: The current crisis has certainly accelerated the adoption of innovative solutions by businesses and then, downstream, by customers. And of course, as always in times of crisis, these innovations are honed and expanded upon as a result of being battle-tested. This will definitely continue and the new systems we see being put in place today are not going to be going anywhere, even after the immediate threat of COVID-19 has long passed. The behavioural changes we’re witnessing will, as ever, become ingrained in the fabric of the hospitality experience, but I believe this is a good thing. 

These innovations were best practice before the pandemic and all that’s happened is they’ve gone from a nice to have to a prerequisite of reopening. Hospitality is a wily industry. When the clear and present danger has passed and bars, cafés and restaurants start removing their Perspex screens, etc., they won’t throw the fintech baby out with the bathwater.