OKTO: fulfilling concrete expectations how players want to pay

Filippos Antonopoulos, CEO of fintech provider OKTO, spoke to Payment Expert ahead of next week’s ICE London event to share his views on the true nature of an omnichannel approach to payments and the importance of a responsible payments experience.

PE: Omnichannel is a word that’s often bandied around by operators, but what’s your view on how an omnichannel approach ought to work when it comes to payments?

FA:An omnichannel approach can safeguard the digital transformation of a land-based environment, ensuring that users have a smooth experience when moving between the high street and online. For online gaming, including sports-betting, online casinos and lotteries, payments have been an integral part of the player experience for quite a long time, and now we can see this impacting  brick-and-mortar businesses on a significant scale. 

Online versus land-based is becoming much less polarised, less black and white; it’s now a  combination of the two. It should be the same products/services walking with you wherever you are. Today’s digital-savvy players, whether that be retail or online, have concrete expectations about how they want to pay, and they’re reluctant to compromise. An omnichannel payments strategy allows the customer journey to take place along any combination of digital and physical touchpoints, having the same payment options in every touchpoint. This requires payment and data to flow across multiple channels, solution providers, and endpoints. 

I think the best way to look at it is to think about a player in a sports betting shop that can carry the preferred payment brand with him or her from the high street to home and then to the gaming hall or the online site of the operator but can also use it beyond gaming in daily spending. 

PE: How prevalent will the digital wallet be as the omnichannel experience continues to evolve? How can operators fully embrace digital wallet technology as they elevate their user experience and offer solutions that are secure, modern, and flexible to the current customers’ needs of today and tomorrow?

FA: Digital is here to stay. The biggest retail trend of the past 24 months has been the huge conversion to digital, and digital wallets have played a big role in this shift. Digital wallets have quickly evolved from a hot payment trend to an essential channel for a well-rounded, omni-channel payment experience. Besides being a new payment alternative for consumers, the new service is primed to impact retailers’ omnichannel strategies and advance the digital experience, bridging online and in-store. Now more digitally savvy consumers expect a seamless experience and frictionless transactions – and retailers who are not agile enough to respond will lose out. 

It’s a great opportunity to take the friction out of the purchase experience. This is especially the case in busy venues where queues can quickly build up – cashless payment is on average seven seconds faster compared with chip and pin and 15 seconds faster compared with cash. Imagine it from a customer’s perspective: The faster that queue or line moves, the more likely you are to have a good experience and want to come back. The speed at the checkout – at the endpoint – whether that be a transaction in the online sports betting site, at the self-service betting terminal,  gaming machine or at the cashier desk, will deter users from going elsewhere. Especially when a brand can offer the same payment options across all of brand’s channels.

When it comes to security, I would say that nowadays, if you still need to highlight security as part of your proposition, you’re behind the curve. For me, it is a given – a foundation stone of any modern platform in fintech. What should be highlighted instead, especially in the gaming, entertainment, and leisure industries, is responsible digital payments, and we do exactly this at OKTO.

The second important thing for us is APIs – easier integration points. To be API-driven is crucial. As a modern payment platform, it’s imperative to simplify the payments ecosystem from merchant onboarding and gaming system integration to enable digital payments into legacy systems, to payments and banking services, enabling card acquiring, issuing and settlements as well as end-user onboarding within a safe KYC environment, following the AML rules and preventing fraud.

PE: You talk about “responsible digital payments”. Does this include player protection from the payments side? What kind of player protection measures should operators be looking for when seeking out a payment provider?

FA: For users, regardless if they are also players, to adopt and use digital payments, they need to feel protected from risks such as loss of privacy, exposure to fraud, and unauthorized fees. This means that we as payment service providers need to proactively take steps to protect consumers, ensuring that we follow the specs of the regulatory framework from the payments side, but also considering the spec of gaming regulators. What we always had in mind, designing, and always improving our solutions is exactly this – to be proactive and eliminate money laundering, terrorist financing, and price volatility, and instead bring in front the complete and safe know your customer (KYC) requirements and a complete responsible gaming toolkit embedded into our solutions. 

For the operators the constant question will be: “Are you doing enough for responsible gaming?” Over the last few years, a massive move toward improving player protection has been a result of increased awareness and better responsible gaming tools, but could they be doing more? The responsibility towards vulnerable players is definitely more than a compliance exercise; it makes sound business sense, as well as being intrinsically the right thing to do for a responsible business and a responsible industry.

So, the answer is yes, especially for the land-based sector. A comprehensive KYC and AML, all working together and delivered seamlessly via embedded financial services into their core product at their customers’ point of need is the key. This integrated approach helps increase the responsible gaming initiatives, but also will in turn increase customer acquisition with real-time onboarding, creating a better customer experience. Retail operators will then be able to streamline their customers’ journey, automate the onboarding process, reduce fraud, and achieve regulatory compliance.

PE: Are embedded payments the foundation for further innovation in payments? Why is so important in the gaming industry?

FA: Embedded financial services have a massive impact on the customer experience. We have seen the rise of Banking-as-a-Service and Open Banking in the previous years within the payments space, and by giving businesses access to better technology and infrastructure, the innovation cannot stop. It’s one way forward to contribute to the rapid rise of the digital economy.

Through the integration of APIs, technology platforms can embed payments seamlessly into the customer experience. Think about Uber and WeChat. Both are in a good position to become super-apps because they already have both key ingredients: a large audience of frequent users, and embedded payments. When the payment is almost invisible and in no part inhibits the desired action of the user you are improving the customer experience by removing friction within the purchasing process. We are focused to offer solutions that can initiate payments without leaving the app or website, or the touchpoint of the physical point of sale that users are purchasing from, that are not only responsible and secure, but also ensure an improved customer experience, and significantly increases the speed of payments whilst simultaneously reducing their cost. For me, it is the way to change how payments work for the better.

The benefits for the industry are multiple. There is an opportunity for merchants to offer new personalized solutions, new customer journeys that are convenient and safe, and new ways to add value to the customer experience, increasing satisfaction and loyalty to the brand.

PE: We all know that a seamless payment experience is vital when it comes to retaining and attracting new customers. Are operators paying enough attention in this area and what should they be looking for on this front when securing the services of a payment provider? 

FA: Ensuring a seamless and enjoyable customer journey has always been a focal point. For online, this is more easily achievable, but this should also be the strategy for retail, and payments sit at the centre of the journey. 

The payment experience on the high street has long been neglected, with retailers generally choosing to outsource the responsibility to banks, largely due to its complexity or retaining the old-fashioned concept of cash. While making payments through these ways may seem seamless to many customers, complexity has arisen as channels, technology, issues with types of payment, and consumer preferences have evolved rapidly.

Being involved and focused on the retail environment, I’m now seeing  that retailer operators are beginning to develop strategies around integrating payments into their value proposition. I’ve seen this with our leading operator partners across Europe. They are now seeing payments as a crucial and largely untapped opportunity for them to increase revenues, improve profitability, and in parallel, engage with their consumers, and step into a real strategic advantage that goes hand-in-hand with the right payment strategy.