SimplyPayMe enables seamless payments, invoicing and simple business management solutions, managed via smartphone. The company’s solutions are aimed towards SMEs and sole traders, a category that has traditionally suffered neglect in favour of the larger business organisations. Chief Strategy Officer Gary Prince fills us in on what the company offers to the not-so-big business.
It’s great to have you on board, Mr Prince. Thank you for your time. First of all, I’d love to start by asking about your background. How did you get into the paytech/fintech space?
I was born and grew up in East London, just a stone’s throw away from the City of London, and it was somewhere that always interested me. I visited the Stock Exchange many times (this was back in the day, pre-Big Bang) and was fascinated by how the market operated. Therefore it was no real surprise that I gravitated to the City when I left school, working my way up from back-office roles to become a bond trader. After the stock market crash in 1987, the market I was involved in effectively closed down, so it was time for a change of career and I ended up in the mobile phone industry, still covering city companies and the finance sector. In the late 1990s at BT, I led on mobile data in this sector and that morphed into mobile banking and then payments. In 2004, I left O2 and moved into the banking/payments world, where I have remained, working in traditional businesses and new fintechs.
SimplyPayMe has been described as a disruptor in the payment services space. How do you believe SimplyPayMe got here and how do you continue to disrupt the industry?
The business was created by people who understand the SME/sole trader community to offer them services/solutions specifically that cater to their needs. For too long, this sector has been seen as the “unloved/forgotten child”, where they were offered services adapted from those created for the consumer or larger businesses and just had to “make do”. At SimplyPayMe, we do something revolutionary, we actually speak with and understand the needs and requirements of our customers, then look to create solutions and services which allow them to operate their businesses more smoothly and with greater efficiency. As we are both payment scheme and provider agnostic, we always strive to offer customers solutions which are right for them.
Currently in the UK, many small businesses are facing the cost-of-living crisis, as individuals and as businesspeople. Globally, energy and fuel prices are also seeing SMEs/sole traders suffer. How does SimplyPayMe help small businesses/sole traders in times of trouble?
We are acutely aware that the SME/sole trader communities are those hit hardest in times of economic strife or turmoil. A key area of concern for the smaller business and sole trader is cash flow, which is why we are working with our payment partners to secure favourable transactional settlement terms for our customers, as this sector is the one where merchants usually have to wait several days to receive customer funds.
Following on from the previous question, how have the payments and finance industries previously treated SMEs? How has the landscape changed for SMEs to find their place in the world of finance?
SMEs have been historically underserved by the payments and finance industry. The lack of services and products that cater specifically to SMEs has not only been one of the sector’s biggest challenges but has forced small and medium enterprises to get by with scaled-down products that were made for bigger companies.
However, SMEs have played an increasingly important role following the global economic downtown in 2009 or facilitating change within the banking industry. Banks are now realising the value that SMEs hold, as smaller tech companies are creating products and payment solutions they need, like us at SimplyPayMe.
SimplyPayMe also operates in the US market. What have you experienced when opening up to new markets? Does your customer struggle with space problems across borders, or are some problems different amongst different countries?
The US is an extremely interesting market, with large numbers of SMEs and sole traders. Since launching we have seen amazing growth and we now serve customers across all 50 states! Due to the nature of our platform and its flexibility, we were able to go live within four weeks of taking the decision to launch in the US. Our platform design means we are able to pivot (when necessary) to take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise in different territories. For example, almost half the transactions we see recorded by merchants in the US are still cash, whereas in the UK this figure is less than 3 per cent, and this is why we are implementing alternative (localised) payment methods in the US.
Another major problem in recent years for SMEs and bigger companies like SimplyPayMe was the COVID-19 pandemic. How has your technology helped small businesses recover from the effects of restrictions and lockdowns of 2020 and 2021?
During COVID, we saw first-hand the struggle many businesses faced, with their livelihoods effectively shut down overnight. That is why we have COVID-safe payment methods (pay by link and QR codes) which enabled businesses to still be paid by customers whilst adhering to the restrictions in place. We also saw first-hand how many small businesses adapted quickly to the challenges they faced and we are proud to have been able to assist them during those troubling times when many people lost their jobs during the pandemic and chose to start their own businesses instead of looking for work. SimplyPayMe makes it easy for these individuals to manage their small business and accept payments online.
Additionally, how has SimplyPayMe’s company culture changed since the pandemic? Have you changed for the better or are there still lingering problems that have arisen since the pandemic?
We are fortunate to have a very flexible workforce located in different territories, with many employees already working remotely. The pandemic had very little impact on the way we operated as a business; the only change was also making all UK employees remote workers. As we were already utilising services such as Zoom and Teams, everything operated as BAU [business as usual]. However, we also made sure we introduced regular online social gatherings for the company as a whole and individual teams, as we were mindful that staff well-being was of paramount importance to us.
Why are you proud to be a part of SimplyPayMe? Are there any changes that you have made recently that you are pleased with?
It is a privilege to work alongside such an amazing team who are all dedicated to making a difference in this important sector. Part of my role is to also create an environment where all employees feel valued and are able to contribute, allowing them to grow and mature as individuals and as part of a team. Being an “industry veteran” (basically a polite way of saying that I am old!) means that I do have a lot of industry knowledge and the team’s eagerness and willingness to learn are the things I am most proud of. Seeing them flourish, grow in stature and have the confidence to speak in meetings, with the self-belief to question and challenge, are proof to me that the foundations put in place are working.
Lastly, what do you see as ways the fintech and paytech industries need to innovate and change? What do you see for the future of these industries?
This is, as always, an interesting debate, with many different answers and opinions! As an industry, we have often been guilty of creating solutions/services from a technology perspective (looking out) instead of from the perspective of the user (looking in). Payment methods have existed for thousands of years, from bartering to early coins, notes, etc., and if all innovation ceased, the world would carry on and people would continue to conduct their daily business routines. Therefore innovation/change has not only to be to the benefit of the business owner, it also has to make sense to the consumer. Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks about all the payments they are going to make during that day (apart from us sad individuals within the industry!); their focus is on the “stuff” they are going to get – for example, their coffee on the way to the station/office, their lunch, etc. The payment is an action at the end of that process. Therefore innovation needs to enhance the process, even in some instances without the customer knowing what has changed or even why. A perfect example of this is open banking and the opening up of account to account (A2A) real-time bank payments. Does a customer care if the money moves from their bank account via a different route (plumbing)? All they want to do is pay for their purchase.
Gary Prince clocked up 18 years’ experience in mobile commerce prior to being appointed as Director and Chief Strategy Officer at SimplyPayMe. He has worked across all stages of the product life cycle, from the development of mobile payments to digital transformation, but his passion is user experience.
Gary’s prime objective for SimplyPayMe is the continued development of market-leading, customer-focused services/products for the SME market.