Mikael Lijtenstein, AstroPay: Thinking like the customer to accelerate cashless shift

Cashless payments are here to stay, said AstroPay CEO Mikael Lijtenstein (pictured below), who believes the shift towards it has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speaking on the ‘’Cashless future? Solving LatAm’s payments problem’ panel at the SBC Digital Summit Latinoamérica, Lijtenstein led the debate on a lack of payment options in emerging markets such as Latin America (LatAm) and Africa, and the level of opportunity for digital payments in these regions.

Does the pandemic represent a business opportunity for digital payment products? Or is it an exaggeration, and everything will return to normal once the crisis is over? For Lijtenstein, the shift to digital, or cashless, payment solutions was always going to happen anyway, but now companies can no longer afford to wait.

“It represents a moment where companies say I am not going to wait for this to happen,” he said. “Why wait to improve my business, to improve my revenue, to improve what I’m doing, to go out and diversify and accelerate everything that was supposed to happen in a year, in two years, five years or 10 years, when I can make it happen as quickly as possible?”

AstroPay started in the Brazil market back in 2009 through local payment methods across the country. The experience gained in the last 11 years, said Lijtenstein, has allowed it to expand in Latin America, Africa, Asia and several other regions. 

He explained: “This makes us look back and see everything that has happened, this whole process of the disappearance of cash payments and the move towards cashless.”

Lijtenstein - cashless
Mikael Lijtenstein, AstroPay

Lijtenstein admitted that the lack of understanding for digital payment solutions has been holding back the acceptance across South America, but added: “To change the culture, it’s necessary for the user to have as little friction as possible when buying a prepaid card, for the experience to be as simple as possible, useful and something common to the consumer. 

“We now go hand in hand with it (cashless). In fact, for some countries we already have only cashless solutions. That’s the path we’re currently on.”

AstroPay’s plans for 2020 include taking its AstroPay Card to Africa in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, for both gambling and other online transactions.

“You have to activate ‘turbo charge’ and say ‘let’s make this happen as soon as possible,” said Lijtenstein of new market opportunities. “We asked our teams to think about how to speed up each of the processes that were going to take place, and make it happen now when the opportunity is clear.”

One of Lijtenstein’s fellow panelists was Elizabeth Maya Cano, President of Cornazar, who highlighted data from 2018 showing that only 24% of LatAm consumers used non-physical payments – that’s around two in 10 using card or digital payment solutions.

So, what is the next step? How do you make this more normalised? The key is to think like the customer, according to Lijtenstein. He said: “User experience is not limited to what they go through when they enter the application and they register, it’s not just when they’re going to make a deposit, or when they’re going to make a purchase. 

“User experience happens all the time they’re in touch with something related to the product or service, so when they’re talking to support, when they receive an email, when they want to make a transfer, when they want to change their email or phone number. 

“Whatever they do with the platform, and on whatever device they are doing so, that’s user experience. What we’re looking for is that this experience is frictionless, that it’s easy, simple and fast and as natural as possible for the user. It’s important to understand how the user thinks, and sometimes less is more. You don’t have to think too much, you don’t have to come up with the most difficult solution or do something complex.”

In addition, Uruguay-based Lijtenstein explained the importance of getting regular feedback from clients to understand what consumers like, or don’t like, about the solution.

As part of an initiative to improve user experience, AstroPay recently launched a help center tool where, once the user solves their problem, they have the option to answer whether the help was good or not, and if the product is useful or not. If it is, it’s important to build from that and, if it’s not, it’s necessary to rethink the process to facilitate the experience.

Lijtenstein explained: “We use A/B testing a lot, and we test different communications, which is key for the user experience. However simple or complex the solutions may be, if what we’re communicating is understood, the user will be attracted or will say ‘this is what I’m looking for, this is what I want and this is what I like’. 

“Sometimes you have to be a little more rigorous with the information, you have to ask what you consider relevant and necessary, instead of asking for unnecessary things. However, we still have to comply with requirements around technological processes, with regulations, and with what the world asks of you.

“It’s important to think like the user to create the best product, provide the best service and be able to receive constant feedback in order to continue improving.”

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