AstroPay CEO Mikael Lijtenstein on tackling the unbanked problem

13th June 2022 11:31 am GMT

Nearly two billion adults globally—one-third of the world’s adult population—remain unbanked. Nearly all of them live in emerging markets. Since their launch, AstroPay have gone a long way to help these people reach financial inclusion through their Alternative Payment Methods (APM).

It is unsurprising that Brazil has fast become a hub for fintech and digital innovation as 55 million of Brazil’s 213 million population remains unbanked. The perfect setting for AstroPay to launch its first digital payment offering back in 2009.

AstoPay CEO Mikael Lijtenstein believes many people remain unbanked in emerging markets due to “some payment methods not being available because infrastructures are still developing. AstroPay was created to fix this problem for users,” he continues. “We can help people to make deposits in international sites through our digital wallet, using their local currency.

“We started in Brazil 2009 and are now a global company expanding in markets such as LatAm, Asia, Africa and mainland Europe. We now have more than 6 million users and over 1000 merchants and we are still expanding.”

AstroPay have over 200 payment methods within their solution, covering over 150 countries. Their technical platform can be used to offer these APMs as individual direct solutions on merchant’s cashiers, or as a way for their 6+ million users to upload funds into their AstroPay wallets. 

One integration gives access to all markets and their presence in LATAM, Africa and Asia is as strong as ever as well, as recently launching in Europe.

Although AstroPay’s priority was always to promote financial exclusion, not only in Brazil but in emerging markets across the globe, achieving it was by no means an easy feat.  

“It was challenging to expand out of Brazil” says Lijtenstein, “but AstroPay has dedicated teams that focus on analysing each market and their populations’ needs, as well as users’ behaviour when using our payment solution. Through research we learnt the model and applied it in different markets which helped us to develop our operations all over the world. By getting close to the users and getting feedback from them we learned how to provide them with the best payment journey.”

As well as helping the unbanked with a variety of APM’s AstroPay have been striking relationships with several iGaming companies as they look to increase its accessibility to users across a variety of markets.

“iGaming companies are no different to other merchants,” says Lijtenstein. “They want to reach as many users as they can. We help them with that by offering one API to cash in and out all over the world. We have one integration that will work in different markets such as Peru, Kenya, India or the UK. This gives them the opportunity to reach the world with one solution and help merchants solve payments issues in emerging markets. We make the complex simple and help merchants to expand in many different countries.”

AstroPay’s business model has always followed Fintech trends, for instance when the company recently made crypto currency part of their digital offering. Speaking on the latest Fintech trends Lijtenstein emphasised that:

“The current trend is cashless; we are seeing more and more payments where you don’t need to manage cash. We follow the trend by moving from our pre-paid voucher to a digital wallet. Another challenge is to have as few steps as possible along the payment process to increase the conversion rate.

“We offer as many payment methods as possible and at the same time work out what payment methods customers are using locally,” he adds.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen AstroPay turn into a remote company which has helped them hire people all over the world, allowing them to be in every market that they operate in. This has helped inform decision making around partnerships and payment offering, highlighted by the fact that they launched in Kenya and Nigeria in the middle of the pandemic.

AstroPay have continued to strive for financial inclusion acting as the important middle ground, helping merchants to reach markets worldwide.

As expected with so much expansion it has been met with regulatory challenges, but this hasn’t stopped the team at AstroPay: “We have to understand what is required from different markets,” says Lijtenstein. “That’s why we have teams looking at possible expansions. Right now, we are focused on the markets that we have recently launched in Europe for example. We need to keep improving every day to give our customers the best experience.

“What we have learnt from emerging markets has helped us in Europe, there is room to try something different and make our own path in the continent. We have already launched in the UK, Spain and Portugal with the view to expand further.”

There is no sign of AstroPay slowing down on their quest to help the unbanked population access online payments.

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