In recent years – and especially since the pandemic – everyone has come to rely on payments platforms in an increasingly cashless, mobile, cloud-based world. But the main platforms are not sufficient for business needs, whatever size of business you run.
At least, that’s the view of Gabriel LeRoux, co-founder and CEO of UK Fintech Primer, which describes itself as a unified infrastructure for global payments and commerce.
So strong was this belief that he jumped ship from Braintree Payments a few years after its 2013 acquisition by PayPal. The result was Primer, which offers a universal checkout, observability, AI, and more.
With the UK government’s Future of Payments review urging companies to be more innovative, LeRoux – “Call me Gabs” – explains:
I realised that online businesses were looking to expand their stack with more services. But looking at payments through the lens of a PSP [Payment Services Provider] wasn't solving what they were trying to achieve.
As to what means, he explains:
Companies want to optimize their expense in the checkout. They want to optimize the resilience of their payments stack. They want to make sure that they're using the right services at the right time for the payment lifecycle. But the reality was, as a PSP [he is referring to Braintree and PayPal] we could only solve one part of that customer journey. We could solve just one part of what they wanted to achieve in their payment strategy.
All these companies had a payments roadmap, but no one could actually solve or deliver against that roadmap. I was always sitting in the in the room with these businesses, white-boarding their payments stack, and thinking, ‘Wait a minute, who's going to help you do all these things?’ And ‘You're going to have to integrate services individually as they are not connected.’
However, LeRoux is at pains to point out that Primer is an interconnecting infrastructure layer, it does not handle money or payments itself – it is the cables rather than the light, perhaps. Of course, this has regulatory advantages at a time when he sees a “persistent gap” between tech innovation and late-to-the-table regulation.
That aside, he says:
An optimized payments infrastructure – the ability to define very complex processes without touching a single line of code. That's essentially what we've done. A payments infrastructure that connects to all the services that a merchant wants to use throughout the payment lifecycle, but without them investing in the technical work.
He explains that – in line with the UK government’s Future of Payments Review – payment technology could be a source of business, rather than systems, innovation. It could become part of a unique set of offerings that any type of business might present to its customers:
It shouldn't be an afterthought anymore. It should be a lever for growth. A way to innovate, to differentiate yourself. That's what companies want to do now. Think of Uber, for example: the payment element has disappeared, and that was a way for them to create something unique. That's the mindset that a lot of companies are now having.
In LeRoux’s opinion, one of the problems with many payment platform providers is that they force you to bend to their worldview, whereas the platform should adapt to yours. He explains:
One thing that is critical for us is, when you're thinking about payments, you're putting yourself in the shoes of the end-user, so that what is being presented to them is relevant. […] What's actually needed, fundamentally, is this underlying infrastructure to support all of their services.
Of course, this century money itself has become more complex and evanescent – national currencies, cryptocurrencies (many dozens of them), other digital tokens, stablecoins, and Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). That implies there may be a risk that by hiding infrastructure complexity from the user, FinTech intermediaries such as Primer may have the accidental effect of making things more complex for agencies tracking financial crime? LeRoux counters:
No. Essentially the principle that we are building here is data visibility. That kind of data is very complex to understand, which is something we’ve heard a lot from our merchants. Understanding their data, there's so much power in it that they are capturing. So, we have an observability product within Primer that allows local merchants to fully understand the health of their payment ecosystem across every track, and KPIs across a specific set of users. Location, currency, and more.
LeRoux also believes that biometric authentication will become ever more critical for enhancing security, delivering tailored experiences, and more personal, AI-driven services. That might appear to imply a risk that this may add friction into payments processes that users want to be as seamless and effortless as possible, but he argues:
I think the one thing that is critical here for users is education. If users have a better understanding of why they need to do these things, they will probably be more inclined to do them.
Where risk is actually higher, we may want to introduce additional friction points. But in a given set of industries, you're going to see a lot more of these flows being implemented. So, for me, the critical point here is explaining why they exist, and also making sure that they are being presented specifically to those users, for whom we know there is a higher risk.
One of a new breed of Fintech providers that see the advantage of being able to do the knitting and connecting of different services, in order to hide complexity from users – people and organizations that aren’t interested in that complexity, but do need the insights they gain from combining different data streams.