A one-stop omnichannel payments solution partner

Ecentric Payment Systems is a payment service provider (PSP) and supplies the technology

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Ecentric Payment Systems is a payment service provider (PSP) and supplies the technology, expertise and infrastructure to put customers in control of their payments and reconciliation—today and in the future
“We were established in 1998 and are a fully licensed PSP, wholly owned by Standard Bank, operating in South Africa and various Southern African countries.

“We service the largest retailers on the continent, primarily with integrated in-store and online e-Commerce solutions, routing via our payment switches, operating out of three geographically separated sites.

“We are connected to all the large banks in South Africa, and into Stanbic and Barclays for African acquiring,” explains Hassen Sheik, who took the reins as CEO in April 2017.

Ecentric Payment Systems’ offerings encompass:

  • Switching—their switching service links all customer channels to the issuers and acquirers for payment. These can be either banks or value-added service suppliers.
  • E-commerce and mobile—their online payment gateway provides a convenient and secure platform to accept payments through various online channels, including mobile apps, shopping carts and call centres.
  • Reconciliation—using sophisticated three-way matching and exception management, their flagship ReconAssist product helps customers to determine the difference between what should be in their bank accounts and what actually is, and then resolve the differences. It includes the reconciliation of card, cash and value-added services as well as settlement, postings to ERP systems and fee and commission calculations.
  • Omni-hub—the Ecentric Omni-Hub is a platform, which gives customers access to multiple participating digital service providers and alternative payment types, (current and future), without them having to integrate directly with all those providers. It enables them to embrace the future world of payments and value-added services with a single integration.
  • Money transfers—a proven counter-to-counter money transfer service for retailers, allowing consumers to send cash to any beneciary using their preferred channel. Businesses can send to multiple selected receivers. The service is available in multiple domestic markets in Southern Africa and cross-border.
  • Payments and collections—their Universal Payment Gateway provides an easy, secure service for businesses to allow customers and suppliers to do collections and payments. It contains a powerful router, scheduler and notifier and this enables ‘intelligent’ collections. It also includes DebiCheck and mandate management.
  • Mobility—they have partnered with a local company to offer a custom-built, dedicated mobile POS and queue-busting device running on the Android operating system. It contains a secure EMV and PCI compliant card reader.
  • Gift card hosting

In terms of how we compare to the rest of the world with regard to card payments security, Sheik believes we are on a par globally, specifically with regard to PCI certifications, security and compliance and protection of personal data. “South Africa is one of the leading countries for payments and if you look at banking, there are parts where we are way ahead of the world. In the payments world, we are right up there,” he says.

Industry challenges

Sheik explains that cost is a huge challenge, as is compliance and complexity.

“We have to take some very complex processes that include devices, software, technology, communications and security, and demystify and simplify them for the end user and customers. And we have to do that and still keep costs down—that is a big challenge,” he explains.

He adds that there is a lot of innovation taking place in the world of payments.

“Everyone is trying to develop the next best thing, to disintermediate the big players in the market and to grab a slice of what is a very large pie. There are a lot of FinTechs snapping at our heels and while we want to support them all, finding a balance between ‘relevant versus sexy, is key. Of course, it provides an enormous opportunity as well,” Sheik elaborates.

The competitive edge

Sheik believes their experience and expertise are the big differentiators.

“We have some of the top minds in payments in South Africa working at Ecentric and that means we can service the current market well as well as be ready for the future.

“I also believe it is our honesty, transparency and our ability to deliver. Things do go wrong, but it’s how we respond to it that is important to me. Thus, for me, there will be failures and mistakes, but it is critical that we continue to be honest about them, accept responsibility and ensure we fix them and continue to deliver,” he says.

South Africa’s systems in 10 years

In terms of where he sees our country’s systems in the future, Sheik says there is a huge transformation coming in the payment space.

“We are already seeing a big move away from the traditional back-end, bank, card-rails way of doing things to an agile, cost-sensitive, low-price, instant-gratification approach and we are going to have to respond to these changes in the market,” he says.

Long-term goals for the company

As the company’s leader, Sheik’s primary long-term goals are to grow Ecentric into a dominant position in Africa and to take their flagship ReconAssist product onto the global stage, which they are in the processes of doing.

“It is important for me that we are not just seen as a processor but rather as a preferred partner who is able to enable our retailers to focus on their core business and leave anything to do with payments to Ecentric.

“Because we understand how complex payments can seem to our customers and, particularly the concerns around compliance and security, we believe they should have a partner that demystifies this and helps them to navigate the world of payments, seamlessly,” he explains.

Ecentric is also committed to playing its part in revolutionising the payments space, whatever shape or form that takes.

“I believe we are very agile, very innovative and very close to our customers and because of this, we have a good idea of what they need. I have a saying that ‘we don’t have solutions looking for a problem”. There are problems out there and we solve for them as best we can. But at the same time, we must look ahead to see where we need to be from a payments perspective. The payments landscape is changing at a rapid pace,” Sheik explains.

The leader at the helm

Hassen Sheik grew up in KwaZulu-Natal and studied information systems at the University of Durban-Westville in the 80s. The early part of his career was spent with Dorbyl Shipbuilders in the planning department, first, building warships for the navy and then building submarines.

In 1992, he joined the transaction processing division of FNB and was part of the team that put in the first integrated point of sale system into the Hyperama in Edenvale.

In 1995, he joined Caltex where they implemented the first retail fuel switch in the oil industry. He then joined TranSwitch Services (now EasyPay) to run their Postilion division and the payment solutions they developed eventually morphed into, what is now, the interbank debit card rails.

Finally, in 1998, a group of them left TranSwitch Services and formed Ecentric Payment Systems and he has been with the company ever since.

With regard to career highlights, Sheik says that, without a doubt, putting in the first retail fuel switch in South Africa, putting in the first debit card switch in the country and starting Ecentric in 1998 are the greatest achievements.

“Building a business is tough and while we left TranSwitch Services with little money and few customers, we had a dream and some wonderful relationships and out of that, we have built a business that we are very proud of.

“Our business operates in the background, we have never had a high profile but there have been many other highlights. I remember the joy of registering a 103-year-old lady for the first time for a pension system we had implemented in the North West.

“That was very special. What I have really enjoyed is being on the journey with the SA payments industry, particularly with the adoption of smart card technology,” he enthuses.

Sheik cites Brian Mollagrean, who was the Managing Director of TranSwitch Services when he was there, as a huge inspiration to him.

“He was a pioneer in switching at the time and the foremost person in the game, and he always conducted himself with extreme humility. It has always felt that, even though he couldn’t join us, we were living the dream he had,” he says.

“I have a lot of respect for Raymond Ackerman, who I found to be a very humble person. He connected well with people and that has inspired me in my dealings with people in my career,” Sheik adds.

Besides work, Sheik says his family and his community are very important to him, but it is also important to him to have a dream and to leave behind a legacy.

“I don’t expect people to talk about it or even be aware of it but it is important for me that we are making a difference. When I walk into one of our client’s stores and see transactions being processed at the point of sale, I am very conscious that it is our team that is making those transactions happen. When I see a money transfer taking place out of a Shoprite store, I am proud that we are part of a team that is enabling financial inclusivity in our country—that inspires me.

“I remain very involved in community sport, specifically hockey and cricket. I love sport but I am aware there are a lot of people who cannot afford to participate, so we do what we can to generate support, whether it’s financial support, equipment or clothing,” he concludes.

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