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Interview of Antigonos Papadopoulos, Cardlinks’ Commercial Director at Bankers Review

Interview of Antigonos Papadopoulos at Bankers Review

December 2018

Cardlink, the leading Greek Fintech company we all know.
Cardlink is an emphatic “new technology” company that, due to broader economic conditions and banking developments, dominates not only the Greek entrepreneurship and e-commerce but also the daily life of Greeks. We have all made transactions at Cardlink POS and have seen the phrase “I use Cardlink” in the receipt of POS.

By Nikos Sakelariou

What is Cardlink? What is its corporate identity and key figures like turnover and profitability in recent years?

Antigonos Papadopoulos: Cardlink was founded in 2004 and is operating the largest network of POS terminals for transaction fulfillment and management with cards in Greece, in both physical and electronic commerce. Our terminals can be found in more than 270.000 places, and we manage more than 35 million transactions monthly, serving businesses and consumers every day with speed and security. Our team monitors the developments in the field of electronic payments and, by adopting the latest technology, creates innovative products and services that are constantly improving transaction experience in both physical and electronic commerce. Since January 2015, Cardlink belongs to Quest group, one of the largest, dynamically grown in financial basis, Greek group of companies. The purpose of our existence is summed up in our vision which is to “earn the trust, dedication, and admiration of our employees and customers in order to establish Cardlink as the leading fintech company” as well as in our mission to “constantly innovate in order to develop and offer solutions that will constantly improve the experience of businesses and consumers”. Our turnover in 2017 amounted to 38.5 million euro and 21,5 million euro for 2016.

How is the market moving and which are its main statistic data?

Antigonos Papadopoulos: The market has shown a significant growth rate in the number of transactions made in POS for payments and purchases in Greece this year, continuing the great increase we experienced the last two years, 2016 and 2017. Based on data from Cardlink’s network, for the period of January-August 2018, the percentage of growth in transactions with Greek cards on physical POS has reached 50% compared to the same period of 2017, while the percentage of growth in turnover has reached 21%. The average amount per transaction with Greek debit cards has now reached €35, from €46 in December 2017 and €59 in December 2016, both due to the increase of everyday use and by the general decrease of Greek consumer’s basket.

Regarding Tourism, the use of foreign bank cards on the Greek market shows a growth rate of 37% in transactions and 26% in turnover in Cardlink’s network. The data on Tourism refers to the period of January-August 2018 compared to the same period of 2017. On e-commerce, the growth rate of transactions and turnover by using Greek cards in Cardlink’s network is 36% and 26% respectively for the period of January- August 2018 compared to the same period of 2017. In terms of installation of new terminals, demand has now been significantly reduced as expected, after completing the second phase of the bill for mandatory POS installation this March. According to our estimations and data, there are more than 700 thousand POS terminals in Greece. The market has become more than double since there were approximately 305-310 thousand POS terminals at the end of 2016. More than 85% of terminals support contactless technology. Here at Cardlink, we estimate that the total number of transactions in Greece in both physical and electronic commerce and by using any type of card will be close to or higher than one billion transactions.

What has changed in the transactional activity of Greeks in recent years?

Antigonos Papadopoulos: Everyday life has changed to a large extent for Greek citizens. It is now obvious that they use their cards more and more for their daily needs for transactions and even small payments, like paying for their coffee and for fast moving consumer goods in general. Consumers are also familiar with contactless technology. On our network, one in two transactions is now being carried out contactless, regardless of the amount. In 2016, this percentage was just 12%. An important factor in the transactional behavior of Greek consumers is the rapid growth of microtransactions for amounts up to €5 or even up to or equal to €2. Based on data by Cadlink’s network, in August 2018, the proportion of transactions up to €5 was 12% compared to just 4% in December 2016. An impressive element is now the proportion of transactions up to €2 which is gaining significant ground and is up to 3%. These proportions are very important because they are related to a large number of transactions considering that on Cardlink’s network, we handle almost 1.5 million transactions every day.

What are the next trends (systems and technology applications) for payments and what do banks demand from the company and their customers?

Antigonos Papadopoulos: The payments industry is rapidly changing mostly due to technological improvements. Smartphones and cloud solutions are becoming a powerful tool that allows commerce to blur the lines between physical, virtual and mobile marketplaces. Searching, choosing, purchasing and paying for stuff are not separate procedures anymore. They become part of a unified client experience by creating significant challenges and opportunities for all interested parties, whether it is a company, consumer or bank. Retail trade businesses should also adapt to this changing environment and consumers. In order to attract and maintain their customers, they should adjust and offer better products, services, and experiences to them on multiple channels (physical, virtual and mobile). This is especially true for small and medium retail traders that do not have the necessary technical know-how and budget to compete with larger retail trade businesses. Consumers are becoming stronger due to technology. The drastic reduction of cost, the ease, and speed of search give more power and options to consumers. They are more used to seamless and transparent experiences, and there are data that suggest that they prefer products/services/solutions that have been created this way all along. Consumers are also more aware of privacy. They understand that free services are based on the premise that they can share their data in exchange for a (free) service.

As with any product, customers will pay based on the perception of the value they receive. Finally, banks are also undergoing huge changes due to (dis)organization (like PSD2) and digitization of bank services. They also experience another big challenge in their effort to adjust to the new reality, acquire the necessary technology and technical know-how in the new digital word and attract and maintain the appropriate talent. At the same time, any new initiative must build on old systems which are rigid and hard to change. Within this context, in Cardlink we work and collaborate with our partners in order to design new solutions and meet the ever-increasing needs of the market.

What are the goals and business plan of Cardlink for the next two years? What are you preparing?

Antigonos Papadopoulos: We are always in the first line, acknowledging our role and responsibilities resulting from the size of our network and the number of transactions we manage. We have completed the expansion and upgrade of our infrastructure in order to manage even a larger number of transactions, and we have the sole Active-Active transaction management system that constantly works, not just in case of emergency. Our systems are structured in such a way that they can manage at least twice as many transactions in both the total number of transactions and the number of transactions routed per second, compared to the current number of transactions we process. Indicatively, 112 transactions per second were recorded on our systems in May.

We are preparing a number of new services and solutions to offer our customers in the upcoming period of time both in customer service and automation and in new services and apps. We are working on solutions for vertically integrated markets such as food services that will cover the overall needs of a company across the full range of interaction with the customer and not just the final stage which is a payment with a card.

In fact, a good example of a vertically integrated solution is the Cardlink maitre service we introduced at the Taste of Athens gastronomic festival. Cardlink maitre is a wireless order-receiving cloud app for coffee shops, bars, and restaurants that works on iOS and Android devices and connects automatically with a Cardlink POS offering a complete experience to the company and the customers. An important fact to mention is that all the restaurants that participated in the Taste of Athens festival exclusively used the Cardlink maitre app and all transactions were fulfilled exclusively by Cardlink POS since the festival was cashless. We can also mention about the new Android POS terminals we have already pilot launched in some stores. The initial reaction by users was excitement for both their usability and functionality.

Meanwhile, we have launched the “Tokenization” and “One Click Payment” services for both payments via mobile phone or apps (in-app payments) and e-commerce transactions. We place great emphasis on customer experience and quality of service offered throughout the entire customer journey with us. We are preparing new services for support and interaction with us 24/7/365 with emphasis on speed, quality, and omnichannel logic, regardless of the channel customers use to interact with us, i.e chatbot, youtube, web, etc.

Finally, we especially focus on business analytics and big data analysis because we believe that they can be an important tool for companies and give them value when they can be offered with a usable way and are designed to respond to their own, specific needs. In conclusion, we want to mention that we are under an authorization process by the Bank of Greece for a license for a Payment Institution and we believe that we will be able to launch it commercially by the first quarter of 2019.

What intrigues you for the future?

Antigonos Papadopoulos:  Our goal for the near future is to focus on the needs of companies and consumers and not in our capabilities and this goal intrigues us. We will start a journey to understand the needs of companies and the needs of their customers, the end consumers. This includes the needs they already know, but also the needs that they may not fully know and this fact will help us plan, implement and deliver solutions (products and services) that will offer tangible, essential results that companies can see. We do not want just to create products or develop services. We want to effectively help our customers through the products and services we offer. The more we help them, the more successful our work is. Our goal is not to answer the question “what does the product/service do?” but to answer to “What does the product/service do for me and any other client individually?”. This is the journey that intrigues us and practically, it is nothing less than fulfilling the vision and mission of our company, which is a commitment by everyone at Cardlink.