In an exclusive interview ahead of ICE London 2024 with SBC, OKTO’s Founder and CEO, Filippos Antonopoulos sheds light on the dynamic evolution of the payments technology market within the gaming industry since the company’s inception in 2019.
With a relaxed and forward-thinking tone, Filippos discusses the swift innovations in payment technology, the company’s responses to regulatory challenges, and the art of creating adaptable payment products for diverse markets. Additionally, he explores the transformative potential of AI, and the competitive landscape posed by startups, and offers a glimpse into OKTO’s ambitious short and long-term plans for global expansion and strategic growth that started in 2023 and continues dynamically.
SBC: What changes have you seen in the payments technology market for the gaming industry since OKTO was founded in 2019? And how have you responded to them?
FA: Since we kicked off OKTO in 2019, the world of payments in the gaming industry has been a rollercoaster of innovation. Quick paytech development has been the name of the game, and we’ve witnessed the emergence of some exciting new payment methods, including the digitization of cash through cashless and cash-to-digital solutions, which happen to be our area of expertise. But that’s not all; we’ve seen the rise of embedded finance and the growing importance of APIs in our space.
How have we responded to them? Examples and elaboration.. Well, imagine you’re an operator in Brazil, or international operator operating in Brazil and you’ve got the PIX payment method introduced by the Central Bank of Brazil or you want to add it. We didn’t just sit on our hands; we developed a paytech to support PIX for our partners in Brazil in the best possible way. And we go beyond that, we created user-centric solutions like PIX Direct & Pay n Play to streamline the payment experience even further eliminating steps, making the overall experience extremely flawless. And it’s not just about fancy features; it’s about operational excellence too. We’re talking KYC checks, 24/7 support, and an impressive 99% success rate for pay-ins and outs. Plus, what matters for our partners is also the ability to provide them with a single integration for our payment gateway across multiple regions.
In a nutshell, we’ve been quick to embrace these changes and adapt our offerings to cater to the demands of the markets we operate in or enter. We don’t just follow payment trends; we set them!
SBC: Payment providers in the betting and gaming industry face unique challenges dealing with both financial and gambling regulators. What are the biggest regulatory challenges on the horizon?
FA: You’re absolutely right; it’s a tricky tightrope to walk. But here’s the thing – it’s not the same everywhere. In some regions, financial and gambling regulators are singing from the same hymn sheet, and it’s all straightforward. However, there are markets where it gets complicated.
Take Europe, for instance. You’ve got the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2), which is a major regulatory framework that impacts on the payments sectors, and it brings its own set of challenges, like ensuring secure and compliant payment processes across the whole EU. And then we have the gambling side of things. Different countries have their own gaming/betting regulations and directives, and they can be a maze to navigate. It’s like having to juggle a handful of different rulebooks.
So, the biggest regulatory challenges? Well, it varies by region, but the key is staying ahead of the game and being agile enough to respond to changes as they come.
SBC: The countries where OKTO operates vary greatly in cash usage trends. How do you develop effective payments products for both cashless-heavy markets like the UK and cash-reliant markets like Romania?
FA: Ah, the cash enigma! It’s true; our playground spans countries with vastly different payment preferences. We believe it’s the perfect blend of deep localization, gaming expertise, and fintech know-how the OKTO team has that can effectively make it.
We bring together teams that understand the local nuances of each region we enter. This way, we can tailor our solutions to not only comply with gambling and payment regulations but also meet the unique demands of operators and consumers in those regions.
Let’s take Italy as an example. We didn’t just jump on the PVR local trend; we engineered payments that make the payment journey via OKTO PVR seamless for consumers, and we operate payments that are effortless for operators.
But it doesn’t stop there. We’ve got an impressive cashless offering too, and it’s in high demand in places like the UK. It’s all about versatility and adaptability.
SBC: Transformative technologies like AI and blockchain are making waves in many industries. How have they been used in payments, and what potential do they offer for improving user and merchant experiences?
FA: Transformation is the name of the game. Our R&D team is hard at work, exploring these transformative technologies and more.
AI has already made significant strides in payments. AI helps enhance fraud detection, and streamline customer support as well as software development processes, making for a smoother experience all around.
Have you ever imagined a world where AI-powered chatbots provide instant customer support, and ensure that your transactions are secure? That’s the kind of user and merchant experience we’re working towards.
Blockchain, on the other hand, is tech we haven’t investigated yet.
SBC: The payments industry is always evolving, with startups challenging the major players. How do you see the next few years shaping up for the payments industry?
FA: The future is exciting! The payments industry is in constant flux, and that’s a good thing. The emergence of tech-driven startups keeps the big players on their toes, pushing everyone to up their game. When OKTO started we made that to big conglomerates and the secret for us is while we are growing and scaling up now we are keeping the same passion we had being a start-up quite a few years ago.
When it comes to the next few years, we see it as a period of rapid innovation. It’s about staying agile, embracing new technologies, and responding swiftly to market trends. And you can bet OKTO will be right in the thick of it, leading the charge and setting new standards.
SBC: What’s next for OKTO? Can you give our readers a sneak peek into your short and long-term plans?
FA: Absolutely! Our strategy is crystal clear. In the short term, we’re spreading our wings across the globe. We’re diving into multiple Latin American regions, where our powerful paytech makes integration of our payment gateway across multiple markets a breeze. We’re entering the US and Canada with our Cashless Offering following the acquisition of Flexia, and Australia is next on the list. In addition, India is also on the horizon with our OKTO.CASH solution.
In Europe, apart from the expanding plan in new regions, we’re not just resting on our laurels in existing markets. We’re introducing new payment services to keep things fresh. For instance, in Spain, we launched our cashless service a couple of years ago, and our cash-to-digital method now is a hit.
As for the long term, well, I can’t predict the future, but I can tell you that we’re keeping an eye on the M&A trend in our industry. We believe in the power of strategic partnerships and acquisitions to further our mission and reach. So, stay tuned; there’s plenty more excitement to come from OKTO!