Visa Involved In Advancing Next Phase Of Azerbaijan's Int'l Payment System - VP (Interview) (PHOTO/VIDEO)

(MENAFN- Trend News Agency) BAKU, Azerbaijan, February 21. Visa is actively working on the next stage of development of the international payments system in Azerbaijan, Cristina Doros, Vice President and Regional Manager for Visa in Central Asia and Azerbaijan, told Trend in an exclusive interview.

"The B2B Connect project has become significant for the country as it was the first launch in the regions of Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. The experience of Kapital Bank, which launched the product first, turned out to be very interesting for the rest of the participants of the banking system in Azerbaijan. We have seven banks in Azerbaijan alone that have launched this platform, and more banks are working on it. Besides the existing payment solutions, we are actively working on the next stage of development of the international payment system," she said.

According to Christina Doros, Visa has already implemented the first part - introducing the B2B Connect platform, which serves payments for legal entities, mainly for medium and large companies.

"As a rule, companies make these payments for relatively large amounts. However, we understand that there is a huge need for international payments not only for legal entities but also for individuals. Individuals can also transfer money to friends, colleagues, acquaintances, children, and family abroad, as well as do business," she emphasized.

Cristina Doros also noted that to make the solution for cross-border transfers comprehensive and complete, Visa is working on the implementation of the Visa Direct to Account (VDA) solution.

"This is an opportunity to transfer funds to accounts abroad, even not necessarily to a card, but just to accounts. Visa provides a convenient, secure, and fast solution for almost any purpose of transferring money abroad. There is B2B Connect for legal entities, and for those who transfer from card to card, there is a Visa Direct platform, which allows you to make transfers to the card number. The third direction is transfer from card to accounts. The fourth direction - from cards to wallets - is also in development. All these services together create a full-fledged platform of international transfers, satisfying all needs," she concluded.

According to Cristina Doros, Visa's relations with Azerbaijani banks are strengthening and expanding.

"Of course, banks are our main partners in the development and implementation of innovative solutions. We cooperate with all banks in Azerbaijan and we are very happy that year by year this cooperation only strengthens and expands. Earlier, perhaps, we focused on narrower areas - cards, card products, technologies - but now Visa cooperates with banks much wider, in different areas. This includes marketing, consulting services, and what we call "managed services" - work that we do practically on behalf of the bank. We develop a project together, and then the Visa team implements a certain part of the work for a particular partner. The cooperation will only expand, and we are sincerely happy about it," she said.

Cristina Doros also noted that in 2013-2014 Visa first implemented contactless payments in the country.

"During those years it concerned acquiring, and then it expanded to issuing. Now the terminals can accept contactless payments and in turn, cards can also be used to pay contactless. Later, in 2019, we jointly with the International Bank of Azerbaijan for the first time introduced tokenization technology - Visa Token Service. This led to the appearance of something we call a banking or issuer wallet. Thus, for the first time in Azerbaijan, it was possible to link a card to a mobile application on a smartphone and pay for purchases with it. Kapital Bank later joined this service, followed by other banks. Tokenization created the foundation for the emergence of Apple Pay and Google Pay in the country, which works on its basis. These technologies are now widely used in Azerbaijan and are becoming more and more popular because it has become faster, more convenient, and safer to pay for purchases with them. At present it is possible to link Visa card to Apple Pay in 14 banks, and Google Pay - in 15 banks," she said.

According to Cristina Doros, another interesting area of cooperation is so-called 'non-card' payments.

"I am truly proud that Azerbaijan Kapital Bank has become the first bank in the vast region of Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa, comprising 88 countries, to implement B2B Connect. This is a non-card solution that allows companies serviced by the bank and engaged in active export-import activities to make international cross-border payments conveniently, securely, and in a controlled manner. Those who work in this field know how difficult it can sometimes be to track down which correspondent bank your payment is with. B2B Connect allows the sender to always know where his money is. This solution is now implemented in seven banks in Azerbaijan," she said.

Continuing the theme of cooperation with banks, the Vice President noted several socially significant projects.

"For example, transportation solutions, such as the possibility to pay for transportation fares contactless with a regular bank card, without the need to purchase additional transportation cards and replenish them. We have implemented a contactless fare payment system on the Baku-Sumgayit branch line in partnership with the Central Bank of Azerbaijan (CBA), the International Bank of Azerbaijan (ABB), and Azerbaijan Railways. Validators (terminals for accepting card payments) have been installed at 14 stations. Now it is possible to pay fares by contactless card when traveling on the Baku-Sumgayit ring and back. We see how people who may not have previously used cards for payment and preferred cash, after the first attempt to pay for transportation by card understand how easy it is, and discover the world of digital payments," she commented.

Cristina Doros also emphasized that many passengers then start using digital payment means in other areas of life, for example, in supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies, and so on.

"Thus, transportation is becoming a significant area of digital payments development, and we are sincerely proud of the work done. We introduced a new technology of transportation payments in our region, namely in Baku, on the railroads. We call it MTT - Mobility & Transit Transaction. Now we have introduced this system on the railroads, but our goal is to continue integrating different modes of transportation. The technology allows us to combine [subway, bus, and rail] payments for the whole day into one transaction, taking into account the fares of each mode of transportation and their fare schedules. It works efficiently. Different fares depend on zones and also on your status - whether you are a pensioner, a student, or a schoolchild. The system can account for all these factors. And this has also been introduced in Baku and our region," she concluded.

According to Doros, the technology rolled out by Visa on railway routes is just the beginning in terms of transportation system development.

"We are open to discussing the possibilities of implementing contactless payment on the Baku metro, ground transportation, and so on. Our Mobility & Transit Transaction (MTT) technology allows consolidating all payments in public transportation," she said. "This is a significant prospect - for example, parking payment can also be integrated here. These issues are part of the process aimed at developing a smart city."

Doros said that the regions of Central Asia and Azerbaijan are in the range of champions in terms of innovation development.

The Vice President also mentioned that the Visa team is actively working to ensure the continuous advancement of digital payments, fostering innovation and technology in both Central Asia and Azerbaijan.

"Digitalization development varies across countries in our region due to diverse factors. Nevertheless, our region is rightly acknowledged as a leader in innovation and development. Virtually every payment technology is present in Central Asia and Azerbaijan. A notable example is the introduction of the Request to Pay service in Kazakhstan using Visa Direct. This marked the world's first implementation of such a service, enabling users to request money transfers from other bank clients or split bills," she said.

"As an illustration, I could generate a request through the mobile application, prompting you with a message like, 'Cristina is requesting a $10 transfer. Confirm: Yes or No?' Upon selecting 'Yes, transfer,' a Visa Direct-based transaction is initiated, transferring the money from your account to mine," Doros added.

According to her perspective, this represents a fascinating application of technology, particularly in the context of individual transfers, such as dividing shared expenses among friends. The speaker also highlights that the company provides solutions tailored for private entrepreneurs.

"Taking a larger view of this technology, its applicability can extend to the customer-to-business (C2B) model. This allows for the unrestricted development of micro- and nano-companies. This includes people who sell material, blog, offer things on social media, or run other small businesses. Entrepreneurs with a Visa Business card can now take digital payments, expanding the existing acceptance channels via POS terminals. The Visa Business card serves as a payment acceptance point without the use of any additional equipment. This provides tremendous prospects for the numerous individuals currently creating their small enterprises, allowing them to do so digitally," added Visa VP.

Doros mentioned that the National Bank of Kazakhstan is actively working on the introduction of digital currency (digital tenge).

"In partnership with the National Bank of Kazakhstan, the National Payment Corporation, and three leading banks in the country, we have issued the world's first Visa cards linked to the digital tenge. There are cash and non-cash payments, and now there is a third form of currency called CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency). The world's first CBDC-linked card was introduced by us in Kazakhstan," she explained.

According to Doros, Visa actively collaborates with various stakeholders in the market, including trade and service enterprises, fintech companies, and regulators.

"Partnership with all market participants, based on innovation and technology, enables us to ease the lives of people who use payment services regularly, giving them more financial options. This contributes to enhancing prosperity since the capacity to use financial instruments allows for more effective administration of small firms, boosts family income, and supports general economic development," she added.

According to the VP, regarding the overall improvement of transport systems, it's worth emphasizing with pride that Visa occupies a significant global position in the evolution of payment solutions for transportation.

"Residents in numerous cities worldwide have already embraced the convenience, speed, and security of cashless payments in transportation, facilitated by Visa technologies. This knowledge, experience, and technology are consistently applied in Central Asia and other regions where we operate. For instance, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, we've enabled contactless payment across all modes of public transportation, with validators at every metro station. Similarly, we introduced contactless payment on public transportation in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In Azerbaijan, residents can use contactless cards for payments on the Baku-Sumgayit ring train route. Additionally, contactless payment is available in Almaty's metro and buses across seven other cities in Kazakhstan," she said.

"In the city of Tbilisi, Georgia, we have implemented contactless payment options for both metro and surface-level public transportation. Moreover, in six additional cities across Georgia, this convenience is available for bus passengers. Consequently, nearly all the capitals in the countries where we operate, including Ukraine's Kyiv, Moldova's Chisinau, and Balarus' Minsk, as well as over 50 smaller cities, are now equipped with the capability for contactless payments. We remain prepared to further introduce these technologies in Baku," said Visa VP.

According to her, there is currently an intriguing phenomenon in the realm of payment innovations, and each of us is actively engaged in it.

"Payment innovations had their origins in the US, notably with the founding of Visa 65 years ago. It can be asserted that the company was the world's pioneering fintech entity to seamlessly integrate financial information and technology. Presently, we observe an increasing number of payment innovations emerging in our region. The eagerness of banks to adopt innovative technologies and the willingness of the population to embrace them both play pivotal roles in this development," she added.


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