Pakistan News

TECH TALK: Haball seeks big pay-off in automating payments

Even though Pakistan has very limited level of financial inclusion and far from a healthy number of online transactions, the past few years have seen quite a few direct-to-consumer players emerge, offering digital wallets and luring customers with cash-backs and discounts. But things are different in the world of business, with few service providers catering to this massive segment. And that’s a market a local startup wants to carve for itself.

Haball is a Karachi-based business-to-business fintech company and aggregator that provides an open loop solution to corporates for automating their payments. Not only that, it also offers a 360-degree supply chain digitisation solution through which orders can be placed and paid for at the same time.

Covering all ends of the supply chain, from manufacturer to distributor and finally retailer, their solution allows the network to digitise both payments and order management.

The entire solution is integrated with corporate enterprise resource planning software through which their customers — meaning dealers and distributors — are able to log in to Haball’s portal (web/mobile app) to place an order, receive their invoice details and pay against those.

Distributors can select the company and choose a product to order from, which then moves through an approval cycle with payment/invoice details available online. To make the payment, they can use Haball’s aggregator, choosing from one of the many channels like mobile wallet, account or branch banking. The portal also enables automatic reconciliation of orders and payments processed through Haball, in real time.

Similarly, retailers can use the mobile app to view the orders placed by distributors on their behalf and can even place orders themselves — by selecting distributors they are connected with.

At present, Haball reportedly boasts in its clientele some 10 big corporates mostly in the pharmaceutical and fast-moving consumer goods space, translating into around 1,000 distributors and about 300,000 retailers. And on the payment front, they already have partnered with intermediaries such as 1Link and the National Institutional Facilitation Technologies with plans to add others too.

The startup was founded in August 2017 by Omar Bin Ahsan, a tech consultant who previously spearheaded the development of the Federal Board of Revenue’s web-based customs portal. “During my years working on the institutional side, I realised how all the existing solutions in the market were focused on the consumer end so there was a need for someone in the middle: a confluence of supply chain and digital payment channel integration into a contextual channel and that’s where started out on,” he recalls.

Let’s get to business now. The startup has a few monetisation channels, starting from the licensing — perpetual or subscription-based — and the implementation charges to the corporate. But that’s not it. Haball also charges a flat fee on each transaction, both at retailer and distribution levels.

Meanwhile, they are still making do with the seed round raised before starting out with no plans as such to seek external funding either, unless it’s a strategic investor that can help expand the network.

And how does the industry landscape look like? Though untapped for the most part, there is one startup doing somewhat similar. ConnectPay (re-branded as PayPro) also works in agnostic payments using the simplified invoice ID, so what distinguishes Haball?

“First of all, they are mostly working on the consumer-to-business side, with focus mostly towards the school segment. Meanwhile, we are targeting the B2B space,” says Product and Marketing Head Saqib Bashir.

“Plus, their work goes to the extent of payment invoicing while we digitise the supply chain as well, from the manufacturer level down to the retailer and even on the payment front too, we have integrated (or doing so) with pretty much all providers/operators and even the wallets,” he adds.

Anyway, digitising the supply chain is tricky business, given the very obvious complexity and scale of the network. Especially the big fish they are after, who each have hundreds of distributors which in turn have thousands of retailers. So how do they plan to tap on to this huge market?

“We have a trickle down approach by first getting the corporates on board, who can then use their influence over the distribution network to adopt the solution, which should then be passed down to the retail level,” says Bashir.

Easier said than done, right? Pitching to the c-suite and converting them is still manageable by, say, using those “best practices” cliches, but retail is another world, one that requires a truly behavioural shift. And how can that be achieved, other than placing your hopes on the corporate?

“We are partnering up with banks to offer supply chain financing using shariah-backed commodities that the small business can borrow from and this hopefully should help expand our footprint in this vertical/segment,” says Ahsan.

“The regulator can also play an active role on that end, for example e-invoicing instructions could end up being a game changer,” he adds.

On the flip side, this target group requires high touch marketing, which not only adds to the cost but also takes months to finally close a deal. “The sales cycles aren’t long because the potential clients don’t want the solution, it’s actually the contractual details that drag on for long. But the recent COVID-19 has also made many reassess the importance of digitisation in the times of social distancing, which could help make the behavioural change so required,” says Ahsan.

The writer is member of staff: [email protected] Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2020

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