SafePay co-founders Raza Naqvi and Ziyad Parekh.
SafePay co-founders Raza Naqvi and Ziyad Parekh.

Are you running an online business and tired of dealing with all the cash transactions? Or want to expand the reach by getting online payment channels integrated too, but have no idea where to get started? Look no more, or so is the promise of SafePay.

A startup based out of Karachi/California, SafePay lets anyone accept online payments. All you have to do is sign up, install the plugin and get it up and running within minutes – the code is available on their website. Then every time a customer chooses to pay digitally, they will be taken to a checkout page and required to enter their bank card details. Basically, the same procedure.

What if you don’t have a website and need a payment channel more sophisticated than bank transfer? Whether you are a freelancer or a tuition teacher, who wants a seamless way of accepting remuneration digitally, SafePay has a solution for you.

Using QuickLinks, you can generate a unique invoice link that can be sent to the client which when clicked will lead them to the checkout page where they can pay by a credit/debit card.

Then there is a dashboard to keep track of all payments --- unsuccessful, rejected, and confirmed — and you can make refunds as well.

Safepay was started in 2017 as a peer-to-peer payments platform styled after Venmo by Ziyad Parekh, a software engineer in the US. “The idea was to have the same level of convenience for doing transactions in Pakistan so I developed the product and launched it. But that was pretty much it, there was no marketing or anything and this was a highly regulated area so it didn’t take off. Then the tide for fintech started turning as more players entered this space, so in November 2018, I rebuilt everything from scratch and pivoted to the current B2B service, similar to PayPal for merchants,” he recalls.

Soon after, he was joined by an old friend Raza Naqvi - a lawyer who had just returned from the UK - to look after operations here and by May 2019, they had launched the new product and are currently incubated at the Nest I/O.

Payments are a big boys’ game though, as is clear by the kind of names operating in the space. There are hefty bills to pay, for licensing, compliance and security. So how do two young guys fit into this equation, considering the kind of money required?

“There is a whole community of open source software, which we rely on for security and compared to a proprietor, it’s more transparent because of the organic feedback loop,” the duo says.

The startup is still bootstrapped but given the high costs of doing business in this space, how long can they continue this way? “We might go for fundraising later this year but in any case, we have funds allocated to expansion and can draw on those to obtain any future licences,” says Parekh.

As of now, SafePay has over 100 merchants on board, featuring quite a few names from the local tech ecosystem such as FindMyAdventure, ReliveNow and SmartChoice.

SafePay has a simple business model: they charge a 3.3 per cent commission plus Rs30 fee on every transaction. But they are up against much bigger players, the banks and telcos, who have the means to offer lucrative merchant discounts? How does the duo plan to stay in the game then?

“While many do have lower rates, there are hidden charges involved such as the federal excise duty. Meanwhile, our pricing is very transparent [with breakdown given on the website] and is all inclusive,” explains Naqvi.

Then there are well-funded international service providers – most of which are not operating in Pakistan but at least one, the has made clear intentions to expand here. However, Parekh is not concerned. “Our biggest competitor is cash, not anyone else, so if we can get the customer to online payments, it’s a win for everyone,” says the founder, adding “with other gateways the only common theme is honestly the card processing part. Plus, there is no add-on with them while we offer additional software features, a dashboard to give better insights.”

Given payments are a highly regulated industry (and rightly so), where does SafePay stand in that? “Pakistani regulation is a bit grey and mostly caters to payment service providers, operators and electronic money institutions. Technically all we do is build software so we are in talks with the State Bank of Pakistan to determine our exact status,” explains Parekh.

The writer is member of Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2020