E-Pay – a silent Amaana competitor – making $10M

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image While Amaana has been spending years alpha and beta testing its basic platform, a completely silent competitor e-pay has been busy building a large retail network for virtual transactions.

You may have noticed epay machines in retail stores or gas stations when trying to buy prepaid cards – if the cashier punched some numbers into a machine and gave you a paper receipt with your PIN instead of the card, then there’s a good chance he used an E-pay machine.

At first look that doesnt seem like an Amaana competitor but I’ll mention in a bit the strength of what they have.

Whats important though, is that their initial focus on selling prepaid time from telecos over a retail footprint seems to have paid off in that they claim to be making nearly $10M annually… money that they can now spend on building a deeper micro-transaction framework.

Here’s some of the things e-pay can now try to do on top of their platform:


One of the things the company claims to do is direct balance transfer across operators – I’m not clear on how that would work, but they claim that a Mobilink subscriber can send balance to Telenor through them, e.g.

One of the next things they could try to introduce to support ecommerce is pre-paid pay-cards for websites. So you’re planning on buying something online – you might be able to do the transaction online, but the item wouldnt be shipped to you until you went to your closest convenient store and paid for the item to an epay terminal – that’s still a step closer to shopping via retail itself.

Mobile payments itself just becomes an additional interface on top of the retail machines, so I dont think introducing them would be a problem – but their advantage of having a deep retail network will always trump an online-only solution. For example, "withdrawing" funds out of your virtual account, in the case of epay, could also be as simple as going to their nearest retail branch, and not having to wait for or deal with checks as in the case of Amaana.

The competitive micro-transactions market is heating up and its good to see these innovations come to play, but we would still have to see who can be the first to significantly introduce ecommerce friendly solutions.

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25 Comments

  • their website is not working for me right now.

  • Haris – link fixed. Thanks for commenting

  • Something even more convenient for customers would be if one could just buy a, lets say, Rs. 2000 ePay voucher, and then use the voucher number to do online shopping. Each item he/she buys would be charged to this voucher until there is no longer any balance left.

    And another way would be to just pay through their cell phone balance, in which case e-Pay would have to strike a deal with each of the telco’s (shouldn’t be too difficult given their revenue figures)

    Overall, I think they should focus on being a payment platform, which IMO is a much bigger (and more noble) cause than any inter-telco balance transfers.

  • Also, their site would’ve been great if they only didn’t have that image of the female on the top-right corner! (Do you really such stuff in B2B?)

  • Been around since dec 2004 (so they aren’t all that new) and all they have is ~400+ retail outlets country-wide (Karachi and Lahore only), along with a partially functional website with, as Tayyab mentioned, an image of a female on the top right corner…

    I have seen a few epay locations, but never been curious to venture and find out more. Could that set a certain tone about consumer focus? This contradicts the ‘silent’ bit as well since retail location markings are a part of being visible.

    I had a small general store across where i lived in KHI and for a short while he used to provide mobile credit pins on a slip of paper – most likely epay, but that didn’t stay with him too long. He didn’t have the patience, even with the minimal business he generated.

    Osama – your overview seemed like it leaned in favor of epay. I haven’t understood either the epay or the amaana model quite clearly as yet, but with the kind of mobile penetration present in Pakistan, it would be interesting to see which of the many new comers would be the market leaders when commercial.

    Any bets on which potential model will take the market by a storm? With a successful US model such as obopay right next door in India, it’s a tough call, but it also depends on how the telcos and SBP play along.

  • Osama !! you have my blood boiling. imagine if you weren’t a longhorn.

    the amaana process you need to appreciate is the simplicity and ubiquity of sending and receiving payments over SMS. forget checks, they are a nuisance we have to put up with during our commercialization process. And once seamless bank integration exists (think paypal on steroids), even then it covers only 15 percent of population. Think big. Think micro finance. Think branch-less banking. Think 5 Million agents. Maybe 50 Million.

    We are very happy that alternate form of airtime distribution is gaining some momentum. however, please, don’t even compare it with mobile payments which is what amaana does, or mobile banking, which is a subset of mobile payments.

    Haider – thanks for mentioning SBP. I think we need to connect. my contact information is farzal followed by amaana.com

    PS: $10M is .003 percent of the overall pre-paid market in 2007.

  • Farzal, my friend, you and I are already connected in ways you cannot imagine.

    There were many other essentials I wanted to mention, but I thought I should leave it where I did.

    Besides, epay is better than amaana is like saying cutting down trees and killing the environment is better than not. epay prints everything. For a tech company, it’s hardly saying anything if you require so many spools of mini-fax paper (also yesterday’s technology).

    I think one element that clearly seperates amaana from all the others is that they are taking their time to develop their platform, carefully assessing the needs of every industry before assuming to know what the market wants, especially ahead of its own time. This is the best time to be developing rather than commercializing since it gives everyone time to see how others are playing the e&m commerce games.

  • I met someone from Amaana about 2 years ago but I dont remember his name. i do remember that he had worked with some bank in US. that guy also attended a course on security at FAST.

    according to him they were ready to launch in 2 months and i asked him if he was sure that our market was ready for such venture and his answer was yes. they had been in beta for 2 years atleast and i wonder how long they are going to remain there.

    doing development for such a long period of time and investing money you can only survive in Pakistan.

  • guys guys guys, calm down! its like a bar room brawl in here!

    let me put in my 2 cents.. firstly, i dont think amaana and e-pay are targeting the same segment? Correct me if i’m wrong, but amaana is another form of a bank account, while e-pay would eventually evolve into a pre-payment facility? Also, amaana can be integrated online, while i did not find anything within the first 10 seconds i spent on the e-pay site to facilitate that?

    the potential for e-pay exists in the fact that banks have already popularized (or are trying vry hard to anyway) the plastic culture or as i like to call it, pay via machine instead of cash culture. This is where e-pay can capitalize.

    the future market i see for e-pay are of a prepaid electronic services, whether they be internet based or non-internet based. for a nation which is not trusting enough to use cards online, imagine the security of buying a number (much like a prepaid card number) and using that number online to buy stuff.

    given our comfort with easyload et al., i dont see going to get online payment number (OPN?) a source of discomfort either. (you can always send out your mamoo to get it for you ;)).

    i’m rambling now.. so i’ll stop. you guys may continue your brawl now.

  • The two are different businesses, and if I was to place any bets it would be on Amaana. It is notoriously difficult to build a secure, standards based banking-grade system, and that’s what Amaana has been focused on doing.

    In fact, I can see some synergy between ePay and Amaana. Amaana can leverage ePay to enable consumers to load their Amaana accounts. Having said that the wind tells me that they’re working on more exciting possibilites.

  • e-pay can become what UKash is. Get a voucher, and spend it online with sites accepting UKash.

  • Did someone say bar?

  • The problem is that no matter how cool amaana is or whatever magic it does, we as users don’t know about it since there is no application that allows us to use it. What’s worse is that we have been constantly reminded that soon amaana will come out of beta etc etc for the past couple of years.

    In such a situation any alternative that comes and provides some value to the us (users) looks much more attractive. I feel that the article is very useful, well written and relevant and there is no reason for anyone to boil up. Having said that I am a die hard amaana fan and hope to see them come out of beta soon.

  • This is not a Pakistani firm. They are a subsidiary of ePay global which is a subsidiary of euronet. URL: http://www.onlinetopup.com.

    They are already offering credit vouchers that can be used online on selected sites.

    Osama,

    I don’t think they can implement your suggestions as I don’t think any development or research is being done locally.

  • @Amaana-Loving-people

    If your Amaana delays more in coming out of its eons long Beta, it will be eaten up by some Pakistani franchise of Obopay or like.

    The high-tech startup market is too swift to allow so much time for testing and debugging and God knows what!

  • “eaten up by some Pakistani franchise of Obopay or like”, where do come from? Obopay is a US based company with NO office in Pakistan. After moving from the states to Bangalore, I would like to think people are better than this (which I think they are). Instead of writing garbage like this, spend time working harder at your job, if you have one.

  • @Haris:

    amaana did launch our ready interface in 2006. Our service is currently available to subscribers of all telco operators on all mobile phones that support SMS. The volume of transactions we process daily are more than Pakistan’s largest banks internet banking system usage. Please start using us today.

    It is encouraging for the amaana team in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi to have fans waiting for our commercialization.

  • @Farzal:

    i guess by largest bank you mean citibank’s merchant accounts. well first of all their process is very expensive and cumbersome and secondly our culture is still not ready for ecommerce which is why they do not have many merchants.

    as far as i remember 2 years ago amaana was a paypal clone and money remittance system and there was no plan for mcommerce at that time.so probably the focus was changed later on.

  • …and the award for Best ” I-did-not-have-any-genuine-thoughts-so-I-just-threw-some-personal-insults” behavior goes to …..LOUIS!!

    Applaud!

  • *applauses*

    way to go louis! you’ve just reached rock bottom! 😀

    by the way, starting a hall of shame for these trolls might be a good idea!

  • Things would be a lot better if they actually answered emails sent to their info@ …

  • Okay so as a representative of e-pay I thought I might as well add my two bits…

    Firstly, e-pay’s initial focus was electronic distribution via point of sale terminals which as Osama mentions was a way to make a footprint in the marketplace. Even though the size of our network is small, approximately 850 terminals in 21 cities(Yes, the website needs to be updated!)it has given us a chance to build a platform.

    In the past two years, e-pay has stopped expanding its terminal base and switched its concentration to extending its services to other channels. This includes SMS Pin delivery (retailer cellphone replacing the POS) and Web-POS (for internet enabled merchants). More importantly, we have also formed alliances with 6 Banks in Pakistan (UBL, SCB, BAF, NIB, HBL, ABN Amro) to deliver PINs via the bank’s respective Alternate Delivery Channels which include their ATM network, POS network, IVR/Phone Banking, and Internet Banking. E.g. if you are a customer of HBL you can call their IVR and purchase any Mobile Prepaid Card and you get the PIN instantly and your account gets debited. We will be adding 3 more banks within a month.

    Mobile Commerce is the obvious next step, of course I’d need to sign an NDA with you for details on that 😛 However, I would like to mention that UBL’s Orion (Mobile-Wallet) gets their Prepaid PINs from e-pay as we are the only company to be officially accredited by all 6 Mobile Operators as well as with some of the bigger WLL, LDI and ISPs.

    I don’t consider Amaana a competitor cuz I don’t think they actually have a product in the market yet or do they? I think they’re still in the testing phase, however, I would welcome any other electronic partners to enter the market and help build some awareness. Its silly for two people with a cup in their hands to be fighting over who get more water from the sea. Our competition is only lack of awareness!

  • Bilal Makhdoomi

    The author of this article obviously knows very little about e-commerce. e-Pay does not compete with Amaana. To compare them is ludicrous and shows a complete lack of understanding.

    e-Pay and its parent company are very successful and derive their revenue primarily from the top-up market (replacing mobile scratch cards). Anyone in the scratch card business will be able to tell you that distribution channel costs end up being between 10-15% of the card value. This includes printing, middle distributors, edge distributors, store owner cuts etc. Mobile phone top up cards typically have a much lower distribution cost of around 3-5% because they are hot products and store owners happily accept less margin on them because they results in sales of other items when people come to buy them. They are also higher volume.

    ePay takes advantage of the scratch card model by introducing efficiency in the distribution chain, eliminating the hassles of managing inventory and create a new distribution channel for each card. It also allows dynamic updates. Basically ePay reduces the overall distribution cost and takes a heavy cut for it. It’s a fantastic business. It’s business to consumer. It does not support consumer to consumer transactions. That’s not the model.

    Now, the claim that ePay can enable e-commerce mass e-commerce activity is naive. Online retailers typically have tight margins. If you are buying a laptop, the retailer may take a 3% cut. By allowing an ePay “scratch card” for purchases, he would lose 8-15% immediately on the value of the card. So basically, he would either sell the product at a loss or have to raise prices to an extent that no one would buy them.

    So, the summary is:

    1. ePay and Amaana are TOTALLY different products. It’s silly to compare them.
    2. ePay will not work for e-commerce for the same reason as traditional paper scratch cards have failed for e-commerce.

    Let’s get some more intelligent authors on this site please!!!

  • “Kia Ora” from a KIWI in OZZY!! :)

    “Prepaid voucher for online shopping and buying off the TV Shopping Channels”

    “COMING AT YOU – REAL SOON!!!”
    (Patented Nov 08 in Townsville Australia)

  • Learn quran at home is an excellent program that enable kids, adults and new muslims to Learn quran. Homequran.com have 24-7 classes. We have students in USA, Canada, UK, France, Australia, Spain, Belgium, Ireland and all over the world. We teach 24 hours a day. You can try three FREE no obligation trial lessons to evaluate our online quran learning service. After that you can decide to continue or discontinue Quran learning with us. We have both male and female tutors.

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