Sam Ahmed: Navigating E-Commerce & Digital Banking Complexity To Shape The Future Of Digital Economy

Sam Ahmed: Navigating E-Commerce & Digital Banking Complexity To Shape The Future Of Digital Economy

Sam Ahmed, CEO & Co-Founder

Sam Ahmed

CEO & Co-Founder

A disruptor and innovator with ambitions for technology-driven global expansion, Sam Ahmed, CEO & Co-founder, Smartpay is one of Asia Pacific’s leading digital economy leaders with 20+ years of extensive experience in leading digital businesses in the region. He is a seasoned industry professional who had previously led digital, AI, and technology transformation for Facebook, Standard Chartered Bank, Mastercard, and Starbucks.

Sam is known for being one of the first to lead Mobile Payments at scale in the Asia Pacific by launching the first Starbucks mobile payment, in-app loyalty program, and in-app payment throughout the region in 2012. Within two years it became the largest in-app mobile payment and loyalty card in Asia-Pacific. (Two years before the launch of Apple Pay). At Mastercard, Sam was successful in building and developing the Mastercard Digital & E-commerce Engine in Asia Pacific, to link consumer data with merchant offers to lift e-commerce transactions in real-time. He was the first to use AI at a regional scale to drive e-commerce transactions across ten thousand merchants, over 100 million consumer conversions, and hundreds of banks to drive value for all parties. With the Mastercard Digital & E-Commerce Engine, he changed the way Mastercard did digital business with their ecosystem - merchants, banks, and consumers. This game-changing innovation is highlighted in Harvard Business School Case Study by Professor Sunil Gupta. (Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.)

During his time at Standard Chartered Bank, Sam was successful in building & rolling out SC Digital Operating System across 14 markets which doubled digital sales. Helping an international bank transform digitally was an incredible experience for him. It offered him the inside view of the added values that banks require from their external ecosystem partners due to their legacy systems. Using his digital banking experience, Sam led Payments and E-commerce go-to-market (GTM), commercial strategy, planning, and execution for Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Australia, India, and China cross-border for WhatsApp, Instagram Shopping, Mobile Commerce, and Facebook marketplace. He had the opportunity to work with the regulators across eight markets in Asia Pacific understanding their vision for Fintech over the next 10 years.

Smartpay is moving into the next phase of its digital consumer finance journey, which is focused on targeting middle & high-income users & offering them smart financial solutions

In 2021, Sam founded Smartpay, a Japan-based fintech company that provides ‘One-click digital payment & financial solutions at the point of purchase.’ Smartpay which was awarded ‘The fastest growing Fintech in Asia 2023’ by Global Market Financial Review has been widely accepted & acknowledged by consumers and merchants. Smartpay UX and technology drive fast and secure digital finance and payments, which is helping transform the world’s thirds largest economy from a cash-based society into a digital one.

Let’s hear it from Sam.

Tell us about the important lessons you learned at the Harvard Business School.

The biggest learning for me at HBS was from Professor Marco Iansiti, Professor of Business Administration, (Co-director of the Laboratory for Information Science at Harvard and of the Digital Initiative at HBS). I learned to first understand the existing ecosystem, define my role and value proposition within that ecosystem, and then create monetization edges for each party in that ecosystem.

Introduce us to Smartpay and tell us about the services developed by the company and the impact that it delivers to the digital banking ecosystem.

Smartpay has launched Smartpay Bank Direct, the country's first digital consumer finance service that allows customers to pay for online installment purchases straight from their bank accounts. We are also the first digital consumer finance company to utilize Japan's open banking system and we are the first to sign 78 banks so we have created the first scalable digital direct debit payment and consumer finance ecosystem in Japan.

While Japan remains the third wealthiest country in the world, it has one of the highest credit card penetration rates in Asia, with over 60 percent of transactions completed in cash. Smartpay is moving into the next phase of its digital consumer finance journey, which is focused on targeting middle and high-income users and offering them smart financial solutions that are safe, convenient, fast, and create real value for the entire ecosystem. Its aspirational feel and product features appeal to the high-income segment who have disposable incomes and want to align with smart digital UX brands. The UX has been put together after much consideration, and its design features make consumers feel trusted and accepted for their unique individual traits. By targeting this segment of society, Smartpay's unit economics is very strong as these are low-risk and high-value customers – their average transaction value with Smartpay is $270 and they want to avoid a bad credit rating (Smartpay has a non-performing loan rate (NPL) of less rate of than one percent.) The monthly repeat rate of these consumers has already reached approximately 35 percent. This combination of high-income users and high-value design makes Smartpay a premium fintech company.

What differentiates Smartpay from other fintech companies is that it works with the existing legacy banks rather than against them. Established banks have been disrupted by financial digital transformation companies that have taken their customers' relevant details and data. These banks need help in recapturing these consumers with payment innovation and high-quality, digital UX. When fintech took over payments, they not only took away the transaction values but also the critical data that had guided the customer acquisition strategy of the banks for decades. Without these insights, the legacy banks had to rely on high acquisition costs for insurance and wealth management, which affected their profitability. Smartpay is able to address this imbalance and seamlessly integrate with legacy banks to re-establish their relationship with the right customer through a beautifully designed digital UX.

"Our Passion Is Helping Consumers Manage Their Cash Flow In A Smarter Way, In A Fast, Safe, & Secure Click"

What is your leadership approach?

My leadership style is to focus on the individual and ultimately help them to make decisions as a business owner (which they are) and not as an employee. We have a team of owners – their passion and focus are incredible. I focus on three aspects – why is the person motivated to join the company, how the person wants to feel treated, remunerated, and rewarded, and how they want to be developed. I love being part of my staff’s growth from skills, decision-making, and financial point of view.

What is Smartpay's business strategy and also its future plan?

Our strategy is to add value to consumers, merchants, and banks through our finance, payment services, and checkout experience. We are delighted to be the first in Japan to provide digital consumer finance services which support both credit cards and direct debit through a fully automated, single-click UX at the point of purchase. Our passion is helping consumers manage their cash flow in a smarter way, in a fast, safe, and secure click. There are no additional fees or interest for the consumers. Since the launch of Smartpay, just over a year ago, as Japan's first BNPL solution payable by credit card, we have signed up with 73 banks, have continued to expand our partner ecosystem with new retailers and an expanding customer base with revenue growth of over 270 percent in the last three months. Interestingly, we have lifted merchant average order value by more than 30 percent in four different merchant categories. We also attract higher-value consumers for the merchant.

What would be your advice for budding industry leaders?

You must become an expert in your field (Learn, read, and know about your subject every day. It’s good for you, and also people want to work for someone they can learn from). Secondly, develop the creativity muscle - in identifying opportunities/ problems to solve, technology innovation, bringing teams together, and business model creation. The technology, finance, and regulatory industry are in absolute transformation mode, you need to have a passion to find and create opportunities and solve problems - study the ecosystem and the whole spectrum. I carry this learning from Harvard Business School – it taught me that studying the wide spectrum of context gives you the ability to innovate for success. And lastly, follow the approach of Servant Leadership – you are lucky to have another human being, choose to work with you at all levels. I despise hierarchy culture.

Sam Ahmed, CEO & Co-Founder, Smartpay

An Alumnus Of Harvard Business School, Sam Has Unrivaled Experience In Spearheading E-Commerce And Fintech Innovation For Global Companies. Currently, Through Smartpay, He Is Empowering People To Improve Their Monthly Budget Control And Financial Well-Being Through Smart Solutions.

Awards & Recognition:

Harvard Business School Alumni – New Venture Competition AP – best investment Category 2023

Digerati APAC: The Top 50 People in the APAC digital industry (DRUM) 2018

Asia Pacific CMO of the Year (World Brand Congress) 2017

Awarded for his work by WHO (2006) (Osteoporosis Campaign)

Peer Reviewed case study published on Sam's commercially successful global brand repositioning and innovation (2007)

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