Centili positions for growth in 2021

Centili is often described as a payment platform or gateway provider – it prefers to be called a digital monetisation platform – and when you review the breadth of its capabilities you can see why. Over the 10 years it’s been in the market it’s developed a range of functionalities that are preintegrated and delivered out of the cloud, along with pre-existing relationships that enable CSPs to start charging direct-to-bill almost immediately.

Historically, the company has had success in Asia, although it’s now identified significant opportunities to expand in EMEA. In MEA such opportunities derive from helping prepaid, unbanked customers pay for things they need and want, while reducing the risk of fraud in fraud-prone countries such as Nigeria. Demand that will be driven even higher as more customers migrate to 4G networks and smartphones.

In Europe the opportunity is different. Here there are a wide range of ad hoc opportunities to monetise impulse buying that European carriers have often failed to cash in on. Although a few use case such as paying for goods from vending machines and for car parking have been played with over the years, and some countries have had more success than others, direct carrier billing (DCB) hasn’t lived up to its promise. That’s, until now.

There are multiple reasons why this has been the case: customer inertia, the existence of acceptable alternatives, lack of uptake of apps, lack of standardisation, low levels of merchant adoption, and fear of billshock.

Bad publicity in some markets – such as the UK – has also generated fear around this type of service. It has to be said that all payment methods carry some level of risk. The issue is whether operators are geared up to supporting DCB properly: both to reduce the risk of fraud and to support customers adequately. This is something we could no doubt debate further. But suffice it to say that DCB hasn’t gone away and 2020 was when it got reassessed.

Companies such as Centili have historically supported specific niches, and had success in markets where the door was easier to open and there were fewer alternatives. COVID-19 has meant even markets and carriers that were less enthusiastic about DCB are reassessing. The crisis has accelerated digitalisation significantly and has effectively been a giant exercise in digital education and acclimatisation for whole populations. Not having an easy, trusted method to pay small sums for digital goods and services is frustrating for customers. Not everyone has a credit card; not everyone wants to use it for something that costs £2. And faith in banks has dropped significantly since 2008, with new disruptive Fintech’s already taking advantage of that.

In fact, the Fintechs themselves are educating customers that banking from your mobile is better; it’s a short step to think paying by your mobile is. Part of the opportunity here is to do with digital trust. Customers are increasingly aware and wary of ID theft and fraud. Adding a payment service – which we call a Network-Plus service[1] – to the portfolio is a natural fit for telcos that have rolled out telecoms cybersecurity offerings (see Yoigo launches new cybersecurity service). If you know your telco has secured your devices, connection, applications and data, it puts them in a good position to enable and secure your payments.

Zoran Vasiljev, CEO, Centili

One example of the reassessment that’s going on is Centili’s recent announcement of a group-level carrier billing agreement with Deutsche Telekom. This is no small cheese. It will enable the company to establish direct connections to all MNOs in the group and provide digital content to more than 200 million subscribers.

The agreement encompasses the technical and commercial arrangements necessary to allow micro-purchases to be charged to mobile subscribers’ accounts. This includes paying for parking or for in-app features in games and social networks. Centili says that for businesses this is an appealing option to remove friction for customers at the point of payment – in other words, make it easier to take payments and thereby reduce the amount of fallout in the purchasing process.  

Zoran Vasiljev, Centili’s new CEO, comments research indicates that up to 92% of attempted mobile transactions fail. A sobering thought. His company already works with 280+ MNOs who are working to reverse that by making small payments easier, adding better user identification and mobile engagement. His company also counts Badoo, Wargaming, iTaxi and Busuu among its clients.

“Mobility and transportation, gaming, e-publishing, vouchers, video and music on demand are just some of the areas where the demand for carrier billing is increasing,” says Lazar Pasajlic, Regional Manager Europe for Centili. Vasiljev argues that his company’s relationships, technology and experience mean it can offer a faster option for carriers wishing to rollout such an offer, helping them avoid the lag, cost and frustration of developing such a solution themselves.

But the opportunity goes beyond providing a payment service to business customers. CSPs themselves are missing out because they’re not able to charge for small one-off items. For multi-service operators the ability to innovate in pricing, packaging and purchasing of digital goods is key to meeting customer expectations and opening up vital ad hoc revenue steams. Our media analyst Colin Mann sees a significant opportunity here. “The media market is ripe for innovation in payments, pricing and packaging,” he says. “Currently this market’s approach looks dated and is neither sufficiently flexible or personalised. This is the era of multiple streaming subscriptions, where people will often take advantage of short-term or no-term offers to create their own content bundles. Customer expectations will drive the requirement for continued innovation in this area.”

Vasiljev believes Centili has the right solution at the right time, launching a new SaaS offering called Maestro. The service supports frictionless ecosystem management and monetisation of digital experiences for telcos, aggregators and enterprises, OTTs, gaming companies and other digital brands. Vasiljev says Maestro simplifies partnerships, opens additional revenue streams for both operators and digital merchants, and helps telcos make the most of the data and reach they possess. The platform, he says, is already having a significant impact on his company’s business, with 10 customers already signed up.

In 2021 Centili will also add conversational commerce capabilities – taking care of the end-to-end process of communication to payment. 

Ultimately, Centili isn’t just a payment provider but a type of payment intermediary. In the MVNO world we have MVNEs who provide key technology to MVNOs and act as an intermediary between CSPs and MVNOs. We also have clearinghouses who perform key functions and add expertise in the roaming domain. In the payments world, companies such as Centili provide more than just a payment gateway but act as a business enabler, a broader technology provider, a broker of key relationships and a consultant that brings considerable expertise to the table.

Omnisperience believes it’s time to reassess the potential of DCB. Frequently-cited obstacles are either no longer obstacles or are solvable (and have been solved in Asia). Ultimately, this is a whole new and valuable business stream for carriers that can be added to their core services quickly and easily. And what’s not to like about that?

[1] Omnisperience defines Network-Plus services as a type of value-added service that is provided by a network operator, is closely related to network provision and which adds value to connectivity.