INTERVIEW: Corethree’s CTO talks mobile payments

Establishing itself in the payments industry

UK-based Corethree is gradually establishing itself in the payments market. Last month it released an m-wallet and more recently partnered with a bus network to introduce an m-ticketing service in Southern England. Richard Kershaw the company’s CTO spoke to PaymentEye about mobile payments and Corethree’s position in the industry. 

What makes Corethree different from similar services?

We’re a unique supplier in the mobile payments industry, in terms of both how we go about doing things, and the way in which we tie together various aspects of mobile, commerce and user interaction. Ours is a more of holistic view than anyone else we know of in the technology industry, because we recognised early on that mobile has to be a suite of technologies all working together if it’s to succeed on a wide scale.

Mobile payments doesn’t exist on its own in the real world – it’s part of a chain of activities which customers will have to opt-into to make the whole thing work, and we’re focused on providing the tools that retailers need to make sure the whole experience, start to finish, works really well for consumers.

For those reasons, our software platform, Core Engine is designed to handle everything around mobile payment as well as the payments themselves. There’s always a content aspect to it, and usually some kind of systems integration, so we work very carefully with our clients to get the best out of the technology available. Core Engine’s designed to deal with hosting, scaling, management, secure payments and business intelligence in a friction-free way, so our focus can be on the end results.

Overall, our technology strategy allows us to move much, much faster than a conventional mobile software supplier – often by orders of magnitude – and maintain the same level of agility after a solution’s been launched.

What’s the biggest challenge you currently face?

Navigating the tumultuous landscape around payment technologies is a big challenge for everyone right now. NFC / contactless, over-the-air, direct-to-bill and various industry solutions all come with different pros and cons, and choosing the best-of-breed for any given project is a matter of anticipating the customers’ expectations. 

It’s traditionally a difficult thing to do with technologies that are relatively immature, and we’re certainly not immune. However, we designed our platform around the reality of software development, so we’re equipped with tools we’ve built in-house to allow those integrations to be quick and low overhead. We’re not committed to any single payment solution, and very much believe that’s an excellent thing for our customers. We can work with virtually any payment technology and merchant processor, and we’re the single most flexible mobile payments provider we know of right now.

How much of the challenge is about winning consumer trust?

The obvious answer is that it’s very important, but we think there’s a little more nuance to it than that! Mobile devices already carry a certain amount of intrinsic trust, but it’s absolutely crucial to have a combination of end-to-end security and consistent, easy to use user interfaces. Familiarity is the cornerstone to earning trust, and our technology is designed from first principles to enforce usability and a really shallow learning curve.

On the security side, it’s handled across the industry by standards like PCI DSS, but PCI DSS is one essential component in what should be an end-to-end chain of security. It only takes one serious security issue to break that trust, so we’ve engineered our payment system to a higher level than PCI DSS requires, and we work with every payment processor to make sure that focus on trusted payments remains over the course of a project.

Who are you partnering with?

We’re approached by a broad spectrum of companies regularly, who propose various different kinds of strategic relationship. We’re very careful who we enter discussion with, as we have a clear strategy and want to make sure that anyone who we partner with creates a symbiosis which fosters growth. We have no desire to partner for the sake of a few good headlines – it’s all about the results we can achieve.

We generally look to work with technology leaders in every industry we enter, so our customers can get the best combination of market know-how and mobile expertise. Every market has potential partners with expert knowledge, so making sure we work with people who understand their sector as well as we know ours is key.

We’re also approached regularly by large organisations at a global level to bring Core Engine in as part of larger infrastructure projects, and that’s also an important direction for us.  

Is there more to mobile payments than paying for goods on a phone?

Undoubtedly – as we’ve mentioned previously, mobile payments can’t exist in a vacuum. They’re part of a process involving content delivery, systems integration, CRM and so forth. The customer’s experience with a mobile retailer hinges on how successful they make the intersection between all of those things. That’s why our software’s been designed to be highly capable in integrating with the various technologies our clients use – we want to sit at that intersection and get the best out of the investment in technology.

What that means in practice is that a mobile payment solution should integrate many complementary elements. Solutions need information to inform the customer’s purchasing decision, an easy and trusted payment facility, and systems to make sure our clients’ CRM, supply chain, management and business intelligence people get everything they need after the purchase to build up a relationship with the customer. With customer knowledge and permission, this means they can plan their strategy based on data rather than guesswork.

What needs to happen for mobile payments to hit the mainstream?

Two things: firstly, with all of the above in mind, we need to make a daunting process easy for clients. That’s been our focus from day one, and so we can deliver everything from a turnkey package built for common vertical markets to solutions custom-built for a client’s particular needs. Our speed is also a boon there: we can work to the short turnaround times that marketing and sales departments often need, and break away from lengthy conventional timescales which can otherwise be a limiting factor.

Secondly, it’s down to ease of use. We’re working with a lot of different technologies internally because we don’t see that any one means of mobile payment has an edge yet. NFC and contactless is good for P2P payments and transport systems, but doesn’t offer a clear advantage on its own over chip-and-pin or EMV, and needs infrastructure and buy-in from mobile networks and banking operators. PayPal is very well supported, but the need for top-up accounts and fees to withdraw funds presents a barrier for both customers and merchants.

We’ll reach critical mass though solutions that remain agnostic of the underlying technology, and focus on delivering a consistent user experience, with very low barriers to entry. That’s historically been the case with physical payment cards – the ease with which banks can get retailers setup to accept EMV has been a cornerstone in its adoption. We’re aiming to do the same thing for mobile payments; end users aren’t even aware of the technology challenges preventing wide-scale deployment, so it’s up to us to make it easy enough that the transition from cash and EMV is easy, and it’s a viable alternative for everyone.

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