Profile: HPS’ Smaili Alaoui, on market change, cryptos, and regulations

HPS provides payments solutions across the value chain – from application management to fraud detection, risk management, to account management. Given how fragmented the payments ecosystem has become over the past few years, it’s a unique offering. And they’re in 90 countries.

At the company’s helm is Abdeslam Smaili Alaoui. The Insead and Harvard graduate spoke to PaymentEye, about the state of the industry, and where the company is headed.

What have you accomplished at the firm?

I’ve been with the firm since the very first day, as one of the founders. I’ve been in the technical and programming sides, I was very much involved. Now that I’m on executive level I’ve wanted to continue what we’ve been doing very well, and with the team we’ve been trying to bring a new energy by delivering new methods of delivering the software. Our solution has been delivered in different modes, and we’re really adding value to each of those modes.

Innovation is key to what we’re doing, and we tell our team it’s not just about technical innovation, it’s entrenched in the way we produce and sell our software. Innovation should touch every activity in the company. And everyone’s involved – from very junior engineers to the CEO.

How have markets changed over the course of your career?

We’re very happy that there have been so many changes in the market. I heard someone say a couple of weeks ago that we’re going through a digital Darwinism: the dinosaurs are collapsing because of the small mushrooms coming in. I believe that the market is very much changing. The big players – because of their size and the way they work – may not be able to address all the needs of the market. We’re small enough to remain agile and be able to address a lot of needs, which is very important to us. At the same time we don’t want to be too small as to be fragile.

What’s driving the market at the moment?

The market is booming, and the regulators are trying more to get into it, hence the fact that there are more rules coming into place to make sure the market is not going out of control. There are so many things going on in this industry: mobile, artificial intelligence, and so much more. Regulations for once are coming in after the fact, which is good as they’re applying rules to something that exists and needs to have those rules.

For me, innovation and the speed with which it is driving the industry is creating a lot of opportunities for us, as are a number of the regulations. Selling on the basis of regulation can be easy but it can be difficult to convince people of the value because most view them as something that will allow them to continue what they’re doing rather than something that might bring in revenue. So we prefer to build on the innovation than on the regulation, but we have to do it.

What’s your take on the recent Libra announcement, and cryptos generally?

Cryptocurrencies and a lot of the things around them like blockchain, are very valuable as tools – and will be the future. We won’t see, I think, coins or notes, it’ll all be digitalised. Paper money will have to disappear, not least because of its cost.

What I’m less comfortable with is when we see the value of cryptocurrencies being based only on speculation. The value of something should reflect its impact on the economy. Having central banks for this purpose makes sense, and for Libra not being under the control of administrations and more by commercial organisations can be questionable. Going back to cryptocurrencies and payments, I think it’s a huge opportunity for us and it’s a space that hasn’t been addressed yet. Payments is independent from the source of funds, so if today we need to pay with a cryptocurrency, or anything else, it’s just another market to be addressed.

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