By BESTENIGAR KARA
The international money transfer and payment platform UPT (Uluslararasi Para Transferi) aims to enter new countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, according to Hakan Ozat, General Manager and Board Member of UPT. The company, which operated in two to three countries three years ago, has raised this figure to 13 today. “We continue to expand our network by adding three new countries annually,” said Ozat.
The FinTech (Financial Technology) company UPT, which was founded in 2010 and is fully owned by Calik Holding’s banking subsidiary, Aktifbank, has reached over 400,000 transaction points in nearly 200 countries that serve 95% of the world’s population today. The firm, which has been licensed in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) and Jordan, currently operates in 13 countries where it can carry out transactions. “Our customers can benefit from all UPT services in these countries where we partner with 46 banks and payment institutions that use our system,” Ozat said.
The company also has 150 partners specific to money transfer services in 176 countries. “For example, we have partners in the Philippines. Although you can’t benefit from UPT services when you are there, you can send money from Turkey to the Philippines or from the Philippines to Turkey or elsewhere through those partners,” Ozat said. Regarding Turkey, UPT has around 7,000 transaction points in the country. The General Directorate of Post and Telegraph Organization (PTT) is the main distribution point for money transfer and payment transactions. “Transactions can also be started or carried out at nearly 2,500 institutions through our contracted or direct representatives,” Ozat added.
USD 3.5BN TRANSACTION VOLUME THIS YEAR
As a ‘profitable’ company, UPT continues to grow its resources, while the profit made by the firm is transferred to its growth year by year, according to Hakan Ozat. “We continue to grow annually in terms of transaction volume, profitability, and network,” Ozat said. UPT aims to achieve growth of over 30% on a dollar basis annually and has already exceeded its targets for this year. The company will end 2022 with a transaction volume of nearly USD 3.5bn. “From now onward, we’ll raise that target. Reaching the first transaction volume of USD 1bn was difficult for us, but the rest proceeds rapidly,” Ozat added. “Adding new countries and transferring money to the whole network creates a multiplying effect for us. Digital channels have created brand-new transaction volume,” he said, stressing that they expect their transaction volume to increase incrementally when they transfer these digital channels to other countries abroad.
NEW COUNTRIES ON THE RADAR
UPT currently has a global market share corresponding to around five per thousand considering its transaction volume, but its global popularity continually increases with each passing day. “Countries such as the U.S., India, Saudi Arabia, and Dubai take the lion’s share in the sector,” Ozat said. One of the main legs through which the company raises its global footprint is international fairs. UPT attends more than 10 fairs every year for new opportunities. “Almost no one visited our stands in 2019 when we first started to penetrate the global market. Now, almost all global leading firms know us, and we hold talks with them at these events.” While U.S.-based Mastercard and VISA as well as their subsidiaries are among these firms, UPT has inked a deal with them to meet their services and money transfer needs in Turkey and provide money transfer solutions for them in other countries where UPT operates.
Moreover, UPT aims to enter new countries in the European Union (EU), the Middle East, and Africa next year to gather customers with its services. Within this frame, the company plans to step into new markets where it can make a difference, competition is low, and the money transfer sector hasn’t developed. Before the penetration, it also considers the connections between potential markets with the countries where it operates. “Our priority was the CIS region. However, we adopted it, and we currently deepen in the region,” Ozat noted.
Within this scope, UPT has two initiatives for next year to raise its global share. The company, which already has offices in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, plans to launch another office at Dubai International Finance Center in Dubai soon as many global FinTech firms are located in Dubai to manage their Middle East-CIS operations. “We expect our license to be approved by the end of December 2022. Dubai is the right location for collaboration and accessing the market. We’ll start our operations in our Dubai office as of 2023,” Ozat added.
As the EU is also among the target markets, UPT has completed establishing its subsidiary in Germany, where it will start to offer services in 2023, as well. Moreover, the firm has started to collaborate with a neobank, which is a type of direct bank operating exclusively online without traditional physical branch networks, in Germany. “We’ll start to offer our services in Europe through that neobank’s license. Licensing and the passport process are time-consuming, which we don’t want. That’s why we follow such a strategy in Europe,” Ozat added.
As part of the company’s EU strategy, UPT plans to reach Turks living in Europe and offer them their mobile application, ‘UPTION,’ in the first stage. “UPTION is our mobile application. We redesigned and launched it again in August 2022. Now, the launch process continues,” Ozat said. In the second stage, UPT will bring its services to people from the CIS region, Middle East, and Africa residing in the EU. “A serious opportunity will emerge for UPT in the EU. We think that we can compete in terms of price and service there,” Ozat noted. “We’ll start to penetrate the larger markets following these operations. Then, our transaction volume will reach a notable global level.”
Launching another office in Azerbaijan is on the agenda for UPT, however, there is no regulation in that country yet, according to Ozat. “We’ll open an office in Azerbaijan after the necessary regulations are made. We’ve always focused on the CIS region as we operate there for many years,” Ozat said, noting that UPT services are offered in all CIS countries.
FOUR KEY FACTORS
Price competition, service quality, accessibility, and digital channels are the four factors through which UPT makes a difference in the sector, according to Hakan Ozat. “Since we are a Turkey-based company and Turkey is our primary market, we make all kinds of price competition to attract customers in the country. That’s why we are growing in the market,” the UPT General Manager noted.
However, if the service quality can’t be managed at a certain level, price competition means nothing, says Ozat. UPT can fulfill over 99% of its instant money transfer commitment. “When you commit to sending money in the blink of an eye, it requires a serious service and infrastructure. We have the advantage of being a banking subsidiary at this point. We built our infrastructure with banking standards at the beginning,” Ozat said.
Apart from the service quality, accessibility is also a very important criterion for UPT, which has a broad network in the Middle East and CIS regions. “For instance, when someone comes to a UPT point to send money to Uzbekistan, the system won’t properly work if there is a single payment point. However, we operate at seven banks in Uzbekistan. Through them, we can access other partners in the country.”
UPT doesn’t have a rival in terms of digital channels in Turkey, Ozat says. The mobile application, UPTION, has been integrated into all products the firm offers through physical channels. Moreover, UPTION provides an IBAN (International Bank Account Number) to its customers. Thus, its customers can carry out EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) from banks in 80 countries to Turkey and vice versa, in local currencies. “Unlike banks, we don’t use the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) system. We make agreements with banks in certain countries, and they make our payments for us through the local money transfer system,” Ozat said, stressing that this strategy significantly reduces UPT’s costs and accelerates the process.
Mastercard & UPTION ‘marry’ to create a ‘child’
UPT and U.S-based Mastercard have recently inked a broad-framed deal. As part of the first leg of the agreement, the company provides cards to its customers with the ‘Mastercard’ logo through UPTION. The difference made by the collaboration is that it prevents the adverse effect of the FX-rate difference when spending abroad.
The second leg of the cooperation focuses on integration into Mastercard’s money transfer products: HomeSend and Cross Border Send. “One of these products allows you to send money 24/7 to all Mastercard cards around the world irrespective of the country. We are the first sector company that did this in Turkey,” UPT General Manager Hakan Ozat said. “Considering the partnership with Mastercard, our population coverage ratio of 95% increased even further.”
Moreover, UPT has also been integrated into the other Mastercard money transfer services to bank accounts. Thus, customers, who use the UPTION app or visit the physical locations of UPT can transfer money to bank accounts in many countries around the world in local currencies through Mastercard’s infrastructure.
Although the cooperation has newly begun, there is increasing interest in it. “The interest that we saw in it in the last month is quite positive. I believe that the Mastercard & UPTION cooperation will create a new market and reach a substantial market share,” Hakan Ozat said. He also stated that the company is holding talks with U.S.-based VISA and is evaluating possible opportunities in the coming period. Ozat also added that a collaboration with the Russian payment system Mir is also possible in the future.
UPT may enter digital assets
The usage of the blockchain as an instrument for money transfer is useful, according to Hakan Ozat, General Manager and Board Member of UPT. Ozat said the company has projects in this business segment, and they are in talks about digital assets. “We aren’t aiming for cryptocurrency transfer. However, it’s would be very interesting for us to send TRY in USD abroad using a blockchain infrastructure,” Ozat noted. From this perspective, UPT sees this as one the business lines that may be penetrated in the future.