Bringing global expertise to the SA payments industry

Two years of new local leadership, PayU South Africa is a significant part of the Naspers’ fintech and e-payments division’s success

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Karen Nadasen, PayU South Africa’s CEO, is regularly described as one of South Africa’s most inspiring women in tech, nominated for IT Personality of the Year 2017, and listed among 100 Most Influential Young South Africans 2017 - since taking the helm 2 years ago.

Heading up the in-country division of Naspers-owned PayU came with a handful of challenges – payment gateway consolidation of the local market by global players, new compliance and standards, and a drove of large services and brick and mortar retailers coming online.

If local challenges were not enough, South African business growth was not the sole extent of her mandate. Instead, she played a role in managing the company’s shift from a locally-focused business to a pivotal part of one global business that is PayU, industry leaders in India, Latin America and Central Eastern Europe. Positioned as ‘local experts in growth markets’, PayU worldwide is concentrating on both the products and processes that transform them into a consolidated, international payments force in emerging and high growth markets - which is often the most challenging for companies to operate in due to volatility and operating standards.

Much of the global infrastructure and service testing is happening right here, which fortunately means development and upskilling within the local payments industry enabling better products and servicing of local and global enterprises, and offering cross-border payments that are allowing local businesses to scale rapidly, but also easily.[JG1] 

When Nadasen entered her CEO position, she had a three-pronged approach for fulfilling her vision of the major transformation necessary for PayU South Africa –  growth, positioning and market agility. And it appears to be working “Our 2017/2018 year-on-year growth was 123%, while the market growth was projected to be 20% for last year,” she says.

“And because fintech is an intrinsically dynamic sector, one must closely examine one’s core strengths and weaknesses, and make tough decisions on where to invest and divest whenever repositioning is required. Evolution in the local market has been tremendous and in South Africa, we’re finally seeing some of our most well-established large retailers finally coming online,” says Nadasen.

“What has been positive but unexpected is that, for some, the percentage of online growth noted far exceeded their in-store growth, which was not met without issues. As volumes soared some experienced infrastructure issues, not being able to cope with the significant increase in online shopping volumes, Black Friday being one obvious example. The payments infrastructure also came under pressure with some banks and Bankserv not maintaining 100% uptime.

Providing back up transactional switching routes, alternative 3DS switching services to maintain maximum uptime, and increasing approval rates on core products has been among the most significant changes that Nadasen has overseen to propel infrastructure maturity in SA.

“We work hard to be on top of the game, with a well-rounded product mix that is an end-to-end service from client integration and end-user experience to payment flow, settlement, reconciliation and merchant support services. Our PayU Xpress card offering, for example, has the highest approval rates in the industry now, in excess of 95% – not just in South Africa, but across other PayU regions - which equates to a higher merchant gross merchandise value (GMV) for South African companies. At the end of the day, that’s not only money in the bank for local business, but also a better user experience - the number one factor driving customer acquisition and conversion for merchants.

“Merchants of all sizes benefits from reduced administration and associated costs, industry-leading approval rates, and consolidated reporting, when linking to the PayU Hub. “We offer 2 types of integration, local and global via a single integration made possible by the PayU Hub for cross border or global merchants. So most of our local merchants are integrated into the local platform. The PayU Hub speaks to agility and positioning as truly became 1 company and started to consolidate its businesses, processes, products under PayU Global.” But larger merchants should really be interested in the scalability, switching redundancy, and aggregation with other payment processors that the Hub offers, giving them the ability to enter a brand-new market with an already fully-equipped cross-border payments partner. ” 

Nadasen’s career in technology spans 17 years, from humble beginnings as a Java programmer to joining PayU South Africa at a challenging and volatile phase of its growth. At the same time, she manages motherhood of a toddler between international travel and acting as chief executive.

Having steered PayU South Africa to becoming a transparent, entrepreneurially-spirited entity, she is undeniably enthusiastic about being part of today’s payments sector.  

“Local payments providers are working towards making payments as frictionless as possible, given the need to be invisible and indispensable at the same time. There is, of course, more work ahead to bring the banks and merchants together to create a more streamlined omni-channel experience, but the spirit is right and the momentum is there, especially with the great work that the Payments Association of South Africa (PASA) is doing,” she concludes.

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