Financial IT interview with Evgeny Chamtonau, founder and CEO of SPOKO.
Financial IT: Can you tell us more about SPOKO and your background?
Evgeny Chamtonau (EC): SPOKO is the firm behind the eponymous app which offers instant international money transfers. from EU countries and the UK to 16 countries. The long-term aim is to operate in 51 countries, whilst enabling money transfers to 86 countries.
The app already enables users to send money from Europe to their home countries in local currency, via their mobile, bank account or a Point of Sale outlet. SPOKO distinguishes itself from traditional money transfer providers by offering an extensive payment infrastructure that allows many different local payment methods. In India, for example, you can pick up money in cash or by transfer to a bank account; in Ukraine, by card; in Nigeria, by topping up your phone.
As part of a partnership drive, SPOKO is offering an open API to financial, telecommunications or recruitment companies, so that they can operate transfer services using a white label model. SPOKO already works with PrivatBank and Alfa Bank, two of the largest Ukranian banks, and has carried out integrations with international partners such as the British fintech Trust Payments.
I along with my co-founder Aliaksandr Horlach are originally from Belarus. We met in Poland while at university.
It has always been my dream to become an entrepreneur. I wanted to be educated, learn languages, etc., so I wanted to study abroad and in Poland I graduated in Managerial Economics.
Financial IT: What's the story behind the founding SPOKO and what makes you unique compared other payment infrastructures?
EC: As immigrants, one of our natural needs was transferring money - not really huge amounts, more like birthday gifts for our siblings or grandmas - to Belarus.
We found it challenging. Traditional money transfer services (aside from their usual location in questionable places and generally unpleasant experience connected with the transfer transaction itself) didn’t have transparent policies, immigrants-friendly rules, not to mention questionable pricing.
To be honest, at the end of a day we never knew what amount tour friends and families would receive, and which proportion was collected as commission for the transfer company.
What we also found is that a similar problem was widespread, especially to the enormous Ukrainian diaspora in Poland. We decided to build a stress-free, easy and accessible money transfers for immigrants.
We were originally called Pay Ukraine, as we focused on this group of migrants. When we have achieved a 100 000-user milestone in Q2 2020 and we have already established how to provide a really low-cost and reliable money transfer system, it was time to go global.
What makes us unique is:
- Extra-transparent system and policy - to best meet the needs of the migrants, so often lost at the beginning of their stay in a new country;
- Great customer service, provided 24/7 in the mother tongues of our users;
- Fair exchange rates. We do our best to provide the cheapest service;
- Localisation of our service - as not everything works everywhere
Financial IT: What is the impact of COVID-19 on remittance flows?
EC: It hasn’t been as bad as for other industries. Actually, many customers, who have used traditional point of sales up to the pandemic, had to learn tools and apps for money transfers. We profited from that. Migrants, who were ‘forced’ to use our app or portal, have realised how easy and cheap it is. They are coming back to us - and not to the traditional,
old-school money transfer providers.
Financial IT: What is next for SPOKO?
EC: We do not believe in one service, even a good one, that works everywhere. This is how our competitors, even the major-league players, work.
I strongly oppose such an approach. For me, each market, each country and each language minority we are approaching requires completely different money transfer tools, as well as communication!
So, for example, for the Ukrainian diaspora we provide card to card transfer - as this is how they prefer to support their families. In India or Nigeria, where there are still many unbanked customers, we focus on physical locations, where the money might be collected thanks to SPOKO.
Our plan is to gain even more insights and understanding of every country we are and will be present! In the long run, we want to operate in 51 countries enabling money transfers to 86 countries.
Evgeny Chamtonau is the founder and CEO of SPOKO - a fintech offering affordable money transfers. He graduated in Managerial Economics at the University of Lodz, Poland. From childhood he was fascinated with technology and entrepreneurship. At the age of 18 he created his first startup Finchways, an AI-driven trip planner app.