Recently the Innov8tiv team had the pleasure of meeting Pascale Elie, Co-Founder of HaitiPay at the MC2 Regional Tech Summit In Miami. As a panelist, Pascale detailed her journey of launching the mobile payment, and she also shared her extensive knowledge of the tech community in Haiti. Below is our conversation with Pascale:
Tell us about yourself
My name is Pascale Elie. I have a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Montreal, with an actuarial background. I graduated in 2002 and started working as a Pension Consultant for a major firm in Montreal. After I returned to my country Haiti in 2004, I worked as a Junior Consultant at the Capital Consult (National Financial Group NSG). I was doing market and feasibility studies (survey, research, data analysis, etc.). At the same time I was (and still am) a Statistical Consultant for a firm in Human Resources and Insurance from which I conduct statistical/actuarial studies. In 2006, I joined Unibank (still GFN) to start-up a new insurance company: UniAssurances.
I lead all market research to launch, search for reinsurance, product development/pricing and structuring the company. The UniAssurance began operations in 2009, and I am the Underwriter (responsible for the underwriting and risk analysis). In 2011, I left the UniAssurance to start HaitiPay, an IT company that offers electronic payment solutions. In 2012, the NUTV launched prepaid television (the first in Haiti) which has an interconnection with our platform that allows authentication of payment and immediate authorization of service second after the payment.
Our goal was always to launch an electronic wallet, so we presented our project to the local banks (Unibank, Sogebank, Capital Bank) within our community. The only bank that offered to partner with us was the National Bank of Credit (BNC). After leading the negotiations with BNC for over a year, we launched the eWallet LajanCash in May 2013. HaitiPay has an Agent/merchant network of 500 points of services and deploys nationwide with a team of 20 employees.
Besides those main activities, I’m also a co-shareholder of a gastronomic catering service with my sister, Christelle, who is the Chef. I’m also co-shareholder and Secretary of the Board of Architectural and Design Studio with my father who is an Architect specialized in Heritage conservation.
What prompted you to start HaitiPay?
I should admit, it was not my original idea. My husband came up with the idea, in 2010, that mobile money was the next best thing “after sliced bread”. I was a little skeptical at that time but agreed to work with him on the feasibility analysis. The more I was working on the project, the more I got the bug, and in 2011, I left my full-time job to dedicate my time to HaitiPay.
Why did you leave your full-time job?
I started realizing the lack of availability of financial service offerings in my surrounding. Everyone I know was complaining about access to the financial instrument even the simplest: withdrawing money or pay bills. There is a real problem of financial inclusion in Haiti, and it affects most of the working force, in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince as well as in rural area. The fundamental needs are the same: ACCESS to cash.
Back in 2010 we observed a lot as the first player in mobile money. Naturally the market was lead by Mobile Network Operators (MNO). Their focus was the same as distributing airtime: deploying a vast network. But the problem is bigger; there is no mobile money network without users; no users without a mobile money network (chicken and egg problem).
What challenges do you see in mPayment in Haiti?
From the user’s point of view: mPayment service solution needs to be a “complete solution”. If the chain is not flawless, users will go back to using cash. Our motto is a better-then-cash solution. And the biggest challenge is the “cash-in”, cash-in has to be automatic, like payroll, international remittances, etc.
In your experience, what do you think is severely lacking within the Haitian Tech Communities?
We are missing Huge Labs the most. A core team thinking about the competencies and the solutions institutions or a regular household needs to simplify life. Often someone comes up with a great idea, but they lack the experience of a trained workforce, which always forces startups to import experts from overseas. Thus increasing the cost of the projects making it unattainable or some cases; the project fails.
Although we have a yearly tech fair, organized by the Haitian Tech Association (ATHIC) which is getting better and better every year, we still lack technology meetup groups overall, but it’s a start just to have the association.
What was the most difficult period in your Career life, and how did you deal with it?
My most difficult time was dealing with the lack of financial resources. In Haiti, support to SMEs is not common, and funding a start-up is a roller-coaster ride. Most of our funds come from personal accounts, families, and friends. Banks in Haiti do not fund start-ups, and there is no government agency to support SMEs.
What are the most important things you have learned since launching HaitiPay?
I have learned discipline; also, I’ve learned to listen to others. Running a business is not a one-man show, it is teamwork. I’ve learned to trust my team and delegate.
What is your career advice to college students studying technology in Haiti?
Technology brings solutions. You are in technology; look for what can ameliorate anybody’s day.