Nabil spent twelve years growing the business at Western Union between 1998 and 2004 across North America, MENA, Asia, and Europe. He also spent 4 years as President and CEO of Omnex Group, 5 years as CEO of Account Control Technology Holdings, and is now President and CEO of CieloPay. This resume has earned him spots on the Inc. CEO Project, membership at the Forbes Technology Council, and membership at the Board of Advisors for the IMTC Conferences.
He knows the money transfer business intimately from the agent to the board at both incumbent and challenger perspectives. Nabil is also going to be a judge on the RemTECH Awards 2020 judging panel. He provides us with his views on the industry, how to succeed in it, and what he’s looking for in RemTECH entries.
You’ve been in the remittance industry for decades at this point, what has changed the most to you? Anything surprised you about the journey?
Undoubtedly, the biggest change has come from the disruption through the propagation of technology and the subsequent number of new entrants in the space. While large players such as Western Union have adapted and improved their digital offering, I was surprised at how many legacy players have not yet made the necessary investments to maintain their leadership positions. Financial inclusion is a tenet of the remittance industry, and that inclusion has happened thanks to the penetration of technology around the world, first through the internet, and now through mobile. The industry needs to accompany this development to continue its expansion and serve customers the way they want to be served.
You’ve been president and CEO for a number of companies and in different industries. What do you like about each role?
I’ve had the privilege to work in both large public companies such as Western Union, and startups or mid-size players. Each company has its advantages and challenges. In large companies you can enjoy the wide availability of resources, talent and support to launch an initiative but large companies have to be very thoughtful about the moves they make, which can slow things down. Smaller companies are more agile. They can afford to move quickly and make mistakes, but they are usually under resourced. In addition to competing in the marketplace for product success, you also have to compete for financing and talent. You have to make difficult choices and tradeoffs and be very focused to succeed with the little resources that you have. It’s a different challenge but equally enjoyable. Beyond remittance, I worked in banking, payments, BPO, SaaS and even debt collection and I have to say that across all these verticals you would be surprised at the commonality of issues, especially at the top leadership level. You are always dealing with C-Suite motivation, alignment and accountability, client satisfaction, ROI of initiatives, regulatory or market obstacles, investor and board relations and budgets. These areas have a lot of commonality across industries.
Above all, I have to say that the best part of every company I’ve had the pleasure of contributing to has been the wonderful people that I met and worked with. These are positives that you carry throughout your life and grow enriched from.
How do you decide what company or project you wanted to be a part of?
I look at three things:
1) The market opportunity: Does the offering solve an important problem? Does it add value to people’s life or to business processes? What is the TAM (total addressable market)? Can it be commercially viable? What does the go-to market look like? What is the moat around the product, how can we protect it from being disrupted?
2) The Team: How committed are the founders, board and executives to the project? What is the quality of the talent involved from a leadership, intention and technical proficiency for their roles? Are these people I would learn from and enjoy working with?
3) Financing: Is the project adequately resourced or can it have access to capital by attracting the right type of investors?
Why did you decide to be a judge for the RemTECH Awards?
I believe that innovation holds the future of the industry. We, as industry participants, have a duty to foster this innovation and create every opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas. The RemTECH Awards accomplished just that.
You’re currently the CEO of CieloPay. What role do you think it could have or is having for the remittance industry?
CieloPay is a payment processing, wallet and loyalty technology SaaS platform. I believe we can partner up with the industry players to augment their technology offering on a white-lable basis, or provide them with more competitive payments options and costs. We can add value with the following:
- Loyalty: I was surprised at the almost complete absence of loyalty programs in the industry. Loyalty is a proven customer retention tool used globally by most brands, and we know the industry has a retention issue due to commoditization both at the consumer and agent level. With our platform and our 5% cashback at ~300 US chain retailers we can add a lot of value to help retain existing clients and attract new ones.
- Wallets: Why build a P2P platform when you can license it?
- Payment processing: We use payment processing as an add-on, not a core profit component. Therefore we can afford lower margins and offer more competitive costs.
What’s one piece of advice you would give the remittance innovators entering the RemTECH Awards?
Be Bold and Be Thorough. It’s not enough to have a great idea or a disruptive process, you need to have thought through the go-to-market so that it is viable. Having been with a few startups, you have to solve for three main issues: Product-market fit, initial start (first few customers) and how to scale. Unless you can address all three, an idea tends to be incomplete.
You recently joined the Forbes Innovation Council. They claim they are highly selective. What was the process like? What processes and organizations do you feel are helpful to you in your role?
With Forbes, there was a background review, a questionnaire and an interview. They do a good job at selection because I have met some very interesting people so far. Forbes runs a broad set of activities which can help support a business, such as a forum for execs with various discussion topics, support of article publishing and exposure on their website..
I have also been with The Inc CEO Project for 8 years. This is a CEO peer-group organization that brings together CEOs from various industries and size companies. There is a designated coach that actively helps you and is always a phone call away. There are also peer-group guided sessions where you can get input from 6-8 CEOs on your biggest point of constraint, or most pressing issues. It is surprising how fresh perspective and a different person’s experience can help you solve even the most complicated problems.
Call for Entries
Enter in the RemTECH Awards by August 4th by visiting our Call for Entries page. We are looking for startups and incumbents around the world that are making a positive impact in the international money transfer community. Maybe we’ll feature you in a RemTECH Chat interview.