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INVESTING IN PENNSYLVANIA’S FUTURE

PayQuik: A Secure, Cost-Effective Way to Send Money Back Home

Ask Bhairav Trivedi the secrets of entrepreneurial success and he’ll cite several factors. First, you have to have fun and be creative. You also need to listen and be flexible. When he started Philadelphia-based PayQuik, Trivedi didn’t envision an innovative international money transfer system that would attract the interest of a global banking giant. But that’s what happened when he changed his plans to meet the demands of the market.

PayQuik

Bhairav Trivedi founded PayQuik to facilitate the secure sending of remittances—money transferred between people, primarily from people in the United States to family overseas. The company was purchased by Citigroup in February.

PayQuik was supposed to be a web-based payment system that would allow bidders to purchase merchandise from online auctions. (Think Paypal.) The turning point came after a meeting with a client that had been arranged by a friend in the finance field. After trying to persuade the client of the value of the online auction payments, his friend called Trivedi outside for a talk.

“He said, ‘Listen, they want remittances. So give them remittances,’ ” Trivedi recalled. Remittances are used primarily by migrant workers to send money back to family in their home countries. PayQuik’s unique process enables real-time identity verification of the person sending or receiving money and reassures federal authorities that the transfer is legitimate. This assurance-coupled with the company’s ability to speed up the transfer process and cut costs-meant that remittances took center stage as far as his initial clients and investors were concerned.

A Huge Market with Room for Improvement

According to published reports, in 2006, more than 150 million people transferred $300 billion to developing countries. Until PayQuik, people were essentially limited to Western Union or MoneyGram, with comparatively high transaction costs (estimated to be about $4 billion total), which diluted the impact of the funds sent home. PayQuik created a white-label system that allowed banks, credit unions and other money transfer organizations to institutionalize the system under their own banners while meeting the tightened security rules imposed after 9/11. The white label model meant even the smallest of institutions could compete with the larger players in the market without extensive investments in infrastructure.

In January 2008, nearly eight years after its founding in the Science Center at the University of Pennsylvania, PayQuik was purchased by Citigroup. Its QuikRemit process is now the foundation for Citigroup’s white label money transfer system-and Trivedi is now global head of remittance services for the banking conglomerate. “What is really awesome is that companies like Citigroup don’t come to places like Bala Cynwyd [in suburban Philadelphia]-unless they see something they really, really want,” Trivedi says.

Building on a Strong Foundation

Trivedi said PayQuik’s ability to meet security regulations came from his own background and experience in the finance and credit card industry. He partnered this expertise with a willingness to listen to clients and to develop the QuikRemit system based on those conversations and client needs.

“Our compliance was developed by bankers for bankers,” Trivedi said. “A lot of the time it was the customer who drove our technology, but it was also a general awareness for what is happening in this business.”

Trivedi was no stranger to remittances when he co-founded PayQuik with fellow Wharton School graduate David Noteware in 1998. Born and educated in India, where he worked for the Indian Navy, Trivedi came to the United States 17 years ago to earn his master’s degree from Stanford University and later enrolled at Wharton. As a student, he used remittances to receive money from home during his university days.

The Importance of Startup Funding

Trivedi founded PayQuik in Philadelphia using money from family and friends. Investments totaling $300,000 from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) ensured that the company could continue its research, begin marketing and hire expert staff for ongoing technological development of the QuikRemit system. “BFTP’s investment was crucial to the success of the company,” he says.

Also crucial was the decision to create a white-label operation rather than trying to develop a commercial brand that would compete directly with the banks and other institutions already invested in the remittance industry, he says. The merger agreement with Citigroup was signed in late 2007, and the final approvals were signed in February 2008. PayQuik, which worked for several years with about a half-dozen employees and grew to a staff of 15 in early 2007, ended that year with 65 employees-all based in the Philadelphia area.

A Commitment to the Region

PayQuik, which outgrew its Science Center home and a subsequent office nearby, is now based in Bala Cynwyd, but Trivedi expects to consolidate his division with other Citigroup operations in Conshohocken. He sees the job growth continuing and says that “in the next year or so we could increase significantly” thanks to the global marketplace made available through Citigroup’s international base, which has had a significant impact on business growth.

“In the old days, we would wait until we had several potential clients in a particular region, then I would hop on a plane and do two solid days of visits,” Trivedi remembers. “Now I just contact the regional office in that country. The benefits of being part of a truly global organization are amazing.”

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This article was featured in
Keynotes June, 2008
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