The fintech disruptor Philip Belamant, best known as the CEO and founder of the revolutionary buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) provider Zilch, has dedicated his career to disrupting the status quo by improving consumer access to mobile payment services, thereby improving welfare and mobility on a global scale. His integration of virtual payment technologies into innovative platforms has seen him transform the lives of millions of consumers by making it possible for them to pay for essential products and services — from water and electricity to specific goods — via their mobile phones and virtual cards.
Over the past 15 years, Philip Belamant has implemented a variety of innovative financial technologies in his business ventures. This way, he has achieved healthy disruption that empowers unbanked populations and promotes financial inclusion without damaging existing infrastructures. Here, we’ll explore how he has leveraged ecosystems to bring convenience to consumers, encouraged a change in regulations to protect these consumers, and built a flywheel of value that meets modern-day customer demand through Zilch.
Healthy Disruption in the Fintech Space
Philip Belamant believes that the best form of disruption stems from transforming customer behaviours and habits without requiring a major change to current ecosystems. Instead of destroying or circumventing existing structures, he develops technological solutions that make use of and build on these ecosystems. He firmly believes that when companies fundamentally disrupt how customers transact and offer additional benefits to these customers, they can avoid uncomfortable change and instead leverage platforms and technologies to strengthen their own products and services.
How PBel Disrupted the Fintech Space
PBel, one of Philip Belamant’s earlier ventures, developed a branchless banking opportunity for individuals on low incomes who didn’t have access to bank accounts and kept all of their funds in cash. At the time, the traditional business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) airtime distribution model involved multi-vendor businesses purchasing airtime at a discounted rate and distributing it amongst sub-vendors, who then sold the airtime to consumers.
By comparison, PBel’s virtual airtime distribution model involved lending airtime directly to customers and collecting repayments from the very same sub-vendor infrastructure. This approach left the ecosystem intact while enabling consumers to buy airtime and electricity, and pay other bills from the comfort of their homes.
How Zilch Disrupted the Fintech Space
Philip Belamant’s latest multi-billion dollar venture, the BNPL provider Zilch, has achieved a similar form of disruption. The industry-leading company has made it possible for every brand in the UK to accept payments in instalments, both in-store and online, without causing any disruption to the existing payments and marketing ecosystem. As Zilch generates its revenue through affiliate commissions, the company achieves its revenue goals entirely through technology, avoiding the need to hire a large team of salespeople. As a result, hundreds of companies, thousands of employees, and tens of thousands of people who work at advertising agencies and creative branding companies now all thrive and contribute to Zilch’s success without any direct communication with the firm.
Philip Belamant emphasises that while there’s plenty of merit to building new infrastructures, leveraging existing ones can help innovators achieve meaningful change more quickly. Other BNPL companies such as Fly Now Pay Later have expanded into the US market, while also enhancing their UK and Germany operations. Other companies like Klarna and AfterPay have invested in large-scale infrastructures, sales teams, pre-and post-sales customer support, and integrations with retailers, which can be time-consuming and costly. On the other hand, by leveraging the existing infrastructure, Zilch has rapidly become a game-changer in the BNPL industry. Zilch directly connects with customers in real-time and monitors their affordability to evade the need for harmful interest and late fees, which can leave shoppers financially crippled.
The Evolution of Regulation
While new technologies continue to facilitate healthy disruption, regulation will need to keep pace with the evolution of technology. Although challenges often arise from the slow development of government-driven regulations, Philip Belamant’s efforts to promote change in regulation have seen him improve accessibility for consumers in several countries in the past.
How Zilch Paved the Way for Change in BNPL Regulations
Zilch offers a recent example of a change in BNPL regulations. Having introduced a ground-breaking, safer approach to lending that had never been seen before, Zilch’s model didn’t fit into existing regulatory brackets. Therefore, Zilch completed the financial regulator’s Regulatory Sandbox Programme, during which the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) worked with Zilch to identify the company’s position in the market and develop its offerings.
Working through this process earned Zilch a consumer credit license and put the company in a strong position to contribute to changes in lending regulations. By giving customers the protection they deserve and need, Zilch is well-positioned to work with the regulator on the future of the industry. The company’s contributions have been pivotal to the BNPL industry.
Spearheading Change in South African Regulations
Having worked with central banks and governments in South Africa, Philip Belamant has achieved similar change in regulation in his previous ventures across the African continent. To spearhead the creation of new regulations with the consumer in mind, he presented new technologies to governments, explained how these technologies could benefit customers, and worked with the governments to identify how regulation changes could accommodate these new technologies.
For example, he worked on electronic value distribution regulations (involving airtime distribution and discounts) with companies that oversee regulations in Namibia, Botswana, Ghana, and Nigeria. During this time, he faced challenges surrounding KYC (Know Your Customer), which refers to a mandatory process of identifying and verifying a customer’s identity when providing them with finance. Many banks refuse to open accounts for customers who don’t meet KYC requirements.
To overcome these challenges, Philip Belamant conceptualised a new way to understand customers digitally including the use of voice biometrics and call records at mobile operators, which proved ideal for individuals who didn’t have electricity bills and/or running water and therefore couldn’t obtain proof of residency. By issuing these individuals with virtual cards, he provided communities with a way to purchase essentials without documentation they would otherwise need.
Originally, Philip Belamant planned to use biometrics to identify each prospective customer, but this wasn’t possible during the green screen phone era. Instead, he employed voice biometric technology, which allowed people to dial in via unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) codes. This way, they could state their name and surname, and PBel could identify them, safe in the knowledge that they weren’t using a pre-recording. As technology progressed, he updated the system with face biometric matching.
Philip Belamant also paved regulation change in numerous African markets by offering customers ways to win free airtime. He conceptualised a service that didn’t fit into existing regulations and fell outside of the parameters of a lottery license. As a result, he worked with the regulator to evolve regulations and make this gifting of airtime possible.
The Importance of Timing in Fintech Solutions
Philip Belamant explains that timing is essential when implementing technological solutions, noting that it’s only possible to roll technological systems from one country into another if both countries have the infrastructures needed to support those systems. For example, when he achieved success with his virtual card proposition in South Africa, he trialled this proposition in other African countries. But, as these countries lacked point-of-sale infrastructure that accepted card payments, this proposition didn’t prove as successful. So, he pivoted to using QR codes so customers could scan a code and transfer funds to sellers this way instead.
A Flywheel of Value
In an on-demand world where customers can price check and access products and services in real-time, today’s consumers are better informed than ever before. To meet today’s fast-moving customer demand, Zilch has created a flywheel of value whereby customers can shop with retailers through a safe BNPL system and receive cashback of up to 5% when they pay in one. They can store this value, allow it to grow over time, and then use the value to discount a future purchase, making their shopping more affordable.
Shoppers can also contribute their purchases to the Zilch app, which shares these purchases in the Discovery Feed. When other shoppers purchase the same items from their feeds, the original buyer earns commission, which they find in their Zilch Rewards. Shoppers can also allow these rewards to grow over time and use the rewards to discount future purchases. As a result, many customers use Zilch more frequently in a single month than they use other fintech platforms in a whole year.
On top of this, Zilch consistently seeks ways to add value to customer experiences based on their shopping preferences. For example, customers who have used Zilch to shop at Zara might receive a notification directing them to a discount for a similar retailer that other Zara customers have used. The idea is to create technology that facilitates customers’ wants and needs without creating an extra step in their shopping process to identify these. This organic rewards process provides consumers with more autonomy and incentives that are likely to benefit them.
Meanwhile, the flywheel also spins value for retailers, which can target Zilch customers with great-value deals, giving these customers the spending power to buy more from them. With this platform in place, countless businesses and consumers can benefit from and contribute to the flywheel of value.
Philip Belamant has embraced the corporate responsibility to provide consumers with the tools and education they need to achieve financial wellness. Learn more about the ways that Philip Belamant has disrupted ecosystems with pioneering fintech ventures.
About Philip Belamant
Philip Belamant graduated from the University of Johannesburg with an honours degree in Information Technology in 2006. Since then, he has developed and sold a plethora of value-added mobile payment services in over 25 countries. He crafted many of these services under PBel, which rapidly became the largest airtime service provider in numerous African countries. Today, he channels his in-depth knowledge of financial technologies into Zilch, which has facilitated financial health and inclusion for more than 2,500,000 individuals.
Philip Belamant was also the managing director of the information technology services company Net1 Mobile Technologies, which combines its UEPS universal electronic payment system with mobile payment technology as a payment system for unbanked and underbanked populations in developing economies.