24 April 2020

Q&A: OKTO CEO on difficult markets and regulatory headwinds

EGR Technology speaks to OKTO CEO Filippos Antonopoulos about the Greek provider’s payment solutions and nowadays regulatory challenges.

The management of payment solutions provider OKTO, the bridging of his deep knowledge in gaming, as a founder of Vermantia, and the payments sector, are on the former Wall Street analyst’s mind as he looks to expand his platforms.

Here, Antonopoulos tells EGR Technology how OKTO has entered the gaming industry, how he plans to position his firm as a major competitor and what the future holds for both payments and gaming sectors.

EGR Technology: As the CEO of OKTO, can you explain what it offers as a payment solution and why consumers should use it?

FA: OKTO founded in 2003 and is the second-largest payment processor in Greece.

The vision, when I took over the management of OKTO was that with such a strong existing system and operational knowledge of transacting close to €1.5bn if we could bridge our deep knowledge of the gaming industry and how the player requires embedded payments systems then actually building something that is meaningful and has a place in the gaming market across Europe and perhaps the world.

I’m very optimistic and ambitious about the expansion of OKTO and the scaling up of the business into the gaming industry, with a particular focus on digital payments in retail, and the pursuit for true mobile-on-premise experience.

EGR Technology: OKTO touts its product as the key to ‘boosting player engagement and revenue. Can you take us through the process?

FA: Let’s consider retail betting on autonomous devices for the moment. If one can embed real money payment institutions and electronic money licenses onto those self-service terminals and you go in with an entirely digital, cashless, yet always real money bet placement then what you have is a very strong disruption of the retail experience to the benefit and betterment of said experience for the player.

The player walks in, has his money on the mobile wallet, interacts directly with an available self-service terminal, and can cash out or store his winnings on his mobile device and collect later.

The fact that you bypass the cashier, that you bypass cash, that you bypass cash management, and even paper vouchers is extremely powerful.

This follows the trend of major retailers such as Amazon or Apple stores where it’s all about “grab and go” automated payments and more will follow. Now, Vermantia with OKTO can do it as well in the retail betting environment.

EGR Technology: How have 2019 regulatory changes across various European markets impacted your business?

FA: As a CEO, my job is to try to succeed in predicting the regulatory changes, and trends in compliance and regulation and steer the ship accordingly. You do have regulatory changes and some of those are adverse, at least in the short-term, to gaming operators or gaming vendors.

It could change the part that makes it a little bit more difficult to enter into a market or to market your online services. It can get a little bit costly in terms of tax increases also. It can also be more difficult to onboard a player, with an increase in KYC and anti-money laundering regulations.

At the same time, if as investors and managers, we can anticipate these trends and create solutions that go with the flow of regulatory changes, then at the end of the day, we could potentially benefit from it.

You’ve also got an ongoing trend of buckling down on responsible gaming and higher taxation. These things are all part of the industry, and you can still be very successful within these sets of rules.

EGR Technology: How are the African and Asian markets working out for both OKTO and Vermantia?

FA: Asia has been very tough. The Western hemisphere product we have specialised in Europe, Africa and Latin America does not travel very well to the Asian market.

On the contrary, we have been quite successful in the African market and Sub-Saharan Africa predominantly. The same can be said about the Caribbean and Latin America. It is also never good to generalise things. You can’t really group continents as one, as even grouping a country as one might prove dangerous.

The habits within a single country could vary within micro-societies, but I would say that our products travel well wherever you have ubiquitous retail networks that offer what is eventually omnichannel products and solutions, both in terms of gaming and payments.

EGR Technology: How has headcount been impacted by any of these changes or the tough Asian market?

FA: We continue to grow the teams of both Vermantia and OKTO rapidly by attracting very strong talent and building on the talent we already have; we are looking at reaching the 200-headcount mark.

I think that if we continue recruiting strong colleagues, we will continue to see exponential returns to our current plans and investments.

EGR Technology: What is OKTO’s plans for the next 12-18 months? Any new partnerships or expansions on the horizon?

FA: We are going to emerge very strongly in Italy, Spain, and Romania. There is a lot of action going on with operators in these markets.

We are also looking to leverage on our market-leading position in Greece. Within the next three to six months, you can expect to see a lot of coming from these four markets.

I would like to believe there will also be a couple of specific products that will be first to market across Europe – and it will be something really game-changing.

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