WING catches fire.

In a recent article in the Phnom Penh post, WING CEO Anthony Perkins shared Wing is on track to process a billion dollars in 2013 after Wing’s domestic remittance product has “caught fire” and has been growing at 25 to 30 per cent per month. In March, Wing processed $75 million in transactions.

As one of the first ‘on the ground’ in WING’s journey, hearing this brings a large amount of satisfaction. Starting WING was never easy, and we didn’t have buckets of money, but we did have a vision and a great team. Brad Jones, Paul Reynolds, Justin Hadgkiss, Trisha Silvers and myself.

After enduring seven years working for ANZ in Melbourne, I’ll never forgot the call I got from Brad Jones and Greg Morwood back in late December of 2007. At the time I had just embarked on a 5 week back-packing trip with a new girlfriend, taking in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Initially I was reluctant to return to ANZ, but right from the start I knew this was something very different. Brad’s Facebook comment went something like “Great photos of Cambodia, do you want to move there for a year?” I’ve tried several times to go back through Facebook to find that photo. But one of the challenges created by being an ‘over-sharer’ means you have mountains of history to dig through.

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When we landed we had no office, on where to live. So we started work one Sunday afternoon amongst the lush tropical garden of a French Villa known for its cocktail bar. From there we built two offices, built a complete office technology stack, employed dozens of great Cambodians, created an aspirational brand and created the a world first, the bank-led mobile operator agnostic mobile money business.

The year I spent in Cambodia building WING from nothing was the start of my entrepreneurial career, as we were giving a ticket to challenge the norm, bend rules and create a model for which others internally could copy.

Today, Perkins announced that the system will enable people to make payments with any phone or Wing ATM card using “near field communications” (NFC) technology. Successful, profitable mobile money deployments are rare enough, but to be pushing for NFC would make one of the only in the world.

“We’ve got 7,000 dealers who print phone top up and we are in the process of putting those two networks together,” Perkins said. “The benefit is we got an ATM card and the largest point of sale (POS) terminal network in the country by far. This makes retail payments very easy. You’ll be able to walk into a supermarket or mini-mart for example and pay with your Wing card or your phone.”

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Perkins said Samsung’s smart phones have NFC technology already built in, creating a large existing retail customer base. He said 1,000 of the 7,000 POS terminals around Cambodia are already NFC capable. Retail outlets in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh are already testing the NFC technology, Perkins said.

Then Perkins pulled on my heart strings, a vision that many have chased. One that I’ve pursued with passion.  The big picture for Perkins as Wing CEO is to replace cash movements with electronic. By proving a secure, fast cash alternative has demonstrated time and time again that it can elevate huge cash security risks and create services for those that previously paid a ‘poverty premium’ for basic transaction services.

“We do a lot of payroll and we’re starting to do business to business transactions,” he said. “For me the key thing for Wing is basically to replace cash. Wherever there is cash we want to replace it with electronic. The speed of it gives you the ability to move money from one place to another securely and instantly, whether you have to send money to help family with weddings, funerals or anything like that,” he said.

Perkins said AusAID officials at a recent conference in Canberra were astonished to learn that Wing had become profitable so soon, in a world where the majority of mobile money companies around the world have struggled to succeed despite heavy investment. Dozens of ‘financially inclusive’ deployments has attracted large grants from the likes of the IFC, Gates Foundation and others, with limited material impact in country.

“They nearly fell off their seats,” he laughed.

Perkins encourages aid agencies to use Wing services to get cash where it is needed. He said mobile money is widely used around the globe as a means to distribute aid money.

“If large aid agencies can do it in Africa, they can do it in Cambodia, We’re ready” he said.

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Perkins, you’re making our proud. Can’t wait to get back to Phnom Penh to see the team again.

I still owe a huge thanks to Brad and Greg for having the faith in me to lead the technology at WING. It changed my life forever.

© Scott Bales 2014. All Rights Reserved.