IT guy transforms sari-sari stores into payment centers
A 20-year veteran in information technology and his team are making possible the challenging task of bringing financial services to the barangay level by transforming sari-sari stores and other small businesses into payment centers.
“Nobody gets left behind as our country leapfrogs into the digital age,” says John Joseph Gabriel Puzon, the president and chief executive of Posible.net, a digital transaction platform that gives micro, small and medium enterprises the opportunity to serve as payment centers for more than 100 companies and institutions such as Manila Electric Co., Visayan Electric Co., PLDT, Globe, Smart, Sky, Cignal, GCash, Smart Padala, PayMaya, Manila Water, Maynilad, National Statistics Office and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Puzon, who has 20 years of experience in building startups in technology, logistics, media and outsourcing and co-founded companies such as Action.able Inc., OksPinoy and Telepondo Inc., says Posible.net aims to empower Filipino micro and small entrepreneurs by putting technology within their reach.
“We created a platform at par or even better than those being used by big companies and make it available to small entrepreneurs,” says Puzon, who has a Master’s degree in International Corporate Strategy from Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo and a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California.
Posible.net, which has no direct competition, now has 50 employees and more than 1,600 partners who recorded nearly P2 billion worth of transactions in the past two years. Its services include bills payment, government fee transactions, school tuition payment, money transfer, micro-insurance, mobile loading, online gaming credits and ticketing. The platform plans to add more services such as airline booking and credit card payments in the future.
“We intend to make this technology available in every barangay. Our end goal is to be in every barangay,” Puzon says during the formal launching of Posible.net at Holiday Inn & Suites Makati.
About 300 services are made available at sari-sari stores, bakeries, laundromats, barber shops and other community-based businesses through the user-friendly Posible device, which connects to the Internet to facilitate the transactions with a confirmation receipt.
The terminal processes transactions realtime via GPRS/Wifi/LAN and eventually SMS. Transactions and credentials are performed and stored via Cloud for better accessibility and security, according to Puzon.
“It was a product of a journey that I and my team embarked over a decade ago. Our team was heavily exposed, involved and even partially responsible for the spike of technology in the m-commerce [mobile commerce] space. We were witnesses on how it radically changed the nature of payments and the movement of electronic value,” says Puzon.
“We saw firsthand how technology transformed big businesses. By big businesses, I mean the telcos, financial institutions, online retailers, convenience stores, big chain operations and the likes,” he says. “But as the years went on, the adoption grew, technology improved even further and it became evident that a huge segment of population—the most vulnerable—got left behind. These are our small and micro entrepreneurs and the unbanked.”
“For some reason, the benefits did not trickle down to them. In fact, it worked against them. It was during this part of our journey that the team realized that technology in itself, even with the cost of devices and access to Internet significantly declining, did not solve the digital divide,” says Puzon.
“Thus we asked ourselves, why don’t we use all our learnings in this area and create a digital platform—affordable, convenient and easy enough to use so that the benefits of this new ecosystem can go down to the micro and small entrepreneurs, specifically in the barangays. Why don’t we create a digital platform that can link the big enterprises to the small and micro entrepreneurs and ultimately to the end consumers? Why don’t we make digital services available in communities?” he says.
Puzon says they met obstacles in their quest to spread this technology across the communities. “This part of our journey proved to be challenging as we tried to address these questions. We hit one obstacle after another. At that time, mobile Internet coverage was limited and unreliable and expensive. The cost of commercial-grade devices was beyond reach. It seemed that the prevailing wind of industry practice did not favor our business model. It was difficult to talk to big companies at that time. But we strived and persisted anyway,” he says.
In 2016, Puzon’s team which is led mostly by graduates of Ateneo de Manila University where he also obtained his MBA, finally made progress in their journey. “It was not until about two years ago that our dream of democratizing this technology saw the light of day, as we saw clearly our vision of building the biggest community-based digital network in the country. Fast forward today, with the team’s perseverance and dedication and with the help of many partners such as Grameen Foundation, we are proud to announce that our dream of creating a community-based network has grown to over 1,600 small and micro entrepreneurs spread across the country—our Ka-Posible partners, that’s what we call them—serving over a million customers and having processed close to P2 billion worth of transactions,” says Puzon.
Interested entrepreneurs can avail of the plug-and-play Posible device made by Starmobile for P35,000. It comes with online business web tool and enterprise software. Posible.net also has a monthly maintenance fee of P125. Requirements include 2 valid IDS, an accomplished retailer agreement plan, a barangay business permit and access to internet or stable mobile data network.
Data from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas show that 34 percent of towns and cities in the Philippines still do not have access to banks and it takes 21 minutes on average for a consumer to go to the nearest financial access point.
Jenny Romero, a bank officer at Bangko Sentral’s Inclusive Finance Advocacy Office, says 563 or 34 percent of 1,634 towns have no banks.
She says while 43 percent of Filipino adults save money, more than half or 68 percent of them save at home. “About 47 percent of Filipino adults borrow money, but 72 percent of them borrow from informal sources. Access to finance is pretty much a challenge in the Philippines,” Romero says.
Trade Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya said the government welcomes private sector effort in including a greater part of the population in economic development. “We look forward to partners like you,” she says, referring to Posible.net.
Posible.net was recognized as one of the Top 15 ventures in Asia at the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge held in Singapore in September 2017, an annual competition to determine the most innovative ideas and enterprises. It was the only entry from the Philippines in the enterprise category.