Apr 17, 2024

Don Vacal: Breaking New Ground in the Digital Payments Playfield

How Don Vacal's vision for AltPayNet speaks to the future of international payment systems

Don Vacal: Breaking New Ground in the Digital Payments Playfield

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Don Vacal is not your typical corporate executive. Founder and CEO of AltPayNet, an international payment solutions provider, Don's journey through fintech innovation is one to learn from. With a career spanning over two decades, he has moved from telecoms and banking to fundamentally reshaping how financial services operate across global markets.

Starting in 2015, Don set out to create AltPayNet after leaving PAYRETO, a company he also founded which specialized in providing managed services to payment providers. His vision was clear: to establish a technology-driven company that would not only cater to a wide market but scale efficiently and sustainably. AltPayNet has since grown into a significant player in the fintech space, expanding its reach to include offices in the Philippines, Australia, the United Kingdom, the USA, Hong Kong, Malta, and Malaysia.

What sets Don apart is his holistic approach to the fintech ecosystem. Under his leadership, AltPayNet is not just a payment processor but a comprehensive platform offering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, white-label payment gateway technology, and regulatory compliance services. His strategic foresight has allowed AltPayNet to thrive as a licensed Operator of Payment System (OPS), gaining critical traction by acquiring significant certifications and accreditations globally.

Don's expertise and hands-on approach have been crucial in navigating the complex waters of international payment regulations. AltPayNet has secured its position as a principal member acquirer of prestigious networks like Diners, Discover, and UnionPay International, which speaks to its reliability and the robustness of its compliance framework.

Aside from his primary role at AltPayNet, Don engages in various other ventures, reflecting his versatile interests and capabilities. He serves as an Independent Director at LuLu International Exchange where he contributes to enhancing the financial infrastructure that supports remittances and financial inclusion in underserved markets.

Before his ventures into AltPayNet and PAYRETO, Don's role at PAY.ON as an Account Manager helped hone his abilities in managing integrated payment service providers (IPSPs) and developing risk management protocols critical to safeguarding transaction processes. This experience was pivotal in setting the stage for his later accomplishments in payment systems and consulting services.

At PAYRETO, Don pioneered the company from scratch, a feat that involved not just strategic vision but also meticulous operational and commercial planning. The company's growth under his leadership—from a one-man team to a thriving entity with robust client relationships and comprehensive service modules—highlights his capability to scale operations effectively while maintaining quality and client satisfaction.

In all of his roles, Don has demonstrated a profound understanding of both the technical and regulatory aspects of the fintech industry. His work involves complex decision-making that considers client needs, market trends, and the landscape of global finance.

Don, can you walk us through your journey from founding PAYRETO to establishing AltPayNet? What motivated the transition, and what were the initial challenges you faced when starting AltPayNet?

After years of supporting businesses in PAYRETO, I decided it was time to do more for my network and beyond. We needed to own the technologies and to make it even easier for our clients. I added technology and licensing to the outsourced managed services proposition of PAYRETO.  

The market is changing so fast. We expanded into SaaS as more businesses now need convenient, low-cost, and sustainable payment platforms that truly understand their needs

As my co-founder Majorie and I already have a proven track record in the online payments space, the initial challenge was building the right team who are just as motivated as us to reach our company’s goals, albeit with limited resources at that time.

I’m proud to say that within the first two years, we built our dream team, most of whom are still with us. They are very important in our growth in terms of Sales and Product Development, among other things.

AltPayNet now has offices in several countries across different continents. What strategy did you employ to achieve such significant global expansion, and how do you manage the complexities of operating in diverse regulatory environments?

We have incorporated the McDonald’s franchising model. We know that every country has its own unique needs and regulatory framework. By setting the needs and requirements of the Filipino migrant workers as the north star, we navigated the expansion relatively aligned to the purpose and resources.

Given your upcoming session at Money 20/20 Asia on navigating the regulatory maze in cross-border payments, what are some key regulatory challenges you think need more attention, and how is AltPayNet addressing these?

The great challenges are the key barriers of entry to a regulated jurisdi​​ction including, cost and local directorship requirements during company formation, regulatory registration and licensing, data privacy requirements, operational requirements and bank account opening. These entail costs so we have to be very strategic.

Therefore, we have set some guidelines in navigating the regulatory landscape such as the following:

  1. Minimum requirements to enable a solution;
  2. Regulatory frameworks affecting the immediate opportunity we have;
  3. Access to reliable partners;
  4. Short-term and long-term strategic gameplans relative to the business the opportunity brings;
  5. Consistency in addressing market needs.

Sure, we have our own templated and far-reaching regulatory compliance processes. But governments should also do their part in updating their processes to help their citizens worldwide effectively. This will ultimately help boost their economy in the long run.

How critical have partnerships been in AltPayNet's journey, particularly your principal member acquirer status with Diners, Discover, and UnionPay International? How do you choose the right partners?

This partnership has truly opened doors for us when it comes to ‘Breaking Barriers in Payments’ for the Philippines. We cater mostly to the EMEA market, but our Acquirer status with Diners, Discover, and UnionPay International allowed us to be an acquiring solution to government agencies. We also partner with digital banks, payment institutions, and e-money issuers.

More local banks are lined up as they now see the value in connecting with an experienced payment service provider that can provide not only their preferred payment services, but also allow them to navigate the regulatory and corporate challenges.

Based on your extensive experience and technical research in the payment industry, what future trends do you predict will shape the next decade of payment processing and financial technology?

While crypto is thriving, governments will still hold the key to the future of payments.​​ Therefore, there should be a merger of the two drivers of the next generation payments. In addition, there will be a lot of delivery methods including AI-enabled facilities with biometrics and NFC.

The main drivers of adoption are the following that I can think of: migration (and therefore remittance), internet connectivity, data privacy, infrastructure cost, and many more.

Companies need to remain open and flexible. Don’t get comfortable with traditional business methods, or you will get left behind in the fast-growing world of financial technology.

Governments in the world need to adapt to more sustainable and low-cost yet future-forward technology to help the marginalized and the unbanked. There are now so many ways to provide inclusion in the payments space.

For budding entrepreneurs looking to venture into the payment services or FinTech sectors, what advice would you give based on your own experiences of founding and scaling up businesses?

Always play the long game. You will easily stand out if you are a straight-shooter and bold, besides being a visionary. Build a solid team of driven individuals working hard for the same goal.

But even before you build your business ideas, make sure you have a clean track record and a wide enough network. You only have one chance of building a good and lasting reputation. Protect it at all costs.

Refrain from falling for easy money or too-good-to-be-true offers. Many businesses tank because they’re too eager to get investors before they can even establish their market or company culture. Everything worth it is always made with hard work. You don’t always have to go the predictable path. Do your research and learn from your own experiences along the way. ❖

Image courtesy of Don Vacal

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