Mikael is the CEO of Astropay, a pioneer in payment solutions for consumers who want to make online purchases on international sites. Leveraging his background in engineering and experience in providing cross-border payments as well as connecting global merchants to emerging markets, Mikael combines a unique blend of technical expertise and practical experience to drive innovation and solutions in payments. Before being named CEO in November 2019, Mikael was Astropay’s COO
With a track record of providing innovative payment solutions in emerging markets, this year Astropay embarked on its most eye-catching expansion project in its 12-year history by launching in three European countries.
Such a move requires a bold vision in an uncertain world, and Astropay CEO Mikael Lijtenstein is the first to admit that the business’ initial launches in the UK, Spain and Portugal will be “challenging, as we know Europe is a huge and competitive market”.
However, he is also convinced the time is right for the payment services provider to step up its ambitions on a global scale.
Astropay already has more than 3.5 million users and provides more than 200 digital payment methods globally. Lijtenstein believes though that the move into Europe can offer a launchpad to take the business to the next level.
“We know there are competitors,” he admits. “However, there is always space for a new one. We want to target people who are looking for different payment methods, and our experience in emerging markets will be crucial in terms of learning about the users and their needs.”
A financial cloud has hung over industries and livelihoods since the pandemic struck in early 2020 – and with inflation rising sharply across swathes of the West in the closing months of 2021, there is little sign of the turbulence dying down any time soon.
However, beneath the storm, there is clear evidence that major markets are increasingly ready to embrace the types of online payment solutions and digital wallets that the likes of Astropay can offer, according to Lijtenstein.
“The world is going cashless and transitioning to digital wallets, and we are at the forefront of that adoption,” he says.
“We began life in Latin America and then expanded into Asia, and we have grown significantly in Africa since launching there in the middle of the pandemic.
“It is a great time to launch in Europe. The company has grown substantially and we now have more than 170 talented members of staff who have brought their global experience and knowledge into the business.”
Well-documented behavioural changes appear to back up Lijtenstein’s claim that the moment has come to explore new horizons.
According to a June 2021 report by UK Finance, use of cash in the country fell by 35% year-on-year in 2020, while nearly a third of the adult population registered for mobile payments – a 75% rise on the 2019 sign-ups.
Fears over transmitting the coronavirus will have been a key driver, but so too will the convenience factor. For example, Amazon’s announcement that it will no longer allow Visa credit card payments from January 2022 is widely expected to add even more weight to the argument for digital wallets.
“Millennials are among our early adopters, and they are naturally looking for different payment technologies and solutions that fit into their lifestyles,” says Lijtenstein.
“We are working very hard on optimising the payment journey to enhance the user experience. Of course, we are aware of the potential for regulatory and compliance challenges as we expand, but customer expectations are going to be incredibly important, so we are focusing on understanding users in new markets.
“We have always ensured that we have been able to learn as much as possible about customers and their behaviours on the ground in the emerging markets in which we are established. We always want to understand what they like and don’t like, and we want to move quickly to deliver the best products to every user in each country and region.”
Astropay will continue to collect feedback through interviews, surveys and focus groups with users, with Lijtenstein stressing the importance of “communicating with customers and being empathetic”.
He adds: “Every day, we are working to increase trust in our innovative solutions.”
Although there are clear differences between the markets in which Astropay operates and, as Lijtenstein says, “communicating with someone in Brazil is very different to someone in Europe”, the business has dedicated teams working in native languages to help negotiate such challenges.
Furthermore, while Astropay was determined to launch in the UK, given its market size and increasing adoption of cashless payment technology, opting for Spain and Portugal was more of a cultural fit, considering the business’ experience in Latin America.
“These three countries in Europe are the next step for us, but we want to expand across Europe and the world. We want to be seen everywhere,” Lijtenstein adds.
In an effort to drive interest in the UK, sponsorship deals have been forged with English Premier League football clubs like Newcastle United, Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers. In October 2021, Astropay also bolstered brand awareness in the Indian subcontinent by sealing a commercial partnership with Sri Lanka Cricket for the 2021 edition of the T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman.
“We are trying to reach more people than ever before, so it makes sense for our branding to be visible all over the world,” Lijtenstein says.
“We want to be seen as a global company and over the next 12 to 18 months we will continue with our expansion plans across Europe, Asia and Africa. We have a motivated team and we are always exploring new ideas to improve our solutions and the customer experience.”