Cem Wald, CEO
It was a sultry morning in Nairobi. After a gruelling two-hour matatu ride, Zakia, a small-scale coffee cultivator and seller, who had placed an order for advanced mechanical harvesters from China, arrives at a local bank to open a letter of credit. Zakia patiently queues up at a counter, knowing that the process would take a good two hours to complete. After a long discussion with the bank manager regarding the line of credit, she pays the requisite fee, following which, it takes another two weeks for the bank to complete the verification of her documents and finally issue the letter of credit. However, it was not the end of her trials and tribulations. In the meantime, due to high market volatility, the cost of the equipment she had ordered spiked significantly. Now, as one might imagine, this will entail further complications and an extensive round-robin of additional document verification processes by the bank to secure the trade on both ends.
The narrative is just a glimpse of the ordeal African citizens face when it comes to engaging in international trade, especially against the backdrop of global price fluctuations, complicated tax systems, and heightened geopolitical uncertainty. Not just Africa, the cross-border trade and international transaction picture seems bleak even in parts of Germany and Asia. The hard truth is that while cross-border payments represent a significant opportunity for global trade to thrive, seamless and transparent international payments still seem farfetched in many countries. Not to mention, the rate of card penetration in the African continent is much lower when compared to its widespread acceptance in other developed markets.
Having observed the daunting challenges and complexities of cross-border payments from close quarters, Cem Wald, a dynamic leader and professional in the field of international business management with an experience of 25 years, set out to put an end to the issues persisting in international trade. Cem has been in the trenches of international business for over two decades, globetrotting and interacting with people from various cultures. It was during one of his visits to Botswana in Africa that he stumbled upon the idea of bringing prepaid debit cards to the continent as a means to promote global trade and cross-border transactions. To bring this idea to fruition, Cem established PAA CAPITAL GROUP, short for Pacific Asian Atlantic Capital Group, back in 2012.
"As we head toward a cashless society, I believe, every individual has the right to open a bank account and have a debit card"
A fully licensed financial institution, accredited by the Ministry of Finance and Development in Botswana, PAA CAPITAL provides cross-border payment services to enterprises and banks through the combination of a network of segregated bank accounts. Maintaining local banking partnerships, PAA CAPITAL equips clients with access to a global payment network, through which client business is settled directly via local clearing to banked beneficiaries over four continents. To redefine the future of banking as a service, the company is empowering enterprises with bank accounts, prepaid debit cards, international inward and outward payments, and currency exchange on a secure, user-friendly online cloud banking platform with free mobile iOS and Android apps.
PAA CAPITAL GROUP offers small- and medium-sized businesses as well as individuals, and their families access to financial services on a global scale, in any major currency; a capability that is usually restricted to Fortune 500 companies. What makes PAA CAPITAL stand out is the “personal touch” it adds to its services. In a time when automation in banking is becoming mainstream, PAA CAPITAL has retained its personal touch, acting as a personal account manager whom customers can talk to, not just any machine or robot.
A Pool of Untapped Potential
While embarking on his journey with PAA CAPITAL in Botswana, Cem witnessed the pressing need for prepaid debit cards among the people. As such, Cem was quick to realise the immense value that PAA CAPITAL can bring to Africa, where roughly two-thirds of the population remains unbanked, and the card penetration rate is exceedingly low. “As we head toward a cashless society, I believe, every individual has the right to open a bank account and have a debit card,” Cem emphasises. Moreover, it is this very philosophy which lays the cornerstone for PAA CAPITAL. Registered in 18 different countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, including developing nations like Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, PAA CAPITAL is a fintech firm with a global presence. “By facilitating global payment and funding options, my aim is to eliminate the complexity associated with international fund transfers and trades.”
All I am seeking is the help and support of governments, central banks, and regulators so that we can support international trade and work together toward a cashless society, where each individual has access to a bank account and prepaid debit cards
Despite overseeing his business from Germany, Cem continues to be keenly focused on Africa’s cross-border trade and transaction ecosystem. As conducting intra-African trade can be particularly challenging in the continent, PAA CAPITAL provides safe and secure escrow services that allow a buyer and seller to protect a transaction by placing the money in the hands of a neutral third party until a specified set of conditions is met. In addition, the client funds are held in ring-fenced client trust accounts with top-tier banks—safe and segregated from PAA CAPITAL’s own funds. “It takes us a maximum of 48 hours to initiate the trade. Apart from availing seamless banking services and facilities of prepaid debit cards, the biggest advantage our clients enjoy is access to all the banks and bank accounts that we deal with globally.”
To put things into perspective, Cem goes on to exemplify the benefits that PAA CAPITAL brings to the table. Previously, while transferring funds to PAA CAPITAL’s employees working in African countries, such as Kenya or Zimbabwe, Cem had to undergo a painstakingly long and inconvenient process of withdrawing cash in Germany and then sending the money through Western Union or MoneyGram. “Now, since they have our prepaid debit cards, transferring money is a breeze. Whenever I have to send them money, I just top up their cards.
That’s it. It’s as simple and fast as sending an email,” he adds.
Similarly, for people working in the UAE, mostly foreigners and immigrants, sending money back home to support their family is not a hassle anymore. Instead of remitting via Western Union, which charges 5 percent international transfer fees, they can now do the same with no additional cost with PAA CAPITAL by topping up the family member’s debit card.
Shaping the Success from Ground Up
Establishing PAA CAPITAL’s presence across the world, in just six and a half years, has been both a challenging as well as fulfilling journey for Cem. Be it securing funding or executing on the philosophy of PAA CAPITAL, Cem, an assertive go-getter and a true visionary, has single-handedly navigated the company toward its success. Cem recalls how he took the bull by the horns to register and license PAA Capital in multiple jurisdictions while placing restrictions on the type of industries, activities, and countries PAA CAPITAL would support on SEPA payments and IBAN accounts to mitigate the risk of money laundering and terrorist financing. In addition, to enforce security and risk monitoring, Cem draws on his extensive knowledge about the ins and outs of the legal enforcement space, which he gained while working at the Interpol, advising on anti-money laundering and other criminal activities in the financial market. “The journey from Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, to Zimbabwe all by myself has not been easy. It was like throwing a stone in the dark.” The road to success is a long one, often bumpy with setbacks throughout the way. However, what kept the wheels of innovation turning for Cem is the appreciation and gratitude he received from clients. A dynamic leader, Cem has bagged more than 30 international awards, including the American Medal of Honour (IBC). He was also included in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and listed in the 2000 outstanding intellectuals of the 21st century by IBC Cambridge and “Great Minds of the Century.”
The Future Shines Bright
Cem goes on to mention that acquiring a license for Mastercard or prepaid debit cards, specific to each country, involves a time-consuming, cumbersome process. If not a license, a sponsoring bank is necessary to issue cards in a particular country. As such, he targets to bring more banks onboard so that PAA CAPITAL can better serve customers globally, making use of the banks’ Visa or Mastercard license.
For the following two years, Cem has set his sights on registering his company in more jurisdictions and bringing in local payment opportunities and possibilities. Besides, developing in-house banking software and technical integrations is also in the pipeline for PAA CAPITAL. Thereafter, Cem has plans to focus on PAA CAPITAL’s own IT infrastructure and ecosystem, making their services more user-friendly.
Moreover, as Cem notes, “PAA CAPITAL is an independent organisation which is not reliant on funding from foreign investors. All I am seeking is the help and support of governments, central banks, and regulators so that we can support international trade and work together toward a cashless society, where each individual has access to a bank account and prepaid debit cards.” Specifically by contributing to the welfare and benefit of African nations, which are still listed as third world countries, PAA CAPITAL with Cem at its helm, is rebuilding the bridge that has been long torn down between first world and third world countries.