In May 2023, Mauro Mele found himself in the Lion’s Den.
How had he got here? What would happen next?
Luckily for him, the ‘Lions’ in question were a group of industry experts, and the ‘Den’ was a large auditorium, where he was delivering a presentation on ePayments, Comfone’s revolutionary Financial Clearing solution. Comfone’s ePayments solution had reached the finals of the Genesis Innovation Awards, hosted by ROCCO Research. This was the final hurdle before finding out how ePayments placed amongst the most innovative products in the roaming industry.
These Lions were tough, asking intelligent questions and probing him on every aspect of the application, designed to support Comfone’s Financial Clearing customers.
Finally the results came through. ePayments won the Most Innovative Solution Award at the Genesis awards. It was a huge and proud achievement for Comfone, and for Mauro who had designed the solution.
Interview: ROCCO and Comfone
A few months’ ago, Jason Bryan, CEO of ROCCO Research, sat down with Mauro to discuss ePayments, the roaming industry and the future of roaming.
In this blog post, we will share some highlights from this interview. Let’s dive in!
Jason Bryan: It was a real pleasure to have you at the Genesis event this year and to see you being recognised at The Innovators. We’re going to talk about that throughout this interview but first, let me ask you to introduce yourself.
Mauro Mele: I am the Director of Clearing Services here at Comfone, a Swiss company acting in the roaming industry. Comfone recently celebrated its 25th birthday and offers a full portfolio of roaming services through the Key2roam Platform, including Clearing, Hubbing, IPX and Data Management Services, serving more than 500 customers worldwide between MNOs, MVNOs and other industry players.
So what about myself? Well, I will try to keep it short.
In 1992, I joined TIM Italy and participated in launching the first private Italian Mobile Network Operator that later became Vodafone Italy. Then in 1998 I joined Comfone. My first project was the rollout of the first technical roaming hub called the GCS – which is still in operation after all these years! The next assignment was to develop the first Financial Clearing system. At that time, Financial Clearing Services were just taking the first steps in the industry. Since then, as you can imagine, I’ve worked on various projects in different positions. I also had the opportunity to contribute to the definition of several GSMA standards and to chair some working groups at GSMA.
My most recent challenges have come from the ‘rise of the machine’ and the new BCE standards, which has resulted in a new product called Phoenix. Phoenix went live in 2021 and generated the first commercial BCE NB-IoT invoice in April 2021, setting a new milestone in Comfone history.
The continued evolution of the roaming environment has also been an inspiring source of business requirements to evolve our Clearing Services, triggering the development of several Comfone applications- including ePayments, which is the reason we are here today, as this was the award-winning solution at Genesis 2023.
Jason: You’re bringing back so many memories! I think it’s a story of dedication to the industry. You’ve been ranked number one in The Innovators, and it’s an amazing achievement. How did it feel to be shortlisted and presenting live at Genesis?
Mauro: When ePayments passed the first selection process, for me this was already a great achievement. We knew that ePayments was already well received by our FC customers, but actually the voting process confirmed the validity of that solution outside of our own community. Presenting live was interesting. Being confronted with industry experts of that level is always quite a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity. And besides all that, being on stage infront of a large audience and the Lions definitely made me a bit nervous!
Jason: Can we recap on the solution itself, and the problem at it was trying to solve?
Mauro: ePayments was designed for our Financial Clearing customers to directly control the settlement and payment process of their credits and debts. The system introduced by Financial Clearing Houses a long time ago was based on payment cycles, requiring a lot of interactions between parties with quite rigid timeframes, which could impact cash flow.
ePayments resolves this issue by removing the need of the interaction between the customer PMN and Comfone GCA. ePayments provides a 24/7 eBanking-like application, allowing open positions to be settled and executing the resulting payments at any points in time. Basically, it disrupts the concept of the payment cycle.
But of course, it does much more than that.
For instance, it grants real-time data which brings a lot more flexibility to the process. It also provides the same security level as any eBanking application. It enforces that each payment can only be authorised by predefined users, adapting to the different use cases.
It also supports the automatic selection of the outstanding positions by using pre-selected criteria that the user can configure.
It provides access to bank account statements, as the application is interfaced to the bank collecting all the details of each bank transaction and correlating them to the corresponding accounting data in the FC database.
And of course, it monitors the execution of each payment through the process flow, providing detailed log entries, which can be used to auditing purposes.
In a nutshell, the basic workflow of ePayments consists of four easy steps. It is available 24/7 on Pulse, Comfone’s online business portal.
Today, all of Comfone’s Financial Clearing customers use ePayments. This large adoption also testifies that ePayments is compatible with basically any customers banking set-up. It is also referred in the SOC certification and audited on a yearly basis by external auditors.
To summarise, I would say that ePayments can be considered the first ‘Software as a Service’ in the Financial Clearing landscape, and its motto is ‘Pay what you want, when you want’.
Jason: This is pretty revolutionary. What inspired you?
Mauro: When we really think about it, what the banks have done is to outsource the full control of the payments to the users. Then I thought, if banks can do it, why can’t the same principle be applied in Financial Clearing? And that was the beginning of a very nice journey, which culminated in the development of ePayments.
Jason: What were your feelings when you received the award for 1st place?
Mauro: I was proud. I thought we would have a good ranking, but there were many other valuable solutions which were presented so honestly, first place was not really expected. So let me say that it was really a very nice surprise.
Jason: Would you recommend taking part in The Innovators?
Mauro: I would recommend it for several reasons. First of all, it is a great opportunity to verify the effective value of an innovative solution or idea in an unbiased environment. This is because you’re exposed to a large audience either indirectly or, if the solution is shortlisted, directly. This also means that it is possible to promote it to the same broad audience.
On another note, it’s also a great opportunity to hear about other innovations as well as on market trends and expectations.
Jason: You are for me an innovative company. Would you say you have an innovation culture?
Mauro: Well, I believe that Comfone is definitely perceived as one of the industry shapers in the roaming business. The well-known service portfolio and the number of state-of-the-art applications that we have developed throughout the years testifies that the innovative spirit is an integrate part of Comfone’s DNA.
Jason: Do you think our industry is, in general, thinking innovatively? Do you see that we’re all in line working in the same mission towards the same objective?
Mauro: Very difficult questions. If I think about what is happening in the industry, especially on the definition of the new GSMA standards to support the evolution of roaming, I have the feeling that the old spirit is a bit lost.
This could be explained by different reasons, maybe companies no longer have the resources to invest in such activities, or maybe they just prefer to follow what others define.
Another obstacle is that innovation means to challenge how we have been doing things over the last 25 years and possibly to step out of the comfort zone that each of us has created throughout our careers. And that is maybe the real challenge, as roaming is a very specific type of business with a limited number of participants. What could have happened is that many representatives of those companies may have lost a bit of the innovation spirit and would prefer to stay in their comfort zone.
This approach may jeopardise the evolution of the standards and consequently the roaming business itself. I’m convinced that one of the reasons why roaming was so successful as a business was that behind it, there was a very good standardisation of all processes. That helped the roll-out of roaming worldwide and pushed the business to the level we know today. It seems we are now getting close to a turning point, due to the evolution of the technologies and the introduction of new roaming scenarios.
When looking at the problems that standardization groups are confronted with, some are related to the new technologies, others are derived from the need to enhance and automate existing complex processes. This would also facilitate the entrance of new players, who may not have all background of how we used to do things in the past and would like to build upon more innovative ideas. So I do see this conflict a bit in the industry now, and I hope it will be resolved as soon as possible for the sake of the business itself.
Jason: You’ve identified it. Really it is a critical moment in our industry because we have 5G, we have the quality differentiation coming with network slicing. We have private networks. We have potentially GSM satellites. There’s so many things diverging in the roaming space. So it’s a huge opportunity actually to progress into another phase of roaming. And for sure, we need to have a focus on innovation, get the people motivated and pushed to this next step.
So what is next? There is in Comfone any more ideas for the future? Can we expect another solution to be presented?
Mauro: Well, I’m currently busy with the evolution of the BCE standards, and, of course, as by-products, with new innovative service ideas, which for obvious reasons I cannot disclose now. But maybe they will become potential candidates for The Innovators 2024 initiatives, who knows? Let’s wait and see.
Jason: Indeed. Once again, congratulations on this achievement. No question that you guys are doing innovative work, so it’s great to see your solutions there. And Mauro, it’s a pleasure to chat with you. We look forward to see what Comfone is up to next, and to hear more about your events and look forward to seeing you very soon.