Canberra 'millennial bank' Qpay takes on the big four

Canberra 'millennial bank' Qpay takes on the big four

Canberra start-up QPay's approach to disrupting the finance industry can best be described using a hamburger emoji.

After using a QPay Swipe card to pay for a burger, users are sent a notification, for example: 'You just spent $15 at Joe's Burgers [insert burger emoji].'

The QPay team: Andrew Clapham, Moe Satti,  Zaki Bouguettaya and Ahmed Elshearif.

The QPay team: Andrew Clapham, Moe Satti, Zaki Bouguettaya and Ahmed Elshearif.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

That single burger emoji not ony showcases QPay's style of communicating with its users but also speaks directly to the digital capability and agility - or otherwise - of the big four.

"We can build that [burger emoji] really quickly as a start-up but for the big banks, that would be millions of dollars, a team of 20 user experience consultants and a lot of red tape," QPay co-founder Andrew Clapham says.


QPay is the brainchild of former ANU Computer Science graduates Clapham and Zaki Bouguettaya. Two years after its inception, the payment platform is used daily by one in six Australian university students and last financial year processed $20 million in transactions, doubling the 2016-17 figure of $10m.

An example of the deals available to QPay users.

An example of the deals available to QPay users.Credit:QPay

The platform has been sold into the UK, with 24,000 students from Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh and Durham now using QPay.

Designed exclusively for uni students - "let's be honest, it's a demographic we know well," Clapham says - users top-up their QPay Swipe card with their current debit card, and use QPay Swipe to pay for just about anything on and off campus.

Unlike the big four, Clapham says, QPay is about "best bang for buck" and sends targeted and relevant deals to users, based on previous purchase behaviour. Because the offer comes from QPay and not a vendor, deals can range from discounted Netflix and Spotify to reduced co-op books and burritos.

"We now believe we know more about students than, let's say, a bank, because we do millions of dollars in transactions every year," Bouguettaya says.

"And when you start looking at transactions, it's funny how periodic they are, for example, you'll see the same person go to the same place every morning, five days a week, to grab a coffee.

"The whole purpose of the card, and being able to build a profile about a user, is about deals and getting the best bang for buck - because if you're a student, you probably don't have too much money.

"We can't look at any individual person's transactions for privacy reasons, obviously, it's all anonymised - but an algorithm will pick up a trend and give the best deal at the best time."

QPay's vision "to become the challenger bank for millennials across both Australia and the UK" is ambitious, but it's one two high profile investors bought into (literally) last night during an episode of Network 10 reality show Shark Tank.

Entrepreneurs and "sharks" Steve Baxter (Queensland's chief entrepreneur) and Naomi Simson (founder of online experience gift retailer RedBalloon) agreed to invest in QPay to the tune of $190,000 each, raising the platform's current investment round to $1 million.

"The director of QPay is [former Royal Bank of Scotland's Australian head] Andrew Chick, and the rest of the board is high profile, real hardhitters, and that partly helped get us over the line on the show," Bouguettaya says.

"This new round of funding will be used for hiring and expanding the team, and issuing new cards to users across Australia and the UK."

The QPay team will use its new funding from 'Shark Tank' to expand further into the UK.

The QPay team will use its new funding from 'Shark Tank' to expand further into the UK.Credit:Elesa Kurtz

For the moment, QPay's four permanent staff members - including Clapham and sales manager Ahmed Elshearif, both based at Mitchell - will continue to code furiously, cold call potential deal partners and offer password reset help.

"Our mission is to be a much, much better, more convenient banking experience for millenials," Clapham says.

"And in terms of being a test market, Canberra is the best place we could have started."

Bree Element is the life and entertainment editor at The Canberra Times

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