AstroPay’s Mikael Lijtenstein speaks to TRC about the payment provider's latest sponsorship deals and global expansion

AstroPay’s Mikael Lijtenstein speaks to TRC about the payment provider’s latest sponsorship deals and global expansion

If you’ve read any financial or fintech related news over the last year, you’re sure to have come across numerous articles denoting the expansion ambitions, and commendable achievements of fintech specialists, AstroPay. 

Founded in 2009, the team initially presented its AstroPay Card to customers in Brazil, before expanding its reach into other areas of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and last year, entering the hectic markets of Europe. Now supported by more than 6 million active customers worldwide, and with a new front of shirt sponsorship deal with Premier League team, Wolves, we caught up with AstroPay CEO, Mikael Lijtenstein to find out how the company retains such momentum with its enthusiastic, global plans. 

AS: First of all, I want to say congratulations to everyone at AstroPay. Every day I seem to read something new that your team has achieved, and every area you seem to move into, comes off as a success. So congratulations on your progress so far. 

And from this hard work, I know that you’re now available in over 150 countries; what do you think the secret of your successful expansion has been, so far?

ML: Firstly, thank you. It’s a whole team success, so thank you.

It’s very important to understand the complexity of each region, and each market we move into. For example, it can vary widely when we talk to and work in emerging markets, compared to when we talk about Europe.

We started many years ago in Brazil, and focused on the emerging markets – ensuring we had our own dedicated teams on the ground, that are there to understand the users needs, was sometimes a challenge but very important in order to get a feel for what we needed to do. We also receive a lot of feedback from users, so combining this knowledge and integrating what we learn from each market is what we are now trying to bring to Europe. This is the last region we’ve launched in – focusing particularly on Spain, the UK, and Portugal. 

So we aim to be very dynamic in an industry that’s very agile. At the same time we try to encourage our company and our people to be equally agile, in order to understand what is happening, what we need to do, what we need to change, what we need to improve, so we can provide the best user experience, and the best solution possible to the user. 

AS: Focusing on the European market that you’ve recently moved into. It’s a very busy environment, and there are many established companies offering a similar solution to AstroPay. Did you have to change or adapt your products or methods of working, in order to find your place in such an established market place?

ML: No, we didn’t need to change the product. Of course, there is always a need to adapt what we have, to some extent, because we can’t offer the same payment method to our Brazilian customers as we do for the UK. In that way, we adapt very fast, we know that Europe is a big region and a challenging market, so entering as a new solution is tough, but we are sure that there’s always space for a new one. Particularly if you come with new ideas, new procedures and new features, as well as targeting a different audience – in our case, the early adopters, the ones who want to try something different, something new. 

AS: And, of course, this expansion has also seen you add cryptocurrencies to your platform this year. What made you decide this was the best time to move into this space?

ML: First of all, our crypto offerings have been in the planning for some years. Over this time, we received a great deal of feedback and questions from our users, and with this, we started to prepare our team, to investigate and explore which was the best way of giving cryptocurrencies to our users. So the crypto offerings that we created were all off the back of customer suggestions and wants. 

AS: There are six cryptocurrencies that you currently support. Do you envisage this increasing over time?

ML: At the moment, we’re working with what we have, and our focus is on improving the user experience, the flow of each product we offer, as well as the technology we use. What we have today we will work on; we want to give the user an easy, fast and secure way of performing transactions. So for now, we will concentrate on improving our current offering, but in the future, I am sure we will add some new cryptocurrencies to our list. However, as always, this will depend on what the customers request because at the end of the day, what we offer needs to satisfy our users.

AS: Staying with your cryptocurrency offerings for now. It’s really clear that what is most important to AstroPay is retaining a customer-centric approach to everything you produce. How have you achieved this with your move into cryptocurrency payments?

ML: There are many customers who engage in a cross range of our products, as well as new customers who approach us and request certain things. We need to pay attention to everyone and see where we can elaborate on a new idea, or even change focus of what we’re doing because of a suggestion from our customers. We might see something that we think is great, but it needs to be quantified by the users.

AS: For those potential customers who are new to digital payment solutions, and who may not be sure why they should use AstroPay over other payment methods, what are the main benefits of using your products? 

ML: First of all, it’s free for users – this aspect is very important to us. We offer a free solution and we include many additional features to our digital wallet, such as loyalty programmes, gift cards, and, of course, our crypto offerings too. In addition, we have our own rewards system so we try to give our users, not only the possibility of a local and international digital wallet solution, but also additional features, as well as top level security, which is a really key area of our work. Users are looking for a wallet that they can trust, so it’s very important that they feel comfortable with our offerings. 

AS: The UK Gambling Commission aims to keep gambling crime free, fair and open. Do you have any fraud or anti-money laundering processes in place at AstroPay?

ML: Yes, we have a big team that works entirely in this area. We have our own processes, tools for fraud prevention, as well as partnerships with third parties in this area. We also have more than 13 years industry experience, and from this we have developed a broad understanding of the risks involved and how they can affect the users within the gambling market. From our experience and knowledge, we aim to improve our systems, tools and processes every day. 

AS: Operating in the European market alongside established names such as PayPal. How does AstroPay differ and stand out against them?

ML: We are a free and fast payment solution. We have an easy flowing system that’s secure and offers over 200 payment methods all over the world.  As I mentioned before, we also give our customers a great range of features. We are creating a user community, so what we are offering is not just a payment solution, but a community and in order to create this, we need to give our customers more and more advantages every day. Our focus is connecting with our customers and progressing in a way that benefits them. 

AS: It’s great that you offer registration to your platforms for free – for those out there who aren’t so well aware of the AstroPay brand, are there any hidden fees or costs associated with your services?

ML: No, there are no hidden fees. We are free to use. 

And relating to your comment about brand awareness, we are sponsoring Wolves this next season, and being in the Premier League will give us a lot of exposure. We are going to be main sponsors of both the men’s and women’s team which is great and we’re very happy to be supporting such a team. 

AS: Congratulations on the Wolves front of shirt deal, it’s a very exciting agreement. Why did AstroPay decide that now was the time to move into that type of sponsorship with a Premier League football team? 

ML: We had other types of partnership last year and prior to that as well, however, we are trying a different approach now. We are going for more brand awareness, partnering with a great team and being the main sponsor which we’ve never done before, so that will give us more visibility on a global scale and not only in the UK, because, of course, the Premier League is watched by the entire world. 

AS: Absolutely. We read that this partnership with Wolves also includes sponsorship of its European esports teams, and, in addition, you’ve agreed sponsorship of the Pinnacle Cup. Why is the competitive gaming industry such a key focus for AstroPay? 

ML: We are seeing more growth in the esports market, and any additional visibility in this area can only be positive for our brand awareness. We are targeting gamers, mostly the younger generation that is used to paying digitally – they are very open to trying new options or perhaps something different. So as the industry is growing exponentially and there are more and more areas to be part of, we want to be there. We want to be part of this growth. 

AS: You were recently shortlisted at the EGR Awards in the Payment Solution category. How does AstroPay help the online gambling customer?

ML:  Being fast, being easy and being secure; we provide the online gambling customer the payment methods they are looking for. In addition, we offer an easy way to withdraw money, and offer in-app features like transferring money from one user to another. And again, our aim is to improve our user experience every day – we are pushing a lot with this as a focus for our teams, because we know it’s of key importance. 

SDD: 2022 is already an incredibly busy year for AstroPay. Will these ambitions continue into 2023?

ML: Of course. We aim to grow. We’re very ambitious and want to grow as fast as we can; our aim is to be everywhere! We’re focusing on European markets at the moment so we are ambitious in adding more countries to our rollmap, and the way we can do this is by working hard to satisfy our European users so ultimately, we can acquire more and more customers.  

SDD: I read today about your latest Visa debit card launch which is another string to your bow. How is this project going so far?

ML: Yes, we are starting to roll this out in a few specific countries in Europe; the idea is to ultimately be global with our Visa debit card. It’s difficult to start a new project and immediately be everywhere, so we are beginning with just a few countries to test it out, and see how it’s working. As is true to our company ethos, we want to improve the overall user experience, and the communication between us and our customers about how they can use their debit card, and all the general information they need to know. So we are first going to get as much feedback as we can, understand user behaviour within these countries, which we will then learn from, in order to improve, and eventually expand into other markets. 

We are very happy and very proud today, as we only announced this news today. So it will be amazing. 

AS: What’s next?

ML: We don’t have anything else for the time being. We are focusing on this latest launch and the new markets we’ve recently entered so we’re going to stay with this and improve what we have so far.

Author: Megan Hale