Leadership Thoughts

Nagesh Devata on building Southeast Asia’s payment infrastructure

Written by Stephanie Li Published on 

Nagesh Devata of Payoneer spoke with Oasis about the excitement and challenges of developing Southeast Asia’s digital payment architecture.

Nagesh Devata is the vice president for US-based fintech firm Payoneer in the APAC region, based in Singapore. He brings over 25 years of international and regional experience in the fintech industry where he has held senior positions at global payment firms including Mastercard and PayPal.

KrASIA (Kr): How has payment infrastructure evolved in the past 25 years?

Nagesh Devata (ND): When I first started out with Mastercard, the concept of automatic payments was still regarded as physical transactions. It was domestic, and didn’t entail cross-border payments. The transformation that I’ve seen happen in payment was experimental and innovative. We’ve evolved to this entirely digital experience, one that’s constantly trying to have as few human touch points as possible. Cross-border payments have changed the dynamics of businesses. Small businesses are now not just limited to their own domestic customers.

Kr: Are digital payments in Southeast Asia progressing as quickly as you hope? 

ND: With COVID-19, the adoption of digital payments grew exponentially. However, it’s not without its challenges, mainly centered around financial inclusion. There are huge numbers of consumers in Southeast Asia that need to have access to find new products and services. They’re either underbanked or don’t have opportunities to access the right product to sell—not just for cross-border markets, but even to participate in their own domestic economy. The challenge with Southeast Asia is that it’s a dispersed group of markets, and they’re all very different economically, socially, and politically from a regulatory perspective.

Kr: How does Payoneer improve financial inclusion?

ND: We’re a B2C platform that enables commerce between businesses and audiences. For example, if an English teacher in the Philippines wants to teach lessons online to students in China, we can help make that connection. Our ability is to help make a connection between an established business or entrepreneur and different emerging marketplaces and platforms.

It’s also about education, and giving entrepreneurs the tools. I was in a webinar in India, and sellers in India didn’t really know about the opportunities in Southeast Asia. We explained the potential of the Southeast Asian market, and how they didn’t have to limit themselves to India.

Kr: What are some of the factors that affect the development of cross-border payments? 

ND: It goes back to how Southeast Asia has different markets at different stages. There are differences in banking infrastructure. The challenge of diverse, fragmented markets exists. This is where the fintech players are coming in with ideas for connectivity across the markets, but it’s not easy because of different rules.

Kr: What has frustrated you the most in your career so far? 

ND: The biggest frustration is underestimating the complexity of Asia and the differences it brings. When companies think of Asia, they think of it as a collective whole, but it has to be broken down. I wish for better research insights. What I appreciate the most is that Payoneer is committed to Asia. Their mission for and vision in Asia is something that resonated with me. As a startup, there’s so much groundwork we have to lay by ourselves. When it comes to bigger companies, there are lots of things you take for granted. With a startup, you’re much closer to your clients, and it’s an amazing experience.

Kr: What’s next for Payoneer, especially when it comes to the Asia market? 

ND: This year, we’re going public. It’ll bring greater financial flexibility for us to accelerate investment in the Payoneer platform. It’s also exciting that we’ve announced a partnership with Mastercard. Digital commerce also provides constant innovation of categories. You have social commerce now, for example. We want to bring additional products and services to our customers to best fit their requirements as the business scene continues to evolve.


Stephanie Li


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