It must be one of the signs of the times. In the past weeks, the Philippines has been the preferred location for international summits, tackling a wide range of issues affecting different businesses. But a standout among these seems to be the topic on digital disruption, and how Asia is emerging as a leader in faster adoption.
Judah Levine agrees. In particular, he says there exists a wide ecosystem for growth of mobile finance and commerce, especially as the use of smart phones becomes more widespread than any other type of gadgets, and internet usage becomes the norm.
He says there are at least four industries that are converging: technology, telecom, finance and retail. Out of this convergence, there is a new space evolving, called mobile finance and commerce. Others refer to it as digital finance and commerce.
He should know. Levine is the CEO of Mondato LLC, a management consultancy specializing in the provision of strategic, commercial and operational support across the mobile financial services (MFS) ecosystem. Established in 2008, Mondato is a subsidiary of HIP Consult, an independent management consulting firm grounded in the provision of commercial-side strategic support in emerging markets, with a specific focus on telecom, financial services and energy industries. Headquartered in Washington, DC, Mondato works around the globe, executing high-stake projects for private and public sector organizations operating in MFS and related fields.
Levine says organizing summits globally has become part of the firm’s corporate fabric as well, mounting regular summits in Europe, Africa and Asia. This is to help their clients understand this new and emerging space in mobile finance and commerce. “It’s a very complex space, there’s a whole lot of opportunity there for companies to engage in and increase their addressable market depending on which angle you’re coming from. For retail companies, it’s concepts, like omni-channels; for traditional banks, it’s to go after customers that were traditionally underserved, or the so-called ‘bottom of the pyramid’ customers; for telecom, it’s an opportunity to expand beyond their core portfolio telecom services, and of course, technology players.”
While they normally conduct their summits across Europe and Africa, Levine says there is a pronounced interest in Asia, which they validated after holding their first summit in the region last year in Singapore. This year, they have decided to hold it in the Philippines to a full-packed audience. He explains, “Events like these are an opportunity to have cross-industry engagement and discussions between companies, organizations that may not otherwise have that opportunity.”
Because of the unique characteristics of this emerging space, Levine says Mondato decided to organize the summits as a way of bringing in players from across industries. “We found a lot of opportunities for companies to engage in within specific industry spheres, and there really isn’t that thought-leadership opportunity to engage in across these industries and to get this cross-pollination of ideas—which is really essential when you’re trying to partake of something. That is really the development of a new world.” As a result, Levine says, even Mondato’s corporate goals have also emerged. Now he says there are three areas the company is focused on. One is the traditional advisory and support to organizations, the second is the summits, and the third is research and analysis.
In talking about trends across the three regions where they have a presence, Levine says that what Mondato has consistently found among all these, is the affirmation that “there is no one-size-fits-all.” He emphasizes the need to localize—where one of the key trends is to consistently have an updated and deeper understanding of the new phenomenon that is changing the way people do business. This is why, he says during a recently concluded two-day summit held in Manila, the primary objective was to “offer clarity amid a chaotic and constantly changing industry.” Another aim was to bring to the fore the many issues surrounding the transition to mobile finance and commerce, and how the Philippines stands vis-à-vis its Asian neighbors.
Even as the group wrapped up its hugely successful foray in Manila, Levine says they are now preparing for their next summit in Johannesburg, South Africa. As CEO of Mondato, it is a life he has become accustomed to. It is not always easy traveling across regions and doing business in different business environments, he says, but just like any CEO, Levine loves the challenge. Yet, despite the hectic working environment, he says he is able to somehow work around his schedule so that he always finds time for the things that he loves—be it work, family, or a little time for himself. After all, balance in life is what keeps him going.