Guide

How Alma built a payment infrastructure fit for exponential growth

Matthieu Blandineau
17
November 2023
0
min read

Simon Shohet is Finance and Strategy Senior Manager at Alma. Among many responsibilities, Simon is in charge of designing, implementing, and optimising merchant payouts.

The need for a payment infrastructure that supports Alma’s growth

Simon describes payments as the main way Alma delivers value to merchants and their clients.

Alma manages two main payment flows:

  • Collecting payments and loan instalments from buyers, mostly through card payments

  • Paying out merchants through bank transfers for orders processed through Alma

Alma’s need for a new approach to payments

Like many successful fintech companies, Alma initially managed its payments by working with a BaaS provider. It enabled Alma to rapidly launch and scale by benefiting from their BaaS provider’s technology and licence for payment and account services.

As Alma kept growing, this model became inadequate as Alma could offer payment services under their own licence. Paying for access to a third-party’s licence and associated regulatory services didn’t make sense anymore.

In addition, as Alma’s volumes grew, managing treasury between their bank accounts and their BaaS-held accounts became increasingly complex. The significant amount of money held in their BaaS accounts also had a negative impact on their liquidity ratios. So Alma looked for an alternative model for their merchant payouts.

Automating merchant payouts at scale

In addition to the limits of their previous model, Alma also faced operational challenges with their payouts.

Challenges included manual validation of merchant payouts, which required daily manual tasks, the lack of tools for business teams to investigate payment issues autonomously, and the time and resources needed to fix critical payment issues with direct customer impact.

“In our business, any downtime on payouts is a big deal. It greatly impacts the company's credibility, as merchants can believe you went into bankruptcy after a single delayed payout. This puts gigantic pressure on teams involved in payments, especially our engineering run team.” - Simon Shohet, Finance and Strategy Senior Manager at Alma

The best of fintech and banks

When designing their new payment infrastructure, Alma decided that working directly with a bank for their merchant payouts, first as a corporate customer and then as a SEPA indirect participant would best fit their current needs and be the best solution for the long term.

Alma explored two main options to deliver on this solution: working with a challenger bank that offered complete, modern APIs to integrate with or working with a leading bank of their choice, which had a more comprehensive banking offering but was more complex to integrate with.

After evaluating Numeral’s product and APIs, Alma’s teams concluded that integrating Numeral into their stack would be simple and allow them to benefit from the superior banking offering of a leading bank through a modern API and dashboard. That’s why Alma decided to work with Numeral and BNP Paribas.

“With Numeral and BNP Paribas, we benefit from the best of both worlds. We use a fintech to connect to a major bank for its banking services.” - Simon Shohet, Finance and Strategy Senior Manager at Alma

“Merchant payouts is now a topic fully automated and optimised”, what’s next?

Unparalleled time-to-market

Alma integrated Numeral into their backend in only a week and was able to start operating as a corporate customer with BNP Paribas in only 3 weeks.

Alma’s migration from corporate customer to SEPA indirect participant didn’t require any additional development. The entire project was cut from 9 months to only 3 months thanks to Numeral’s pre-built indirect SEPA integration with BNP Paribas and how it facilitates the certification process.

Cutting payment costs by 30%

Alma further optimised its merchant payouts by becoming a SEPA indirect participant with Numeral and BNP Paribas.

“When designing our new payouts infrastructure, we wanted something infinitely scalable and looked for a solution to achieve this endgame. With Numeral, we made a significant step in that direction and now have a solid foundation to build upon for our merchant payouts.” - Simon Shohet, Finance and Strategy Senior Manager at Alma

Numeral answered Alma’s initial needs of reliability, scalability, and automation. Alma’s new setup also achieved its objective of reduced cost per payment. “With this new infrastructure, we cut our cost per payment by 30%,” says Simon.

More efficient finance and operations teams

With Numeral, Alma unlocked additional efficiencies for its finance and operations teams.

Thanks to the Numeral dashboard, these teams can autonomously monitor payments and investigate anomalies if necessary. There is no requirement for complex SQL queries or unfit tools to explore payments data. This is even more critical as by becoming a SEPA indirect participant, Alma now has access to more information and control over payments, which can be complex to manage without the right tools. Numeral made the operational step-up of becoming a SEPA indirect participant easy.

Alma also unlocked benefits from using Numeral outside of the initial merchant payouts scope. As any fintech, Alma manages various bank accounts at multiple banks. By connecting all these different bank accounts to Numeral, Alma teams can access balances and transactions of all the different accounts and move money from and to these accounts through a single dashboard and API, saving precious time. “Numeral is a hyper-efficient overlay to all our banks”.

Finally, Alma leveraged Numeral’s approval workflows and audit trail features to implement a proper process for large one-time payments initiated by the finance team when required.

“As part of our goal to create the most fluid and seamless experience for both merchants and customers, paying our 14,000 and growing merchants reliably and efficiently is critical. Numeral enables us to scale with confidence and focus on our core business,” says Guillaume Desloges, co-founder and COO at Alma.

Unlocking new strategic opportunities for Alma

Becoming a SEPA indirect participant with Numeral and BNP Paribas, Alma has now fully automated merchant payouts and drastically simplified its payment operations.

But this new infrastructure unlocks various new opportunities for Alma.

“Being a SEPA participant by leveraging Numeral unlocks strategic advantages such as offering accounts with our own IBANs to our merchants or easily implementing and launching instant merchant payouts and direct debits payment methods, which will create significant value for our customers. This new infrastructure opens up many possibilities for Alma” - Simon Shohet, Finance and Strategy Senior Manager at Alma

Finally, we asked Simon if he had any advice to share with fintechs looking to revamp their payment infrastructure and evaluate Numeral. Here is his answer:

“If you value your relationship with your main banks and want to integrate deeper with them to scale your payments, Numeral is the best way to extract that value.” - Simon Shohet, Finance and Strategy Senior Manager at Alma

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