Transacting on Trust: Starpay's Journey to 'Pitaka ng Bayan'

August 20, 2023 – Redge

Starpay’s top management on the trust between principals, banking on the unbanked, and humanizing what technology cannot touch.  

Headed by chief partners Adrienne Cajayon, Jan Chan, and Ryan Uy, Starpay first sought to give people better deals…by dealing with people better.   

Product and Marketing Head, Ryan Uy shares a touching anecdote shortly after their “Paleng-QR” program launch. “We were with (other larger, more well-known) e-wallet options,” he recounts, “and I asked a man who approached why of all the others with bigger stalls and flashier campaigns, he choose us. He (responded in Filipino) ‘because we feel you’re the one who won’t turn us down.’”   

It’s a shocking yet sobering revelation.  

Indeed, a simple glance at the marketing campaigns of other fintech brands and one can see where profits go. Eschewing the glitz of celebrity, Starpay’s policy is instead to provide a first class product for third and fourth class municipalities, as well as top tier cities.   

“Other providers require passports and drivers licenses.” notes Jan Chan, Head of Strategy and Corporate Development. “Let’s remember that not everyone can travel abroad or has a car.” Indeed, the elbow grease required in manually writing down and verifying second level IDs seems to be a Starpay special feature…but not just.   

Their “SEND” product for example, is engineered for construction companies. The integrated app empowers foremen to pay workers via multiple means and allows bosses to check for accountability and transparency, seamlessly.   

Jen Cajayon, Head of Product Innovation and Technology, recalls a time when Starpay was a company with just one platform and one application. “Now we have more than five delivery channels, touch points for re-sellers, merchants, consumers, businesses, integration for APIs, and reselling services.”   

And while working at a tech company in a country with one of the slowest rates of adaptation to new technology does cause stress (“Singapore adopts in 5 weeks. The Philippines? Five years!”), Jan Chan stresses that: “We were given a very special privilege by the Bangko Sentral (Central Bank)— holding money for other people. It is a very big burden, and a task we are committed to, full time.”


Trust Between Principals       

Jen mentions the extent of official acronyms Starpay has had to acquire to solidify its position as a bonafide eWallet since 2018.      

“There is the EMI or electronic money issuer license, the RA or remittance agent license, the OPS or operator of payment systems license, and of course the EPFS— electronic payment facilitating system.” Jan adds however that “at the end of the day, these are just pieces of paper.” The former fintech investor stresses that “One cannot lie on execution. Actions speak louder than words.”      

Gaining the trust of government is one thing. Gaining the trust of customers is harder…particularly when servicing the marginalized. For unlike most who use e-wallets for convenience in online purchases, Uy reveals in a TV interview that a good chunk of Starpay’s clients are entrusting them with their life savings. Due to this, Ryan asserts that Starpay aims on giving customers a triple A experience— one that is Affordable (with low-to-zero commissions on transactions), Accessible (the app uses the vernacular and is available in as many phone models, as many service areas, and as many service providers as possible), and Appropriate (the app features the most commonly used functions, and refuses to implement luck-based programs).       

“For these people who run sari-sari stores sometimes a peso commission is too much,” he confides,” Why would we introduce features that encourage them to spend on the unnecessary?”       

On the backend, Cajayon chimes in that while Starpay does manage costs, it does so efficiently. “We do more with less,” she says, “we have all the needed tools for security as well as availability.” And despite the tight budget, Chan boasts that (being a relatively small company), they can “iterate from idea to prototype in as little as two weeks.”


Technologizing the Untouchable       

Jen puts it poetically that she “sees the divide between middle class and working class in their transactions. Right out to the fields, we see how those in the margins are further marginalized. Our goal is to humanize what technology cannot touch.” Personally, she’s learned to sell Starpay to their customers by being a good storyteller, avoiding deep tech terms, and relating their service to their lives.       

From less than ten to over a hundred employees in a scant five years, Starpay’s principles remain not to seek riches as much as to “give voice to t

he wealth of stories out there,” Ryan Uy says, “when you’re in this (tech) field, it really helps to go to those ‘parts unknown.’ To see how people live, eat what they eat, so you can understand where they’re coming from— and maybe contribute in as positive of a way as possible.”      

“Given the velocity of tech, ‘anything’ is possible,”Ryan notes. He, along with Jan, Jen, and the rest of the Starpay team maintain that Starpay does not subscribe to the usual ‘north star’ metric of signing on a billion users. Rather, the company seeks to illuminate the million or so unbanked with the marvels of technology— and for them hopefully make the burden of everyday life, a little bit lighter.


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