Five questions with Touche

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction but former banker Sahba Saint-Claire is on his way to making sure that no one will ever have to carry a wallet anywhere.

Mr Saint-Claire, a 51-year-old Australian, is the founder of the aptly named Touche, which has developed a solution that will allow people to pay by using two fingerprints to authorise payments.

The device, which will be placed in shops, restaurants and other outlets, will allow customers to put two fingers on the biometric sensor to establish their identity and the credit cards they have. This will then enable them to pay without having to carry a wallet around.

What is new about the solution is that it integrates a high-tech biometric sensor with payments technology while also accessing information on the customers' loyalty cards.

Mr Saint-Claire, who has lived in Singapore since 1991 and was formerly Standard Chartered's chief operating officer in various divisions, said that while smartphones also have biometric technology, the sensor on a smartphone is a toy compared with Touche's sensor.

Mr Saint-Claire is a founder of Touche, which has developed a solution that lets people pay by using two fingerprints to authorise payments, so they no longer need to carry a wallet around. ST PHOTO: DON CHI

He said the sensor for detecting the fingerprint is the same one used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Defence in the United States, but added that fingerprint images are not stored in their database.

He said that while the fingerprint sensor on smartphones takes three differentiating points, the Touche sensor takes more than 40 from each finger.

The solution is more than a payment terminal, he said, as it ensures that customers get "all their entitlements". For instance, when consumers are at certain shops, the system will remind them if they have frequent flier points that could be used. This helps them to fully take advantage of all the memberships and loyalty programmes they are signed up for.

The solution is also good for the hospitality industry, he added, as businesses will be able to better customise their offerings as they can get data on a customer's consumption habits. This data can then be used to persuade customers to repeat their visits based on specially customised offerings.

The service has been live here in the exclusive Madison Rooms club since July, and will be available this month at Justin Quek's French restaurant Grignoter. Customers will be able to sign up with their fingerprints and credit card information.

Q. How did Touche come about?

A. The co-founders started the company three years ago. A year before that, a few of the founders went out for a meal and none of us had our wallet with us. After the meal, we thought: How are we going to pay for this? Thus, we decided to come up with a biometric solution that not only does payments, but more.

It was an everyday problem - you are not getting a discount, because you don't have the loyalty card. You can't buy something as you don't have your credit cards with you.

I had also been working in the banking world, and there was a lot of focus on compliance, and innovation was taken out of the business. I was getting a bit bored.

My partner and I bootstrapped this company for three years, with both us coming up with US$2.5 million together. We attracted a further US$2 million (S$2.8 million) worth of seed money at the beginning of the second quarter of this year, when we decided we needed to get additional money to fund growth.

Q. Who are your competitors and what have been your main challenges?

A. We don't have direct competition as we are more than a payments company. For us, we make the transaction that you have in a restaurant no longer a financial transaction.

Restaurants would know what you like, what you dislike and we help them to bring in additional repeat business.

There are two main pillars: We make the payment process more efficient. We also increase business by bringing in more by rewarding one customer in a different way from another.

Does that make it more difficult to convince people that it's a unique solution? Yes, because they've never seen anything like this. It makes it more difficult. If I had created a more fancy payments machine, it'll be an easier sell. But the whole experience is so new. The conviction of the client takes a bit longer and, therefore, we need patience.

People are also concerned about security; we have to do a bit of marketing and education. We need to educate people on how we are adding security to their interactions. We make sure it is you who are present at the point of interaction.

Q. What are your plans for expansion and scaling?

A. We're talking to many established businesses in Singapore. We are talking to these groups because they are not owned by international companies, and you can get to a guy who can make a decision, as opposed to talking to a chain where decisions are made in the United States.

We're going to continue on that path. We've got a sales director starting at the end of this month and we are going to penetrate the Singapore market. In Singapore, we are in deep discussions with 22 different groups and companies, so by next year, I estimate that we'll be in about 100 restaurants.

We're pursuing that direction in Japan; we're in deep discussions with two partners there. After Japan, next year, we are targeting the US and the China market.

Q. How do you charge merchants?

A. The way we charge the merchant is a service model. It's a monthly fee and a one-off installation and commission fee to tailor this to their establishment.

The monthly fee for a bigger business starts from $400 but if you're a small business, we would not charge a monthly fee. We'll charge a per-transaction fee.

Q. What do you think are the pros and cons of the fintech scene in Singapore?

A. There are great benefits. I've been dealing with the Singapore Government in one shape or another. I know when it puts its mind to it, it will make things work. It has relaxed the rules a great deal, it has recognised that fintech is quite important, and it has given start-ups the environment to experiment.

I think the Government is being very supportive. It's not easy sailing - there are issues around technical talent predominantly. It's well known to the Government; it is doing things about it but it takes a few years. There isn't a tap you can turn on and off, but the fact that the issue is recognised and being worked on is quite encouraging.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Five questions with Touche '. Subscribe