FutureCard – House of Cards
We learn how FutureCard is a forward-looking payment card manufacturer.
FutureCard was established in 2002, initially established as a scratch card printing company serving telecom operators. However, as would become a repeating theme for FutureCard, the industry was about to change and FutureCard would have to adapt with it.
“Soon after the company introduced plastic cards and we got certified by Visa and Mastercard for the production of payment cards,” recalls Hassan Mokdad, FutureCard’s CEO. “Around 2006 we produced chips for the plastic cards to cater for sim cards, banking cards etc.”
Since then the company has had a storied history. The business started with two founders, one from the United Arab Emirates and one who is a Syrian Canadian. FutureCard was part of ENPI group that, was partially acquired by an equity fund in 2009. Later the whole group was sold, with the exception of FutureCard, which remained under the ownership of the equity fund and the original two founders. From there, the company ready to expand.
“When the business was at a mature stage, serving customers in the Middle East and Africa, we started to explore the European markets,” Mokdad recalls. “I took over my responsibilities at FutureCard in 2015, however, the company was very well equipped with a strong multi-disciplinary team from all over the world. The factory required refurbishing and we embarked on a growth strategy that involves internal upgrades and an external strategy of aggressive marketing. The company back then had offices in the Middle East, and Paris, Johannesburg, and commercially we were distributed all over the world. So, our focus was mainly on the telecom and transport business. In no time we succeeded in converting the revenues to the banking and payment businesses and opened up a new factory in 2017.”
End of 2019 was marked by the acquisition of FutureCard by the world-renowned Japanese Group Toppan, as part of their expansion strategy, making the company its first arm in the Middle East; this is the most important milestone in the history of the Company, from now on named Toppan FutureCard.
Extending Their Reach
Today Toppan FutureCard is an end-to-end provider of smart cards and smart card solutions and services. That includes manufacturing smart cards, developing embedded systems and applications, and developing card servicing solutions, mainly to banks and servicing banks with personalised cards as well as personalisation solutions to be deployed at banks and payment providers.
“The reach of Toppan FutureCard is beyond its size,” Mokdad says proudly. “Today we have customers in Latin America, in New Zealand and practically everywhere in between. The strength of FutureCard is its flexibility. We can adapt to any customer need because we operate in a make-to-order, just-in-time production. Practically none of our products are off the shelf products. We consider every request from every customer independently. We design, customise, manufacture and personalise to the customer and the end-user’s needs. If we have a bank in a payment program, we can give full service and delivery in four-to-five weeks, something quite aggressive compared to other companies.”
At the same time, FutureCard will not compromise on quality, something that is essential in the demanding and competitive markets where they operate. It is strength ultimately comes from its people.
“FutureCard is a company of 230 employees, coming from 25 different nationalities,” Mokdad says. “This means there is a rich mix of cultures within the team of FutureCard which is a multidisciplinary team of industrial engineers and smart card developer as well as craftsmen with extensive experience in printing and plastic packaging industries. The consolidated experience of this team brings years of knowledge to our clients.”
Meeting Today’s Challenges
And the business needs every bit of that experience to keep ahead.
“Every project has its challenges but globally speaking the market is very demanding. The smart card market, especially the payment and transport markets, are very demanding in terms of performance, quality, and security,” Mokdad acknowledges. “So, while we’re working in a 24/7 production environment we have to keep up with the latest technology and security. There are also the challenges that we are facing after the last year when FutureCard has reached a critical size where it needs to be developed to be able to cope with such demand in the market.”
To meet these challenges FutureCard is guided by the standards and regulations of the markets they operate in, as well as the innovation and creativity of their own staff and their parent company, global Japanese printing company, Toppan.
“In the smartcard field, in general, there are directives and standards that govern this industry and when we go to each of the different markets like payments and telecom and transport the products technically speaking are more or less regulated and there are a set of rules and standards which we expect and security protocols to observe. So, for the basic product, it is easy,” Mokdad says. “We have our in-house research and development team who specialise in developing new applications and innovating in some areas to tackle markets that are usually out of our reach. Now with the acquisition by Toppan, we have access to more technologies developed by them and this is a very rich experience. Now we are lucky to have access to technologies and to offer products based on these technologies.”
Another advantage Toppan granted FutureCard is that they placed the company ahead of the curve when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“At the initial stage of the COVID-19 I was visiting Japan and Singapore, and the reaction I saw over there was coming from the experience of the previous pandemic that happened a few years ago,” Mokdad remembers. “They were taking things very seriously, so I guess we were lucky to introduce preventative measures at the very early stage of the pandemic development. We introduced our measures, and it was a few weeks before the local authorities introduced their own measures, and we put in place procedures to continue working while at the same maintaining protection.”
This quick response has allowed FutureCard to protect its people and react to shifts in the market, without slowing development.
“People who could be were working from home, activities were grounded. We continued to address our customers and some factories in Europe closed. We were approached by customers to serve with our products, mainly in the payment industry. So, the demand for our payment cards and debit cards during COVID-19 has been steady,” Mokdad says. “We’ve had delays but not extensive delays. We stopped producing, for example, transport cards and demand for them practically stopped. Retail businesses closed as well so gift cards and retail cards were no longer needed. The demand in payment cards increased and we were able to support. We succeeded in ensuring business continuity.”
Naturally, FutureCard is now focusing its thoughts toward the future.
“During COVID we did not stop our internal development. During those three months we worked on a program of eco-friendly cards, a program driven not only by care for nature but also by the fact that today cards are plastic so we felt like we had to do something about this,” Mokdad says. “We went through a research and development programme to enable new kinds of eco-friendly cards and we just announced last week the completion of the certifying cards made of eco-friendly materials. We’re also at the start of a digital transformation program.”