Sean Lam’s interest in cyber security was sparked at uni. He is now operating Jewel Paymentech to help make e-payments safer.
What’s your story?
In my final year of school in the US, I took specialisation classes on cyber security. For one of the lectures, we had a guy from the MasterCard security team come in to share all the cool stuff that they were doing in securing electronic payments. I thought to myself, “I want to do that!”
Early in my career, I quickly got myself heavily involved in cyber security and forensics work while working at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. As early practitioners in this space, we enjoyed the perks of quick progression and I quickly found myself working for the Visa Security team.
Soon after, I was given the opportunity to help drive payment security initiatives for the industry including the migration of magstripe to EMV Chip ATMs as well as one-time passwords for eCommerce transactions.
It was at Visa where I met my co-founder Wooi Siang. We saw a gap in the ePayments business specifically in the payments acceptance side of the equation. The networks and banks were not paying enough attention or investing sufficiently in technologies to make payments safer, smarter and faster. We quickly roped in Sandra (who at that time was a VC and already invested in a fintech out in Indo China) and together we co-founded Jewel Paymentech in 2015 to materialize that very vision of ours.
What excites you most about your industry?
Payments seem to be getting a lot of attention globally. Ask anyone on the street about it and you will probably hear about some new cool QR app, some new contactless payment technology for buses or they might just say “Bitcoin?
There’s a lot of innovation going on in this space. But no matter what the technology is, there will always be risk that needs to be managed. That’s where we come in. Knowing that there are opportunities aplenty to be realised is super exciting.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I grew up in Malaysia and now call Singapore home. I’m quite well travelled in Asia – I last counted 14 Asian countries I’ve visited.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, for sure. The government has put in place policies and programs that have created an environment for enterprises to thrive.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My dad on deals: “Don’t get a lawyer to negotiate with a lawyer – the deal will never go through.” The most sincere business dealings are always done over a handshake. It has absolutely held true for me – all our successful deals were always done without the need of debating technical legal nitty-gritty first. It’s all about trust and honour.
Who inspires you?
My family. My parents – they’ve certainly set the bar on building successful enterprises. My wife – who brings out the silly in me. She teaches me to not take life too seriously in order to be happy.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Completely random: The Shangri-la hotel was almost named something else. In Robert Kuok’s memoir, he shared that a director once rejected the name Shangri-la as he frequented a spa in Bangkok sharing the same name. Robert then thought, if there was a prostitute who shared the same name as his wife, does it make his wife a prostitute? He didn’t buy the logic and he insisted on the keeping the Shangri-la name.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Everything happens for a reason and my life experiences (both good and bad) have made me a much better person today. We should always make the best of everything that comes our way. I wouldn’t want to change any of that.
How do you unwind?
Playing with my boy, taking my wife out for breakfast, golf and most recently, Rubik’s cube!
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It’s a toss-up between Bangkok and Bali. Before parenthood, my wife and I really enjoyed these two getaway destinations for its food, sights and cheap massages!
Everyone in business should read this book:
Robert Kuok: a memoir. Anyone living in Asia should be able to relate to this book. It’s history and business all rolled into one. The man has seen, experienced a lot in his lifetime and I feel that there’s just so much to learn from the older generation tycoons.
Shameless plug for your business:
If you’re a bank, payment network or service provider looking for a partner to make merchant acquisition profitable, safer and seamless (think straight-through processing) through the use of automated due-diligence and transaction analytics – ping us!
How can people connect with you?
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.