More people than ever, especially millennials, can be classified as “under-banked” because they limit their use of more traditional financial services, a trend that is not lost on Columbus Region technology company T-CETRA.
The new financial world revolves around digital, instead of traditional services like charging purchases on credit cards and having checking accounts. Tech company T-CETRA meets the new need by specializing in the prepaid wireless industry.
The company, founded in 2007, deals primarily with merchants and their distributors, providing payment processing and development of custom software to create solutions for these businesses.
The new trend is a popular one. T-CETRA CEO Abdul Akel says 50 million people across the country could be called under-banked.
“These are documented US citizens who choose not to go to the bank,” he says. “They want to do everything online and they have the right tools at their fingertips. They don't want to be in contracts and they want options.”
Enter T-CETRA, which helps more than 200 national wireless service providers recruit consumers while providing the software for these phone companies to manage their customers. The company's work includes payment processing, prepaid wireless activation and mobile and web app development.
“We provide tech solutions and distribution services so customers can get signed up at brick-and-mortar or kiosk locations,” Akel says. “We help them get SIM cards activated, and we manage all the money movements for them.”
Calling the Columbus Region home when you operate a company whose major focus is IT is a distinct advantage for T-CETRA, which employs 88 people here with at least half involved in the tech-side operations of the company.
In fact, the origins of the company are linked to The Ohio State University, where Akel was a student before dropping out to start the company. He credits Professor Rajiv Ramnath of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering with encouraging the venture.
The university also provided $5,000 and two graduate students to get the new company up and running, which Akel says was a critical step.
“Ohio State is just one of the great many resources we have here for IT companies,” Akel says. “With Franklin University, Columbus State (Community College) and all of the other schools in the area, it is a talent-rich town.”
Many of T-CETRA's employees have come from Ohio State.
“The majority of our interns were from OSU,” Akel says. “It is a very personal relationship to me and has been instrumental to our success having access to Ohio State and the other schools.”
The company is expected to do more than $600 million in business this year, he says.
“This area is rich in resources for IT companies with many vendors and plenty of networking,” Akel says. “If you are starting an IT company in Columbus and looking for certified vendors for help, you don't have to fly two hours away.”
Akel points to other examples of why the Region has a vibrant IT ecosystem:
Columbus won the Smart City Challenge in 2016, beating out 77 other communities for a $40 million grant from the US Department of Transportation and $10 million from Vulcan, Inc., focused on intelligent transportation.
A $15 million investment by the state of Ohio equips a 35-mile stretch of US Route 33 with high-capacity fiber optic cable to instantaneously link researchers and traffic monitors with data from embedded and wireless sensors along the roadway.
“Typical cities the size of Columbus do not have these kinds of projects,” Akel says. “That is why we are ahead of the curve, and you have to give a lot of credit to the area. It makes tech companies' life easier and better.”