Like many Haitians, Pascale Elie’s life was changed by the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. A University of Montreal–trained economist working at an insurance company, she watched as the country’s financial system collapsed, with the earthquake destroying more than one-third of the country’s bank branches and ATMs. Foreign aid did little to fill the gap, with Haitians waiting days to receive much-needed emergency aid.
To begin addressing Haiti’s financial technology challenges, Elie founded a company called HaitiPay. Its first product was a groundbreaking mobile wallet and payments system, Lajan Cash, which allowed anyone with a cellphone to make transactions, transfer money, and receive remittances.
Elie faced a series of obstacles, from restrictive regulation to the dominance of incumbents, including the Jamaica-based mobile phone network, Digicel. Elie also had difficulty raising funding — a common story for entrepreneurs in undeveloped ecosystems — and had to rely on NGOs and governmental agencies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. Elie’s upstart HaitiPay developed much slower than fintech solutions run by larger organizations. Digicel’s MonCash grew 15 times faster than HaitiPay over the 2010s.
But HaitiPay is finally gaining traction. Back in 2018, it secured funding from two local accelerators, and, now, Elie is looking beyond Haiti and hoping to reach the country’s 1.2 million-strong diaspora in states like Florida and New York. Her vision is to capitalize on the country’s $3 billion remittances industry, which makes up a third of Haiti’s GDP, and to compete with remittances giants like Western Union. Through the company’s new product, Cellpay, families will be able to send funds directly across borders through its e-wallet tool.