Consigning CTM to History

Innovative Technology

December 13, 2022

By Felicity Landon

Consigning CTM to History

Sometimes a ‘false start’ can be the best start. Felicity Landon finds out why digital payment solutions specialist ShipMoney is thriving

The digital payment solutions provided by ShipMoney include crew wages, cash-to-master (CTM) payments, allotments, international corporate remittances, network payments, money transfers, payroll advances and onboard expenses – and this is not an exhaustive list. So in today’s world, the first question might be – how on earth would the complexities of such payments be managed without a digital solution? However, the scene was very different when Stuart Ostrow, founder and President of ShipMoney, first became interested in the maritime sector. He describes ShipMoney as ‘version 2.0’ of a business he started many years ago, recognising the emergence of the pre-pay business. The original intent back then was not maritime – Ostrow started out with a focus on a very specialised insurance product. Later on he branched out, setting up payment solutions for cruise lines. “I realised I had found a market where the employees were all foreign nationals and all paid in cash; you couldn’t find a better market for introducing the programme. What do the crew do when they are paid? A lot send their money home. We would enable companies to pay the crew electronically and for the crew to send money home while still on board – using a pre-paid card and wire service connection.”

The business grew but five years later Ostrow found himself excluded after the bank he partnered with sold out. “I was left to start anew – but with the benefit of knowledge, relationships and contacts. That led to the evolution of ShipMoney.”

It’s a big world. Competition is a good thing – it validates what we are doing, keeps you on your toes, forcing you to be creative. I embrace competition in that regard

He describes the false start as a “punctuation mark that enabled a better model”. “A major difference was that now we had our own tech platform. Previously it was very difficult to do customisation – because we didn’t own the platform, it was difficult to do integrations, customer porting or add functionality, and hence it was quite limiting in terms of selling to the wider market. Now we own our processing platform, so we are vertically integrated – programme manager and processor.” This set-up provided a tremendous opportunity to develop very specific solutions for customers and opened up opportunities to serve the commercial market, says Ostrow. Others have followed the model: “Imitation is the best form of flattery,” he says. “It’s a big world. Competition is a good thing – it validates what we are doing, keeps you on your toes, forcing you to be creative. I embrace competition in that regard.” As he says, shipping is a very traditional industry and doesn’t change quickly. But the Covid-19 pandemic forced ship owners and managers to look at things afresh, and this led to increased demand for digital payment solutions. “If a portion of pay is delivered in cash, during Covid-19 it was a question of how you get the cash to the ship and, if the crew can’t get off, what do they do with it?” Asked to imagine what finance/money issues would be like onboard without a digital solution, he says: “It would cause havoc. The cruise industry blew me away – a payroll of US$1m or $2m being delivered to the ship in cash, every month – it was insane. We can’t go backwards now.” Recognising that there can be resistance to change from crew members and even companies, he says ShipMoney will work according to the pace required and develop solutions that fit each situation. “Resistance among the crew depends on nationality and age, the relationship he/she has with the employer, and the culture of that employer. Some companies have introduced ShipMoney solutions on a soft basis. Some have made it completely voluntary for crew, some mandatory, some say they are going to reduce the amount of CTM you can pay on board. “We have offered multiple ways crews can send money to their family. For example, what happens if a crew member is sharing an account with a family member, or gets into a dispute with someone, or wants to send the money somewhere else? Often all of that is dealt with by the employer – but our system offers so much more flexibility.” ShipMoney offers a universal scheduler that enables crew to wire transfers, organise pay-outs or set up card-to card transfers, on a fixed date – this can be important when connectivity isn’t guaranteed at sea. “Connectivity in commercial vessels isn’t as robust as in the cruise industry, although that is changing; one of the effects of Covid-19 is that you can’t put a young person on a ship and not allow them off for nine months without giving them a way to connect to home and the internet. We ask clients about the connectivity on the ship. One of the reasons we introduced the universal scheduler was to work around any lack of connectivity at sea.”

Importantly, says Ostrow, ShipMoney gives crew members control of their finances. “The employer still picks up the cost – it is providing a way for the crew to send money home but still paying for it.” While he admits ‘some crew members embrace it, some don’t”, experience shows that awareness of the system grows, largely because many crew members change ships or shipping company regularly. “We see now, where a crew member has moved from one company to another, they ask for their ShipMoney card.” Overall, says Ostrow, being cash-free improves the safety of crew and their money both on and off the ship. New functionalities are being developed and there is ongoing continuing enhancement of the overall service. For example, new solutions are being lined up to enable cash payments to be available for some suppliers, for real-time payroll advances, and to incorporate loyalty benefits, mobile wallets and shopping consultant services.

Being cash-free improves the safety of crew and their money both on and off the ship. New functionalities are being developed and there is ongoing continuing enhancement of the overall service

An essential part of the ShipMoney model is the 24/7 customer service which supports both crew and client managers. Recently the customer service teams have had many conversations with Ukrainian and Russian crew members – “heartfelt conversations about being away from family members, nothing to do with business, but one human being to another”. On a different level entirely, a call came in recently from a crew member who wanted a charge-back because there was a rat in his hotel. “We have support available in Manila and in Europe,” says Ostrow. “We really take it to heart and everybody in the company has been out on ships. It is important that they really understand who the customers are. I hand out business cards to everyone on board and on a regular basis get enquiries from customers. That’s nice – I like to take care of them. I am not going to hide behind a title, and I think it is important that they can reach out to the President if they wish.”


Felicity Landon

Felicity Landon is a freelance journalist with over 30 years’ experience in maritime, she works with a number of industry publications including IMPA’s Supply Chain and Sustainability Magazine. In December 2022 she was awarded the Maritime Journalist of the Year by the Seahorse Freight Association.


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