The northeast is set to become a European centre for digital transactions — bringing hundreds of jobs with it

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, during her time as enterprise minister, visited Aphix, which is one of the key companies forming the M1 Payments Corridor
Mary Mitchell O’Connor, during her time as enterprise minister, visited Aphix, which is one of the key companies forming the M1 Payments Corridor

Jobseekers who have the right technical skills and are keen to work away from the capital should keep a close eye on developments in the northeast over the next few years.

If the M1 Payments Corridor, as the region comprising counties Louth, Cavan, Meath and Monaghan has been dubbed, takes off, then up to 600 highly skilled positions in the digital payments sector could open up within the next four years.

The region, which is home to Vesta, PayPal and State Street, was handed a jobs boost last month when the epayments company YapStone announced it would take on 200 new staff over the next five years.

YapStone started its Irish operation in 2012 with 10 employees in the Mill, Drogheda’s enterprise hub, and expanded quickly. This latest jobs news related to a €41m investment by YapStone, supported by IDA Ireland.

It was the first big announcement since the launch of the M1 Payments Corridor. Organisers hope it is just the beginning.

The region also has indigenous fintech companies including Aphix Software, Gecko Governance, Semper Security and Intact Software. Aphix employs 15 people at its base in the Mill, and announced this year it would be taking on another 25 before 2020 — most of them skilled developer roles. The company is already recruiting.

Breanndán Casey, the Mill’s business development manager, says the idea of a payments corridor in the northeast arose two years ago, with the recognition that getting towns in the area to co-operate rather than compete would reap greater rewards.

“In the past there was a lot of competition between, say, Navan, Drogheda, Dundalk and Cavan. We recognised that we could work together,” says Casey. “This is not about any one town, it’s a regional push.”

It soon became clear that the industry most likely to put the region on the map would be digital payments. One of the inspirations for the initiative was the so-called Transaction Alley, in the American state of Georgia.

“It’s a 60km zone around Atlanta and 70% of payments go through there — but it was once a small operation,” says Casey, who believes the northeast is well positioned to become an epayments hub.

“There are 1.8m people within 50km of Drogheda. We also have the M1 connecting us up to Belfast, which is strong on blockchain technology.”

Using Atlanta as a model, Casey and others hope the northeast will also become a centre for digital payments outside this country.

“We are not just focused on Ireland,” says Peter Rowan, Yapstone’s executive vice-president of international operations. “We have a multilingual centre here covering seven languages, and we have had no issues hiring multilingual employees within striking distance of Drogheda.”

To make the corridor work, collaboration between every player involved will be essential. Such help comes from the National Epayments Conference, which was first held two years ago and is an opportunity for stakeholders to find out about the future of digital payments in Ireland and abroad.

“The fintech sector is ripe for collaboration between smaller companies and larger, FDI companies,” Casey says.

The M1 Payments Corridor initiative has a strong steering group behind it, made up of representatives from Vesta, PayPal, State Street, Aphix, YapStone and Coca-Cola International Services. The group also includes representatives from the economic development agencies, as well as Dublin City University and Dundalk IT, who will provide R&D support to the industry in the region.

The need for an educational element is clear, because any new roles that come on stream will be highly skilled. The group has already organised specialist training programmes with IT Governance, a UK company. A fintech audit is being conducted in the region to assess skill sets and identify any gaps.

“That started three months ago. The results will give a strong indication of what skills are needed,” says Casey.

Drogheda Chamber has applied for funding from Skillnets, which, if successful, would involve a significant element of fintech training. “We want to move away from customer service to more technical skills,” says Casey.

The M1 Payments Corridor’s recent funding application to Skillnets was unsuccessful, but Casey is confident that the region will continue to build on its successes in the area of epayments.

One key attraction of the area for potential employees will be that they can avoid the expense and congestion of the capital, according to Casey. At present, 55% of YapStone staff live within 15 minutes of the office.

If everything goes to plan, employees here will be able to move between companies while staying in the same region and sector.

“It’s important that we get a range of companies in the region so people can move around. There needs to be a critical mass here,” says Casey.

The new roles at Aphix are in areas including customer success, software engineering and development. The company is recruiting for technology positions including software and app developers, says Mark Reilly, the company’s chief technical officer.

“Driving investment into the region is a key focus for us, providing a significant boost to employment and benefiting the local economy,” he says.

YapStone, which provides online and mobile payments products for companies including property sites HomeAway and VRBO, moved out of the Mill when it grew to 40 employees. Within two years that number increased to 126. Now the company is recruiting for the first of 200 more, to be hired before 2022.

With most of YapStone’s staff working in customer service roles, the company is looking for development engineers, lead software engineers and voice over internet protocol network architects.

Rowan is confident that the skills needed by his company are available in or around the region. “We did some research even before we announced the roles and, based on that, we believe the talent pool is here, which was part of the reason behind our decision,” he says.

The M1 Payments Corridor concept will bring together the players in the sector, according to Rowan.

“It’s about creating jobs and building R&D capacity. We’re trying to mirror the Atlanta payments corridor — this could be the European international payments corridor,” he says.