Company is tapping into expanding European market for prepaid cards

CONISTER Trust is dipping its toe into a market with huge potential as it enters the market for prepaid cards.

The market, more established in the US, is projected to grow in Europe by 110 per cent between 2006 and 2010.

Conister already has six 'live' programmes, said chief executive officer Jerry Linehan and a 'significant number of opportunities progressing'.

The company is targeting supplying prepaid cards to large customer organisations such as mobile phone companies who want to offer financial products in relation to online transactions.

Just in terms of migrant workers, those who work outside their home country send US$300 billion back home.

The company is also looking at people without bank accounts, there are 227 million people in Europe with bank accounts, and 441m without.

The figures are phenomenal, said Mr Linehan with barely concealed excitement and, through its involvement in issuing prepaid cards, the 72-year-old Manx company could be propelled onto the international stage.

The advantages of having a prepaid card are numerous — it is convenient (20m outlets worldwide) and you spend only what you can afford.

Some transactions can be blocked if benefit money tends to disappear in the nearest off-licence, and you can also track payment meaning, for example, if you can give a card with impunity to your daughter travelling in the US, safe in the knowledge there's a ceiling on expenditure and no confusion over what it's spent on — booze can sound awfully like books over a transatlantic telephone line — especially under the influence of a Manx accent.

The big banks have largely not gone into this market, instead concentrating on their thriving credit card business.

As a former big bank employee, he knows all about how large financial institutions operate. Mr Linehan has worked for Barclays, the Isle of Man Bank, the Royal Banks of Scotland and Coutts and arrived at Conister 18 months ago. It has a staff of 43 — prior to that he had had 843 employees under him.

So why move to such a niche operation as Conister? The flexibility of allowing him to explore just such markets as prepaid cards.

'There is less ability to move things on in big organisations,' he said.

'Good ideas sometimes get lost.'

He recognised there was huge potential at Conister, which is also on the brink of another big move next month as it vacates the offices in Finch Road and moves to a modern purpose built office at the business park.

'It's a very long-established business in the Island and part of the community, given its roots and given its competitive advantage of being in the Isle of Man — that is well regulated and with a zero tax environment (if we configure ourselves cleverly enough) — I felt there was something we could do.'

Conister has just finished organising the 10th Anniversary Motor Show which supports the local motor industry, a market Conister is very much committed to.

Also, a resident on the Island since 1993, he admits to being well and truly 'Manxified'.

His wife Mary (who has her own business, they have brought up their three children here: Ciara, 22; Sarah, 19 in the US (the prepaid card bearer) and Felicity, 15 .

'I enjoy the Island and will do whatever I can to make it successful,' he said.'That's one of the reasons I'm at Conister. There is so much it could do.

'If, in a few years' time it's a key player of prepaid cards, that would be great for the Isle of Man. A 72-year-old on the global stage. That would not be bad for the Isle of Man at all.'

He echoes many residents' feelings in that the success of the Island is almost a personal quest and a sense of attachment that makes this far more than just a place to live.

This sentiment fuels both the Freedom to Flourish initiative — to turn around negative perceptions elsewhere about the Island — and the Isle of Man Newspapers Awards for Excellence.

Mr Linehan was involved in the nascent Freedom to Flourish initiative and admitted: 'I was initially quite sceptical about it in so far as I did not see how you could cohesively brand an Island.

It is a difficult task given the range of organisations small and large from off and on Island.

'As I got into it, I thought it was absolutely essential to the Island. The Island does not sell itself ... people start with saying what's wrong with the Isle of Man. I think it's a cultural issue.

'When we're up against the opposition we need to step forward with the best foot forward and sell the many advantages of living in the Isle of Man.'

The awards are an important part of this.

'The one thing I would really like to see on the Island is the next cadre of young high flyers pushing through a little more. That's where the awards are very good, it supports all levels within organisations.'

Conister is sponsoring the category for Volunteer of the Year and celebrating this aspect of Island life — even in a very caring community people working in voluntary organisations often go unnoticed.

This is just as important as any other award, said Mr Linehan, who is limbering up to do the Great North Run at the end of this month to raise money for motor neurone disease.

'It's bringing about a balance of values,' he said. 'You would not want an awards ceremony about business achievement at the expense of everything else.

'It's all about moving the entire Island forward, otherwise it becomes disjointed and people feel very disenfranchised.

'One thing about the Island is the amount that is raised for charity and that brings a nice balance. It's very important. There is a dichotomy: We will not shout about what they do, but we have quite a caring society in many ways.

'It's all about developing the next generation understanding what life's all about.

'Sometimes the most telling revelation is seeing people who have such problems to deal with, it makes you stand back and think.

'You can get business problems out of perspective. I used to come home and say "I have had a bad day" and Mary, who had been at the hospice, used to say "What's a bad day?"

'In my experience great leaders are those who have vision and innovation but still give much back to the community in which they have been successful.'

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