J Albert Gamboa - Riding the wave of change

J. Albert Gamboa

“The Philippines is open for business!” This is the message of the government’s economic team to the world as the country emerges from lockdown and eases quarantine protocols in metropolitan areas beginning this month.

After undergoing the world’s longest lockdown in the pandemic era with a record of 78 days, the 30 million residents of the densely populated Greater Metro Manila and adjacent areas are not yet out of the woods primarily due to the lack of mass testing and contact tracing. Everyone is hoping that the curve has been flattened and a second wave of infections won’t happen.

The word “wave” has somewhat become controversial nowadays, but not in the case of a company called iWave. Established in 1991 under the corporate name of Intelligent Wave Philippines Inc. (IWPI), it was the overseas subsidiary of Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed Intelligent Wave Inc. or IWI Japan, which was eventually acquired by Dai Nippon Printing Group.

IWPI was headed by Hirotsugu Kobayashi, a graduate of nuclear physics and scientific mathematics who joined IWI Japan in 1984 and started its Manila representative office as General Manager in 1990 prior to its incorporation as IWPI the following year.

His illustrious career in the IT industry has been punctuated by numerous “firsts” such as the being the first provider of a non-stop, fault-tolerant computing solution for banking systems in 1985 and installing the first ATM system in Myanmar circa 1995.

Kobayashi’s breakthroughs include spearheading the development and implementation of a complete stock trading system for the Manila Stock Exchange (MSE) in 1993 and for the Yangon Stock Exchange in 1996. He also designed and developed the legacy framework known as the transaction server platform or TSP under the Unix operating system in 1997.

Toward the turn of the millennium, Koyabashi arranged the management buyout of IWPI by partnering with a Filipino-owned startup firm called DFNN Inc. and renamed the company iWave, which he leads as CEO up to the present.

In my previous life as a stockbroker in the 1990s, I had a personal experience with iWave during the final year of the MSE’s Binondo trading floor that was not automated. Trading was done manually using chalk on a huge blackboard, until iWave came in and built the country’s first automated trading platform which was carried on to the Tektite trading floor of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) in 1993, after the merger of MSE with the Makati Stock Exchange (MkSE).

This allowed the former MSE brokers to control their own destiny by having access to customization and internet protocol through iWave and its combined Filipino-Japanese team. On the other hand, members of the defunct MkSE went a different route and acquired a license from a foreign vendor that by now has long ceased to exist as a corporate entity.

Fast forward to 2020: the current pandemic mandates a “wave of change” in the world of business. The joint venture between Japanese and Filipino IT professionals has allowed iWave to highlight its capabilities in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and other sectors. It is primed to expand during the COVID-19 and post-pandemic periods, since its systems have been used securely by local banks, national government agencies, and Japan’s largest consumer finance company operating in five overseas markets.

Among the businesses that have engaged iWave to develop systems over the years are the group that launched the country’s first internet bank, the Lopez-owned remittance platform, and BPOs that needed customized, highly secure systems. Some of the largest online stock brokerages have used components of iWave’s technologies to grow their client base and volume of transactions that were critical under lockdown conditions. Its roster of clients includes Filipino banks whose lifeblood is in ensuring the security and veracity of their transactions.

During the lockdown when companies were unable to operate from their physical offices, members of the iWave team easily transitioned to work-from-home mode. They were able to support the needs of the largest Japanese consumer finance company’s business remotely from the Philippines, keeping its Southeast Asian subsidiaries’ projects on track despite widespread lockdowns throughout the region.

With Filipino-Japanese working formula proven to be successful, iWave has been tapped by some private and publicly-listed Singaporean, Russian, and Malaysian companies to partner in the areas of secure identification, e-learning platforms, data security, government regulated systems, secure payment platforms, data analytics, smart city initiatives, and fintech next-generation technologies that are necessary components of digital transformation and financial inclusion.

As part of its corporate social responsibility initiatives, iWave recently offered its tech services in the fight against COVID-19. Looking at the way businesses will be forced to operate within social and safe distancing measures, it should be able to transition and benefit from the way the new normal determines how business will be conducted, and its stakeholders will be empowered to ride iWave’s new technologies needed to survive.

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