Financial unicorn takes flight in Asean

Financial unicorn takes flight in Asean

Ascend Money is offering more services as it aims to become a top three financial super app in the region

Ms Monsinee says Ascend Money believes in a diversification of ideas, such as having co-chief executives.
Ms Monsinee says Ascend Money believes in a diversification of ideas, such as having co-chief executives.

Ascend Money, Thailand's first fintech unicorn, is accelerating growth beyond TrueMoney Wallet payment services by tapping the savings, lending and investment realms with a goal of becoming a financial super app and attaining profitability this year.

Ascend Money, which operates under conglomerate Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group's online business arm Ascend Group, raised US$150 million in its latest funding round in September 2021, increasing its value to $1.5 billion.

MORE FINANCIAL SERVICES

Monsinee Nakapanant, co-president at Ascend Money, said the usage of its mobile wallet app has gained rapid momentum over the past three years, driven by the pandemic.

The number of monthly active users reached 14 million as of the end of the first quarter, up from 2.5 million in 2017, following a shift towards cashless payment, she said.

Some 20% of shoppers at 7-Eleven stores now pay using TrueMoney Wallet, compared with 1% in 2018.

A full 60% of its wallet users are upcountry, a shift from some years ago when 70% of its users were in Bangkok, said Ms Monsinee.

Mobile wallet usage gained as more people stay at home, watch streaming content, shop online and order food delivery, she said.

Payment is just the start for the company as it expands to more financial services, including savings, investment and lending, said Ms Monsinee.

"We know user payment behaviours, which enables us to drive more engagement in terms of usage frequency and consistency," she said.

Less than half of the savings accounts in Thailand have more than 50,000 baht in deposits and less than 5% of Thais engage in investment, said Ms Monsinee. Only 12% of these accounts have credit cards.

"This shows there is still plenty of room to provide other financial services that can address needs and engage with users," she said.

"We hope to be the financial super app to serve users with different lifestyles and journeys. Our mobile wallet will serve as an efficient financial platform for people dealing with self-services."

With this approach, the company aims to gain revenue streams from other services beyond payment fees, such as interest payment and commission fees, Ms Monsinee said.

GOAL IS HALF THE COUNTRY

Ascend Money tallied 26 million active users as of the end of the first quarter. The number is expected to reach 29 million by the end of this year.

"By 2023, we aim to attain 50% of the Thai population by offering various financial innovation services," she said.

The customer base increased among university students and first-time workers, though an untapped user base remains among the age group 7-20, said Ms Monsinee.

Ascend Money is targeting people aged 12-15 who can start saving at a young age. Only 10% of this age group has a mobile wallet.

Other target groups for the firm include farmers, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs, she said.

"Our partners are beyond offline retail. The True ecosystem has widened to tap financial institutions, cryptocurrency advisers and insurance operators," Ms Monsinee said.

The company also plans to offer software as a service (SaaS) for customer relationship management (CRM) called "ShopReward+" for merchants providing membership programmes. This scheme connects their users with TrueMoney Wallet. Users can get coupons and deals from their favourite merchants.

"We are targeting SMEs with 2-3 branches and a large enough customer base for the move," she said.

PROFITABILITY TARGET

Ms Monsinee said the company expects to achieve annual profitability in Thailand this year, with profits observed from March.

In the first four months this year, the firm's revenue grew 25% year-on-year and its e-wallet payment transactions surged 60%.

In other regional markets, the firm attained profitability in Cambodia, while Myanmar saw a rebound. The Indonesian market remains challenging for the firm, she said.

The company's survey found Thais use an average of 2.5 mobile wallet apps, said Ms Monsinee. Each country in the region is likely to have 2-3 main mobile wallet apps.

She acknowledged intense competition in the e-wallet segment, particularly from ShopeePay, but the competitor's move should help drive up the overall market.

Ms Monsinee said businesses that want to survive need to have differentiation and new business models. TrueMoney Wallet can provide an ecosystem linked with True and CP, which can propel usage frequency, she said.

"We remain the No.1 e-wallet service in Thailand. We are in the top five of Asean and aim to be in the top three in the future," Ms Monsinee.

The firm has a strategic integration approach with a goal of bridging online and offline worlds as well as the financial system with the crypto world, she said. One example of the latter is the cooperation between Cryptomind Group Holdings to enable users to invest in cryptocurrency through TrueMoney Wallet.

TrueMoney Wallet also plans to support loyalty tokens for CP businesses in the future, said Ms Monsinee.

She said the company collaborated with Ant Group, the fintech unit of China's Alibaba Group and one of its shareholders, to enable TrueMoney Wallet users to make payment overseas, such as Japan.

"When Japan reopens for tourists, the service should be available soon," said Ms Monsinee.

Since the company started offering a variety of financial services, the average payment has risen from 250 baht to 3,000-50,000 baht, she said.

Ascend Money now earns revenue from loan interest and uses data analytics to minimise debt repayment risks, said Ms Monsinee.

FUTURE CHALLENGES

She said the company's success stems from its roots, starting with a mission to foster financial inclusion by finding capable people to work as a team to leverage technology and provide simple services to users.

"We connect the dots and grow along with trends," said Ms Monsinee.

For other startups, she said the key is to understand customers' pain points and find ways to address them with technology.

"Startups need to be flexible in dealing with external factors, while their teams must be able to adapt to changes," Ms Monsinee said.

While the company is gearing up for Series D funding, it is focusing more on flexibility and bridging the generation gap in the workplace, drawing ideas from experienced senior workers while utilising expertise from young employees to provide services that make an impact on users, she said.

"We believe in a diversification of ideas, such as having co-chief executives," Ms Monsinee said. "This is a rising management trend in modern organisations."

The company needs to maintain its team mentality by scaling like a startup, while maintaining operating stability like a financial service provider, she said.

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