Thailand's digital economy has been scaling up over the past decade thanks to the power of various internet firms and one of the key players is Sea (Thailand), the local unit of the NYSE-listed firm Sea, which is behind e-commerce powerhouse Shopee.
Founded in Singapore in 2009, Sea has three core businesses covering Garena, an online games developer and publisher; SeaMoney, a provider of digital payments and financial services; as well as Shopee.
Sea (Thailand) recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary of operations in the country.
Last year, Sea (Thailand)'s business group, covering nine affiliated firms, saw total revenue of 43.2 billion baht and losses of 5.9 billion.
E-marketplace Shopee posted the second highest earnings in the group at 13.3 billion baht, behind delivery service provider Shopee Express at 15 billion baht.
Sea's most profitable business in Thailand was online payment service ShopeePay with 153 million baht in profit, followed by Garena with 30 million.
Sea (Thailand) is gearing up to expand its digital services, particularly digital finance, to drive further growth as it marks a decade of operations in the country.
"Over the past 10 years, Sea [Thailand]'s digital services have reached millions of Thais across the country and have become a part of digital lifestyles," said Maneerut Anulomsombut, chief executive of Sea (Thailand).
According to Ms Maneerut, the pandemic prompted the use of digital services in people's daily life and adoption of the firm's digital platforms have surged.
Digital platforms benefit consumers in terms of time and cost saving while helping merchants to expand business online, she said.
According to a report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company, Thailand's digital economy was worth US$30 billion in 2021 -- the second biggest in Asean behind Indonesia, and it is expected to surge to $57 billion in 2025.
The country still faces a challenge in terms of the digital gap and it is important to bring people and businesses to make use of digital technology, which could open the door for new opportunities, said Ms Maneerut.
Meanwhile, digital business operators need to maintain service quality and find ways to answer to the needs of customers, she noted.
Sea started its business footprint in Thailand with gaming business Garena, which included organising the Garena World Tour in Thailand.
Garena has more than 654 million quarterly active users from 130 markets across the world, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 65% between 2017 and 2021.
In 2021, Thailand had over 32 million gamers. The country's e-sports market was worth 33 billion baht in 2021, up 14% from the previous year.
The company is committed to providing a variety of game genres for the local market, such as Blockman GO (Sandbox), Moonlight Blade (MMORPG) and Garena Free Fire (Tactical-TPS Survival Open World).
"We see a growth opportunity in creating spaces for e-sports and emerging digital careers," Ms Maneerut. "We aim to support Thailand as a hub for e-sports in the region."
INTERNATIONAL MARKET OPPORTUNITY
Shopee has seen a strong growth in adoption by sellers and buyers. The e-marketplace is the source of revenue for many local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) while providing a full range of e-commerce services, including management system, fulfilment and logistics.
Shopee had more than 2 billion gross orders from all around the world in the fourth quarter in 2021. Shopee's gross merchandise volume (GMV) has continually increased, growing at an 83% CAGR from 2017 to 2021.
According to Ms Maneerut, Thailand's e-commerce industry also shows a continued strong growth. The industry's GMV was $21 billion in 2021 and is projected to rise to $35 billion in 2025, with a CAGR of 14% over the period.
Between 2018 and 2021, Shopee tripled the number of Thai sellers and the number of brands joining the platform increased fourfold.
In May, Shopee Thailand launched the Shopee International Platform (SIP), which aims to enable local businesses to capture more opportunities in the international markets while Shopee supports participating stores with services such as international store management, warehouse and stock management, buyer inquiry handling and shipping.
"In the initial stage, the SIP programme will market goods from participating stores in three countries -- Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines," Ms Maneerut said.
SeaMoney started its business as "AirPay", initially aimed at serving the needs of gamer payments for online games and in 2021 AirPay was rebranded to ShopeePay to serve a broad range of lifestyles.
Thailand has seen a surge in e-wallet usage, with the user base hitting 18.6 million in 2020. It is expected to reach 41.9 million in 2025, Sea (Thailand) indicated.
In 2021, the number of ShopeePay users outside of major cities also increased by over 50% from 2020.
SeaMoney is Thailand's first firm to obtain a digital personal loan service provider licence from the Bank of Thailand.
Currently, it offers SEasyCash for sellers which aims to help enhance liquidity for online sellers, and SpayLater for users to purchase products on Shopee.
SeaMoney's digital financial service saw more than 45.8 million active users in the fourth quarter of 2021.
"Our services are aimed at supporting financial liquidity for sellers and consumers in this challenging economy," Ms Maneerut. "In the future, if the regulator is open for digital bank licences, we will apply. We already provide such a service in Indonesia."
Ms Maneerut said Sea (Thailand), which has 7,000 employees, adheres to the "4Es" principles in its organisational culture.
The first concerns "engagement", enabling employees to have a sense of belonging and growing together with the organisation, and the second involves "excitement", making sure employees are excited and have fun with the work and ensure they know how their work would deliver an impact on the company.
The third involves "empowerment", allowing employees to raise ideas and create their own projects and the last concerns "encouragement", giving advice to employees who may not succeed with their projects.
She said Sea (Thailand) gives weight to a "trial and error" learning process for new development.
Amid economic challenges, Ms Maneerut said the effective use of capital, goal-oriented resource management and customer-centric services could be the key to driving the company's competitiveness and strength in difficult situations.
According to her, the company's three core businesses entail different strategies.
Gaming has now served as one of the core entertainment offerings while the creation of ecosystems for e-commerce and digital financial services requires different approaches to gaming business.
"The company has a clear business direction of each business to ensure their growth," she added.
Referring to the firm's recent restructuring which also led to job cuts at food delivery service ShopeeFood and ShopeePay, Ms Maneerut said the economic volatility made it necessary for the firm to make adjustments in line with the changing situation.
"This was a hard decision," Ms Maneerut said. Talks were held with the affected employees for compensation and career guidance to ensure a smooth transition.
"A change in the number of employees has had no impact on the firm's business operations," she said.
Sea (Thailand) also vowed to support society with digital skills.
It has launched the 10 in 10 initiative aimed at creating 10 million "digital talents" in 10 years. Over the past three years, it has enhanced digital skills for around 4.18 million Thais.