Interview with: Ambrish Dixit
Managing Director of True Money Myanmar
Can you introduce yourself, please?
I have been in Myanmar for more than 5 years now and it is like my second home now. It has been like two decades of experiences in setting up and launching technology businesses that are primarily in telecommunication, Oil & Gas, Organized retail and FinTech. This company is important and different because here we are trying to reach the people to the last mile to bring them under financial inclusion. Myanmar is really interesting and because it is growing fats and a lot of things are happening in this market.
Can you tell us more about true money and what kinds of services are available?
True money is a part of Ascend Group Corporation and Ascend Corporation is a subsidiary of CP Group (Charoen Pokphand Group), which is head quartered in Thailand. CP has got a much diversified businesses in different industry segments across the world. We operate under the brand name of TrueMoney in six countries across Southeast Asia.
In Myanmar, we started our operation in 2016. Our primary focus is financial inclusion where we launched financial services with the basic ones first like remittances: domestic and international remittances and also providing other consumer facilities like top-ups, bill payments. We also started with a couple of microfinance companies and about to start with insurance companies in terms of disbursement and in terms of cash collection solutions. Actually at True Money we are trying to develop a platform which can support and help other industry to offer their services to the last mile of the people living in the villages and rural areas.
What have you achieved so far?
When we go look back to 2016, that was a zero year for fintech operations and it can be assumed like a year when fintechs were actually born in Myanmar. Couple of other fintech companies including True Money started in 2016 and onwards. In fact, the fintech service was a very new concept – a digital way of sending money using a neighborhood store which was really difficult for people to understand and accept in cash rich economy. No one was willing to believe, no awareness, no knowledge and finally no trust. Creating awareness and educating people was a really big challenge and lot of time and energy has gone into that. Same challenges were faced by other companies as well. People were at that time either using formal channels like sending money through banks or informal channels like using bus delivering money from shop to shop instead. So, it took at least a year and half for setting up fundamental features or infrastructure first and educating people about what fintech is. Now in 2019, the awareness has leveled up and most of them are aware of and understand that how the financial services are working. It’s so simple – you can go to any shop and send money from anywhere. Same way, you can receive from any shop. This service is location-independent. In fintechs, you are sending to me and I can cash out and receive the money wherever I am which is more like a person-to-person not location-to-location.
In terms of availability of the services, we are available in more than 273 townships in Myanmar and we have grown 3.5 times by having around 15,000 plus shops now when compared to last year. If you look at business growth, we grew almost 10 times than last year. When we grow our business, of course, agents’ earning are also is also improved. So it’s not only customer who are getting benefit, but agent’s income also grew. Our customer base is increased almost 10 times as well. In terms of trust, we educate our agents and we educate our customers. So creating awareness and educating people are some of the qualitative achievements. During past few years, we improved a lot in areas of visibility and our agent quality by providing affordable process with safe and security in Myanmar. This is the kind of image we already started in our customers mind. True Money – “the most affordable financial service in Myanmar”
Who are your major competitors and what do you think is your competitive advantage?
We compete with ourselves. Whatever we do, we really like to do better today than yesterday. This market is growing and is very big. It has room for everyone. It is not that competing or eating from same share of pie though, it is more about market expansion and development. We believe in market development and believe in providing services day by day better customer experience, better service availability, trusted brand and top of it is affordability. We are providing affordable prices almost up to 30% plus percent cheaper than other available ones in market. We are trying to improve efficiency of working every day, reducing cost of operation and pass on that benefit to customers, make services affordable and sustainable. As we are reaching to rural areas where income level is low, we can’t be charging very high to those people. Affordability is so important that we’re working towards it and we are competing to ourselves to make it better and better.
How did you end up collaborating with AGD bank?
Financial services are regulated services and there are two models we can operate with, either you go for mobile financial service license or you can partner with bank and go with agent banking model under banking license. Then, we’ve chosen to go partnering with bank. There are advantages and disadvantages in both the models. We felt that partnering with the local bank having the same mindset, having same expansion attitude, or the same strategy to reach to the local market and that can create quite a good synergy. For example, if you look at any banking operations, it’s difficult for them to open up very large number of branches to lead to the road or rural people. So there has to be balance or synergy with these kinds of operations. AGD has same kind of understanding as to what we have to do to reach the local market and that’s why we partnered. Banking license is also required to do with international remittances. We are the only fintech company doing international remittances from Thailand to Myanmar so this is another benefit going with the bank. Local bank, local understanding, same at strategy to reach to local and rural people and also bringing international remittances, this could be the only best combination possible.
As we said we’re operating in multi countries in South East Asia, True money Thailand has international remittance license and is sending money from Thailand and we help our customers to receive here at true money agents – located very close to them. There are a lot migrant population working at Thailand from Myanmar who want easy access to send money and we are committed to fill that gap at easier and affordable services.
In terms of international remittances, this market segment is huge because apart from Bank or True money, people from Thailand can send money to Myanmar only from ground channel which is less safe and secure and service fees are really high. This ground channel is not the legal channel. We help pour customer to use legal and legitimate way at affordable prices and convenience.
What are the main advantages of a true money user?
The competitive advantage is that we offer affordable services in safe and secure ways to our customers. In fact, we do cost optimization to reduce the costs in operations and return that value back to our customers at lower service fees and keep improving our platform to make it stable and secure better in Myanmar. These are values we can make sure to deliver to our customers. We are focusing on very basics as market has just started and we have to be very good at basic needs. Ant what is basic? – it is simple – most stable IT platform, Affordable, Secure and Convenient services. The value to our customers is that we are very close to them. It does not matter whether there is banking facility or not, if True money agents are available, you can use those services. Availability and making sure the quality services are delivered through quality agents is the first one value. Second, coming back to customer applications, Myanmar is growing fast like mobile usage, data usage and mobile penetration and I think
in upcoming couple of years, market will be ready for app based services but currently it’s not. Currently, it has to more focus on fundamental and basic over the counter services. Majority in Myanmar do not rely on mobile money apps and still lacking in confidence when using payment cards and needs some support. Hence, there has to be agents closer to their homes with right quality as a fundamental value so that they can just walk out with minimum effort, with minimum cost of travel and receiving affordable services. Then, coming to wallets and customer apps, yes we have a plan to launch them most likely by latter part of this year. But then currently, we are trying to understand market needs and trying to develop the ecosystem which is needed for app users and operators. Currently, we are focusing fundamental values.
What kinds of barriers do you face with in this industry?
Fintech industry is very new to customers and not just only for Myanmar but almost all in emerging markets. If you look around South East Asia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, they all facing similar challenges. When you step into fintech industry, you learn by experience. Myanmar is one of the highest potential market, however, there are trust issues but people are open to learn, so it is possible to overcome these barriers of low digital literacy and business infrastructure as long as businesses can prove it’s safe. And, if you look at investment value and cash inflow to Myanmar, it is growing so fast that in next few years businesses can tolerate current challenges. In terms of regulations, it’s normal as any other country as fintech is a very new area even for regulators. What we appreciate is that regulators are very open minded and have forward looking approach to make this industry success as it is important for financial inclusion. Some example are like interoperability and common QR code for payments. So we just have to try and work hard with government to drive financial inclusion.
Can you explain the process to obtain digital money transfer license from the authorities?
Central Bank of Myanmar and Government has released MFS regulation and laid down the process to apply for that license. And as I said before, there are two options but we believed in bank partnership as we see the synergy effect coming out of that. We want to build up trust on money safety as money is safer when we are part of a bank.
How do you manage to secure information?
For every technological companies, it’s very important to have bank level of security. We are rolling out more advanced and secure technological platform in next one month to provide more stable and reliable services. When you look at market, technological stability is one of the driving factors to trust. Services should be available 24/7 anytime. And this industry is growing if any company is not able to maintain that, it is impacting the trust in industry itself. All the companies have to work together to build the trust in industry.
We are very strict in KYC process as well. So when you send money, we will ask for many information to complete KYC procedure. We generally ask a little bit more than required as we want to be 100 percent correct about it but then, we keep these information in much secured data environment and with limited & restricted access. Therefore, customer KYC data, system stability and data security are three fundamentals of technology.
What will be your ongoing plans in upcoming years?
QR code is one of the interesting areas where CP is leading in Thailand which we are happy with common QR code payments.
Just to act on in terms of technology, we will offer both offline and online services, but currently we are now operating offline because we are only offering over-the-counter services. Customer apps and wallets which require ecosystem is another one. These three areas of information security, system stability and KYC processes which are required to go platform online need very new technological in-house development so we are trying to improve to make sure processes are more efficient between agents and customers. We are also working with our sister companies in other countries to understand successful uses cases, processes and promotions before we launch our services in Myanmar.
How has the slowdown economy affected the business? Anything you would like to add as a piece of advice to true money?
What we see is that the GDP is growing up to around 7 percent in five-year’s time. As the macro economy, yes, there is fluctuation but at the micro level, the businesses are growing, so as long as they are showing growth, financial services will grow to support them. The interesting thing is that the middle-class segment is growing and as well as opportunities to do different jobs and business operations are not only in Yangon but in other cities across Myanmar. Good part this that young generation is inclined towards education and trying to be independent in earnings. This trend is also leading to migration from other smaller cities to bigger cities and increasing need of sending money back to their family. This leads to bright future for Myanmar in terms of technological acceptance and digital literacy. We are positively hopeful and statistically that fundamental service to send money and save money using agents is going to become mass market product. Challenges we have or which we will have in the future is to understand customers more and what exactly they need. We put emphasis on our customers’ geographical needs for example like what financial inclusion would be like for a customer in Mogok. In further extent, we will have to figure out how to help microfinance and insurance companies as these types of firms find to open many branches hard. They can use our services or platforms that’s what we are trying to develop. That’s how what we would like to see true money in the future.