Friday,20 May 2022

WeLab’s Simon Loong on building a pan Asian digital banking platform

5 min read

Interviewed By Foo Boon Ping

Simon Loong, founder and group CEO of WeLab discussed the company’s plans to build a pan Asian digital banking business, the path to profitability of its first digital bank in Hong Kong and how it is working with lead investor, German multinational insurance and wealth management group, Allianz.

Simon Loong founded WeLab in 2013 after he had spent 15 years running the consumer lending and   credit risk management operations of leading global banks such as Stanchart and Citi, across Asia Pacific.

Leveraging his extensive experience and dissatisfied with the limitations and bureaucracy of legacy institutions he started his own financial technology (fintech) company to serve the unmet needs of borrowers in China and Hong Kong.

WeLab operates Wolaidai (我来贷), one of China’s largest loan facilitation platforms, WeLend, Hong Kong’s leading online lending platform and Maucash, a mobile lending app in Indonesia which was launched in 2018 with joint venture partner, Astra International.

WeLab has reinvented the traditional consumer lending business with its proprietary risk management technology and seamless mobile experiences. It moved from a business to consumer (B2C) to a business to business (B2B) business model and provides white label solutions to the largest banks in China and increasingly in the rest of Asia.

It expanded into the licensed banking business in 2019, when WeLab Bank became one of eight digital banks to be granted licence by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to operate. Two year later, it acquired a controlling stake in Indonesia’s Bank Jasa Jakarta in a $240 million deal to start its second digital banking venture in Asia. WeLab serves more than 52 million consumers across the region through its different brands and is looking to build a pan Asian digital banking platform.

In early 2021, it also onboarded a new strategic investor, German insurance group Allianz, to its stable of key shareholders, including Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah, Chinese provincial government fund Guangdong Technology Financial Group, CK Hutchison’s TOM Group, ING Bank, China Construction Bank, and World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

These are the key points discussed in the interview:

 

The following is the edited transcript:

Foo Boon Ping (FBP): Welcome to this TABLive interview. And we are very happy to have with us one of the shining lights of the new digital financial services providers. We know Simon Loong of WeLab Group from a long time ago. And he's a veteran in the banking business in Hong Kong, was running the consumer banking business and digital banking business of Standard Chartered before he set up his own fintech company, with very strong operations in Shenzhen and the rest of China. And of course, his home base in Hong Kong itself. He started providing fintech and fintech lending platform in China, Wolaidai (我来贷) and WeLend. In the past couple of years in 2020, WeLab was licensed, to operate a digital bank in Hong Kong. And it started operations in late 2020. And in 2021, they had their first year of operations. It's such a good time to catch up with you Simon. And I want to start this conversation. And I'm sure we're going to be talking about a lot of things, with an update of your business in Hong Kong, in China. Obviously, we've gone through some challenges with COVID. But in China, there's also been a bit of tightening of regulation, especially on our tech enabled lending. Give us an overview of some of the developments with WeLab.

A new strategic investor Allianz and business growth

Simon Loong (SL): Good to be back speaking with The Asian Banker. Our business is going great. I think 2021 is a very fruitful year. We're firing on all cylinders. I think the first exciting development is in the first quarter of 2020, when we announced a new round of financing led by Allianz and it added a lot of new capabilities to us, wealth management, insurance as they are one of the largest insurance and asset management companies in the world. We've continued the momentum and hit many significant milestones. Right now, our business has grown a lot since we first met. We run what we call loans facilitation where we help institutional lenders to lend money in mainland China with our technology. So right now, our businesses are separated into three different segments. The first segment is we run one of the largest online lending platforms, regionally, with 52 million users, we have 52 million now in Hong Kong, mainland China and Indonesia, through different brands, that has been growing very well. As a group in the first 10 to 12 months of 2021. year on year, the business volume, the loan side of it grew by almost 52%. So we achieved a 1.5x, higher now from what we were with COVID. With acceleration in online financial services, that has helped us a lot.

FBP: Give us an indication of how big your lending portfolio is in USD billion equivalent.

SL: Just last year, we did at least $1.5 to $2 billion in just one year. And in Hong Kong, where we have both WeLend and WeLab Bank, the digital bank, the loan volume increased 100%. We've doubled our business volume last year. It's quite unprecedented given we're already pretty big in Hong Kong. And it has a market share from the non-bank lender business where WeLend is competing, we are also the largest. One in eight people borrow money from us. So we're at that scale. Combined, WeLab  Bank and WeLend, we have more than half a million of users in Hong Kong. So that's pretty big.

FBP: Combined Although the digital bank itself, WeLab Bank has about 150,000 customers

SL: More than that, combined because that’s WeLend that’s around half a million customers. It gives us a very  good customer base to do very exciting things. And in Indonesia, Maucash, the joint venture with Astra is also doing fabulously. We are on year three now, three million users, just broken even. During COVID, our business volume increased around five times. And B2B, the enterprise solution piece is also doing very well, six times year on year growth. And we were quite happy with the growth. Also last year, we announced a very unique partnership with Apple and Apple authorised resellers to produce a subscription service called Subscribe+ for Apple Products. Hong Kong is the first market that Apple is launching subscription service. And WeLab is the first partner in Asia with them to do this. We feel that's going to bring a lot of potential. If I look at the early read of that partnership, when we launched, we announced around September, October, customers are really happy, the vendors are happy. The volume HAS really exceeded our expectation. I can't share too much about the numbers yet. But I think that as a partnership has a lot of potential given Apple is such a strong consumer brand. And that covers both finance and subscription services for iPhone, Mac, iPad, all Apple hardware and some of the accessories.

FBP: You talked about the recent series C round of funding with Allianz as the partner. Tell us how big of a stake and what's the valuation of WeLab now?

SL: Allianz came in last year. They were the lead investors. The lead plus other investors finance in excess of $100 million. That's really good. And at the same time, for our Indonesian acquisition, we also raised a separate round of financing. That is around $240 million. In total, last year, we did almost $350 plus million in financing. So that's probably the largest financing year we had in 2021. Around $300 to $400 million of new funds coming in to support the growth, it shows that our investors are very bullish about the company, our direction and also this region.

FBP: And tell us last year, the numbers shown there is growth in your lending portfolio despite COVID. COVID hasn't impacted that. Within China, you're continuing to grow the business, despite the clamp down on lending and tech-based lending. How do you manage this growth despite all the challenges?

China is still one of the largest markets for consumer finance

SL: Last year, I think the China business grew probably a high double-digit growth volume versus 2020. Last year, with the celebration of online financial services, adoption, people move online to do everything in their life from ordering food to entertainment and everything, including financial services. Specifically, for our business for China. What we saw was, as we're providing more technology to help licensed lenders to lend money, there's still a huge demand. Of course, there are new regulations coming out from data privacy or different ways of working with them, we continue to work very closely with our partners to find ways to serve them, and help them to grow their business. I think China is still one of the largest markets for consumer finance in general, and online financial banking services. We were very committed to that, either through a loan facilitation model or a pure B2B model, I think there are many ways that we can serve our customers with our vast space, We have also rolled out digital wallets in China. It is like a payment wallet tool, and also ecommerce uniquely for customers. There are actually more and more products that will roll out for our customer base.

FBP: In China, there is also the rollout of the central bank digital currency, the e-RMB, or the digital RMB. Supposed to be a national strategy towards reining in some of these digital wallet activities. How do you see that? And how does the digital RMB development affect digital wallets going forward? Would eventually the digital RMB integrate into digital wallets, and how would independent digital wallet today operate? Like the Alipay wallet.

SL: That's a very strategic thing that the Chinese government is doing with the e-RMB. At this early stage, we will see more adoption and use cases and test cases right now. I think it's too early. I think we will probably see a lot more of that. But I think it's a very important strategic direction to using digital currency which have a lot of added benefits from traditional paper money and wire transfer from banks. So, we will keep a close eye on this, especially in Hong Kong, where we are one the largest offshore RMB centres. So we actually look forward to more things we can do cross border as adoption for e-RMB increases.

FBP: And talk to us about Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area. You have your, your lending business under WeLab. and also your digital bank business. Obviously, you are providing deposit products, you're providing lending products, and also wealth management products. Talk about the growth potential there. 

Running two brands in Hong Kong is right

SL: We were maintaining the two separate brands, running them concurrently. A lot of investors asked us whether we want to keep it combined or separate. We've always wanted to run it separately. We think there is a lot of synergy between the two brands. And we were right.  If you look at the loan volume, which basically is the number of customers and our market share. We have doubled year-on-year between 2022 and 2021. That means we're actually doing a lot more loans and at a good rate as well. The bank primarily focuses on serving bank segment customers, and the proposition to the customers is a seamless account opening, innovative products. We launched one of the first numberless debit cards in the market. It’s very popular, a lot of people post on social media because the card itself looks so cool, and enabled them to do payment, have great rewards.

You can draw cash from ATMs in Hong Kong, It is very good. At the same time, we launched one of the most innovative social deposit products called “Go save”. Imagine it like a minivan, the minivan as soon as it's full, it takes off. If you have been in Hong Kong, seen those minivans. More people in the minivan the higher the interest rate in this case, it is so it's fun, it's social. And the most important thing is it acts as a very unique asset liability management tool for a bank. So now we can actually control the batch size of each time deposit pool from the size, the number of people, the rate and the duration. And we can launch many minivans in a day. And in future, we may even consider running them concurrently. We've done a lot of testing. So that actually helped us to fund the bank at the most optimal rate. At the same time last year, we launched the lending product, obviously it would be a user of the deposits and liabilities of the bank. And that is also growing up very fast. For that part, we launched what we called a interest rate link product. I'll give you an example. If let's say you borrow $10,000 from us, and let's say at 3%, I will give you half of it $5,000 interest rate exactly the same as your lending rate, so half of your deposit  will be paid exactly the same interest rate as your loan product. And that help us to attract a lot of really good customers. I remember 30% of people make use of this because the interest rate environment is very low.

The last thing that we're really excited about this year, probably in the first half, we will be rolling out a new innovative wealth tech product together with Allianz and that is basically the first goal based investment product that we're launching here in Hong Kong to help young people to manage, save and grow their wealth. When you talk to people in Hong Kong, a lot of them have this aspiration to save around a million dollars Hong Kong. You how expensive real estate in Hong Kong is, they probably need to buy a house, pay for downpayment, get married. So we actually want to help people to grow that instead of a bank calling you to say I want to sell you a fund, we actually help people to meet aspiration, which is we meet their dreams, which is a lot more aspirational and long term. At the same time, from your risk appetite and different data point will recommend the right portfolio for you to meet your goal to meet your goal. And that fits the lifestyle of young people because the primary income is from their salary.

FBP: In China, the government is on monetary easing to stimulate growth. In Hong Kong, the central bank is moving interest rate up in line with what's happening globally.

SL: The interest rate is still relatively low today. Hong Kong monetary policies is a little bit different from the US and mainland China. It's to maintain a very low interest rate environment, that's number one. Number two is, Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the US dollar. But in terms of unemployment rate, we definitely had a peak last year and came down by quite a lot. If we look at the unemployment rate, it's close to the historical low around 3.4%. And if you look at it from a consumer lending business, unemployment rate is a very important indicator of repayment capability and credit worthiness of individuals. So we're actually quite comfortable with that. And, of course, as we expand our target segment, covering bank and non-bank segments, we actually get even more good mix of risk and reward. Trade-offs.

FBP: In China and Hong Kong, we're seeing increase in household debt. If rates go up, it's more likely to go up in Hong Kong than in China.

SL: Yes, there are two major types of household debt, one is mortgage. In Hong Kong, all of them are variable rates. For unsecured lending, it's all fixed rate. That means consumer affordability wise, it's actually relatively the same for them. We're pretty safe on that front. In Hong Kong, we had a pretty good run, because the credit performance is better as we target a wider spectrum of customers who can a better mix of risk and reward. Interest rate is low, and we've doubled the volume last year, so we had actually pretty strong performance in 2021. And as we opened for business in 2022, we are at the end of January, I also see that the momentum is sustaining.

FBP: You worked with big banks. Now you're running a bank with a regulatory compliance requirement and capital requirements, what has the experience been?

SL: We're quite fortunate. I think we're fortunate to get one of the digital banking licences in Hong Kong, we work quite closely with the government and the regulators. And they are very supportive of us doing new innovative things. In fact, they encouraged us to roll out more differentiated services as well. On that front, we have pretty strong and timely support from regulators. I think from a consumer perspective, they are looking forward to digital banks, even more innovative services. When I say that, what I meant is, the eight licences they feel including us who are more competitive than a few others who target a different segment are quieter. The first couple of years from 2020, the first one probably launched in early 2020, we launched then. The first one or two years, everyone was building the fundamental basics, being able to open a bank account, spend on their debit card, etc. These are basic needs. We expect to see a lot more differentiation from this year onwards. Meaning I think everyone has finished building the basics now. I think it is about time for everyone to build something that's quite different. I think you will see the difference between the proposition of a digital bank and a traditional bank vary by a lot more in 2022 and beyond. It will take a few years I think Singapore is going through that right now. A few markets are going through that right now, role of digital banking services. Once we have a two to three year head start, initially, you will see most digital bank pretty similar, but the real differentiation will come in the third or fourth year where at least have completed the basics first And I do feel that regulators, regionally and globally are very supportive of this change because it helped to modernise the banking industry. And it also encourages existing incumbents to modernise their business models as well. It actually provides consumers better choices.

FBP: Hong Kong is a very competitive market, you have very strong incumbent banks, big giant incumbent banks, as well as digital peers. What milestone have you set for your first couple years of operations? The bank itself has 150,000 customers, you have created digital deposit, lending products. Yes, your digital base and your lending just for your digital banking business? Are you where you want to be?

Biggest objective is to have a path of profitability

We are at an interesting space. At the beginning, and probably one year plus, we have different realisation, and we have different soul searching along the way. What we realise is that the biggest objective, obviously, is not to have as many customers as possible, the biggest objective is to have a path of profitability, to build a sustainable business. What does it mean? We realise this for us to get a lot of customers is actually really easy. You just throw money at the problem. But then the problem is, if you extrapolate that 2, 3, 5 years, you will never reach profitability. That's why our focus has shifted a little bit last year. We realised that acquiring customers actually very easy, but reaching profitability at a reasonable scale, is actually something we need to achieve. Because once you achieve that, you can actually throw money at acquiring customers. But before we know how to make money, you actually cannot do that. Otherwise, it is just a matter of burning cash. I think we've seen some digital banks globally trying to achieve that. That realisation came for many digital banks in Europe in the US in 2020, when investors start asking for profit, profitability. So that's why we had to focus a lot on rolling out the lending product, and the wealth product, these are two products that give any bank a path to profitability. Now imagine if I keep on doing like, a debit card product, you'll never break even with a debit card product. Most of these banks are probably spend more on rewards than the actual interchange fee. So we focus a lot on building these two pillars, the lending part and the wealth part so that we have a strong path to proof of profitability, and be able to roll out something that really differentiate from just a simple transaction banking.

FBP: What does that path to sustainable profitability look like? Well, what are the indicators of that? In terms of the lending business, the amount of business the kind of volume that you're driving in terms of your cost of acquisition, interest margins, delinquency. 

SL: Without going to our financials, just generically, what we're looking for is, obviously revenue. What you see when you study the financials of digital banks, in the initial stage, right, I think everyone is very good at spending, not raw revenue, and not build products that actually attract a lot of revenue. I think the first step in your path to profitability is to have products that people are willing to give you revenue for. Which is what we talked about, a lending product and the wealth product as the proposition. Asian market is not a market where people will pay for a membership fee to be a bank customer. Now, you've seen in Europe, some markets, you can do that. Asia is not the current market. That's number one. Another thing we look at, in terms of lending, initially overseen it, or seen some digital banks is they priced the loan completely incorrectly, because a lot of them actually have deposit first before they have lending. So the way they price it is as long as the price is higher than the interest rate. They feel that they're making money. But that's wrong. Because the interest rate is just so low rate, let's say they're charging 1% of interest rate and they charge 2% for loan. They completely got it wrong. If you look at unsecured lending, banks, Hong Kong, it's running around 6 to 8%. You have to be able to compete at a scale and a 6 to 8%. That's what you call an average performance. If you tell people I have a lot of lona volume, but I'm pricing at 2%, you're just undercutting everyone. You're not maximising profitability and the risk reward trade off. There's what we're looking at. And in terms of the wealth side, there's obviously a market norm for a fee. How can we build a proposition that we charge a nominal fee, and people are willing to give us the business because of a better proposition, better customer experience, and you are no longer callings at a lower cost? Because you're not going to rely on your RMs (relationship managers) calling people to buy a web product? Those are the couple key things that we're looking for in 2022.

FBP: Key to that you mentioned is customer experience. How obsessed are you with looking at your net promoter scores?

SL: I think it is extremely important. At the end of the day, your only interaction with customers is through your mobile phone. So you have to have great customer experience. A great customer experience means that customers can do everything themselves on the phone without the need of calling you.  If you have to call your Customer Service Centre to figure out something that's not very good. A great customer experience has become a local hygiene factor for digital banks. You cannot sell a digital bank to your customers, just because you have great customer experience, because everyone's has a great experience either traditional banks have great customer experience. It has to be also innovative products, great offers and stuff like that. So there's this strong, good combination of that. I don't think a great customer experience is a silver bullet. 

FBP: Part of the experience is also being fundamentally digital, creating a digital experience, and also a digital footprint. What has reared its ugly head, with so many digital transactions, is the incidence of digital fraud has also gone up. How prevalent are the cases of phishing scams in Hong Kong or China, or Indonesia? How big of a concern is it to you, running your entire business on digital?

People underestimate the challenge of launching a digital bank

SL: For digital platforms, it is definitely, extremely important. In the early days of consumer lending, it is extremely important because it is a financial product where you're giving someone money. When you give someone money, he has the highest intense incentive to run away with your money. And when people give you money, they have less incentive, but you're giving people money, they want to run away. I think that part is extremely important. And thankfully, because of our roots in online lending. Since our early days, we build a lot of big data fraud detection. And those technologies are actually extremely important in terms of identity verification, and also, how do we do AML (anti-money laundering), KYC (know your customers), etc. So that is extremely important. And then you go into banks and go into transaction monitoring, we try to utilise a lot of regtech AI (artificial intelligence) on transaction monitoring. They reduce the number of transactions that we have to manual follow up. And these  are extremely important topics. I think that this leads me to a very interesting point of the challenge of running a digital bank, as we speak with a lot of people in Asian markets. We're launching digital but I think people  underestimate the challenge, and the kind of investment required to launch a digital bank. People thought that it is a matter of like buying a core banking system, plug it in, build a nice app, mobile banking. It is not buying a Microsoft Windows, put it this way. It's not like deploying Microsoft Windows, switch it on to just work. They don't work like that. There's a lot of tweaking, there's a lot behind it. It took us one and a half years to build it. And it is actually a lot of things that you discover that you get it wrong along the line. And the software do not come with a user manual. I'll tell you now, so it's nice. Have you read the manual five times and then you got a couple of guys to demo to you. You need really people with experience for us. That's why we are planning to build the second bank in Indonesia, we feel that that is very important competitive advantage for us. We're already proved the first one, the first bank we've been running it for one and a half years. It is working as we move to the second market and the third market and beyond. We are quite confident that it has been thoroughly tested and scalable.

FBP: Tell us more, you acquired Bank Jasa Jakarta (BJJ). For the digital bank, do you need to get additional licences or you can just operate the digital bank off the bank that you have a controlling stake in?

WeLab has been looking at Southeast Asia since 2016

SL: We're very excited, we have a major announcement on acquisition.  BJJ Indonesia is a 40-year old, traditional bank with a pretty strong business as well, locally, so they have a pretty good franchise, profitable. And we want to launch digital banking services on top of that, so it will be an additional service on top of their current business. We are now doing a lot of analysis and hiring with an aim to most likely roll out in the second half of this year. We will give ourselves a pretty strict timeline. But I think Indonesia is a great market. We've been there since 2018, with strong partners as well. And so we're confident with that.

FBP: You have a collaboration with Maucash, where you've been doing the  consumer finance business since 2018. What are the dynamics of the  Indonesian market that attracted you and your management team, in terms of the potential market, the challenges in terms of infrastructure, large geography, of course, you will overcome with a digital platform. Share with us the consideration that went into Jakarta, that will also give us an indication of which other markets in Southeast Asia that you're looking at that have similar dynamics.

SL:What a lot of people don't realise is we actually have been looking at Southeast Asia as a region and individual markets, since probably 2016, until we pulled the trigger on our first market in Indonesia in 2018. So as a marketer, we spend a lot of time just trying to understand talk to a lot of people. What we are consistently looking for, given we are a fintech in digital banking lending, are a large tech savvy, young adult population, regulatory support. And this is literally a playbook with around five to eight areas, each area, we ask ourselves 10 to 15 questions, to understand each market to see whether they're ripe for digital banking or online financial service. disruption, And Indonesia is one that checked all the boxed. Indonesia, as we talked about a large population, is not just one city, Jakarta. Jakarta is a small part of a very large Indonesia, with many islands. Financial inclusion is a very big topic. It's also something that we've had a lot of experience solving for. Financial Inclusion with technology in mainland China, what we do to open it with our shareholders. It's something that's very close to our heart. So we move with the market opportunity, a market that is ripe for disruption. And with a large population. We feel that this is the right time to go into Indonesia to offer such services. When we started this project, the digital banking project one and a half years ago, people were only thinking about that. Now, more people are thinking about that. We're quite early, and we'd like to be early in the game. I think one of our benefits is because we run a regional business. We can see trends happening in other markets first, hence, we can go into certain markets earlier than others. That is something that we're quite interested in. I think there's a lot of potential especially riding on certain new economy digital infrastructure for Indonesia's case. And similarly, there are other markets in Asia that share certain similarities. Vietnam, Thailand Philippines, they have certain similarities. I'm not saying we'll do all these markets. There'll be some push, we will probably announce later on at a later point in time. I think that matters, multiple countries, multiple projects. I think more importantly, is the economies of scale. when you build a digital bank, meaning once you build the first, building a second one will be faster and easier. The third one is even easier. As you pointed out market by market. You can actually have economies of economies of scales in both knowhow, technology and people so I think that's what we try to capture. I think there's a big opportunity to turn WeLab into a pan Asian digital banking platform.

FBP: What will you take from WeLab Bank you will supplant into the Indonesian operation? What will you do differently?

SL: I think I think there's a lot we'll do differently. We are in a process of hiring a complete local team. Now we believe in a local team running a local business there at the same time. Technology, intellectual property product design, a lot of pitfalls that we have experienced in the building the first bank, I think there's a lot of experience that we can actually combine with the local know how to do something that is really good. I think if we look at what we have, right now, I'm quite confident that something quite innovative will happen very soon. And you see it in Indonesia market, hopefully, as we launch it in the second half of this year.

FBP: Are you able to leverage the synergy between WeLend and WeLab Bank in Indonesia as in Hong Kong? Would the condition be similar? Given you're working with different partners with your acquisition, and MauCash and Astra?

SL: We will still run both brands independently. I think we learn from our Hong Kong experience running two brands independently in a market that has lots of opportunity can allow us to capture even bigger share of wallet. So we'll do that. And obviously, the two of them do share similar business lines, but target completely different segments. I think the bank in general would target a segment of average customers. You also appeal to the customers with a full banking experience, opening a bank account, a debit card, or there's a payment product, lending as well/ Before, online lending, like MauCash, is very simple. You borrow money in a very simple, cheaper, faster proposition. So, both can coexist. I think we're trying to learn and allow the two to coexist. And there are some interesting things that are innovative. I'll give you an example. In Hong Kong, in WeLend in the past, for every successful applicant, we give them a cashback, for example, HKD 100 or $100. Now, we will tell customers that will still give HKD 100 if you become a WeLan Bank customer at the same time. But if you are w WeLend customers and don't have a WeLab Bank account, we only give you HKD 30. So the cost to us is the same, we are still giving HKD 100, but we start leveraging on our customer base and introduce people to other services in the bank.

FBP. That’s a way to incentivising and broadening of relationship, upsell and cross-sell. Very good. Given now there‘s a pandemic resurgence in the region, are your plans on track? When will that digital bank be launched?

SL: For markets like Indonesia, where we've been around for three years, we do have people on the ground, it makes sense. If I'm going to a brand new market where I don't have anyone on the ground, I think it'd be very difficult. We did complete the whole M&A with Bank Jasa Jakarta completely through Zoom. We hired local Indonesia based advisors for us to do DD (due diligence) etc. We did the whole thing on Zoom. It's just a new normal.. It's amazing how business is being carried out has transformed itself, entirely remotely, on Zoom. What about wider plans for an IPO? Is the current environment conducive? Stock markets are past their historic highs and with sentiment quite shaky now? Inflationary pressures and interest rate going up?

SL:I think you have put it very tactfully. It is and I think it will continue to always be a very choppy market. I mean, just how the market is like especially if you look at it this year as we entered into 2022, investor sentiment has been quite different with the increasing interest rate expectation and also reducing economic stimulus. We will continue look at that, the listing. We were thinking about it a little last year. But I think we do want to complete the Indonesia acquisition first, before we do it. Hopefully, by the second half of this year, we can revisit it to see whether there's a market window. Everyone has to play about a year nowadays, because the sense of the market sentiment actually has changed so fast. 

FBP :Would it be a more traditional convention method, or are you exploring other vehicles, including SPAC?

SL: It is still is early to say. SPAC was something that was very hot in the first half of last year. And it died down a little bit. Singapore launched a SPAC regime, Hong Kong launched one. We want to observe a little first, to see how different regimes will play out. I think the important thing is just to keep an open mind for now, because different exchanges and jurisdictions are also fighting for quality companies to list. So, we hope to find ourselves the best solution out of these options.

FBP :Great. And we wish you every success in that area, and Indonesia, Give us a sense of other areas that you're building out for your regional expansion.

It wants to be the principal in large tech savvy markets with larger return

We talked a little about a couple of markets that we're interested in. We'll continue to explore if we expand. What is the right entry point? I think in the past, when we only had online lending, that was the default entry point. There's still a lot of market players who are talking to us to about joint venture with them on online lending, given our track record. Digital banking obviously opened up a second option for us. The digital banking cooperation requires a lot more than the digital lending cooperation, because that has three important and strong regulatory, licensing, coverage requirements. Last, which is probably the lightest touch, is a pure B2B (business to business) cooperation, meaning we just supply technology. And we can sell the technology to multiple players at the same time. Which is a business to business enterprise business. Obviously, when you go into it as an enterprise business, you will sell to multiple players, like you don't build a car just to sell it to one customer, you build a car, you can sell it repeatedly. Now, we think less on the B2B side in Asian markets because there is still a strong play in us being the principal player than a supplier of technology. And, we also study the market as well. A good example, a market like Hong Kong, we will participate as a principal player rather than a facilitator through technology, because it's small. But if we're consciously, constantly picking large tech savvy, young population, I think these are markets that make a lot more sense for us to be a principal player, rather than just being a enterprise solution provider. Now, as we talk to more people, the direction is more towards that angle, because we can get a larger return. And we'd like to be very hands on and deeply involved in a market. So I think that is our current thinking. And that's where there's also the highest reward.

FBP: to be directly involved being the principal. And in many of those Asian markets, there are many of these opportunities. And you seem to be on a measured path towards growing your business. We wish you every success in what you've done, and continue to play out. And it's been great speaking to you Simon, again, and I'm sure we'll catch up pretty soon, as WeLab launch your digital bank in Jakarta.

SL: Thank you very much Asian Banker


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