In this instalment of Payments Powerhouses, we chat with Kelvin Lam, COO at YouTrip, on the growing need for cross-border transactions and leveraging partnerships and technological innovations to provide a seamless and reliable experience for users.
Kelvin Lam is the Chief Operating Officer at YouTrip.
Prior to his current role, Kelvin was the managing director in Hyphen Group, a marketplace for financial products across Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the rest of Asia, with brand names like Singsaver and Seedly in Singapore. Before that, Kelvin was at UBS Investment Bank, advising tech, consumer and financial corporates on merger and acquisitions and capital market transactions.
Kelvin: To be honest, it wasn't a natural transition from the banking world into the FinTech sector. I probably didn't think about it when I first started my career in investment banking around 2008, which was right after the worst global financial crisis thus far. But the good that came out of that season was the boom in the overall tech market, and I witnessed the second tech boom going up as I spent a lot of time working with tech companies, advising them on IPOs, M&A, and such.
It was around 2014 that I realised that I needed a break. I adopted a YOLO mindset and went solo backpacking for a year without a job, mostly around Latin America. After coming home from my travels, I thought about the next step in my career, and thought, "Why not give the tech side of things a try?" That's when I joined Hyphen Group, where we started off building different financial marketplaces.
The beginning of that new journey was very uncomfortable — I had begun my career in a very corporate environment, and going into FinTech, you need to be very hands-on. You also work with people of very different backgrounds. Over time, I started to see the impact of the work being done in FinTech, and much faster than what you would see in the banking sector. That's when I got hooked on this industry.
During that period, the hot topics were around digital payments and digitising certain aspects of banking. Fast forward to today, those hot topics have become common everyday things; given how COVID has changed the market, digital payments are now a norm. Digital banking is also on the rise, particularly in Singapore. The overall sector has grown significantly, and we're starting to see more people from the traditional finance banking industry moving into the FinTech sector as well.
YouTrip is a FinTech based in Southeast Asia that targets the Singapore and Thailand markets, with a focus on enabling borderless transactions. Our multi-currency wallet is currently available to customers in Singapore and Thailand, where we're one of the earliest and largest multi-currency providers, and we hope to expand our offering to the rest of Southeast Asia in the near future. Recently, we also launched YouBiz, which brings the same product proposition to the B2B world.
Our core audience mainly comprises travelers and online shoppers, especially those who make overseas purchases. We also cater to users who simply want to enjoy the convenience of a seamless payment journey that our product can provide for their daily lives.
The pandemic period was particularly difficult for us, largely because a large part of our volume comes from people who use YouTrip during their travels. So when the pandemic began, we had to put a lot of thought into the things that we could do. While we did see our volume decrease, we realised that there was still a strong use case for multi-currency payments; the venue had simply changed from physical locations – overseas – to the online space.
Since two years ago, online shopping, both local ecommerce as well as overseas online shopping, has really boomed. For example, our Singapore users had multi-currency needs as they were not only buying from Amazon in the US, they were also making purchases from Taobao in China. That's where we come in. Hence, during the pandemic period, we spent a lot of time educating our users and rolling out more partnerships and features to support our users in their online purchasing journeys, enabling them to pay smarter and with the best exchange rates.
The first and most important partners we had were the ones we worked with to launch the product in 2018: EZlink and Mastercard. Back then, YouTrip was a new FinTech company and no one really knew about us. Our ask was for users to trust us and put their money with us when traveling overseas. Think about it – when you go overseas, when you travel, you would have a lot of insecurities, especially when it comes to money. You would really only put your money in parties that you trust. The partnership with Mastercard and EZlink allowed us to gain users’ confidence, as we leveraged our strength in building technology infrastructure to provide the best services to users.
Since then, partnerships have been one of our key focuses as a business. When we launched in Thailand, we also partnered with KBank, one of the largest banks in Thailand, to ensure we could provide trust to the users and do what we do best, providing the best features for our users through our technological infrastructure and innovations. We also have a partnership with HL Assurance, which provides users with a seamless method to get insurance.
We started off being very focused on the payment side of things. However, over time, we realised there’s more to traveling than payments. Hence, we began creating a lot of content, and we’re probably one of the few payment providers who heavily invest in doing so, because we want to create more itinerary- and travel-related information for users.
Looking broadly at the payment side of the FinTech space, digital payments have become very widespread and a widely adopted means of payment, especially over the last couple of years. Fortunately or unfortunately, COVID was definitely one of the key drivers of this change. If we look at local payments in Singapore, non-cash payment methods like PayNow and our product, YouTrip, have become dominant means of payments. On a cross-border basis, we also see markets like Singapore and Thailand aligning their local payment systems; there is now interoperability between Singapore’s PayNow system and Thailand’s PromptPay system.
Most recently, over the past couple of months, users are no longer just thinking about accessibility to digital payments – there are increasing concerns around, and a greater need for, security of payments. If we look at the broader space, when it comes to the crypto and the blockchain side of things, I think that the security of payments and security of funds becomes even more important. Here in Singapore, there are a lot of public concerns around scam cases and such. We’ll see over the next couple of months and years the importance of going beyond offering a digital payment, but also providing one that is reliable, secure, and brings cost efficiencies for the users as well.
YouTrip is an active participant in the overall FinTech ecosystem – we’re part of the Singapore FinTech Association, and we are also leading the payments sub-committee group. This has been one of the key topics that we've been discussing; many of our team members and I are highly enthusiastic about the adoption of digital token payments.
However, one of our key considerations is the stability of the value of these payment means. Currently, most cryptocurrencies, apart from stablecoins, have huge fluctuations when it comes to their monetary value, which makes them a rather unreliable payment method, especially when making transactions overseas. If you think about it, the foreign currency (FX) market is unstable in itself – you’d already need to worry about the exchange rates of US dollars or Singapore dollars. Offering another less stable currency to users doesn't seem to serve the purpose that we are trying to achieve.
In the future, hopefully when stablecoin or other forms of more stable-value tokens become more mature, more secure, and hopefully more well-governed, that’s when we can also introduce such payment means to users, in order to provide more options for them.
We’re also constantly seeking feedback from our users to find out what their real needs are. Currently, 80% of the crypto market is about speculation. Nonetheless, there is still that 10% to 20% of valuable use cases that can help to make payments more seamless and easy, as well as secure for users.
In Singapore, we are probably one of the earliest adopters of digital security notifications, ensuring that users are notified of any security issues as early as possible. We also do a lot of education to remind users of the things they need to watch out for, especially when they're spending overseas or making payments to cross-border merchants. We take into consideration any pain points and potential loopholes that they would need to avoid, and we adopt all forms of 2FA (two-factor authentication) in our overall infrastructure as well.
Apart from being in the consumer space, we also launched our product in the business space. With YouBiz, we’re able to bring YouTrips benefits to business communities, providing a corporate multi-currency card – the first-ever in the market – and the most advanced finance management systems for users. Currently, YouBiz is available in Singapore, but we’re investing a lot of time building up this product, and we’re certainly looking to expand that product further in the rest of Southeast Asia as well.
All the credit goes to our very creative marketing team! Since the very beginning, one of our key success factors has been generating word-of-mouth. Many of our users tell us, “Hey, I don't see you in billboards; I don't see you in TV ads.” And the truth is that we don't spend much time or money on those things; rather, we spend our time cultivating our user experience and cultivating the community that we have in Singapore and Thailand.
The #BirthdayTrippin’ Season 4 campaign is one demonstration of our approach. It was a campaign to celebrate our anniversary; however, we didn’t want it to just be a celebration for the company or our staff. Most importantly, we wanted to celebrate the users who have been with us. It was a very creative campaign, and one that was very well received by our users. We had more than 10,000 users join us online, and had over 200 people show up for our first-ever physical event. We finally got to meet our users, and it was a very heartwarming moment for me and hopefully for many of our users as well. It’s always good to connect, share travel stories, and talk about the YouTrip experience with our users.
Shout out to many of our partners as well! For example, our $1 flight campaign that we co-organised with Mastercard and Singapore Airlines gave active users of YouTrip the chance to win a $1 ticket to different places around the world. It was a great opportunity for us to give back to the users, and we hope that they’ll continue to use YouTrip in the years to come.
I am a very frugal traveler, so unfortunately, memorable experiences are sometimes bad experiences.
For example, back when I went solo backpacking in Latin America for a year, I was traveling in Brazil right after the World Cup final and had a hard time dealing with robbers. But the good thing is, I actually stopped traveling with a phone; I resorted to using paper maps for about six months, and only used a computer when I was staying in a hostel to communicate with family.
I guess it also reminded me of the importance of digital devices and digital communication. The moment I got back, I realised how good it was to be back in the digital world again, being able to do more things personally, and most importantly from a business point of view, being able to bring more benefits to users.
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Payments Powerhouses is a monthly editorial series interviewing the movers and shakers of the payments and wider fintech industry in Southeast Asia and beyond. If you’d like to be featured on Payments Powerhouses, reach out to us here.