Disrupting Asia’s Payment Industry: Q&A with iPaymy COO Chrystie Dao-Szabo

To say Singapore is serious about fintech is an understatement.  Recently, the Monetary Authority of Singapore allocated US$225 million for the Financial Sector Technology & Innovation scheme to support the creation of fintech products.

Singapore also just organised ‘the world’ largest fintech event’. This week, the inaugural Singapore FinTech Festival brought together the global financial community – attracting over 11,000 participants from 50 countries.

One fintech start-up making waves is Singapore-headquartered iPaymy, who is exhibiting at the Singapore FinTech Festival and announced last week that it recorded phenomenal 50% month-on-month growth in sales revenue.

Liyana Stuart spoke to Chrystie to learn more about iPaymy and its future plans.

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Chrystie Dao-Szabo of iPaymy

Q: Tell us about your business. How long you’ve been doing it, and who your users are?

iPaymy is Asia’s first one-stop online platform which converts users’ expenses to rewards by unlocking the power of credit cards. iPaymy customers can accrue rewards for big-ticket expenses which are traditionally paid through bank transfers, such as rent, rental deposits and school fees. iPaymy customers earn rewards such as air miles, shopping and restaurant vouchers, maximising the benefits of their credit card.   

 iPaymy is a technology company that enables, connects and disrupts. Whilst we are a disruptor in the financial ecosystem but we connect and enable our customers to other parties in the ecosystem such as Banks, Visa, Mastercard and or American Express for a win win outcome. Fundamental to our platform is the enablement of converting expenses into rewards and cost savings through better management of cash flows.

The company is headquartered in Singapore since September 2015 and our platform has been live since 6th April 2016. 

Our target market includes consumers in the B2C market, SMEs and large corporates.

As first generation Vietnamese who arrived in Australia as Boat people in 1980 with nothing to name except the clothes on their backs and $100 given to my parents by the Australian government as a resettlement gift.

Q: What were you doing before entrepreneurship? Tell us about your banking background and how it helps you with what you are doing now.

A: My journey into entrepreneurship started at a very young age. As first generation Vietnamese who arrived in Australia as Boat people in 1980 with nothing to name except the clothes on their backs and $100 given to my parents by the Australian government as a resettlement gift.

Not long after we settled in Australia, my parents started a series of businesses where I spent most of my weekends and school holidays working at to earn pocket money to buy computer games and renting them out to my brother at a profit.  I have been hustling at the tender age of 10 serving customers and learning an important ethos of “The customer is always right” and which has been the driving force in my career to date.

 A career in international banking has provided me with the financial discipline, rigour and ability to solve problems by thinking outside the box. The connections that I have built over my 20 year plus career having worked in Europe, Australia and Asia have been invaluable in assisting me build the iPaymy business and team today. 

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Some members of the iPaymy team

Q: What’s the idea behind iPaymy? 

A: iPaymy was born out of a need to fix a problem, like most great businesses. The problem we were trying to address was the complexity around renting a property as newly arrived expats to Singapore. As expats arriving in Singapore, our whole rental experience from the point of paying for our good faith/security deposit, moving in the property, living in the property to moving out of the property left a lot to be desired. We saw a real need to disrupt the industry and provide solutions to a broken ecosystem.

 Hence the birth of iPaymy to provide an easy, simple and transparent platform for managing property rentals in Singapore. One of the services that we provide is the ability to pay your rent and other expenses with a credit card and benefit from the rewards and better cash flow management. 

 We have experienced phenomenal growth at an average of 50% month-on-month in sales revenue since our soft launch in April 2016. This demonstrates the growing demand from individuals as well as corporates to reap the benefits of credit cards to pay for items that were not previously possible. We are disrupting the landscape, and enabling users to be rewarded for merely paying their expenses.

iPaymy was born out of a need to fix a problem, like most great businesses. The problem we were trying to address was the complexity around renting a property as newly arrived expats to Singapore.

Q: What makes iPaymy different from its rivals?

A: There are companies out there in the US or Europe that offer a similar service to ours but what they offer is a single dimensional product whilst ours is truly multi-dimensional. What I mean is that other similar companies out there offer the ability to pay rent with a credit card but they have not built an ecosystem to support and address the fundamental problems that are inherent in property management. 

 We are the first company in Asia and the world for that matter who truly offers a multi-dimensional product and service so have first mover advantage in this region. 

Q: Give us a case study or example of how a user might use iPaymy?

A: Consumer case study:

 (1) Expat tenant from Australia relocates with whole family (husband, wife and 2 kids)

 (2) Prior to relocating the family, they come and check out a few properties to rent

 (3) They decide on a property and need to pay for a good faith deposit. This deposit is required to be paid via (a) cheque, (b) cash (c) Bank transfers via Giro

As the person is just here to check out the place, they will not have access to a cheque or large sums of cash to pay for the deposit so this creates a problem for the tenant. In the hot rental market, this tenant will lose out to local residents who have access to both cash,cheques and a local bank account.

If the tenant is successful in securing the property then they will need to pay a security deposit (normally 2 months worth of rent). Again, the method of payment available is cheque ,cash or bank transfers. None of which the tenant will have as they have just arrived in Singapore and would not have had a chance to open a local bank account. The only way to pay their rent is via telegraphic transfer or wire transfer which is costly as it is a cross-border payment and also have subject to foreign exchange fluctuations.

 A common practice in Singapore is that the security deposit is paid directly to the Landlord’s bank account and not to an escrow or third party bank account as is the case in other markets such as Australia or the UK. The tenant is then at the mercy of the Landlord to refund the security deposit back after the tenancy period. Feedback from a large expat community here is that the Landlords are in most cases, unwilling to return the full security deposit and in some cases have not returned the security deposit to the tenants citing that there has been damage caused to the property when this is considered fair wear and tear in other markets.

 Inherent in iPaymy’s platform is the ability to upload the tenancy agreement, photos relating to the property and any other communications between agent, landlord and tenant in a cloud based and secured platform which allows easy access to information at your fingertips.

 These are steps we are taking to help safeguard tenants’ security deposit as there is now a lot of proof available to argue your case to have your deposit returned either in full or with a small deduction but not the whole amount being defaulted by the landlords.

 As tenants in Singapore, there are obligations that need to be adhered to such as air con servicing and the provision of updated Employment/Dependent passes to Landlords. To accommodate this obligation, our platform have the alerts based functionality which empowers the tenant to set up alerts to advise them when their rent is due and or air con servicing is due to help remind them of their obligations. One additional step to ensuring their rental experience in Singapore is easy, transparent and rewarding.

 By paying rent via cash/bank transfers and in some cases, telegraphic transfers, they earn nothing for the privilege. If however they were able to pay with a credit card and skip the hassles of costly cross border payments fees and earn rewards via their credit card issuers such as air miles or shopping/restaurant vouchers. In addition, by paying with a credit card, they will have extended payment terms (up to 55 days) to pay the funds out of their bank account. 

The iPaymy website

 

A common practice in Singapore is that the security deposit is paid directly to the Landlord’s bank account and not to an escrow or third party bank account … The tenant is then at the mercy of the Landlord to refund the security deposit back after the tenancy period.

 

Q: What is the biggest benefit of using iPaymy for your users? 

A: There are many benefits for consumers including:

1. Enjoy life and holiday for less by paying your rent and living expenses including education and related expenses on a credit card and earn rewards which were not available previously. These rewards will supplement your lifestyle and let you experience more of what life has to offer with your family.

2. Better manage your cash flows as why would you want to spend your money when you can spend some one else’s (The Bank’s money) for up to 55 days and not pay interest? This way, you can still have your money invested and or do other better things than not have it in your bank account?

3. Safeguard your security deposit

4. Be reminded of air-con servicing and other obligations as tenants renting in Singapore so more time to enjoy spending time with your family

 All of the above rich features and functionalities are absolutely free to use. There is a small fee and this is only charged when a payment is made for rent or any other expense related payment via your credit card. 

Q: In terms of sales & marketing, how do you reach your customers, and what works?

A: In terms of marketing, we use social media to communicate and engage with our customers and it’s a constant test and learn.  As a relatively young company, we are still testing various formulae to see which ones work best for us. All companies are different hence there is no one size fits all marketing program.

Our vision is connecting people and enabling the payment flows to support these connections via a seamless/frictionless process across Asia and beyond.

Q: Where do you see the future of iPaymy? Ultimately what is your vision for the company?

A: Our vision is connecting people and enabling the payment flows to support these connections via a seamless/frictionless process across Asia and beyond. As a first mover in this region, we have the advantage of leading the charge in innovating and supporting our clients.

Q: Tell us about your Number 1 business challenge?

A: Not enough time in the day. As a start up with a huge vision, we are agile and respond quickly to opportunities and clients’ demands so we try to accommodate and fit in as much as possible in the day.

As an Asian woman growing up in a white dominated male banking environment, I felt that I had to work doubly hard to fight the generalisations and discriminations that comes with being an “Asian woman”.

Q: As an entrepreneur, what motivates you personally? 

A: I strongly believe in sustainability and building a legacy for future generations. Sustainability requires focus, stamina and the acceptance to be an outlier or be different. The trick is to play the ” I am different” card to your strength. As an Asian woman growing up in a white dominated male banking environment, I felt that I had to work doubly hard to fight the generalisations and discriminations that comes with being an “Asian woman”. 

Q: What would be your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs keen in starting a business in fintech?

A: My advice is to have an open and curious mind and be willing to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo. And being different is a great asset to have.

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