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World The Uber killer that became a financial super-app

07:25  03 may  2021
07:25  03 may  2021 Source:   bbc.com

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When Microsoft's Bill Gates said in 1994 that "banking is necessary, banks are not", financiers and analysts alike dismissed the claims as the wild musings of an over-imaginative techie. Fast forward a few decades and that vision is fast becoming reality. Grab is one of the most dominant super apps in Asia, offering rides, food delivery and now, financial services. That includes loans, insurance, payments and investments - all accessed through a mobile phone app. Launched in 2012 as a ride-hailing app like Uber , Grab has since expanded broadly. In 2018, it pushed Uber out of South East

Uber acquired Postmates to make its food delivery app business an even bigger play as passenger ride-hail suffered from Covid-19. It's not the only global ' super app ' changing. Asia's Gojek is narrowing its list of critical on-demand services. Uber 's acquisition of Postmates shows how important food delivery has become in a shortlist of critical business drivers for rideshare giants. In Asia, Uber competitors Gojek and Grab have also been forced by Covid-19 to cut staff and rethink what will define a dominant " super app " suite of on-demand services.

When Microsoft's Bill Gates said in 1994 that "banking is necessary, banks are not", financiers and analysts alike dismissed the claims as the wild musings of an over-imaginative techie.

a person lying on the ground © Getty Images

Fast forward a few decades and that vision is fast becoming reality.

Grab is one of the most dominant super apps in Asia, offering rides, food delivery and now, financial services.

That includes loans, insurance, payments and investments - all accessed through a mobile phone app.

Launched in 2012 as a ride-hailing app like Uber, Grab has since expanded broadly. In 2018, it pushed Uber out of South East Asia.

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Uber has already partnered with BBVA in Mexico to let drivers and their family members access debit cards and a financial platform to offer products such as loans, discounts on certain items and reimbursements for petrol purchases. “The idea is simple,” the companies said in July. With 2.6bn users on those three platforms, Facebook could be better positioned to become the west’s first super - app . However, whereas Facebook currently lacks the key ingredient of embedded payments, Uber has users’ credit card information and it processes far more transactions than the social media

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Grab's goal is to eventually transform into a virtual bank for South East Asia's 600 million strong population.

But increased competition and governments seeking to curb the influence of powerful super apps could get in the way of those ambitions.

Humble beginnings

Grab started life in Malaysia in 2012, as an online taxi booking service initially called MyTeksi.

Co-founder Anthony Tan had the idea when he was studying at Harvard Business School.

The pitch was to make taxi rides safer and more convenient for Malaysians.

But first they needed investors.

Kee Lock Chua is a Managing Partner at Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India, and one of the first institutional investors in Grab.

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When users open the app , selecting the Uber Rush button won’t pull up a list of restaurants or stores who have guaranteed delivery within an hour. (Postmates, on the other hand, displays its delivery partners like Chipotle and McDonalds and lets users pick from a menu of items.) Where Uber becomes most efficient, and most like FedEx or UPS, is in its ability to pick up multiple packages from multiple businesses.

It is becoming a truism that companies are going public much later in their vintage, and as a result, the capital that fuels their growth is private rather than public. The public markets are full of compliance costs, cash-flow oriented hedge fund managers, and passive index manufacturers — not an environment for an Elon Musk-type to do But if you look more globally at the Ubers of China and the Middle East, their value proposition is quite different. Venture investors call such players “ super Apps ”, because they don’t just sell you taxis. They sell you everything by being the remote control of your life.

The other investor? Anthony Tan's mum.

"We saw how he spent time with his mum, how he talked to her, and how much respect he gave her," Mr Chua explained.

"That told us he had strong character and conviction."

"Besides the solid idea, that helped us to make the decision to invest in the business."

Mr Chua's firm invested $11.2m (£8.1m) in Grab, giving Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India a 22% stake in the company.

He exited the investment seven years later, making more than 10 times that amount.

Banker to the masses?

As Grab's popularity grew, the company realised many of its drivers didn't have bank accounts.

The head of Grab Financial Group Reuben Lai had to help drivers sign up for accounts so they could get paid and also arrange loans for their cars.

a person holding a sign © Getty Images

"After doing that for a number of years, we started asking ourselves, 'why are we doing [this]?" he said.

"That was when we realised that six out of 10 people across South East Asia are underserved by banks."

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Uber ’s story of late is a classic illustration of when the mentor becomes the mentee. In recent months, the global mobility behemoth has been shifting its strategy, replicating the efforts of its once mobility mentees Grab and Gojek, which are now best known as the super apps of Southeast Asia.

Uber The next time you order a burrito, … Continued The post Uber finally unleashes its FedEx killer , Uber The only Uber Rush function for customers using the Uber app will remain the same as the trial — you Where Uber becomes most efficient, and most like FedEx or UPS, is in its ability to pick up multiple When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, China turned to credit to bolster its economy.

"It could be a lack of data [or] it could be the high costs of serving them."

"We want to be...the platform that enables financial institutions to serve this emerging consumer.

South East Asia's informal economy

That includes Natthakan Khingpat in Bangkok, who opened his restaurant during the first wave of Covid-19 last year.

He gets the bulk of his orders from the Grab app and has been lucky: business is brisk.

He needed to borrow money to expand but going to a traditional bank was never an option.

"If I were to pay for the high monthly interest rates, I [don't] think I could survive," he told the BBC.

Grab has loaned Mr Natthakan almost $4,000 and the repayments are deducted from his daily earnings.

"I could go in [to the app] and look at how much per day I had to pay back.

"I thought I would be able to pull it off….it felt almost like I wasn't taking out a loan."

Many of the firm's first customers for its financial services were drivers.

Boon Kok has driven a Grab car for three years and now takes out health insurance through the app.

a person driving a car: Grab driver Boon Kok uses the app's insurance services. © Getty Images Grab driver Boon Kok uses the app's insurance services.

"Every single drive I take, [the app] will deduct 10 cent(s) so I think it's very affordable," he says.

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He's now got coverage worth $113,000.

The company is now looking to target digitally savvy millennials.

Jixun , a Managing Partner of GGV Capital and another early investor in the company, said his advice to Grab's leadership was to get into financial services from the start.

"Once you have your [digital] wallet you start to use it," he told me.

"Then it is natural that you use it to buy things, you want to access better credit [and] when you are travelling you may want to buy travel insurance along with it."

"It's just the natural next step."

Lessons from China

Grab has followed the Chinese model, leveraging on its customer base and offering financial services to them.

Chinese investors in Grab - including hailing app Didi Chuxing and tech giant Tencent - provided both expertise and financing.

But regulators in China have recently cracked down on the powerful tech industry, in an attempt to rein them in.

a bicycle parked on the side of a building © Getty Images

"In China, the government was less aware of how the concentration of power could happen," says Professor Nitin Pangarkar from the National University of Singapore's Business School.

"Other governments are seeing that this happened in China and if they don't want to let it happen in their own countries they have to step in and regulate," he adds.

Bumpy road ahead

The risks to Grab are also mounting.

It won a digital bank license in Singapore and is hoping to launch in 2022, but analysts say regulation will be a key concern going forward.

"I think digital banking in south east Asia is going to be tough, because regulators will definitely be protective of their turf," Robson Lee, partner at Gibson Dunn tells me.

It also has plans to list in the US later this year, with a valuation of $40bn.

"They have forecasted very good numbers but I think the devil is in the details," Mr Lee said.

"I think investors have got to continue to be vigilant and watch this very carefully."

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