An Interview with Christopher Tiffin of Boost
Q: Please share with us how Boost, as an app-based mobile wallet, offers a convenient way to pay, send, request and store money in one’s smartphone able to revolutionize the way Malaysian consumers transact by creating a seamless payment experience without cash or cards?
A: Thank you. Just so you know just a little bit more about Boost, it is a digital e-wallet with a key focus not just on being an e-wallet, but being a lifestyle e-wallet. The key components of what we are aiming to do – what our mission and vision is, is to digitise cash so it’s not really to replace cash but digitise cash. You also mentioned there a smart and convenient way without cash or cards, we actually see ourselves as complementary to the card ecosystem because we are more focused on digitisation of cash in the cash ecosystem. Now the way that we have approached this is through a number of products and services that we offer to consumers that would replace the traditional cash transactions that one would do in a day to day basis. So our focus is very much up exactly as you are mentioning, making it as seamless as possible, as simple as possible and as convenient as possible but at the same time, because we’re dealing with money, as trustworthy as possible. But also a little bit of fun because money can be quite serious!
Q: What are the advantages of using an e-wallet? Can you share a few of them?
A: I think it depends on the consumer that you are talking to as to what the advantages could be. For myself, as a heavily banked customer, the convenience of an e-wallet is convenience, really. I can use my e-wallet to pay my bills; to pay my parking; to do certain transactions that I normally wouldn’t do through a mobile device or on my computer. So convenience is one aspect. But if you looking at consumers that are dealing in more cash intensive transactions on a day-to-day basis – that could be in food and beverage, it could be in online, it could be in a multitude of areas, the advantage again is about a simple yet convenient process in order to go and perform those functions So for us it’s all about the simplicity – if it takes you more than three steps to do something it’s too complicated. And so for us it boils down to being better than cash, being easier than cash, being simpler and also being a little bit fun and rewarding when you when you go through the experience.
Q: It has been mentioned that e-wallets can also be a form of cash management tool. How do you see that?
A: I couldn’t agree more. I think one of the biggest constraints nowadays when you spend cash – and I know I go through the same personally with my wife – is that I draw cash and I have no idea when I spend it. So at least through the digitisation of cash, through an e-wallet, you don’t just have visibility of the funds that you have put into the wallet. You have a full transaction history of how you spent that money. You can at least start managing your funds a little bit better and have a little bit more visibility then you would have if you just used cash. So that is one of the benefits, I suppose.
Q: Can you share with us the number of users to date that Boost has achieved?
A: I’m very, very proud of the team and what they been able to achieve. We only launched the initial app 18 months ago in January of last year, but we only launched our wallet once we got Bank Negara approval in October last year. So we are under a year old as an e-wallet, and we already have over 3.1 million registered customers. We have over 40,000 merchant touch points online and offline where you can go and use Boost to pay for services, products and/or events, experiences that you’re looking at doing. So you can use Boost, as it were, at offline nasi lemak sellers, pasar malam, bazaar Ramadhan, food trucks etc, ie the more traditional cash merchants, and also at your branded merchants. For example you can go to Nando’s, Tealive, KK Mart, and pay for food and beverage or whatever you looking at. We are even moving into other retailers online, for example on 11street or DeliverEats if you want to order food delivery etc. The ecosystem is growing really quickly and I think it’s showing that there is a real demand towards driving the digital agenda. Not just from an economy perspective, and also from a behavioural perspective, and we are glad to be leading the way in this.
Q: Please share a little about your user demographics. Are they mostly millennials and from the young generation, or are they from all walks of life?
That’s an interesting question. Our target market that we’re obviously looking at going after is youth and young digital adults, because you do find smartphone adoption and technology adoption a lot more in the below-35 segment. However, in saying that, when we look at the Boost customers that we have today, it is very well represented across not just the demographics, but the age groups in Malaysia. Which is fantastic to see, and that’s why I say, you can have a target segment and you think adoption will be more than one area, but the reality is as long as you’re creating products and services that are relevant across the spectrum, you’ll be able to attract different opportunities for consumers to come in to use your service. And as I say, even myself, I’m not the target segment, I am not in the below-35 age group – I wish I was! But at the same time, I’m heavily banked but I use Boost everyday. Not because I’m part of Boost, but because I want to. Because it’s really about the convenience of what I’m experiencing. So I think it’s been an interesting journey for us over the last year in seeing the adoption and how it spreads across everybody in Malaysia.
Q: In one of the cashless scenarios that you mentioned, can you share with us about a recent event called the “Cashless Campus” at UTM. To my knowledge, the whole campus was made cashless. How successful was the event?
A: That is an interesting thing you brought up. I think it’s been successful, it really has been, but I think it’s been a little bit slower than we anticipated. And we’ve actually rolled it out to more universities and campuses other than just UTM. We have quite a number of universities coming on board: UiTM, UNITAR etc. But the whole concept is not just around “cashless campus” – as much as that you can pay your food and beverage, for example. Or that you can also pay your library fees and your tuition fees potentially. So everything within the domain of the university campus can be digitised and go cashless. Now this is one component of the overall bigger digitisation of universities, which obviously includes a lot more than just payment. But our focus is around how we can be facilitated to drive the cashless campus and also drive the environment around the university to become cashless. So with all the shops etc around the university, you create a cashless community rather than just a cashless campus. In saying that I think there’s still a fair amount of awareness that needs to be created, because what we do find is that a lot of the students actually don’t have a bank account. Therefore they rely on their parents to be sending money to them and that’s what we found to be a great enabler of Boost, where the parents could be sitting in Kota Kinabalu, and the children studying in Shah Alam, and they can send money within seconds to the kids to use at the university. I think for us, the initiative is fantastic, the partnership is really, really good and we’re really proud to be partnering with all these universities, but it’s up to us to drive adoption even quicker and faster through the various products, services and the ecosystem that we building around here.
Q: Being an e-wallet, Boost has evolved as one of the disruptive players in fintech with regards to conventional financial institutions, as it plays the same role as a bank’s debit card, will Boost eventually offer various personal banking products and services?
A: Okay, so firstly, taking a step back, we want to digitise cash, and the reason we want to digitize cash is because if you look at the traditional financial services and the banking sector, the unit economics does not work out for them to be addressing Tier 3, Tier 4 consumers and/or SME merchants, ie micro-merchants. Their cost structures are too heavy. So our view is not to compete with the banks, we want to complement the bank infrastructure and environment. We actually do have two or three banking partners where we are their fintech partner to help them bridge that gap of the segments in the market that they cannot address at the moment. One of them I’ll mention because we have already mentioned it at the panel session in Bank Negara – it’s AmBank. We’re working very closely with them, to be able to leverage each other’s’ ecosystems in order to start addressing more holistic solutions instead of being competitors. Our view is very clear – we don’t want to become a bank, we want to complement the bank, but we want to do it in a very digital way. At the end of the day we are their fintech partner. And the second part of it is in order for us to go this ecosystem nobody can do it by themselves. The traditional mentality of, ‘I have to do it all myself’, cannot be done in the digital age. You have to work through partnership and collaboration in order to grow the ecosystem versus trying to do it yourself. So for us we see ourselves as being complementary even though, yes, we have been disruptive, but we’ve been disruptive because we also want to disrupt ourselves. Remember that as a group we are traditionally a telco, and as a telecommunication company we also have been disrupted, so as much as we have been disrupted, we want to disrupt ourselves, so then we can disrupt others.
Q: Being a local brand, what is your immediate, mid-term and long-term’s business and marketing strategy? Any specific target on user numbers and volume numbers? Who are your strategic partners? Will you expand out of Malaysia soon?
A: Those are some very exploratory questions there! I don’t want to get into all the numbers etc. but as I said, our key goal is to digitise cash. As a group we do have a footprint into 6-7 markets within Southeast Asia. We cover 350 million people, but our starting point was obviously to incubate and to get Malaysia to be our home incubation market of Boost, as we are proudly a Malaysian company. Yes, we do have regional aspirations and so we have also launched Boost in Indonesia, with a slightly different product construct, but we have launched there with a view to create a regional brand. That is the end goal of what we are looking at. However, and as you said it, we are a proudly Malaysian homegrown company and I must say that through that our ambition is obviously to become, to remain, and still be the market leader within the e-wallet and the e-wallet lifestyle fintech space in the near to medium future.
Q: What is the unique selling proposition of Boost amidst its stiff competition?
A: At the end of the day we got a very simple view on this. For us it’s all about experience, and so we put a lot of focus into our product design based on consumer requirements. So we do a load of research into consumer needs and behavior. We then take that back into our product. So we do feel that through the product design, the way that we have developed the product to make it as simple as possible, as fun as possible, as convenient as possible, does create a unique selling point for us. Leveraging on the fun part, we have also brought in a bit of a signature “shake” reward that we like to incentivize our customers with which creates that element of fun. But also that instant gratification reward gives back to our consumers for using the products and services, so I think through these little elements, it makes us stand out from the other competitors or the other players in the field. But in saying that, I don’t see any of the other players as competitors. Our biggest competitor is cash. We actually need a lot more of the other mobile providers to be coming into the market to help us change behaviour at the end of the day. We cannot do it alone, and that’s why I say I see them an ecosystem builders. Hopefully the same mindset is there for them. But at the end of the day if you want to be digitising what has been around for decades and centuries, which is cash, we need to work together in order to make that effort.
This article was first published on MoneyCompass.