8 min read
Last week, I wrote about how to look smart and spiffy for 2016. This blog post, on the other hand, is about being smart with your money. I reached out to iMoney Group, the Malaysia-based financial services and referral business to share some knowledge in this area. iMoney clientele includes top financial institutions in the region and they own and operate a network of financial comparison websites, enabling consumers to compare and obtain the best financial products, including mortgages, credit cards and insurance. iMoney operates in markets including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Philippines, reaching more than 450 million consumers.
Before we go into the money tips, I've got to hear about how they've built their brand and scaled their business steadily in the region, over the past 4 years. I caught up with Ching Wei Lee, who is iMoney's Group CEO and Co-Founder, to hear more about it.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED...
Ching's background is in finance. He was formerly a banker, based in Australia, where he spent most of his life advising people about what to do with their money. Over time, he found himself losing touch to the purpose, to what he is actually doing and impacting. So, when he returned to Malaysia, he found himself in need of a savings account and a credit card. That is when he realized how difficult the process was to find information. That sparked the idea. The idea to solve a problem on how they can create a tool that will help consumers manage their finances better.
Early days, he kept it lean with just himself doing the groundwork, Bruno as an advisor and Khailee from 500 Startups for support. The main aim was about getting something up on the web, and start collecting interest. He researched all 148 credit cards in the market at the time and turned the information into something sensible to be uploaded onto the website. The focus was not getting everything perfect but good enough to add value to the consumers. They moved fast, optimized to a speed and created momentum. They began engaging local banks and getting articles on the website within the first week. From a one-pager first product on the website on the first day, to having multiple pages within a few days later, their content and product offerings kept growing in strengths and numbers. They had expanded from credit cards to home loans, to savings and to where it is today.
BUILDING THE BRAND...
So, how exactly did they do it?
1. Establishing trust and credibility
Financial services and personal finance is something people hold close to their hearts. The business model is very specific where data is collected from consumers to be transfered to the banks to monetize. Because of the nature of the business in dealing with sensitive information and security of data, building trust and credibiity became the utmost priority. Giving consumers the comfort that they can trust the brand.
2. Choosing colours and brand name
They researched and chose colours that reflects trust and credibiity. Blue means trustworthy and the name has to be easily recognizable and had enough room for growth. Therefore, iMoney was chosen. The name was also inspired by similar companies at the time like iProperty, iCar, iPhone and otehr Apple products. The name was generic enough, which will make branching out into other areas, easily.
3, Communication styles and content
Tone and personality of the brand is formal and knowledgable, nothing kiddy or informal that would make people doubt the credibility of the brand. A lot of the communication decision was based on common sense too. Putting themselves in consumers' shoes, understanding it as a user.
4. User experience
When they raised funds, a lot of it went into people, product and creating the experience that consumers want to use. The website has evolved over time and today it still remains user friendly. He admits it was not easy to achieve, but they made sure that it is seamless while still able to deliver complicated financial information easily for consumers to understand. Simplifying terms because bank jargons can be intimidating, the content they create, the words they use are intentionally simplified down so that a man on the street can understand.
5. Thought leadership through content
Making themselves as the authority you should listen to and can listen to by offering value that people can take and trust. They differentiate themselves from bloggers' contents and the hard financial contents from the business sites by heavily investing on good content which are accurate, credible, backed by research and not a personal opinion piece. They hire quality writers and do a lot of hard research before they release anything that requires facts. These days, good quality content, is a differentiator from the "noise".
6. Partnerships with credible bodies and authorities
They formed partnerships with the likes of CTOS, KWSP, Bank Negara and even AKPK. Being associated with these bodies, lend credibility to iMoney from them.
Now, let's read about how they have grown the business from the home market, steadily.
1. Identify problem sets
They identified problem sets that exists in markets big enough outside of the home market. For iMoney, the fundamental financial problems also exist in Indonesia, Philppines, Vietnam, Thailand and other different countries; and knowing they have a replicable solution to solve these problems effectively and easily, was a factor to scale.
They made product, technology and marketing capabilities replicable as well, where they are able to set up the same in another country very quickly and maintain it. The technology need not be created from scratch, it's like a copy and paste process to set up in another market.
3. Market research
They conducted search queries to find out if there are interests in the market. How painful or how consumers go about in getting their financial information. Google will tell you certain trends or keywords and they talked to financial providers and understanding the areas that they are struggling with. According to Ching, 2 years ago, banks in Indonesia and Philippines wanted to get digital customers but they do not know how to so there was a supply and demand void.
4. Test the market
They set up online presence in the new test market same like the home market. Testing anything below 3 months period is too short, so between 3-6 months is a good timeframe to see market interest and traction, to get enough data points in terms of conversion rates, cost of visitors and whether the banks are receptive over digital consumers. If testing was done in 5 countries for example, the results will probably show that it doesn't make financial sense to go into countries A and B, and focus should be placed on countries X, Y and Z instead. This is very important in scaling.
5. Invest in areas where you see momentum
With limited resource, they did not want to stretch themselves too thin because its impossible to excel at everything. They prefer to excel in areas they do well at. They stayed focused and invested in areas where they saw momentum.
6. Business development/Physical presence
They embarked on business development when online traffic reaches a certain stage. They set up the local office about 6 months after they've started website in the new market. It was only a skeletal team for the first year. Today in each country, there are about 25 people. They waited to reach certain milestones before expanding the team. It was a deliberate step-by-step that they took.
7. Do not scale before you're ready
Ching emphasized on not scaling before understanding your home market or understanding the right way to solve a problem. The risk is, you'll end up doing 3 things at once and not even sure what you did before was really working, where you could potentially be multiplying the problems that you have. Scaling beyond your management bandwidth means you're not dedicating enough time to the markets you're trying to get into.
This is extremely important to iMoney. Any solution that isn't localized, will be inferior to the one that is, according to Ching. Especially the financial services products, which are very country specific. The credit cards in Malaysia will not be applicable to Indonesia and Philippines, so 4 different websites was set up. The names were consistent in 3 markets except Indonesia, where its been called "Atur Duit", again to localized to the local needs which means "manage money". The team is also localized, the call centers in each country consist of locals because if you call up and you hear someone foreign, the trust immediately diminishes. Even sales, business development and marketing teams are locals. Particularly the South East Asian countries where they have a strong local culture.
Ching added, you know it's working when people and consumers within the country don't know that you're a regional brand, and identify you as a local brand. That is when you know, you have nailed localization. The only non-local for iMoney is the technology. Everything else is local and within the country.
And finally, some tips from iMoney Group, on being smart about your finances for the new year.
First and foremost, create a budget, and if you already have one but it's not working, continue to tweak your budget, until it works. Even then, continue to review your budget every few months.
Keep 6-month worth of monthly expenses as your contingency fund somewhere liquid with a conservative but higher than inflation rate of return.
Trim your grocery or petrol expenses by using the right credit card for grocery and petrol to get 5-8% cash back each month.
Compare shops when you need to buy something, including choosing a financial product like a credit card or a personal loan. Don't be blinded by attractive sign-up gifts.
If you face difficulties in making your loan or credit card payments, don't be afraid to call the bank and negotiate for a new rate and payment schedule.
Consolidate high credit card balances to a 0% balance transfer credit card to save on interest and to clear your balance faster.
Always check your credit report before you apply for a credit facility - be it credit card or loan - to avoid having your application rejected and hurting your credit score.
Put savings into investments. For example, keep as much savings into your ASB or unit trust instead of letting them sit in your savings account.
You don't need a huge capital to start investing. You can simply start with just RM1,000.
Don't forget to review your investment portfolio every year. Your investments need to change according to your life stages and economic changes.
Don't be over or under protected. Review all your insurance policies including home, personal accident, medical, auto and life and cut what you don't need, and buy the coverage that you lack.
If you are overwhelmed by debts, get help. Credit counselling agencies like AKPK will help you negotiate for a payment plan with your creditors and help you avoid bankruptcies. Don't wait until it's too late.
Thank you Ching for your time in sharing financial tips and how iMoney has grown over the years. It was very informative and insightful. Thank you.
M Consulting, the branding and marketing strategy development and activation consultancy, was founded by Mawarni Adam, an award winning marketer with over 13 years of experience in branding and integrated marketing across multiple industries in the ASEAN region. It is her passion in building, revamping, turning around a portfolio, leading change and breathing new life into stagnant business situations that propelled her to establish her own marketing consultancy. Helping others make a positive difference in their businesses excites her. Her direct experience in the Subscription Video-On-Demand, Airline, Insurance, Loyalty, E-commerce, Banking, Venture Capital and Advertising industries, will bring an integrated perspective and valuable marketing input, strategy development and execution to any organization.
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