Jonathan Chua of BeamAndGo about overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), digital infrastructure, and why startups have a tougher time retaining employees.
We, at e27, believe in Asia’s startups. As such, we value their insights about the ecosystem, put the spotlight on their contributions to their industries, and celebrate the wins that they have.
This community spotlight is on BeamAndGo, an e-voucher payment service that lets overseas Filipino workers choose hoe their remitted money is spent.
We had the chance to ask Jonathan Chua, CEO, about addressing misused remittances, adjusting to current needs, and how startups’ sexiness can only attract but not necessarily retain employees.
On what BeamAndGo does
BeamAndGo helps overseas Filipinos take care of their families in the Philippines by giving them a choice on how their remitted money is spent.
We believe there is a better way for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to support their loved ones in the Philippines other than just providing cash. Our goal is to enable OFWs to buy food, medicine, health care, insurance, education, and other essentials for their family in a way that is affordable, convenient, transparent, and sustainable.
On addressing an age-old problem of overseas Filipino workers
The majority of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) take care of their families in the Philippines by sending cash. However, once cash is remitted and in the hands of their families, it is not trackable and the use of the remitted funds is at the beneficiary’s discretion.
In many cases, the end result is that the funds are not used for sender’s intended purposes – food, grocery, medicine, education – but is spent on luxury items, cosmetics, alcohol, drugs, and gambling. BeamAndGo has an online network of supermarkets, pharmacies, mobile airtime load, and personal care products, where OFWs can purchase the essential needs for their families in the Philippines. With our online fintech / eCommerce solution, we empower OFWs by reducing the incidences of misuse of funds and provide them with more control of how their money is used.
On why this resonates with them
The BeamAndGo founders are either overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) or children of OFWs and we have seen how this misuse has crippled Filipino families and stagnated their path to financial growth. While the remitted funds flowing into the Philippines has grown every year for the past 30 years by 5 per cent annually, the percentage of people living under the poverty line has remained the same at 25 per cent.
We felt that we can be a positive factor in changing how remitted funds can be used and improve the lives of the unbanked and under-banked OFWs and their families.
On what makes them different from other remittance services
While BeamAndGo is not the first company in this space, we are the first to take an approach of focus and openness with our merchant network and providing multiple payment options. In the past, our competitors focused on offering only their own brand or they took a shotgun approach and tried to offer everything. In addition, they only provided one means of payment – credit cards.
Our approach is different because our focus in only on essential needs – food, medicines, education, bills. Also our merchant network is open to any brand (as long as they are an essential need). We went out to partner with as many different supermarket brands as we can and did not limit ourselves to only the big names. We took this approach so that we would mitigate “sole-merchant” risk. We currently have 18 supermarkets on our network and with another 8 to be added by Q2 2018.
On serving the unbanked
With 80 per cent of our customers being unbanked, we needed to provide over-the- counter services. Our approach was to create a Sales Channel Partner API so remittance companies and local banks could integrate with our bank end.
On going the extra mile in customer communication
We have a live team that operates every day from 8AM to 12 midnight (GMT +8). The team members are located in Manila, Davao and Cebu and can converse fluently in English, Tagalog, and local Filipino dialects. On off hours, our Facebook Bot answers basic questions.
On addressing the “are you a scam?” question
Our first challenge was to convince our customers that we are not a scam. We were lucky to be featured in CNN Philippines, Bloomberg, Straits Times, South China Morning Posts, e27, and many other reputable media outlets; so when we are asked “is this a scam?”, we answer by showing the videos and articles about us. We also have built a loyal customer base and these customers are not shy in telling others the benefits of BeamAndGo.
On shifting perspectives
In 2014, the original concept of BeamAndGo was to provide a digital gift certificate platform for Filipinos. But as we worked through the details of the platform, we realised that the platform could be used to alleviate the problem of misused remittance funds.
On what needs to happen in the next 5 years
I hope the digital infrastructure in the Philippines improves to the point where internet access is available (and affordable) to everyone. The areas of improvement include internet availability, increase bandwidth, and more reliance on fiber and less reliance on copper.
Our belief is that if the digital infrastructure does not improve, the majority of Filipinos will remain unbanked and underserved.
On the future Philippine startups
In the Philippines, startups have a chance to make major improvements in the lives of Filipinos. There are problems in the Philippines – poverty, lack of education, environmental issues, crime, health, economics – that can benefit from innovation and technology. And we have met a lot of good smart people working hard to solve those problems.
I might be a bit biased, but I am bullish on startups in the Philippines.
On what they watch closely
Internet infrastructure. Everyday I pray that it gets better. Also, smartphone penetration and remittance flow (which is growing by 5 per cent annually)
On attracting talent as a startup
These days, working at a startup is considered sexy. Attracting talent is easier than in the good old days.
Retaining talent is still tough because the HR infrastructure is not as mature in startups as in larger companies, managers/bosses are not as mature in startups too, the direction of the company is usually in flux, and there is no stability.
A person working in a startup needs to accept those issues and produce. Plus the work is hard, stressful, pressure-packed, and requires a lot of agility (it’s what makes working in a startup both exhilarating and painful).
Oh yeah, the path to promotion is also not well defined.
I find that the people who stay in a startup are people who can handle all of the above and are true believers in the company’s mission.
On what’s next for BeamAndGo
Acquire more merchants onto our platform, establish more sales channel partnerships in OFW countries, and make every part of the business as efficient as possible. Everything we do, we do to scale.
BeamAndGo is an e-voucher payment service that lets overseas Filipino workers choose how their remitted money is spent. They currently have over 100K registered users, 20K active users, 19 major supermarket brands with nearly 300 branches throughout the Philippines in their network, and a 2016 sales growth of 870 per cent. They were awarded best company at APEC O2O 2017 in Vietnam, and selected on of the 30 finalists in MAS’s FinTech SG Awards.
The post Stopping money misuse: BeamAndGo puts the control in the hands of OFWs appeared first on e27.