Thailand has been one of the countries that continues to reduce its dependency with cash. The government has been keen on driving the country towards a cashless society, from launching nationwide e-payment scheme PromptPay to recently announcing a campaign that offers a reward up to 1 million THB ($29,463) for users who adopt cashless transactions.

It may seem like a lot of money to reward people to try more convenient methods of payment but the Thai Bankers’ Association predicted that commercial banks could save $2.18 billion in the next 10 years with a digital payments system as the cost of transportation and insurance that came with the use of cash transactions lowered.

Market value for digital transactions is also expected to reach $23 billion in 2021, up from $11 billion this year so it’s no wonder fintech has become so popular.

A company that was an early adopter and saw Thailand’s potential for digital payments is AirPay, the pre-payments platform by Garena (now Sea), Southeast Asia’s most valuable internet company to date.

Serving the unbanked one internet cafe at a time

AirPay was initially launched in 2014 as an e-wallet to facilitate online transactions for users of Garena’s gaming service and since been downloaded 3.2 million times.

As one of the biggest market for Garena in the region, Thailand was chosen as the product’s launch pad. AirPay Thailand’s Country Product Manager, Supphavit Hongamornsin, shares another reason with eIQ.

“Compared to the other markets in emerging Southeast Asia, we find that Thai people are more open to trying new forms of payment,” said Hongamornsin.

To ensure AirPay was user friendly for the roughly 18.3 million gamers in Thailand – where 26% of are below the age of 20 and have low bank account ownership – the company ended up creating two platforms to complement one another, AirPay Counter and the AirPay app.

AirPay digital payments

Thai gamer demographic shows a population of digitally savvy young people. Source: Newzoo

“An app was created because urban millennials with digital nativity are used to completing all types of transactions directly through their phones,” explained Hongamornsin.

The AirPay Counter, on the other hand, is a more traditional payments option that allow users to top up their AirPay e-wallet through cash payment at an internet cafe, convenience store or regular  mom and pop shop.

“We started the counter service at internet cafes because of their wide network and familiarity – there are around 40,000 of them in Thailand,” said Hongamornsin. “They’ve been highly helpful for residents in rural regions without access to smartphones or bank accounts.”

To date, AirPay has around 100,000 AirPay Counters nationwide in every sub-district of Thailand and partnered with local chain stores like Supercheap and IT Shops like IT City to expand its reach.

“Only 10% of our counters are actually in Bangkok,” said Hongamornsin.

AirPay digital payments

Internet cafe with AirPay Counter facility

Supporting the country’s cashless agenda

Since its inception in 2014, AirPay has evolved from simply facilitating online transactions for the Garena gaming community to providing a wider range of payment services for both physical and digital goods including utility bills, phone credit, movie tickets, and ecommerce.

Hongamornsin said AirPay wants to empower people, especially the younger generation, through better financial capabilities and provide a solution to siloed bank accounts.  

“Right now, there is actually very little that you can do with your bank account. In Thailand, for example, not all debit cards can be used for online payments.”

To combat this, one of the new services provided in the AirPay app is a virtual prepaid card called AirPay Card in partnership with MasterCard.

AirPay digital payments

Setting up an AirPay Card in the AirPay App

“There’s a large population in Thailand that’s still underserved by traditional financial services and unable to complete online transactions. With the AirPay Card, customers can purchase from any merchant in the world that accepts MasterCard,” comments Hongamornsin.

AirPay’s foreseeable future

In 2016, AirPay reported an annualized gross transaction value of $510 million. Although gaming services contributed heavily to the company’s revenue, AirPay is expecting the tide to shift to ecommerce with a goal of one million AirPay Card owners in Thailand by the end of this year.

Hongamornsin, however, admits that there’s still a long way to go before the country can achieve a “majorly cashless” status.

“I think it would take at least five years for Thailand to reach this milestone [80% cashless],” said Hongamornsin.

And unlike Shopee and Garena that have made their marks at a regional level, AirPay’s story is still pretty localized to Thailand.

In other countries like Indonesia and Vietnam where AirPay is present, Hongamornsin says the population is much more underdeveloped when it comes to digital payments creating new challenges.

These markets have complex banking landscapes that make it difficult for AirPay to integrate.

“In Vietnam, there are more than 50 small banks used by the population. Compared to Thailand’s roughly 20 banks, we still need to understand how to connect them all through AirPay.”

“Expansion to another country is definitely in the pipeline, but we want to make sure we are strong in our existing markets first,” said Hongamornsin.

With the pace that fintech is growing in Thailand thanks to the efforts by companies like AirPay, it won’t be long before the millennial becomes well accustomed to plastic over paper.

Here’s what you should know today.

1. Facebook now has 2 billion monthly users

We’re getting to a size where it’s worth really taking a careful look at what are all the things that we can do to make social media the most positive force for good possible,” said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox.

Two billion makes Facebook the largest social app in terms of logged-in users, above YouTube’s 1.5 billion, WeChat’s 889 million, Twitter’s 328 million and Snapchat’s estimated 255 million.

Facebook’s growth the last half decade has been fueled by the developing world. The company has relentlessly optimized its app for cheap Android smartphones and low-bandwidth connections.

It’s added 746 million users in Asia and the Rest of World region since hitting 1 billion users total.

However, there has been some ramifications from Facebook’s road to success.

There are the big, newsy things like suicides on Facebook Live and fears that fake news got Donald Trump elected. But deeper down, there are even more complex ramifications of a near ubiquitous social network.

It can propel internet addiction that alienates people, and facilitate the filter bubbles that polarize society by reinforcing our opinions. Facebook has largely conquered its competitors, giving it the slack to finally address the modern sociological challenges that stem from its popularity.

What are your thoughts?

Read the rest of the story here.


2. Singapore fintech startup CredoLab raises over $1M to help unbanked consumers manage their credit

CredoLab said that the newly-raised capital — twice the amount it originally intended to raise — will be used to ramp up its product offerings and expand its operations to serve the underbanked population.

founded in 2016, CredoLab offers a credit assessment mobile app called CredoApp. This software tracks the “anonymised digital footprints”  of consumers and leverages on predictive analytics to generate their digital credit scorecards.

This solution is particularly useful in emerging market such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, where there is a significant unbanked demographic with no credit history.

Read the rest of the story here.


3. Mastercard offering merchants new payment tools

Mastercard Developers has released several new APIs (application program interfaces) to give merchants and other companies access to more than 40 proprietary products and services to enable payments on new platforms.

For example, the Masterpass Chatbot API is being used by FreshDirect, Subway and The Cheesecake Factory in the US to create payment-enabling chat bots on Facebook Messenger.

The mission with these efforts is to allow merchants to support new payment methods “without having to reinvent the wheel,” said Oran Cummins, senior vice president for APIs with Mastercard Developers.

Other new applications include one allowing merchants to accept cashless payments from their customers’ smartphones by scanning a Masterpass QR code.

The latest effort from Mastercard shows that the payments provider is set on scaling its services and pushing the envelopes of commerce, as well as providing innovative solutions for merchants.

Read the rest of the story here.

Here’s what you should know today.

1. Mastercard, UnionPay and Visa make e-payments in Thailand easier

Mastercard, UnionPay International and Visa today introduced a Standardized Quick Response (QR) Code for payments, accelerating Thailand’s transition to a cashless society.

The Standardized QR Code supports the Bank of Thailand’s cashless agenda to drive innovation and security in payments.

Merchants will only need to display one QR code at the storefront or through the acquiring bank’s mobile application. In the future, Thai consumers will benefit from being able to make QR code based payments when traveling outside of Thailand.

Read the rest of the story here.


2. Amazon is putting a homeless shelter inside its new Seattle office building

In 2016, Amazon bought an old motel in downtown Seattle, Washington, and turned it into a temporary shelter for the homeless.

The lease only extends through October 2017, when the building will be demolished to make way for two new Amazon office towers. But now, Amazon will give the shelter a permanent home.

The project — which will cost tens of millions of dollars — is one of Amazon’s biggest philanthropic ventures to date, according to The New York Times. Moving Mary’s Place into its new office building could help Amazon’s reputation, especially in Seattle.

In recent years, anti-gentrification activists have criticized the company for driving up real estate costs and making downtown less diverse.

Read the rest of the story here.

3. Recommended Reading: five years in, Birchbox Man is boosting education and interest in men’s grooming 

 After selling monthly subscription boxes full of sample beauty and skin care products to women for a little over a year, Birchbox heard from female customers that the men in their lives had voiced interest about a similar product model geared towards men’s grooming.

Since, the men’s business has grown 15 times its size in the first year.

It has also found that its Birchbox Man customers are likely to spend more and convert faster once they’ve started receiving subscriptions than women.


Looking for some ecommerce headlines? Look no further.

1. Facebook wants drones to boost Indonesia’s access to internet

Better internet access could help thousands of Indonesian SMEs in remote regions of the country that so far have not been able to promote their products domestically and internationally. Mark Zuckerberg had offered Indonesia to use Facebook’s Aquila drone, a solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle, to beam the internet to remote parts of Indonesia. He added that the government welcomed the plan and had assigned the Industry Ministry to work on the details.

However, the Facebook Aquila drone is currently under investigation following reports of structural failure.

Indonesia’s vision for the digital economy foresees local companies valued at a total of US$130 billion and the birth of 1,000 so-called technopreneurs by 2020.

Read the rest of the story here. 


2. Alibaba transforms wealthy shopaholics into an online marketing squad

APASS is a mashup of Facebook, Amazon Prime and the American Express Black Card. Its 100,000 members get the usual perks—deals, trips, personal service—but are also encouraged to join online communities of shopaholics who blog and talk up Alibaba.

Like any premium rewards program, APASS pushes exclusivity by setting a seemingly high bar for membership. To make the cut, a customer must drop more than $15,000 a year on Alibaba’s e-commerce sites, though the company says members typically spend more than $45,000.

Read the rest of the story here


3. Thailand’s ‘AirPay’ launches to accelerate ecommerce payments

AirPay (Thailand) has joined hands with MasterCard and Thanachart Bank in launching AirPay Card, a virtual prepaid card promising to not just accelerate but also encourage the growth of e-payments in Thailand by increasing the convenience and security of online transactions.

Through AirPay’s collaboration with MasterCard and Thanachart Bank, AirPay (Thailand) is now introducing the virtual prepaid card which can be used at any online shops and merchants, in any location where MasterCard is accepted.

Read the rest of the story here

If you’re interested in ecommerce, you might also find these recent reports about online retail helpful.

Facebook’s head of Messenger, David Marcus announced a new function to Facebook Messenger; a payment function, reports Tech Crunch.

Essentially, it means that Messenger bots will be able to accept payments without sending users to an external website.

The credit card information that users already store in Facebook or Messenger can be used to instantly make purchases in bots that are part of the new closed beta, that developers can apply for. 34,000 devs have already joined the platform and built 30,000 bots in the April launch.

To support payments in Messenger, the company is working with all the major players in the industry including Stripe, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and American Express. 

Facebook messenger payments

A back and forth with a bot can get you a pair of sneakers. Source: Techcrunch

Marcus also discussed Messenger’s rise to 1 billion users thanks to a forced migration from Facebook’s main app. All types of news feed ads can point to them and users can share bots they enjoy with their friends on Facebook. Developers can also build web views into conversations to pull interfaces from their websites.

Users can scroll through a list of flights, consume and engage with different types of media and play basic games while still in the chat window.

This capability is a part of the Messenger platform v1.2, within one thread, you have identity, transaction ability and the ability to draw UI and interfaces in one experience.

All these additional capabilities will help make Facebook Messenger bots live up to the promise of the overhyped platform. Marcus himself admitted that the bot got “overhyped very quickly, because developers weren’t given enough time or resources to build their bots before the platform went live.”

The welcome addition of web views and payments will show how travel bots, such as Hipmunk’s upcoming bot, can help consumers do things like find and book airline tickets and hotels, as well as show itineraries in the messenger application.

A version of this appeared in Tech Crunch on September 13. Read a full version of the story here.  

DBS bank and Singtel launching resources for Singapore's SMEs

Launching of the Singapore’s 99 SME campaign. Source: Marketing Interactive

As part of Singapore’s 99 SME campaign, DBS bank and Singapore’s telco company Singtel are launching multiple resources meant to help SMEs with ecommerce and cashless payments. The campaign is entering its second year and continues to further advancing the nation’s SMEs.

DBS Academy and partners of the 99% SME campaign will offer training courses to SMEs and its employees to upgrade their knowledge and kick-start ecommerce. Singtel and DBS will be working with SPRING, Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority, to organize seminars and workshops to help SMEs better understand the online space, including areas such as data analytics, digital marketing and cyber security.

DBS will offer the first 10 participating food and beverage establishments a discount on its DBS FasTrack monthly fee, a system that enables ordering and payment in-store. DBS is also offering fee waivers for the first 250 business that sign up for the NETS and DBS Card Acceptance service, which allows merchants to use only one terminal for both the Singapore-native NETS payment scheme and regular credit card payments.

Finally, the company is going to give all participants a $7,417 (S$10,000) overdraft facility with an interest rate of 6%, which it claims is one of the lowest in the market for small businesses.

Meanwhile, Singtel will offer the first 500 SMEs its Ecommerce Solutions package for 99 cents a day for six months – a total cost of $148 (S$200), which includes workshops, training, and hands-on assistance for SMEs to build and manage their own online stores.

SMEs can apply to participate in the 99% campaign through the official website. The deadline is September 30. To qualify for the program, they must have at least 30% Singaporean ownership, and have less than S$100 million in revenue per year or less than 200 employees.

The initiative is supported by SPRING, Singaporean chambers of Commerce and Industry and trade and merchants’ associations, MasterCard, and media partner MediaCorp.

A version of this appeared in Tech in Asia on July 15. Read the full article here.