With over 400 million individuals in Asia who will be expected to not use banking services, the FinTech startup industry has been seeing a boom in the emergence of innovative financial platforms geared towards helping the unbanked and emerging middle class further their livelihood.
With the right technological innovations, these groups will finally be able to access financial services anytime, anywhere, even in the absence of physical banks in their location.
And the Philippines is one of the countries that will get much help from this.
The emerging middle class here, led by more than 10 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) found all over the world, is expected to grow even more.
This is an opportunity that entrepreneur Mikko Perez was able to capitalize on when he established Ayannah, a digital commerce and payment startup company in the Philippines.
Ayannah is a FinTech platform that offers various services for the unbanked and financially marginalized communities in the Philippines.
The Road To Ayannah
Perez spent the early years of his career working in communities. It was also then that he thought of venturing into business.
”I wanted to do something in agriculture, so I started a food business, with a capital from my family and from other investors, and I did that for a few years. At one point in time, I had 300 people working for me—I was 24 or 25, and had 300 women working for me,” he said.
He eventually went to the United States for business studies, and there he learned all he needed to know about the internet as well.
“I was in the US when the first internet boomed. And I asked what is it because I wasn’t really this techy guy.”
“I decided to move to Silicon Valley, to find out what was the big thing about the internet. I spent two years in there working for JP Morgan Group, actually, all I did was to network and I met a lot of entrepreneurs because I really wanted to do something more entrepreneurial.”
After learning all about networking and the growing internet, Mikko decided to go back to the Philippines and work for Chikka, a messenger application created by his friend.
However, in 2009, when Chikka was acquired by PLDT, he decided to part ways with the company.
“Chikka was about communication, there was a lot of showbiz there and that wasn’t really my scene.”
By 2010, Perez together with another friend started to build Ayannah.
“Ricky and I were formers bankers, and we knew there was money to be made from the internet but the only way to make money from it was through transactions. Back then it wasn’t called FinTech, it was e-commerce. That’s how we started it.”
An Ode to OFWs
Ayannah mainly focused on OFWs, since during that time the remittance coming in from overseas just kept on increasing.
“I think at that time it was around 19 to 21 billion… We just wanted to do something new, we wanted to give OFWs a way to send goods and services back to the Philippines,” Perez said.
“We started that and it’s actually still running. It is actually very profitable business, very good margin but it’s very difficult to grow because we found out that many of our OFWs don’t have credit cards.”
That was when they realized that the big problem in e-commerce was in the payment methods.
“They wanna buy stuff first, transact online but they don’t have anything to fund the transactions.”
Because of this problem, they thought of creating a system that will allow another person to transact on behalf of the OFWs.
They called the system ‘Power Sendah’, but later on, they changed it to Sendah Direct. They initially planned on deploying it overseas, but there weren’t enough funds to do so.
But local pawnshops like Tambunting and M Lhuiller suddenly reached out to Ayannah and inquired about the possibility of using Sendah Direct.
Sendah is a platform that allows OFWs to send electronic vouchers, mobile top-ups, and goods.
Sendah Direct, on the other hand, is a software that can be used by retailers to offer services such as online game credits, and domestic remittance.
Ayannah also launched Sendah Remit, a bank-grade software that allows domestic cash remittance.
Ayannah is currently partnered with traditional remittance companies such as Western Union, MoneyGram, and Transfast, new online remittance companies like World Remit and Xoom, Bitcoin-based remittances like Coins.PH and Rebit.PH, and leading remittance centers like Cebuana Lhuillier, LBC, and Tambunting.
In 2018, Ayannah is eyeing international ventures in order to further advance the largest digital payment network in the Philippines.
“I’m gonna be spending a lot of time this year outside of the Philippines. We’re hoping to launch by the middle of the year in Indonesia, and by the third quarter or fourth quarter in Vietnam,” Perez added.
All the methods that have made money remittance transactions a breeze were essentially born out of Ayannah. The company is the proponent of cross remittances and “cash pick up anywhere” in the country.
With its swift technology and continuous innovations, Ayannah is no doubt living up to one of the inspirations of its name.
The Filipino phrase “Ayan na” or “It’s here” in English, and we couldn’t agree more with the witty wordplay.
Featured Image Credits: QBO