Payment transformation in Asia - An inside look with Wave Money

Our esteemed interview guest has been at the forefront of Myanmar’s digital payments developments, navigating the ever-changing landscape and leveraging innovative technologies to empower consumers and businesses alike.

In the lead up to FinTech Connect Leaders Asia 2023 we have the privilege to sit down with Robin Chung, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer at Wave Money, who shares his valuable insights about the transformative power of digital payments, and his vision for Myanmar’s payment future.

1. What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced as a payment company operating in Southeast Asia (Myanmar), and how have you addressed them through transformation initiatives?

Wave Money is pushing to bring digital and financial inclusion to all Myanmar people, and our transformation program is largely guided by this commitment. But we have seen the tightening of the regulatory environment particularly around the know your customer (KYC) and transaction monitoring, as Myanmar has recently come under increased sanctions and AML/CFT pressure. Therefore, in our prioritization of transformation initiatives each year, we are seeking to strike a balance in building capabilities that serve the market including end users and that helps us fulfil changing regulatory requirements.

For instance, this year, we have a plan to work on a number of product initiatives targeting to improve the usability and functionalities of our mobile wallet app for wider segments – such as a loyalty program and gamifications. But of equal importance for us will be enhancing the implementation of eKYC solution and an automated transaction monitoring solution for real-time sanctions and AML screening.


2. In what ways have you adapted your business model to meet the unique needs and preferences of consumers in Myanmar?

Prior to the launch of Wave Money in 2016, sending money to someone in the country, especially to an unbanked population living in remote areas was done mainly through informal money service agents or bus drivers, which of course was a slow, insecure and costly process. It took only two years for Wave Money to completely disrupt the market by introducing digital remittances through a mobile money agent network available across the country.

In 2019, we decided to adapt our business model as a strong digital ecosystem started to emerge. We rolled out a mobile wallet app that customers can use to not only send and receive money but perform other payment transactions including airtime top-ups, bank transfers, bill payments and QR merchant payments. Consistent with our “every person” brand architype, the main color of our app is bright yellow, and it offers a very simple user interface that people of all demographics can conveniently and intuitively use.

So it can be stated, we are bridging the financial and digital divide in Myanmar with a business model that empowers all forms of communities including women and rural communities, and initiatives that extend the benefit of financial technology to underserved sectors.


3. How have you leveraged technology to improve your payment processing capabilities and enhance the customer experience?

As a fintech, technology forms the backbone of what we do and how we manage our business operations. Some of the technology solutions that we have chosen to implement are powered by AI and data. One of which is eKYC which provides an optical character recognition (OCR) and biometric capabilities. Instead of manually performing the mundane activities of capturing, storing and verifying customer ID card details, this capability drives payment processing efficiency through automation. Additionally, customers who are locked out of their account or in need of an additional account verification will have an easier process as this solution supports biometric verification.

Other AI-based solutions that we are planning to implement in the short-to-medium term include automated transaction monitoring and a chatbot for customer support.



4. Can you share any specific examples of how you've used data analytics and insights to inform your transformation strategy?

Let me answer this a bit differently. We see data analytics as a foundational future capability behind our product innovation. One of the data-driven strategic initiatives that we are currently working on is the development of Wave Score –a machine-learning algorithm-based score that gets generated based on various activities customers perform in the mobile wallet, including maintaining an active wallet balance, buying airtime, paying bills and paying with QR codes at restaurants. It is similar to Sesame Credit Score in China and Gscore in the Philippines. The Wave score is intended to be integrated into the customer app, where it will be visible to customers, and it will help customers enjoy richer and more relevant offers of services.


5. What role do you see partnerships and collaborations playing in your transformation efforts, and how are you approaching these relationships?

A healthy digital ecosystem requires strong partnerships and collaboration. Today, our commercial partnerships include 56,000 mobile money agents, 210,000 merchants for QR payment and over 400 billers who offer various consumer services including utility and internet, microfinance, ecommerce, food delivery, ticketing, gaming and entertainment, education and so forth. Banking partnerships are also crucial for our business, operations and customers. On the other hand, being one of the direct members of GSMA, we have proudly followed GSMA standardized metrics that provides stakeholders with a deeper understanding of the industry. Lastly the importance of partnerships for technology solutions cannot be overstated for the success of our transformation program. We have put in place a robust procurement system and governance to ensure that an optimal decision is made on choosing and developing right partnerships.


6. How are you addressing the increasing demand for faster and more seamless payment solutions , and what steps are you taking to stay ahead of the competition?

As the digital economy continues to expand in Myanmar, our system capabilities must advance as well. This is why we are constantly innovating with new capabilities and upgrading core systems, which will bring a significant improvement in terms of the platform security, stability and scalability. We are also making key upgrades to our platform so as to make it more API driven, which will further support the agile development of applications.



7. How are you ensuring the security of your payment platform and protecting customers' sensitive information?

Wave Money is actively managing security risks based on industry best practices, which includes carefully designing and enforcing data governance and security policies and providing regular staff trainings. Wave Money has 24/7 Security Operations Center (SOC) to monitor, manage and respond to security related incidents.

Additional, security considerations are embedded across the whole product development process, starting from the initial stage of product design and running all way down to build, testing and continuous monitoring. For instance, before every release, we include system vulnerability and penetration testing as a standard operating protocol, which are performed by both the internal team and a third party. And finally, we also invest heavily in market education so our customers can stay vigilant of key threats emanating from social engineering or phishing attacks and can cultivate safe data practices.


8. What is your long-term vision for the future of payments in Myanmar, and what steps are you taking to achieve this vision?

Our vision is to empower all of Myanmar through digital products. To stay on track of this, we have developed a mid-term strategic plan named Wave 25-26, which among other things provides a product roadmap built on detailed assessment of market trends and opportunities in Myanmar.

Complementing this product roadmap is our transformation program, which is driven by the work we had done a few years ago in defining the target state architecture for Wave’s technology and functional capabilities as a mature fintech company in the future. Each year, we are defining our transformation agenda based on that, which enables us to improve our operating model and to serve our customers better.
When it comes to organizational change, we have recently introduced product tribes. Our tribe model is designed to promote empowerment and collaboration of members from multiple functions in designing, building and improving a product together as a team. It is still early days for us, but we are confident that this change will propel us towards our vision.


9. Can you give us a sneak peek of what you will be sharing at your panel?

Every market has a unique set of challenges, but one common challenge facing pretty much all fintech and digital companies around the world today is finding a pathway to sustainable profitability. The days of seeking outgrowth at all costs are clearly in the past. As a market leading mobile financial services provider in Myanmar, Wave Money has a track record of remaining profitable for many years, but we know we need to be ready for different future market conditions as well. I will be sharing some of the current thinking by Wave Money at my panel.


10. What are two things you are looking forward to at FinTech Connect 2023?

One would be the learning opportunity from my fellow fintech leaders who will be attending the event. Second thing is to share a little bit of our success story. It is not often that people get to hear about an inspiring business story coming from Myanmar these days.


11. Why is FinTech Connect an event not to be missed?

Looking at the list of the speakers and panel participants, rich and mind-expanding conversations are a guarantee.

Fintech Connect Leaders Summit Asia 2023 is the leading annual meeting place for CIOs, CTOs, COOs, and Heads of Digital Transformation and Payments happening this August from 28-30 at Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore.
Members enjoy 20% off tickets when using the code FTAHK20 to get tickets!