Leveraging on SK Group’s fintech expertise

Ken Choi is executive president of SK Supex Council in charge of global business development,

PETALING JAYA: BigPay, an AirAsia Digital portfolio company and a leading financial technology or fintech company in South-East Asia, will leverage on SK Group’s financial related technologies and know-how if its application for a digital banking licence is successful.

SK Group, which controls SK Telecom, South Korea’s leading telecommunications company, is the second largest conglomerate in South Korea with a market capitalisation of US$177bil (RM741bil). In August 2021, SK Group announced it is investing up to US$100mil (RM419mil) into BigPay.

In a recent online interview, Ken Choi who is executive president of SK Supex Council in charge of global business development, told StarBiz that the group aims to take up to a 20% stake in the digital banking consortium, if it is successfully issued a licence.

Ken Choi is executive president of SK Supex Council in charge of global business development,Ken Choi is executive president of SK Supex Council in charge of global business development,

“Obviously, we will make a commitment in financial and other strategic resources. We need to make consistent investments as consumer satisfaction and customer loyalty are very important,” says Choi.

He adds that it is important for BigPay to focus on customer growth and new products development at this stage of its development. Priorities in the near term will be to develop lending and SME (small and medium enterprises) solutions. “I understand that e-commerce is growing very fast in Malaysia which has wide mobile communications coverage,” says Choi.

Founded in 2017, BigPay is now present in both Malaysia and Singapore. Last July, BigPay and a consortium of strategic partners (Malaysian Industrial Development Finance Bhd or MIDF, Ikhlas Capital and SK Group) had applied for a digital banking licence in Malaysia. Up to five licences may be issued by Bank Negara with the winners expected to be announced in the first quarter of 2022.

Choi also points that the group has an affiliate that has successfully developed an alternative credit rating system, which assisted partners in providing lending services to underserved segments.

“Our solution expands the number of customers, including thin-filers, to have access to credit and financing. Moreover, there’s a reduction in the interest rate chargeable in the loans received, providing significant benefit to the customers.”

Choi says the group has seen how online payment enterprises have evolved and grown in developed markets such as the United States and in Europe.

“We also observed how digital bank start-ups in Korea like Toss and Kakao, can pick up market share very rapidly and how they gain favourable consumer receptions. We see that in South-East Asia, the digital banking and finance areas are just on the verge of growing and expanding online, following the trend in more developed countries,” he says.

Choi explains that for the group, BigPay is the most attractive partner in Malaysia based on various factors including its challenger bank model, user size and traction.

“Based on our due diligence, BigPay has a superior market position and a very high number of repeat customers. They can leverage on their loyal customer base into services like lending and buy now, pay later, and have ample room to grow.” Choi mentioned that BigPay is more than welcomed to work with SK Group on any solutions that “we have that will complement their current capabilities.”

“Once the travel industry comes back, being part of AirAsia’s ecosystem will play a powerful role as they are a very well-received brand throughout Asean. Combining these pieces together, BigPay is very well positioned to excel and grow and to be a fintech leader in Malaysia and South-East Asia,” he says.

In January 2022, SK Group said it had committed over US$700mil (RM2.9bil) worth of investments in Malaysia in 2021, and intends to increase its investments in the country.

The investments included SK Nexilis, the world’s top maker of copper foil – a key material for electric vehicle batteries, announcing in January 2021 a capital expenditure of RM2.3bil to set up a copper foil manufacturing facility in Sabah, which will be part of SK Group’s electric vehicle value chain.

The SK Group also stated that its investment into BigPay is a testament to the ability of Malaysian fintech companies to grow not just domestically, but also regionally and become a major player in South-East Asia.

“In BigPay’s case, it also has access to a large consumer and micro-SME ecosystem with AirAsia, which can play a key role in the distribution of financial services, and additionally, brings the experience of having helped the underserved population segments for many years across Malaysia,” said the group.

BigPay has plans to catalyse intra-regional trade between Malaysian SMEs and the region by initially leveraging the connectivity and network of AirAsia, combined with its logistics arm, Teleport.

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