DISRUPTING PAYMENTS IS JUST THE FIRST STEP IN LOUIS LIU’S AMBITIOUS PLAN TO UPEND SOUTH-EAST ASIA’S BANKING SECTOR.
CEO, FOMO PAY
Within two years after the speech, there were over 20 e-wallets in Singapore.
ON THE EFFECT OF PM LEE’S AIM FOR SINGAPORE TO GO CASHLESS
When he was an executive working at Visa China in the early 2010s, Louis Liu started receiving requests from vendors in China and India asking if the global payments company could connect them to the digital wallets that were starting to appear on mobile devices of consumers in the region. It was the ﬁrst sign to him that such e-wallets – or mobile payment solutions that did away with plastic cards and messy vendor terminals – were about to blow up across the region, and he wanted to be a big part of the action.
In 2015, Liu, who hails from China and studied electronic and electrical engineering at Nanyang Technological University, founded Fomo Pay in Singapore. The ﬁrm started by providing technology for Singapore merchants to accept payment via e-wallets that were popular with Chinese tourists.
Today, it’s a one-stop mobile payment solution that allows merchants in South-east Asia to connect to over 20 e-payment platforms, such as Netspay, Wechat Pay, Discover, Visa QR, Grab Pay and SGQR. “We saw that e-wallets were going to challenge traditional card issuers. Our solutions would help merchants easily embrace mobile payments,” says Liu, who is in his late 20s. The early years were tough, however, as Singapore’s credit market was quite entrenched and there were security concerns over e-wallets.
However, a breakthrough came in 2017 during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech, when he announced a nationwide push to make Singapore a cashless society. Following the PM’s call, a host of banks, telcos and technology companies unveiled plans to launch their own e-wallets.
A dam had broken, and Fomo Pay was standing amid a wave of demand for digital payment solutions. With its ﬁrst-mover advantage, and strong technological capabilities, the ﬁntech start-up saw players lining up for its aggregator services. “Within two years after the speech, there were over 20 e-wallets in Singapore. However, merchants would have a problem accepting all of them, so they need payment aggregators like us to help them connect to different e-wallets,” he explains.
Unsurprisingly, as the largest mobile QR payment provider in Singapore, Fomo’s growth has surged amid the frenzied activity. In 2017, its revenue hit seven digits, a rise of over 80 percent over the previous year’s. Last year, it was one of the few companies chosen to be a member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s task force to develop a national QR code, known as SGQR, that would work with all e-wallets in the city-state.
The company’s achievements have not gone unnoticed. Last year, Liu was included in the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list, which features 300 innovators and disruptors under the age of 30 who are driving change in their industries.
Liu may have started Fomo in Singapore to leverage on the city-state’s developed infrastructure and government support, but he understands that far larger ﬁsh swim in the bigger and lesser developed markets of South-east Asia. “Eighty percent of people in South-east Asia do not have a credit card or a banking relationship. Meantime, smartphone penetration is very high,” he says. “If these people are given e-wallets to make mobile payments, they will be able to order food or make e-commerce purchases with their phones.”
Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have also unveiled their own strategies for doing away with paper money in the next few years. For Fomo, payments is just the ﬁrst step in its grand plan for promoting ﬁnancial inclusion in the region.
Says Liu: “Now, we are just an aggregator for digital payments. The next step is to be an aggregator for other types of ﬁnancial services in the coming few years, once mobile wallets are accepted by everyone.”
Photography PHYLLICIA WANG