Digital payment and e-wallet provider U-Pay is creating a holistic ecosystem for the rapidly growing demand of e-payments in Cambodia as well as offering traditional payment methods through its signature kiosk terminal.
Speaking to Cambodia Investment Review, Koh Hao Jie, CEO of U-Pay said the business was launched after the company’s shareholders saw a hole in the sector and thought e-payments in Cambodia “could be done better”.
Koh, a Malaysian national who was previously with RHB Bank, said “at the time there was a limited number of players in Cambodia’s e-wallet sector and we wanted to create a full ecosystem for a cashless society while still including conventional methods of payment.”
Turbocharged by the COVID 19 pandemic Cambodia’s digital payments sector – according to the central bank – recorded 698.8 million transactions valued at $199.76 billion in 2021 alone.
U-Pay was established in 2019, and received its Payment Service Institution license from the National Bank of Cambodia in June 2020 and currently operates with over 70 staff located in the company’s Phnom Penh office.
U-Pay separates itself in the sector
U-Pay’s Wallet provides information on shop and merchant locations, allows scan-to-pay, mobile top-up, bill payments and fund transfer between users, with many more services to be included in the future.
It also offers a cashback loyalty program so the more one uses U-Pay, the more users are rewarded.
In addition, the company’s signature ‘U-Pay Kiosk’ offers a comparable full suite of services as its U-Pay Wallet app with more than 140 kiosks deployed throughout Cambodia and another 500 to be deployed this year.
The kiosk allows traditional methods of payment by accepting cash in both Khmer riels and US dollars.
According to Koh, despite the rapid increasing in e-payments he doesn’t believe Cambodia can become 100% cashless even in the medium to long term explaining this is why they are continuing to offer traditional methods of payments in the U-Pay ecosystem.
“Even in China, which has been embracing digital payments and e-wallets for many years, is still not a cashless economy yet. This is especially true for the regional zones,” he added.
Under this unique ecosystem, the U-Pay business model can diversify its revenue streams – with opportunities for payment commission, sales commission as well as processing fees.
Reflecting on local competition in the market, Koh prefers to use the word collaborate then compete. “We like to treat everyone as friends, for example, we still work very closely with other well-known digital wallet providers like Pi Pay.”
Good governance is a top priority
While many of U-Pay’s front-end offerings are unique, it’s the backend operations Koh says separates him from the pack holding the company to a commercial bank standard of governance.
“We want to restore the trust in Cambodia’s PSI sector and we take our Anti Money Laundering and Combating the Finance of Terrorism responsibilities very seriously,” he said.
“To ensure good governance U-Pay has invested strongly in our back-office team’s capabilities with many coming directly from commercial banks. They have experience and we benchmark our compliance against these commercial bank standards,” Koh said.
“From day one, I’ve told all our staff that we must comply with every requirement under our license because if we have no license then we have no business,” Koh added.
It is this focus on backend operations that Koh says underscores the company’s long-term growth objectives.
“Our operations and finance team make sure we have smooth day-to-day operations then IT maintenance and development work on user experience for our applications in both software and hardware,” Koh said.
Focusing on the long-term business strategy
Cambodia Investment Review reported on the recent partnership between U-Pay and local business process outsourcing company Massive Distributions agreement to increase its e-wallet capabilities.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Koh and Chairman of Massive Distributions Dalton Wong – stating the event would herald a “New Era of Digital Payment” in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
“This partnership agreement is a good example of our current business strategy of having a large back end team and smaller front end team such as sales and service,” he said.
“We want our product to speak for itself and we can then use Massive Distributions to facilitate the recruitment and onboarding of the merchants, enable the Payment terminals, and train the merchants on the usage of e-wallet and QR code access across Cambodia,” he added
The collaboration is tipped to expand the two companies’ digital footprint and enable more Small and Medium Enterprises to be digital savvy and increasing a wider range of digital payment acceptance throughout the country.
“Using the expertise of Massive Distributions we have been able to add many more merchants that would have required us to hire and train 150 staff in the front line. Since November, they have brought us another 2,500 merchants and in under three months they have solved my biggest problem – where to spend money?,” Koh said.
“We are looking forward to Massive Distributions lifting us to another level and escalating merchant numbers very fast with our plan to hit 5,000 by June, just in Phnom Penh alone,” Koh added.
Looking to the next five years the company expects to expand more into Sihanoukville, Battambang as well as Siem Reap with plans to continue expanding into other areas such as Poi Pet then potentially into neighboring countries.
“Our long term goals is becoming the top payment service provider in Cambodia – overall we want people to think of U-Pay when they think about any e-payment options in Cambodia,” Koh added.