BigPay, the payments and lending consumer app that is part of Malaysia’s Capital A Group, which includes AirAsia, is about to transform into an Asean-region fintech. It intends to go live in Thailand by the end of this year, followed by Indonesia and the Philippines in 2024.
To get there, however, the company realized it needed to overhaul its core payment processing systems. It has partnered with Thredd, a behind-the-scenes payments platform, to make this happen.
“We want to be an Asean player,” said Mitherpal Sidhu, BigPay’s COO. “We needed to evolve our back-office stack in order to scale.”
BigPay was founded in 2017 as a payments app that was focused on travel, which complemented its being affiliated with AirAsia, the regional low-cost airline.
It’s not the airline’s consumer app, but rather it provides a range of financial services – payments, micro insurance, lending, budgeting – that are useful to Southeast Asia’s growing consumer economy.
That includes the growing ranks of travelers, and BigPay provides the financial motor behind AirAsia’s own customer bookings. The airline is promoting its own ‘AirAsia Superapp’, comparable to Grab, except for flying instead of hailing a car. This is a closed-loop version of embedded banking.
But BigPay is a consumer brand on its own as well. To date, its customers are in Malaysia and Singapore, which the company says includes 1.4 million users of a BigPay card (be it prepaid, debit, or credit).
The company built its tech stack with a combination of proprietary software and third-party products. But data was stored and computed on its own servers, in part because at the time Malaysia’s regulations for cloud were not clear. Also, while the company expanded to Singapore, it was still operating within a finite population. (The company migrated to cloud-based infrastructure in 2021.)
During the Covid pandemic, BigPay’s senior management began to strategize how to take the business regional.
In payments, for example, several Southeast Asian governments were knitting their domestic faster-payments infrastructure. Today a Malaysian can make purchases in Singapore using their own card and a Singaporean can do the same in Malaysia (or other local markets), via various QR codes tied into local payment infrastructure.
For Southeast Asian e-wallets, fintechs and digital banks, therefore, the regionalization of business is already becoming a fact.
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BigPay’s tech infrastructure would not be up to the company’s ambition to become an Asean-wide financial services app. Sidhu’s team sought partners that could help it modernize the back end for payments. This resulted in onboarding Thredd, a cloud-first payments processor.
“We needed a partner that could evolve our payments back-office stack to where it could scale, help us expand, and migrate our existing user base,” said Sidhu. “We’re on track for our year-end launch in Thailand.”
Call the plumber
Thredd processes prepaid, debit, and credit card transactions for customers worldwide. It was founded in London in 2007, originally as Global Processing Services, to support European card-issuing fintechs. The company, rebranded as Thredd, opened doors in Singapore in 2020. Its focus continues to be on supporting card issuers.
“Fintechs like to build their front end, but not the plumbing,” said Damien Gough, Thredd’s head of Asia Pacific. Although the company’s focus is on cards, he says working with BigPay has given it experience supporting alternative payment rails, such as the QR codes that underpin the connection of Asean domestic fast-payment infrastructure.
BigPay is going live in Thailand with the Thredd-built infrastructure. Once that happens, it will then migrate its Malaysia and Singapore users to the new back end. And then it will go live in Indonesia and the Philippines.
For now the main use is payments. Sidhu says the next product is remittances. BigPay also has a lending arm, which Sidhu says is nascent. “We’re keen to grow this,” he said.
Malaysia has seen its first licensed virtual banks go live, beginning recently with Grab- and SingTel-backed GX Bank. Grab and Trust Bank (backed by Standard Chartered) are also live in Singapore. TMRW is a digital bank operating in Thailand.
But Sidhu says this trend is not a driver of BigPay’s upgrading its stack and expanding. Although BigPay can’t take customer deposits, it has the flexibility to operate cross-border, which licensed banks do not. “We want to be the Asean player for financial services and tie these markets together. AirAsia has a large ecosystem that we can tap.”