JG Summit, a leading family-owned conglomerate in the Philippines, is partnering with Tyme, a fintech with a banking license in South Africa, with the goal of securing a virtual-banking license.
The agreement comes on top of a $110 million Series B raise by Tyme, led by JG Summit and Apis Partners.
Jojo Malolos, CEO of JG Digital Equity Ventures (JG DEV), the group’s venture-capital arm, told DigFin many fintechs have pitched the conglomerate, given its retail footprint across the Philippines – and the pedigree of its owners, the Gokongwei family.
“We can make or break any company that wants to do digital banking here,” he said.
The company decided to partner with Tyme because of a shared vision around financial inclusion and a pragmatic approach towards adoption of digital banking among the underserved segment of the market.
“The key is getting consumers to actually adopt and use digital banking services,” Malolos said. The group was impressed with Tyme’s customer retention in South Africa, where it has over 2.8 million users acquired in just over two years.
Coenraad Jonker, Tyme’s Asia-Pacific CEO based in Singapore, says the two groups share a business ethos around financial inclusion. “They are the perfect partner to take the model we developed in South Africa and take it into the Philippines,” Jonker said.
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The relationship was formed last year, spearheaded by Rachel Freeman, chief growth officer at Tyme. “The Philippines is the perfect market for our business model,” she said. When she caught wind that the Philippine central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, was looking to introduce a digital-banking license, she knew Tyme would need to go in with the largest possible retail footprint.
“We did all we could to meet JG Summit,” she said. This paid off with a Zoom meeting in which everyone hit it off. Malolos led the due diligence and the two parties signed a deal to form a joint venture, owned 60 percent by JG and 40 percent by Tyme, to apply for the license.
The trigger for the deal was Manila’s decision to accept applications for a digital banking license, Malolos says.
At the same time, Tyme has structured a capital raise from JG and Apis, a London-based venture investor with a track record in emerging markets and fintech.
The investment will go to bolstering TymeBank in South Africa. TymeBank in turn is the 40 percent shareholder in the JV to win a virtual-banking license in the Philippines.
TymeBank’s majority shareholder is African Rainbow Capital, led by Patrice Motsepe. The investment by the Gokongwei family will help it understand the TymeBank business and apply it to the Philippines.
The virtual bank
With the joint venture agreed, the new company intends to apply for a virtual banking license in the next four to six weeks, and has informally told BSP of its intentions.
BSP announced its guidelines in November, noting that it expects digital and mobile payments to increase rapidly. It creates a new class of banking license that disallows physical branches, and requires paid-up capital of approximately $20 million.
TymeBank in South Africa is a hybrid: it does not have branches but it does rely on an automated kiosk. For it to work it therefore needs to place these machines where consumers are – hence the desire to partner with JG, which operates malls, an airline, food and beverage companies, hotels, media businesses and property companies, among other things.
“Digital players come to us because of our 27 million airline customers, our 52 shopping malls, our SME network, our drug stores, and our media companies,” said Malolos.
The JG-Tyme JV is the first to publicly state its intentions to win a license but others are likely to soon follow. Foreign banks such as ING and CIMB offer digital-only solutions through their traditional licenses, while Singapore’s Tonik launched a digital bank using a rural-banking license.
JG Summit intends to fit the digital bank into its network of businesses. It operates a bank, Robinsons Bank, and is partnered with fintechs such as consumer instalment lender Oriente (under local brand Cashalo) and Growsari, a marketplace for convenience stores.
The business that Malolos works for, JG DEV, was set up in 2019 to help an old-school conglomerate become a digital conglomerate both at home and throughout Southeast Asia.
“If we see products and services that our other digital partners have that Tyme does not, then we can help them work together,” Malolos said. “We can leverage these to accelerate digital transformation. One of my metrics for Tyme is how it can enhance our retail business.”
“Tyme is an ecosystem player,” Jonker said, using open APIs to receive or deliver services among partners. “We want to find as many opportunities as possible to do business with all the JG Summit companies, as long as it works for the customer.”
The final executive team for the JV digital bank has yet to be finalized, but Malolos and Freeman will play leading roles. Tyme will contribute technical and operations people, while JG Summit will drive the front office and sales.
Malolos says innovation will be key to making the new bank profitable. To compete against incumbents, the digital bank will have to offer very attractive deposit rates, up to 10 times more than the 0.5 percent that is usually on offer. That’s a big cost, and it will be hard for such a model to generate the net interest margins that drive traditional banks.
“This is where we bring in the usual buzzwords, like ‘data is the new oil’,” Malolos said. Data and prediction models will have to redefine the banking landscape. JG Summit will draw on a history of disrupting industries, with its low-budget airline, low-cost telecoms or beverages.
“We are all about democratizing industry, and now we are democratizing finance,” he said.