MoMo, one of Vietnam’s leading e-wallets with 19 million registered users, has been basking in the spotlight lately. Amid calls by the government to accelerate the shift to cashless payments, a crop of new customers is downloading MoMo app to make cash transfers, pay bills and purchase services from paying for the Apple Store to booking travel insurance. Last week, the startup was given another reason to celebrate: HR ASIA awards named MoMo among the best companies to work for in Asia.
Making hay while the sun is shining, MoMo has offline payments firmly in its sights: daily and weekly use at places like convenience stores, petrol stations, supermarkets, coffee houses. Part of the senior management team leading these efforts is MoMo’s CFO Manisha Shah. “The ticket size is not the main focus as long as these transactions occur on a regular basis. We believe MoMo makes your life easier. We want MoMo payments to become a daily habit, like your morning coffee fix at Passio. Today you can do everything on MoMo, not just top-up or bill payments. From buying cinema or Vietnam Airlines tickets, to e-commerce purchases on Tiki or Lazada, paying for drinks at The Coffee House or lunch at BiaCraft, why use cash?” she explains.
With MoMo, the Harvard Business School graduate’s mandate includes overseeing finance, human resources, capital-raising and investor relations. We ask Manisha how her experience in fintech compares with the media, telecommunications and automotive industries where she had held senior roles; and how her management style has evolved since her time at JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, TVS & Sons, Vodafone and the World Bank.
Was fintech a new industry for you when joining MoMo almost two years ago? What attracted you to the job and to Vietnam?
It was serendipity. We moved to Vietnam when my husband was transferred to Vietnam to look after the region for an Italian company, Bonfiglioli. With a young child and no friends or connections in the country, job-hunting and building my personal and professional network were pretty much one and the same.
I started reaching out to everyone, including business school alumni, and one of the first women who replied to my email introduced me to a couple of companies, including MoMo, where she was an early investor.
As more funding was coming in, MoMo was looking for its first CFO. As an independent, Vietnamese-built company with no international strategic investors, in the CFO they wanted someone who had worked with and understood various financial investors and the capital raising process and could help grow the finance and HR functions as the company scaled. At the time, my knowledge of Vietnam was limited to the Thao Dien bubble. I didn’t even realize how big a player MoMo was (or couldn't name the four biggest local banks).
After meeting the chairman and the senior team at MoMo, I was very impressed by the vision, growth curve and impact potential. I thought they were people that would support me and who I could learn from. I knew right away I would be lucky to be part of this story. So when the job offer arrived, I didn’t overanalyze it and simply did what felt right. I strongly believe that decisions about the job have to be about the people, not about career or money.
What does your role as the CFO entail?
It’s a mixed basket: finance and accounting, internal control, procurement and HR. When I first came in, MoMo was already established doing tens of millions of transactions a month, with a strong finance team in place. My immediate tasks were to be a bridge between the company and the board by strengthening communications and financial analysis, and build up our HR team.
Today my time, in addition to working with the investors, is divided between working with the CEOs and other senior managers on business plans and reviews, budgeting, new product feasibility, with a strong focus on profitability and revenue; communicating with investors and board; and driving the capital-raising process when we do that. On the HR side, it includes everything from helping the CEOs develop company culture and organizational structure, to senior level recruiting, compensation schemes and ESOP (employee stock ownership) plans.
How would you describe your management style? Coming to Vietnam, have you had to adapt?
I'm the only foreigner at the company involved in daily operations, and when I joined my immediate team had to switch to English for me. So while I had to learn to speak in a more concise and simple language, my colleagues had to make English the lingua franca at all the meetings I am part of. That was a big change for everyone but it also taught me to work efficiently with less direct information, to rely on and trust my direct reports more.
What is the one thing you want job seekers to know about MoMo and its corporate culture?
Our four core values are what really drives the culture here: teamwork, constant learning, innovation, and excellence in execution. We are not about hiring overachieving superstars and having the rest of the company revolve around them. We are about team players, builders, talented and passionate individuals working together towards a common goal. Critically, you need to be comfortable in a constantly-changing environment to thrive at MoMo. It’s a very fast-paced setting.
I think our strong corporate culture is one of the main reasons for our success and being recognized by HR ASIA awards as one of the best companies to work for in Asia is an achievement I am very proud of.
What’s next for MoMo?
First and foremost our business is about initiating change and transforming how Vietnamese transact and live. I am talking about financial inclusion and improving the lives of millions of Vietnamese. Post-covid, we are already seeing a shift in the mindset where the society is becoming more open to cashless transactions, and the government is supportive of this.
Unlike Korea and China, Vietnam’s fintech industry is in its early stages of development, so opportunities are abound. It is hard to tell how this is going to play out, but at the moment Vietnam is definitely a much more exciting place to be than any adjacent market, with business models evolving as we speak.
If I think back to when I joined less than two years ago, we were about 400 people in one office space in Ho Chi Minh City. Now we are more than double that with four office floors. We used to have just under 10 million registered users. Today the number has increased about two-fold and our transactions per month have grown four times higher since I joined. The growth is immense. But then there are over 65 million people in Vietnam old enough to use MoMo and most of the daily transactions are in cash, so I think we still have a long way to go!