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Money Lover: A Vietnamese Built Fintech Mobile App Going Global


This story is also available in: Vietnamese

In May 2017, Google announced their picks for the best Android mobile apps which included Money Lover, a Vietnamese-made application that topped the chart as the number one app in personal finance.

While the Money Lover team prioritized its Android version during the early days of product development, their umbrella company Finsify, formerly called ZooStudio, showed no operating system favoritism. Under their management, Money Lover also soared to one of the top positions in Apple’s App Store.

It started six years ago when Huy Ngo, Money Lover’s founder, wanted to record his daily expenses on his smartphone but couldn’t find a good mobile tool to do so.

To learn more about their team’s international success, Vietcetera visited the company headquarters in Hanoi. There, we spoke with Finsify COO To Thanh Cong about the fintech industry, Money Lover’s place in it, and future updates to the app users can look forward to.

Money Lover’s team discusses two new features they are planning to implement. One of which is aimed at providing in-depth financial data from SMBs to banks in order to expedite the loan approval process.

Why did you change the name of your company from ZooStudio to Finsify?

ZooStudio was a reflection of the ambitions we had during our early days. We had dreams of becoming the number one mobile app developer in Vietnam. Soon, we realized we had great potential within the global fintech ecosystem.

This inspired us to extend our goals which included being one of the top developers in the global market. We began by changing our name to Finsify, then began rebranding, as well as repositioning ourselves as a fintech market leader.

Money Lover was built as a way to manage our own personal finances. We didn’t even realize it was one of the only reliable tools available at the time,” COO To Thanh Cong reminisces.

Finsify is a top name in the fintech industry. What strategy brought Money Lover to the top of the Android and iOS markets?

Timing was a huge factor, and it happened to be on our side. We built Money Lover as a way to manage our own personal finances. In the beginning, we didn’t realize our app was one of the only reliable tools available. We simultaneously saw a growing market and within it was a high demand for personal finance management. While building the team, we adapted two clear strategies to help ensure the continued success of Money Lover.

First, we focus our energy around innovation. If we don’t stay ahead of the game Money Lover will not be in the position to pioneer anything in the field of app-based expense recording and planning. We need to stay on top of trends and conduct enough markt research to predict and know what users will soon be looking for.

We are also aiming to be the first app to launch a new feature or sign a gamechanging partnership. Two years ago, Money Lover became the first mobile app in Asia where users could link their ATM cards and automatically record expenses from card transactions. We launched it before our competitors even thought about it. This taught us the importance of staying one step ahead of the game at all times.

Second, our app platform is creating around providing a simple user experience. We want our functions to be easily deployable. It should be a user-friendly platform for everyone. Also, we have a team of relentless QC’s. Bugs or technical issues in either version of the app is a rarity.

“A one-size-fits-all solution to personal finance doesn’t exist. We prefer to focus on a single function, like tracking expenses. This is a feaure that can easily be adapted globally,” Cong smiles.

Despite being a Vietnamese-made app, Money Lover has been adopted by a global audience. How did you manage to attract such a wide audience?

There is no such thing as an one-size-fits-all solution to personal finance. With that in mind, we wanted to focus on a single function that could be adapted globally: tracking expenses. This function doesn’t face any cultural constraint, because people all over the world spend their money on similar products. For example, Vietnamese and American residents both regularly spend money on housing, food, transportation, education, entertainment, etc. The only customized feature is the selected language.

Launching multiple dual language versions was another way to access a broader market. Users across 34 countries supported us in translating Money Lover into their native languages. All we did was check and approve the final translations.

“We skipped a few of our underlying product issues to speed up the product development stage,” Cong tells us about the launch of Money Lover.

Once we had a standardized version of our app with its core features, any new market entry was just a matter of making small adjustments. For instance, we knew that users from the U.S. were accustomed to paying for mobile apps, while Vietnamese users were not. Hence, the same business model could not be applied to these two countries.

After conducting market research, we decided to apply a small monthly charge for American users while charging Vietnamese users a one-time fee when they download the app. Our goal is to keep people happy and avoid losing potential revenue because of an avoidable financial obstacle.

If there is ‘no one-size-fits-all’ approach to marketing your product globally, what are some key factors impacting the trajectory of your company’s development?

The most important factors to success are timing and target audience.

Like I said before, the target audience of Money Lover is defined as anyone who wants to keep track of expenses for their own personal finance. We don’t define our audience by a single region or culture. This market demand can apply to almost every country in the world with widespread access to smart phones.

Another key for Money Lover is the ATM card link feature. Since the early days in 2013, customers requested that we build a feature allowing them to automatically track expenses on their ATM cards. They simply wanted to reduce manual input, and we saw the demand was there. However, we asked ourselves if it was worth building a new feature that might only cater to a smaller audience. Back then, the answer to that question was ‘no’.

In the future, new financial products will rise in popularity. Our goal is to spot these trends before they gain traction and integrate them into our app with perfect timing,” shares To Thanh Cong.

Several years later, Southeast Asia saw a huge increase in card users. We realized that since mass-scale card-use was a novelty, there wouldn’t be many Asia-centric products designed to service card users. We wanted to dive into that market, so we integrated an ATM linking feature.

In the future, new financial products and services will rise in popularity. Our goal is to spot these trends before they split open and integrate them into our app with perfect timing.

What are your future plans for Finsify and Money Lover?

While we’ve done well with the consumer market, we’re now refocusing our priorities to work with more small and medium businesses (SMBs).

First, we’re launching software geared toward accountants. This software will help teams manage cash flow, balance sheets, bills, and taxes with greater convenience. We’ve been testing and honing this product with local businesses for two years now. So far, we have received lots of positive feedback. Currently, we’re at the final stage of development. That means our team is building unique extensions and applying a final polish to the end-product.

Are there any specific features being developed for the upcoming year? If so, please share more details.

After we successfuly launch our accountant software, we plan to release alternative software which helps banks assess the eligibility of loan requests from small and medium businesses. We hope this will speed up the loan approval process. It has been a pain point for many small and medium businesses for a long time, and in many countries.

Approval of SMB loan requests in Vietnam hovered around 30% this year. Even when a loan is approved, company’s must go through months of complicated procedures before funds are transferred. We believe we can create solutions to solve loan problems that SMBs face today. When these SMBs join our finance management ecosystem their data will be clearly organized. Working within our finance ecosystem, banks should be able to approve loans within a few days. Right now, the process takes one or two months just for the approval processs.

These two products are top priorities for Money Lover next year. Beyond that, users will have to wait and see what we have in store for them.

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