Our guest on Episode 7 is Manisha Philip, the marketing director of TIMO, a digital banking company based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A long-term expatriate, Manisha found herself in the country by chance and, because of its untapped market and huge potential, has been here for 5 years.
Coming in with a background in digital advertising and traditional banking, Manisha joined TIMO in 2017 after working in India and Dubai. She tells us that whereas digital banking in both of those countries is as natural as breathing, in Vietnam, people still prefer to keep their cash under their mattresses or invest in gold instead.
Core values at TIMO
TIMO has stood by three core values from the moment of inception; accessibility, convenience and value. Manisha stressed the importance of keeping user experience simple. TIMO’s focus is on ensuring that the continuously enhanced features are easily accessible via the app. But the bank’s biggest growth driver is TIMO’s ability to bring more value to their customers, which includes partnerships and other benefits-enhancing tie-ups.
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Challenges TIMO has faced in Vietnam's market
The biggest hurdle for a company like TIMO is when they tell people that they're digital because regulations in Vietnam require a “wet” signature to complete the process of opening an account. Different banks do it differently when it comes to acquiring customers. Some could send a sales team to get you to sign what is called a Know-Your-Customer document. For TIMO, it's a coffee shop concept where they can help you open a bank account while you're sipping on your morning cup of joe: A TIMO Hangout!
Out of the four Vietnam’s metropolises TIMO operates in, Saigon, where there's a lot of chatter about TIMO, accounts for about 60% of the customers, while Hanoi only accounts for 20%. According to Manisha, it's been hard to crack the market in Northern Vietnam because Hanoians need a lot more time to be convinced. The solution lies in driving transparency, advocacy, referral programs, and getting people to talk about it. People want physical interaction; they need to see and touch, which is what TIMO has spent the most time researching and experimenting with.
Initiatives TIMO has taken to counter consumer wariness
TIMO does not have a banking licence, but instead, partners with traditional banks to tap into the market that is banked, and unbanked (their ultimate goal). In the urban areas like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, it's about building an ecosystem.
TIMO has created digital channels based on marketing and acquisition that have proven to be successful. And Manisha says it's because people need to see who your partners are along with the other true benefits of a banking system besides paying your bills and payment transfers. Now, it's about looking at how they can work with education providers, as well as issuing loans for cars, homes, and traveling. Look for an ecosystem that you can build around.
At the end of the day, customers want to know what benefits they're gonna get. Manisha explains that besides getting them to the door, TIMO wants to make sure that they remain active — a 50k benefit may not be enough to keep customers active. TIMO is looking to partner with the entertainment industry, since their target customers are around the age of 18-35. So for them, benefits that involve partnerships with brands like CGV, Shopee, Lazada etc are big hits.