We, at e27believe in Asia’s startups. As such, we value their insights about the ecosystem, put the spotlight on their contributions to their industries, and celebrate the wins that they have.

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This week’s community spotlight is on, a Philippine-based online platform for comparing financial and telecom products and services. We sat down with Managing Director Mortiz Gastl, and VP for Sales and Operations Rahul Maira, as they talked about establishing trust, working with regulators, and what running a startups in the Philippines has taught them.

On the inefficiencies they want to address

Rahul: We started with car insurance and it’s amazing to see how people are fooled in this industry. When you buy a car they will throw in the insurance for free but it actually is not. If you look into it, you will see that you’re locked in for 3 years at that same 50 thousand pesos, when actually it should depreciate by 10 per cent every year. It’s a captive market. So we want to take the approach of educating people on what it really is, and provide an end-to-end user experience that would really allow people to access financial products the same way they could but a watch in Lazada.

Moritz: There’s this saturation economy; people want everything now. For example, when you buy a car for a million pesos, you don’t think about how the insurance they’re offering at the dealership cost about 50 thousand pesos because that sounds so cheap for a million peso car. But if you actually compare it with other providers, you realise that at the same level of service you could easily save 20-30 percent from that, if not more. simply by looking elsewhere.

On establishing trust

Moritz: One of the major hurdles is to establish trust. There is a natural distrust here in the Philippines for online platforms, because it’s new for a lot of people. Which is proven by the fact that now, at least for Metro Manila, 78 per cent of transactions in Lazada are cash on delivery. It’s easy – the deliveryman arrives, they see the product, they could say “oh, I don’t like it, go back.” It’s a hurdle but it’s also a really good challenge. First of all, we are already working with most of the established insurance companies and most of the established banks. But we also want customers to trust us and tell them hey, we’re out there to help you save money, help you through the process. And they view us as their one-stop-shop – compare, buy, even help them process claims – and we take care of that because I think it is a necessary thing to establish trust.

On educating the market and heading toward financial inclusion

Rahul: We do a lot of engagement events like talks in universities, where we discuss talk about basic stuff like comparing. Because no one tells you in school about comparing but as soon as you join the corporate world, everything you do – finding suppliers, recruitment – needs at least three comparisons. It’s a normal thing to do in business and it’s not discussed in school.

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Moritz: We distribute content like how-to videos. We start with the very basic like what is a credit card, for example. What is an insurance. How is it structured. From there we can build up on it and make it more complicated and more detailed. This particular thing we do is one of the main reasons IFC or the World Bank has invested in us, because through us they can basically help people even in the province, who are not necessarily always a target market for financial services, but that at some point they have to get into the formal banking system. We can reach people through the blog, through articles in newspapers, and through partnerships with local provincial service providers.

On adjusting to what the market needs

Moritz: You have to maintain a certain flexibility to be able to service your customers. We had to adjust to allow customers walking in to see what we’re doing, or to service them over the phone, because that’s how part of our market want us to serve them. The product we’re selling is what users would basically call traditional – banking and insurance are still traditionally done –  so you just can’t go in there and say that everything should be digital. You have to be able to assist your customers in the way that they are comfortable with, gain their trust, and eventually nudge them to more efficient means.

On serving the consumer by helping service providers

Rahul: We want consumers – all consumers – to get the best product to fit their needs at a value that fits the service they will receive. For this to happen, banks and insurance companies need to be more competitive because if you look at the available financial products, they are basically the same. The Philippines is a bit of a monopolistic business environment, just look at the telecom services, but if that happens to the banks and insurance services, what happens now to the consumers? We level the playing field. We exist to give providers the platform to bring their A game to compete for different markets.

On why they think the Philippines is a good place to run a business

Moritz: I have been here for 6 years and the Philippines is just a massive opportunity. I really do think if you look at most SEA countries like Vietnam Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, the Philippines by far is the country with the best prospects and is growing the fastest. Indonesia gets much more investment – the VCs are coming in there and everyone’s super excited because of the population and demographics – but it think the Philippines should be have more credit to it. It’s not easy here but once you’ve done it, you could easily figure out how to navigate and use some inefficiencies to your advantage.

Rahul: Almost every startup would tell you the same stats that make the Philippines attractive to businesses. There are so many things to do here. For example, credit card penetration is 1 per cent and anybody who has a credit card probably has 3 more. What about the guys who don’t have a credit history? What we want is to address that issue, bring them into the banking system, by creating products that are more inclusive to different markets. Plus, it’s so much fun running a team over here. People just have waterproof spirits here and it’s fantastic to see.

On thoughts about government regulations

Moritz: Regulation can be great, regulation can be very harmful. I think the problem with regulation everywhere is that governments tend to regulate if they do not understand things; they usually put a stop to it until they do. Having been in the Philippines for quite some time, I feel like in a lot of areas, they have been very open. Take bitcoin for example. I know that the BSP [Central Bank] in particular has been very open, they sat down with the pioneers of the industry here and basically asked “how do we regulate this? How does it make sense?” And if that’s the case, then you really bring the industry forward and you steer the country’s innovation into the right direction. If it’s not the case, for example it starts being regulated for the sake of regulation because it’s not being understood properly, then it’s harmful.

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Rahul: It is building trust and managing that. We should all think about the consumers and the trust that they have in us. It’s a hand-in-hand situation where you work together and open conversations with the regulating bodies to ask how we can make it easier. Because while we approach from different mindsets, at the end of the day the consumer is the main point. You work together and figure out the best way to serve everyone.

On what it means to be a member of the MoneyMax team

Rahul: Commitment. When I’m hiring, I am looking at the  intention. Everyone comes into a job to do a great job. I mean, nobody joins a team and says they want to do an average job. You want to join a team and you want to do a great job. But the question is if this is the right place for them to do that job.  What I usually ask is “why do you want to join us?”  The answer to that is crucial. Because their job should align with their purpose, and this job requires passion for making life better for people.

On making local culture work for you

Mortiz: As a foreigner, you come in and say “okay this is how we do business elsewhere so let’s just apply it here.” If you do that, in a year you would fail. You have to incorporate the local culture and bring in the people who actually know how things work here. You have to give a local touch and a local feel to it. You have to embrace the local culture and you have to make it a part of your business mission because you are addressing that particular market.

On how working in the Philippines, where people are more emotional as compared with other countries, has changed their leadership style

Moritz: 100 per cent changed my leadership style. And that’s a good thing because it gives you a much better overall perspective, and you can pick the items you like from both leadership styles. In the European environment where I was in before, there’s always constant feedback. If you do something wrong, there’s immediate rebuttal and people are so used to it. Here [in the Philippines] giving feedback and reacting to things is more subtle because that’s what the culture here requires, and that’s great. Because I think the perfect way of leadership is some where in between.

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Rahul: I learned to set expectations early on and that way I think that makes it easier to talk about tough issues. Because if you’re always nice to people, and you’re not sharing to them the right stuff to help them develop, then there’s no growth. For me it’s always about the end goal. People think emotion is bad. But emotion is the biggest driver and if you learn how to appeal to that, it is a good thing.

On the beauty of the simple and the easy

Moritz: We really have to start with the basics. Products should be easy to understand for it to work. I consider myself tech savvy but there are some products that even I can’t understand. If that’s what you’re starting with, then I’m sorry to say but you’re setting yourself to failure. I think the easiest, simplest ideas are the ones that will be successful.

On what drives what they do

Rahul: Building people, building up lives, in small steps at a time is a quite purposeful thing we do here everyday.

Makes sense? Got other ideas? Or questions? Let us know!

Thank you, Moritz and Rahul!

Moneymax is the Philippines most comprehensive online platform for comparing financial- and telecom products and -services. They aim to consistently find the best broadband plans, credit cards, loans, and other services and products that suit users needs. They provide quick and easy access to resources that help users understand various financial products in the Filipino market. In addition to the detailed and customisable comparison tables, they provide resourceful guides, frequently asked questions, and topical articles exploring new ways to save money in the Philippines. MoneyMax strives to provide impartial information so that you can choose a product that truly matches your individual needs. Its parent company is the CompareAsia Group, which recently closed US$50 Series B from investors led by IFC.