With international travel and tourism hit hard by Covid-19 safety restrictions and its variants, it would have been understandable for Caecilia Chu to describe the circumstances as challenging for YouTrip.
In 2018, it launched as South-east Asia’s first and leading in-app multi-currency mobile wallet for frequent travellers. Through the app, which features a prepaid Mastercard, users can pay in more than 150 currencies at the best exchange rates, and without having to pay any transaction or cross-border fees.
Available in Singapore and Thailand, it has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times and processed over $800 million in spending.
“The idea of YouTrip came about after my return to South-east Asia,” says Chu, who previously worked at Citigroup, where she steered growth investments in the consumer and technology sectors in South-east Asia and China. “Even people in well-banked cities like Singapore immediately become unbanked the moment they cross the border. We wanted to give them a product that was easy to use and affordable.”
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), arrivals in Asia and the Pacific were down 94 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. Recovery is unlikely to occur until 2024 or beyond, say 79 per cent in the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey published in 2022.
Chu, who co-founded the home-grown fintech firm and is the CEO, saw the crisis as an opportunity to bolster its neobanking ambitions instead. This month, she and her team will expand YouTrip’s fintech services to include B2B payments. A corporate card called YouBiz aims to streamline expenses for small and medium businesses in Singapore with higher spending limits and credit terms, too. Using a single platform, employees can easily track all expenses through both virtual and physical versions.
In the next 12 months, YouBiz will be introduced into five other South-east Asian countries. Chu, who has appeared on global lists such as Top 50 Financial Technology CEOs (2021) and Top 25 Women Leaders in Financial Technology (2020), elaborates: “During the pandemic, companies became increasingly distributed as they worked with vendors around the world and expensed payroll in different currencies. As a result, their foreign currency needs increased.”
Keeping relevant requires seeking new opportunities. As Chu lets on, the uncertainties of the past two years have underscored the importance of building resilience and “maintaining the spirit of agility”, which she singles out as the most valuable lesson from the pandemic.
“Things are always going to change, pandemic or not. What’s important is to not be defeated and identify the opportunities in these challenges,” she says. “We’ve seen how advanced payment technologies can quickly transform how people transact. Therefore, we must constantly innovate our products to meet ever-changing demands in a safe and valuable way.”
Chu, who spent most of the last two years working from the Singapore office, looks forward to travelling again. Not surprisingly, her first stops will be to the YouTrip outposts in Thailand and Hong Kong.
“Our people are everything to us. Some of my fondest holiday memories were made at these offices, making new friends, seeing new places and experiencing new cultures. I’m looking forward to catching up with my colleagues in person soon!”