Interview: Ming Maa
What more can be done to ease cross-border barriers and promote fair competition to support the growth of more regional tech giants?
MING MAA: The South-east Asian digital economy is expected to grow three-fold to $300bn by 2025. For the digital economy to reach its potential, regional cross-border data flows are essential. The ability of data to flow freely across borders will enable regional tech companies such as ours to disperse the benefits of their technologies across the region. This, in turn, promotes competition and ensures better choices for consumers, businesses and governments. At the same time, we fully support regulators having access to the data needed for regulatory and supervisory purposes. Regional policymakers should explicitly support greater cross-border data flows and avoid broad data localisation requirements, as these increase operational and cybersecurity risks.
In what ways can multi-service tech platforms support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across South-east Asia?
MAA: Multi-service tech platforms must stay attuned to the biggest issues facing the region. Our growth was possible thanks to an emerging consumption class, a rise in smartphone usage and mass rural-to-urban migration. This created both a problem and an opportunity in gridlocked mega-cities such as Jakarta. Access to services including affordable health care, insurance, smart mobility and financial services remains a key barrier in the region. These are issues that multi-service tech platforms must target as they expand their offerings to give users greater convenience and choice.
Access to capital has traditionally been a pain point for SMEs in the region, and lending products like ours can enable them to gain access to the credit they need to grow their businesses. Furthermore, the launch of our retail wealth management vertical called GrabInvest will enable customers to save and invest in financial products that have traditionally been limited to affluent individuals and institutional investors. Ultimately, stakeholders will need to work together to solve the issues limiting the growth of South-east Asia’s SMEs.
Where do you see room for collaboration to accelerate Indonesia’s digital economy?
MAA: Financial inclusion is key for us in South-east Asia, and actions already taken by the Indonesian government to boost financial participation have been encouraging. However, while Indonesia’s digital economy is poised for growth, improving financial inclusion remains a serious regional issue. Banks and financial technology (fintech) firms can have considerable impact by introducing services that cater to the financially excluded. This reduces reliance on cash and empowers people to be financially independent. For example, our strategic investment in OVO and ongoing partnership with the company has formed Indonesia’s most widely accepted mobile payments ecosystem, with more than 60m downloads and enabled millions of micro-entrepreneurs to enter the digital economy.
How do you predict tech apps will disrupt other established industries across South-east Asia?
MAA: I believe that disruption for the sake of disruption does not serve a purpose. Our approach has always been to identify key problems in the region by paying attention to the state of affairs at a grassroots level. By looking at the needs of our ecosystem of driver partners, merchants and daily users, we have been able to develop solutions through a platform that all parties know and understand well. We were first founded as a ride-hailing company in response to traffic and safety issues, and have since expanded to financial services in response to underserved financial needs. This allowed us to meet those needs that were not yet being catered to by traditional players. Fintech can help to address a range of challenges, as well as enable people to grow their micro-businesses and realise their potential.
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