What Went Wrong at GoPlay? Why the Costly hiccup in growth

While Covid-19 is being treated for free in government hospitals, as the number of cases rise, private hospitals will increasingly come into play. “We expect hospitals to see a 100-120% utilisation of capacity,” said Dr Prakash. On average, mature hospital chains like Apollo and Fortis see 60%-70% occupation.

But with no standard operating procedure or price for treatment of Covid-19 in private hospitals, the disease is also shining the light on the health insurance sector’s vulnerabilities.

Insurance’s Achilles heel

Insurance’s Achilles heel

Insurance is a pool of risk. On a good day, less than 10% of policyholders claim the majority of the premium. But if the claim amount or the number of people making claims changes, it spells trouble. With Covid-19, it’s both. As it is, insurance companies work on very thin margins, so the sector usually is not able to absorb too much of a shock.

“When we have a bad monsoon and the claims increase by two percentage points, that wipes out a third of our profits,” said a senior executive at HDFC Ergo Health Insurance. Insurers generally see a spike in claims during the monsoon season because of a rise in cases of dengue, malaria, and cholera.

Another important source of income for insurers is investments. But insurers are restricted when it comes to what they can invest in. “We are not allowed to invest in risky assets, only in bonds, and that is also going down now (due to the economy). So we are in the worst possible place,” the senior executive explains.

Covid-19 is also bringing a long-standing problem to the fore—India’s healthcare prices are not regulated, but insurance prices are. As a result, Covid-19 treatment prices in hospitals range from Rs 70,000 ($918.9) to Rs 7 lakh ($9,189.2). The severity of cases also varies. About 80% of Covid-19 cases are mild and need about five days of hospitalisation, while 15% are moderate, and 5% severe.

“This makes it very hard for us to price our policies,” said Dr Prakash of Star Health. “That is why we have been urging hospitals to adopt a standard operating rate.”

Hospitals charge like hotels, said a senior executive from HDFC Ergo. “A hotel can charge Rs 25,000 ($328.2) or Rs 10,000 ($131.3). Nothing stops them. But the amount of profit we can make is linked to the hospitals’ pricing. So if there is a wide variance in price, our loss ratio can go wonky.”

Pernicious burden

Of the 100 claims Star Health saw, 14 are confirmed and the rest are suspected cases. Dr Prakash is worried about the suspected cases as they can add to the burden of people rushing to hospitals, undergoing treatment on suspicion and claiming insurance. ‘This population is nearly six-fold and we get all that additional volume. It is a pernicious burden,’ he said

IRDAI keeps a close eye on insurers’ loss ratios and takes action if it crosses a threshold. “If the loss ratios fall below 60%, IRDAI asks us to change the price as it feels insurers are making too much of a profit on a policy,” added the executive. HDFC Ergo has not launched a Covid-19 policy yet.

The Crypto War in Singapore that Nobody is Talking About

The caps would also affect expatriates or freelancers in Singapore who use multi-currency accounts to receive their salaries, said Venkatesh Saha, head of Asia Pacific and Middle East expansion at online money transfer platform TransferWise.

The average monthly salary in Singapore works out to be S$67,200 annually, according to Saha. “With the caps, they would not be able to hold their full monthly salary in their account, nor use our product to send out the full annual amount to perhaps their family member’s bank account overseas, for example.”

History of Crypto Regulation in Singapore

History of Crypto Regulation in Singapore

The caps would also bring down the volume of transactions on Singapore’s fintech platforms. This would hamstring fintechs in terms of disrupting banks, especially on the foreign exchange front, the founders argue.

“[Fintech companies] threaten to eliminate foreign exchange fee incomes for banks,” said a fintech founder who requested anonymity. “When Singaporeans travel, banks typically make 3%-4% on exchange rates. It’s a massive business for Singapore’s banks—a cash cow.”

“The transaction caps mean that we are unable to offer our Singapore customers the same convenient and low-cost experience that we offer in, say, Australia or the United Kingdom. Globally, our customers save £1 billion (S$1.8 billion) a year when they use us instead of banks.”


Another restriction Singapore’s fintech users face is that they cannot use their wallet-linked cards to withdraw money from ATMs. “Fintech startups are trying to chip away at local banks,” added the founder quoted above. “We are striving towards a cashless society and forcing banks to do a better job for the user. But I don’t see how this [Act] is better for Singapore. It’s not good for the consumer.”

Bryan Tan, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons MPillay also pointed out various costs that the fintech startups will have to bear, such as preparing the licence application, licensing fees, trustee arrangements, putting in place Know Your Customer and anti-money laundering processes and documentation, and other regulations such as cyber hygiene and technology risk management.

“We’ve spent considerable resources over the past four years to improve our Singapore product to pass on savings to our customers, but in complying with the Act we are ironically making our product more expensive for them,” said TransferWise’s Saha.

Most of the startups, however, claim that complying with the new Act is not an issue. For YouTrip, the PSA was a good chance to beef up their compliance team, which is now 20-strong. This team, according to YouTrip’s Chu, is responsible for monitoring transactions and regulations across the jurisdictions that the multi-currency wallet operates out of.

However, cyptocurrency exchange Luno does see some challenges with the PSA’s wire-transfer requirements. Singapore’s fintechs have to ensure that anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing frameworks are followed because a global task force, called the Financial Action Task Force, has oversight across borders.

“There are technical obstacles, specifically identifying and implementing a complete solution that allows the lawful and effective transfer of requisite information to counterparts,” said Sherry Goh, country manager, Singapore, at Luno. “That said, we see progressive discussions in the industry and are on a good track to promptly comply with all requirements.”

The Cold Virus that Medicines Can’t Beat: How the Philippine FMMEs are Fighting Back

Generally, Southeast Asia’s food delivery industry has experienced higher order volumes with people holed up in their homes for weeks now. Thailand, for example, has seen a hiring spree among delivery apps, while in Indonesia, ride-hailing firms Grab and Gojek have reported a surge in food orders. The Philippines is not too different.

Even though they’re permitted to stay open, small grocers like Ferch Reynoso are capitalising on the delivery surge. Reynoso, who sells vegan products and employs three people, said she shut her doors to walk-ins and shifted to social media selling when the lockdown began. Last week, she also set up an online store so she could offer digital payment options.

The Cold Virus that Medicines Can’t Beat: How the Philippine FMMEs are Fighting Back

“I thought it was safer for both my customers and employees if we minimised face-to-face transactions,” she said. From an average of US$295 a day sales prior to the lockdown, Reynoso is seeing US$690 sales a day. “I’m so glad we took this big leap.”

It makes her store operations more efficient as inventory can be seen in real-time, getting rid of the need to handle inquiries via chat. It also extends the store’s reach. However, Reynoso said it takes a while to book deliveries via platforms like Grab and Lalamove. She thinks that with their skeletal driver pools, the apps are finding it hard to meet the deluge of orders.

Restocking also poses a challenge. Reynoso said delivery of supplies to her store is usually delayed due to a general slowdown in the movement of goods in Luzon. That’s because manufacturers, logistics firms, as well as distributors and retailers are required to acquire government-issued quarantine passes which they must present at checkpoints.

Tough choices

Tough choices

Not everyone has the option to continue operating though. Nonessential businesses find themselves up against a wall as they’ve been ordered to padlock their doors during the quarantine period. Violators face penalty, jail time and even the possibility of losing their permits.

For the first time in almost a decade, Kim Salvino halted his small printing business, with a dark cloud of uncertainty about the future hanging over his head.

As the business—which supplies things like receipts, delivery forms and packaging materials—has no cash buffer, Salvino pays the company’s expenses, including the salaries of his 10-member staff, out of pocket. Salvino expects to incur US$10,000 month’s worth of losses, broken down into US$2,000 worth of expenses and an US$8,000 revenue loss.

“It’s absolutely a sacrifice on our part but we’re after the welfare of our employees, most of whom have been with us since the beginning,” he said.

What he’s most worried about is the fact that his company has been unable to service clients that qualify as essentials—like a food manufacturer and a cooking gas supplier—slowing down the operations of those clients, too. “Good thing we’ve had long relationships with them and they’ve been very understanding about the unusual situation right now. But until when can they wait?”

Fighting the Covid-19 Chill: How Filipino MSMEs are Experimenting and Huddling to Survive

A collapse of MSMEs, which account for a third of the economy, could set off a snowball effect. Not only would it slash jobs and household spending, it risks sapping demand for suppliers, landlords and lenders. As the financial ordeal ripples through to more businesses, more jobs get threatened. A downward economic spiral ensues.

MSMEs get creative

But Catimbang resists the idea of handing pink slips. Saying employees are his biggest asset, he’s determined to sustain salary payments.

“When things bounce back, we’re going to need everyone, so it’s important that my employees know I share in the pain,” he said.

Another company that was forced to scale back is Mercato Centrale, which runs food markets—huge open tents filled with third-party food stalls—in three locations around the metro. It also acts as an “incubator,” training micro and small food vendors in operations, finance and marketing so they can professionalise their business.

It’s a tough time having to pay rent without sales, but owner RJ Ledesma looks at the crisis as a chance to innovate. Ledesma said Mercato Centrale just launched online ordering on Facebook, providing logistics services to its roster of food vendors. He said he intends to convert this into a cloud kitchen once quarantine measures are lifted. A cloud kitchen provides space for vendors to cook meals, along with delivery services.

Catimbang’s first response to the unfolding crisis was focussed on making concessions. He pleaded with his landlord and spa and restaurant suppliers to postpone collections, essentially halving what Tribu Babaylan was supposed to shell out on a normal month.

Then came the more crucial question: How can the business continue to earn?

Initially barred from operating when the quarantine was declared, restaurants were allowed to reopen on the condition that they’d be restricted to takeaway and delivery. Catimbang saw an opening.

“We’ve never done a single delivery, but I told my team let’s go for it – just so we don’t experience zero sales,” he said.

He reached out to firms that were still operational, and in under 24 hours, heard from local pharmaceutical company Unilab. Unilab sponsors meals for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel on the coronavirus front lines. On the first day of the enhanced quarantine, Catimbang kicked off deliveries for Unilab recipients in top Manila hospitals. To his surprise, orders grew from 10 meals to 300 by the end of the day to 500 the next day. “I was glad I took the chance.”

While the delivery service accounts for only a small share of the overall business, the hope is that it will generate enough income to help support the staff, who’ve been worried about their jobs, said Catimbang.

But the task is neither easy nor 100% safe. He, his wife, three of their closest friends and five employees—all staying at Tribu Babaylan—split the tasks of cooking, packing and delivering meals using their personal cars and motorcycles.

“There’s that fear that you might get exposed to the virus. I have three kids, all of them still young,” he said.

But his biggest motivator is to keep his people employed and support those battling the pandemic. The team does ensure that they take the necessary precautions like wearing protective gear and limiting deliveries to a hospital’s reception area.



How Android Became the King of Apps in Southeast Asia – And Why They Bought 100 Million Indian Phones

LINE, for instance, offers its users a newsfeed, and options for shopping and food ordering. Zalo, meanwhile, offers integration with shopping options and lets the user ‘search’ people around them. These function as “little WeChats” in Southeast Asia—WeChat is the super app owned by China internet behemoth Tencent—that serve multiple functions like chatting, entertainment, and shopping all in one ap. This is a transformation Facebook is angling for but hasn’t yet fully achieved.

The dark horse

The dark horse

Since Chinese short-video app TikTok first entered Southeast Asia in late 2017, it has consistently been among the most downloaded apps. But after downloading, do people forget it’s on their phones?

TikTok doesn’t even make it into the top 20 by MAU. That’s why you don’t see an MAU line in the chart above.

That’s understandable, said Kabeer Chaudhary, managing partner at marketing firm M&C Saatchi Performance, Asia-Pacific. “Facebook’s family of apps has been around for eight to 10 years, or more. TikTok is a new entrant.”

He wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese app shows up in the top MAU chart this year as he’s “already seen a lot of traction for TikTok in markets like India”.

TikTok launched in India roughly around the same time as in Southeast Asia and quickly accrued active users there, almost 200 million a month. Why wasn’t there a time lag there? TikTok’s growth in India comes mostly from tier-2 and -3 cities. So, perhaps TikTok simply hasn’t found the right way to crack that user profile in Southeast Asia yet.

TikTok aside, there is one Chinese app that is quite actively used in this region. SHAREit.

The 10th most popular app by MAU by the end of 2019, SHAREit doesn’t come from the usual suspects—China’s social media giants ByteDance, Tencent or YY. It started out as a utility app made by Chinese tech company Lenovo, but then decoupled into a standalone app. Its primary function is to share apps and files without using precious data bandwidth.

In Southeast Asia, first-time smartphone users sometimes rely on the help of another person—shopkeepers, friends, family—to install some basic apps on their new phones. This is where SHAREit comes in handy. Once SHAREit is installed on both phones, you can transfer apps and files from one to the other offline. (You can read how this works in India in our story from 2018. SHAREit had already made it to 200 million active users in India at the time.)

More offline transfers, less data usage. There’s something TikTok can’t offer.

Shopee’s sprint

With Southeast Asia’s e-commerce market tipped to grow almost 4X to US$153 billion by 2025 (from US$39 billion in 2019), online marketplaces are having a moment in the sun. Lazada and Shopee, which both operate across the region, have staked their claims to the title of being the No. 1 player in the region.

Rich Data Points Replicates Southeast Asia’s App Addiction Cycle

To put it simply, the region’s love for apps is a data goldmine in understanding what makes it tick. With custom data compiled by mobile applications analytics firm App Annie, We were able to dive into this goldmine. But a single source data set is no fun, so we’ve also looked at App Annie’s 2020 State of Mobile report and We Are Social’s Digital 2020 reports.

The top apps by downloads and monthly active users (MAU) per quarter in the region’s six biggest markets—Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam—from 2017 to 2019 tell quite the story. Some major patterns in Southeast Asia’s app user habits—and obsessions—also emerge.

Facebook, we’re looking at you. But then again, so are all of Southeast Asia’s app users.

Facebook’s Fantastic Four

Facebook’s Fantastic Four

Facebook’s apps are highly popular in Southeast Asia, which isn’t a surprise. But the American social media giant holds the region in its grip so tightly that it’s almost a monopoly.

The top four ranking apps by MAU in the region are all Facebook’s crown jewels. There’s Facebook’s main app, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp—and they’ve shown little fluctuation in the last three years.

LINE—the messaging app created by the Japan-based subsidiary of South Korean internet company Naver—is the only app to have lost to Team Facebook in this timeframe. In fact, members of this team are competing amongst themselves.

Like the rest of the world, Southeast Asia is a little bit divided on whether it prefers WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to serve its need for constant chit-chat. WhatsApp has an edge over Messenger in Indonesia, but Messenger is preferred in Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Big deal, it’s all in the family anyway.

It’s Southeast Asia’s second layer of popular messaging and social apps that tell their individual stories. Pretty high up are LINE, Zalo and Viber, but these are actually quite country-specific.

Zalo, for instance, is only popular in its home country Vietnam, but that’s enough to bump it into the regional top 20. It’s been on a steady 13th rank since 2019. According to We Are Social’s report on Vietnam, 74% of Vietnamese between the ages of 16 to 64 say they use Zalo.

SEA’s apps diet

LINE is still immensely popular in Thailand. So much so that it surpasses Facebook with 44 million active users over Facebook’s estimated 27.4 million. This makes Thailand one of the few countries in the world where Facebook is not in the top spot. Line is also popular in Indonesia with a self-claimed 90 million users per month in 2018, although less so than Facebook’s apps.

Viber, a European messaging app, is common in the Philippines, and to some degree, in Vietnam. The company doesn’t disclose country-wise user bases.

While Facebook has the most access to users across the region, Southeast Asians like to keep alternative messaging apps on the side. And in some cases, like LINE and Zalo, these apps have morphed into much more than messaging.

3 Major Apps That Deliver During COVID-19 – Foodpanda, Grab and LINE! What to Order?

pproval takes one day, according to a spokesperson. That fastrack system led LINE MAN to increase the number of new restaurants joining its platform by 5X compared to January, but it remains to be seen whether there’s a compromise on quality or customer experience.

The process requires adaptation from restaurants, too.

“The premium restaurants are all desperately flocking [to] delivery. It’s interesting how many of them are super desperate now but were playing hard-to-get previously,” a senior executive at a company that works with food delivery services said. They requested anonymity because they’re not authorised to discuss client business with the media.

The food delivery companies declined to discuss specific merchants, but Nittayakasetwat shares that some eateries, including high-end Japanese restaurants, are “adapting their menu to be more ready-to-eat or suitable for food delivery packages.”

It isn’t just the restaurant menus that are adapting, there’s an opportunity for staff impacted by the ban to pick up new work as delivery drivers. That’s significant given that the partial shutdown on business has left tens of thousands of daily wage workers in the capital without income.

Mass exodus

Mass exodus

Some 100,000 workers are estimated to have returned to their home provinces, or—in the case of overseas workers—to neighbouring countries Laos and Cambodia.

“Demand for F&B jobs went to zero, but other industries are seeing a huge boom,” an executive at a recruitment company specialising in daily wage work in Thailand tells us. “For on-demand services, it is literally insane, demand is spiking.’

Beyond simply hiring for their fleets—which covers those with a motorbike license or simply on-foot ‘walkers’—companies like Foodpanda are adding customer support and admin roles to handle increased business. These roles require working from home and are often filled by workers whose jobs in hospitality or F&B industries are on pause right now, the executive quoted above explained.

Food delivery aside, grocery delivery services such as HappyFresh—which includes Grab among its investors; Grab offers the service as ‘GrabMart’—are hiring in significant numbers. As is conglomerate CP, which has said it wants 20,000 delivery people for a new on-demand service for Thailand’s ubiquitous 7-11 stores.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands of people,” the recruitment executive says.

Appetite for expansion

Despite the Covid-19 outbreak, Thailand’s food delivery firms are hungry to reach more of the population. Foodpanda currently operates in 50 provinces across Thailand, but it plans to reach all 76 this year. Grab, meanwhile, is aiming to more than double its Grab Food coverage from 14 provinces to 30, and LINE MAN’s expansion plan includes growing from 5 to 15 provinces.

1 million a day
But restaurants are still on the back foot.

“The rise in food delivery revenues is not sufficient to offset lower restaurant revenues,” Anantaporn Lapsakkarn, a senior researcher at K-Research, told The Bangkok Post this week. Lapsakkarn suggested that restaurants will try to handle their own delivery rather than relying on apps.