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Even in the payments space, Gojek lacks coordination in Thailand. Its local GET service lets users load money into their account for cashless payments in several ways, including by giving cash to a driver. But, to the frustration of many, that account credit can only be used to pay for motorbike taxi rides. Its food delivery service, which is extensively marketed and seemingly more popular, must be paid for using cash.

Like Go-Viet in Vietnam, GET has struggled to make a mark in Thailand. The company’s services are limited to food delivery and motorbike taxi rides. Grab offers those services alongside private cars, licensed taxis, courier deliveries and more.

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Grab is the frontrunner across the Southeast Asia region. Its presence was enough to convince Uber to pack its bags and focus on more winnable battles elsewhere in the world. Today, Grab operates in around 200 cities, claiming more than 150 million app downloads to date and more than 6 million completed rides per day. Little is known of its financials, but Grab said its revenue reached $1 billion in 2018, with the figure estimated to double in 2019.

Gojek holds home-court advantage in Indonesia, where it claims to have been downloaded over 125 million times since launching its app in 2015. Across all its services, annualised transaction value has reached $9 billion, the company claimed, of which $6.3 billion comes via its GoPay service. But, it remains unclear how it calculates that figure. An internal document shared with us covering Gojek’s 2017 financial data, suggests the company double-counts some transactions—once as a ride, food delivery or courier transaction, and then again as GoPay if the booking is paid for using the e-wallet—which would inflate the final number significantly.

What is more clear, however, is that Grab is increasingly encroaching on Gojek’s turf. In 2017, Grab doubled down on Indonesia with a $700 million investment commitment, which was boosted by a further $2 billion in 2019. Beyond figures, its operations have shifted, too. Its second headquarters are in Indonesia, and CEO Anthony Tan is said to spend 70% of his time in the archipelago.

“Regardless of how it expands, Gojek needs to remain strong in Indonesia, a market that on its own already drives success in the region,” said Yinglan Tan, founding managing partner at Insignia Venture Partners. Instead of going head-to-head with Grab, Gojek may focus on certain services that work across Southeast Asia, such as logistics and cross-border payments, added Tan.

Thorn in Grab’s side

For Gojek to replicate its Indonesian ride-hailing empire—where it claims to have over 2 million drivers—elsewhere was always going to be a challenge of the highest order. But it appeared a necessary one in post-Uber Southeast Asia.

An investor in one of Gojek’s subsidiaries said Grab had successfully used its regional growth story to secure funding from investors through the years. Now, Gojek appears to have adopted the same approach, the investor added.

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Competition has now gotten stiffer with TPG Telecom launching its postpaid plans on 31 March. Subscribers can get 50GB of data for S$10 (US$6.99) a month, pushing the notion of cheap data and a price war even further.

In all this, the Circles-M1 tie-up, stuck at no. 3, is doing little to change the Singapore telco landscape. In fact, M1 has taken on another MVNO, Geenet Mobile, on its network after holding off for four years.

Going round in Circles

Singapore wasn’t the only market Circles wanted to capture though. And in that ambition, Circles went further than it could afford to.

Circles raised an undisclosed Series C funding round in February 2019, led by venture capital firm Sequoia India. Armed with these funds, the company was ready to make big investments. More than $50 million for each new market launch, as well as $25 million into Circles-X, its proprietary software platform. It went to Taiwan and Australia, with the promise of three more markets in the future. It is currently preparing to launch services in Indonesia.

The MVNO also put S$25 million down for the Bengaluru centre.

Taiwan and Australia are local moves. The combined market—with 29.3 million and 28.3 million mobile phone subscribers, respectively, as of 2018—dwarfs Singapore’s 8.6 million, whilst retaining similar consumer dynamics.

“Circles.life has carefully chosen these markets where individuals are more comfortable transacting online and rely on digital means more than the physical means,” said IDC’s Batra. “It falls in line with [its] strategy to have a lean footprint and operational costs by not having stores, etc.”

Taiwan looked like a smart choice—Circles claimed in a press release that over 84% of Taiwanese are online shoppers and 64% of them prefer to shop on their mobile devices. Over 80% of Circles’ users signed up via the MVNO’s website at launch and, publicly, it looked like a success.

However, behind the scenes, Circles was hamstrung by its partner in the region, Chunghwa Telecom, and had little leeway with regulations, according to the previously mentioned person. “It couldn’t do promos, or price changes, basically couldn’t do anything. For Taiwan, it underestimated the customer’s behaviour and the partner,” the person added.

Circles offered the same old promos and features in Taiwan as it had in Singapore—cheaper data, no lock-ins—but it was no first-mover in the region. Line Mobile and Ibon Mobile were already established players in Taiwan.

Eventually, the axe fell on its near-50-strong Taiwan team. While reports of layoffs only came out in February 2020, the same person quoted above revealed they’d started in September 2019. First, the operations and customer service people were let go, a second batch was fired just a month later, and a third batch was laid off in February. Even the general manager of Circles’ Taiwan operations wasn’t spared, with a replacement hired soon after.

In Australia, it was a problem of plenty—this is a market with 22 other MVNOs. And when the promos stopped, customers left as well, said the person. “They didn’t have anything unique to offer.”

 

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The MVNO has also been consistently loss-making since its inception. According to company filings, between May-Dec 2017, Circles reported a loss of S$5.6 million (US$3.91 million), which widened to S$8.6 million (US$6.1 million) for the year ended Dec 2018. These heavy losses come despite revenues of S$68.5 million (US$47.9 million) for 2018 and S$31.9 million (US$22.3 million) for 2017.

Circles did not report its financials for 2019 at the time of publishing. It also declined to participate in this story.

It’s the worst time to be flailing. There’s competition rising all over—more MVNOs are in the market, while incumbent telcos are employing new tactics like cheaper data, data rollovers and no lock-ins. From changing the rules of the game, Circles is now playing catch up. While marketing has been the company’s strong suit, its out-of-the-box marketing stunts can only take it so far.

Once positioned to upend the telco market, Singapore’s biggest MVNO is now performing a high-wire act.

Old tricks, new game

Singapore is an outlier in the Southeast Asian region, with mobile penetration above 100%. This makes it a potentially lucrative market for mobile operators. In fact, new telco entrant TPG Telecom wanted to use Singapore as a testbed for its Australian operations, as we previously reported.

Circles’ ploy for a Singapore takeover was simple. Cheap data.

The first plan launched by Circles gave customers 3GB of data for S$28 (US$19.57) a month. In comparison, Singtel was offering 3GB for S$62.90 (US$43.96) a month back in 2016.

Soon enough, almost all incumbents started offering more data as an add-on to current plans. For instance, Singtel offered subscribers twice their current free data allocation for an extra S$5.90 (US$4.12) a month.

Handset subsidies

Before long, telcos were eschewing one of their biggest customer draws—handset subsidies to offer SIM-only plans. Handset subsidies come with a 12-month or 24-month contract for a cheaper upfront cost for a smartphone. Termination of the contract early would result in financial penalties, incentivising subscribers to renew contracts for newer phones.

Things got worse as features that Circles introduced in 2016 became standard across the telco industry. Prices plummeted as telcos raced to match each other’s SIM-only plans and features.

In June 2019, the scales tipped. Telcos announced monthly excess data rollover and, suddenly, Circles found itself following suit, instead of leading from the front.

Circles’ troubles come at a time when it’s surrounded by MVNOs in Singapore. Nine—Zero1, RedOne, VivoBee, MyRepublic, GridMobile, ViviFi, Geenet Mobile, CMLink SG—excluding the now-defunct Zero SG, which lasted all of two years.

A person familiar with Circles noted that it had an easy model to copy. As telcos got involved, it became a price war. “Circles’ unique sales proposition was giving power back to the customers, which, customers say, is true,” said the person. This meant understanding customer demand and delivering. For instance, Circles had a WhatsApp and instant messaging add-on to its data pack. This meant customers could use WhatsApp without exhausting their data.

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Since Covid-19 is a new disease, Digit didn’t have past data on its severity and escalation. So, the insurer studied other infectious diseases like SARS and looked at how it had panned out in the affected nations, added Chaturvedi.

As a fixed-benefit product under the sandbox regulations, the liability of Digit’s policy was predetermined. IRDAI sets limits on the sales of a product under the sandbox: sell for either six months, or till you sell 10,000 policies, or sell upto Rs 50 lakh.

“We hit the Rs 50 lakh limit in about three weeks, so we had to stop it,” said Chaturvedi. “We are now looking at the data to see if we want to launch a retail product [outside the sandbox].”

Digit’s Covid-19 policy was the only retail product in the market for three weeks. Most companies have only launched group policies with fixed benefits to limit their risk. A retail insurance policy is bought by individuals, while a group policy is typically offered by companies to its employees as a health benefit. Retail insurance is more robust than group insurance, as the retail policies come up for regular renewals and are not subject to as much pricing pressure as group policies.

“We are seeing how the disease progresses before launching retail products,” said Sanjay Datta, chief underwriting officer at ICICI Lombard. The insurer has launched a plan where it sells Covid-specific cover through companies like e- commerce retailer Flipkart. “We are planning to limit the number of policies sold. These are hard to get right,” Datta added.

Like Digit, other companies have also studied the epidemiology of diseases similar to Covid-19, such as SARS and H1N1, to come up with pricing for their policies. But these diseases were far more contained than Covid-19, making this pandemic particularly hard to price.

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The Indian government’s scheme, which gives free health insurance to 500 million people, is going to add to the burden. The government usually pays the premium to private insurers. “We are anticipating an increase in the volume of claims from this route too,” said an executive at HDFC Ergo.

Uncalculated risk

Star Health’s Dr Prakash says the incidence of Covid-19 is higher than any respiratory-related illness. To remove uncertainties, insurers have gone the fixed-benefit route. They pay a fixed lump sum on detection of Covid-19 rather than covering the cost of treatment. But there’s a big risk here: if the incidence rate is miscalculated, insurance companies may face a massive number of claims.

“Covid-19 covers are a bad idea for insurers unless they have a definite strategy of quick scaling and also upselling their base plan,” said Jayan Mathews, co-founder of Vital, a platform for health insurance and financing. He was the former product head at Apollo Munich Health Insurance, before it was acquired by HDFC Ergo in January. “If they don’t get the adequate numbers quickly or ensure they have the correct risk premium, they won’t have a diversified enough portfolio to bear the concentration of risk.”

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Insurers are hoping that the Indian government sets a cap on the Covid-19 treatment cost like it did with testing. If that doesn’t happen, insurers are in for a wild ride. But even in the absence of such an assurance, some insurers have already taken the plunge by launching Covid-specific covers. What gives?

The disease-cover route

The biggest problem for India’s insurance sector is people’s fatalistic belief that it won’t happen to them. Not many want to spend on a premium of Rs 10,000 a year for something they don’t consider likely. And even many of those who buy a policy look at it as a tax-saving instrument.

Employers, too, purchase coverage for their workers—usually group policies—but these cover expenses of only around Rs 1-3 lakh ($1,312.7 – $3,938.3)—a sum that would only partially cover a major hospitalisation.

Instead, insurers find it easier to nudge people into buying insurance via disease-based coverage. Like a dengue-specific policy if monsoons are severe where you live; a diabetes or cancer care insurance if you are genetically predisposed to it. In general, critical illness policies that cover for cancer sell more than infectious disease policies, said Dr Prakash. People also tend to renew critical illness-based covers more than a dengue cover.

Yearly premiums for such policies are less than Rs 1,000 ($13.13), while offering significant coverage. Moreover, a diabetic person wouldn’t be allowed to buy a general health insurance policy even if they wanted one. But that’s not the case with disease-based covers, which can be bought even by people who are already suffering from a disease.

For insurers, disease-based covers are, in theory, good products to sell as their loss ratios are lesser than those of general health insurance plans. This makes them a favourable proposition for insurers.

However, they are still not profit-making products, according to the senior executive quoted earlier. For starters, they only really sell online, and usually as add-on products. Insurance agents, after all, earn commissions on policies sold, so low-ticket products aren’t something they care to flog. The problem with selling digitally, though, is that most insurers say they don’t have the budget for digital marketing. As a result, insurers generally view these policies as a way to get a foot in the door to upsell general health insurance coverage.

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Take Digit, for example. Its Covid-19 policy is a way of promoting its recently launched health insurance product. Call it foresight or just plain luck, Digit had filed for need-based insurance for health under the IRDAI’s sandbox regulations and had received an approval in January 2020.

“While we were contemplating the best manner to project this sandbox application, we witnessed the rapid increase of this disease in India,” said Vivek Chaturvedi, head of marketing at Digit. “We finalised on the modalities and documents, and it took us about two weeks to launch the policy. All we had to do was change the variables [like frequency and severity of the disease] in our database and we had a new product.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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?”

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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.

 

 

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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.