Hong Kong start-up aims to help SMEs find the right banking services at the best price.
Wherever they are, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may sometimes find the banking world hard to navigate and often confine their use of corporate banking services to account opening.
The co-founders of fintech Hong Kong start-up FinMonster offers a “Trivago of banking” – which, like the hotel-finding app, lets its clients locate the appropriate banking services they need for the best price.
“Our ultimate goal is to make corporate banking operate efficiently, not only in Hong Kong but in the world,” FinMonster Co-founder, CEO and Executive Director Jess Cheng said. “We want corporates to obtain their banking support at a reasonable price and banks to acquire business with lower costs. This means resources are allocated more effectively.”
FinMonster is an early-stage fintech start-up – launched in May 2019 after building their algorithm and user interface over one-and-a-half years, and now run by a team of seven team members, including Mr Cheng and Co-founder and Executive Director Ming Chan. Mr Cheng said the firm would value the exposure and networking opportunities presented by Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) events such as the Asian Financial Forum (AFF).
Mr Chan said FinMonster is concentrating on matching corporate clients with banks at this early stage but would be open to extending its reach to other business services such as accounting in the future.
FinMonster claims to be the only company in Asia offering such services. Mr Cheng said that at the time they set themselves up in 2017, they were not aware of any company in the world offering a similar product. Since then, however, two peers have started in the United Kingdom – Funding Xchange and Funding Options – as well as one in Germany called FinCompare. Banks in the UK which cannot meet a client’s needs often refer the client to one of these services, through a programme offered by British Business Bank, Mr Cheng said.
The company’s offering complements the Simple Bank Account (SBA) system, which streamlines procedures, by targeting clients who need a wider range of services.
The company draws clients from a wide range of industries, including traders, wholesalers, construction and services firms. The start-up’s aim is to educate corporations and serve as a portal between them and the banks, Mr Cheng said.
The banking matchmaker function is open to using innovative technologies such as Facebook’s planned Libra coin and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin to achieve its aims − as long as their use complies with banking regulations and legislation – but they have no firm plans in place at this stage.
Mr Cheng said FinMonster expects that it will begin to expand beyond Hong Kong. As the city has a very open economy, the firm expects to create a web connecting clients and banks that will grow organically to incorporate other markets.
The business model of FinMonster could be described as “request for quotation”, Mr Cheng said. In the same way as a prospective traveller enters requirements when searching on Trivago, so corporate clients will input their banking needs when searching on FinMonster.
FinMonster intended to branch into loan-origination services after its client base expanded, as loan origination is an expensive process for banks, Mr Cheng said. Currently staff in smaller banks need to spend a great deal of time finding borrowers and vetting their requests, meaning existing loan origination functions only benefit large corporates. Although FinMonster is a freeware right now, the company could charge banks a subscription fee, offering loan origination on a software-as-a-service (SAAS) basis. Since applications would be machine-processed, FinMonster could benefit from economies of scale – handling 10 applications would cost no more than handling one.
As an early-stage start-up, FinMonster benefits from Hong Kong’s vibrant start-up scene in many ways. The company received funding from the CyberPort Creative Micro Fund (CCMF) in June and is part of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Polypreneur scheme and the University of Hong Kong’s iDendron Incubation Programme.
Data constitutes the “secret sauce” for FinMonster, Mr Cheng said, with figures on loan-granting and tenor, loan acceptance, as well as client and bank behaviour all helping the start-up improve its algorithms and make better matches between clients and banks.
Mr Cheng said that with just a handful of leading banks holding a lion’s share of the market at present, FinMonster would contribute to Hong Kong society by expanding the role of smaller banks and fintech companies.
And while eight virtual banks have been granted licences, just two currently serve corporates, he said − and FinMonster was already in discussions with these in relation to connecting them with potential customers.