Fintech startup leverages AI to bring 'inclusive' finance to underbanked markets

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A startup is trying to capture the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) to bring financial services to underbanked populations in developing markets. Meet Surfin Meta, a Singaporean fintech company making waves – and money – with its holistic vision of financial empowerment.

The firm, with services spanning lending, credit cards, payment routing and wealth management, primarily targets young adults aged 23 to 30 who have never had financial access before. It has more than 50 million registered users across nine markets.

According to Yanan Wu, founder, chairman and CEO, Surfin uses AI to create an initial credit score for users to begin their financial journey based on their internet behavior and activity.

“As our name Surfin suggests, we want to ride the wave of technology to lower the barrier to equitable financial access for a wider population,” Wu said in an interview in Hong Kong. “We want to focus on emerging markets' rapid income growth, consumer growth and emerging middle class for the coming decade.”

Wu said Surfin mainly uses social channels such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and TikTok for user acquisition. Internet activities on a user's mobile device, such as social networks and search history, help the company build a user profile that it uses to create a credit score.

Since its launch in 2017, Surfin has expanded to nine markets, including Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Mexico.

Wu said accumulated transaction volume has exceeded US$2.5 billion in the past six years, and the company has been profitable since 2021 while revenue has grown by 50 to 60 percent. Surfin generated more than US$170 million in revenue and US$20 million in net profit last year, and expects to double its revenue this year, he said.

Despite high interest rates, digital lending is growing rapidly in Asia, particularly in emerging markets. Online lending to consumers and small and medium enterprises in Southeast Asia is expected to grow by 26% annually to reach US$60 billion in 2023, and to grow by another 400% to US$300 billion by 2030. Is. For a study by Temasek and Bain Capital last year.

Traditional financial companies are also ramping up their use of digital services to retain customers, heating up competition. This translates into a “fight for the fittest” between pure play fintechs, the study said.

To differentiate itself and retain customers, Wu said Surfin focuses on building long-term customer relationships. Lending is just the beginning of the customer journey, and the company is working to expand its ecosystem of other financial services.

Pedestrians walk past commercial buildings in Singapore's central business district on April 11, 2024. Photo: Bloomberg

Surfin underwrites its loan book with its own capital and can afford a penalty rate of up to 20 percent during its current expansion phase, Wu said, adding that non-performing loans remain under control because fintech credit management. focuses on

The firm recently raised US$10 million in debt from Europe and aims to secure another US$20 million this year from Asian investors. It is on track to close a US$20 million equity round led by Singaporean venture capital funds, Wu said.

Over the next three to five years, Wu wants to build Surfin into a “regional digital banking powerhouse and fintech leader.” In addition, it wants to be “comprehensive, scalable and sustainable” by using AI prompts to interact with customers and meet their needs.

“I hope to make consumers feel more equal and valued through instant financial services,” he said.

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