EP #22: How Boost Harnesses AI-led Digital Strategy to Grow in Malaysia’s Digital Payments Space

EP #22: How Boost Harnesses AI-led Digital Strategy to Grow in Malaysia’s Digital Payments Space

About this Podcast


During the COVID-19 crisis, cash; i.e. currency notes are seen as a potential carrier of the virus. This has acted as a major catalyst for digital payment adoption, aiding in keeping economies afloat. We recently caught up with Salil Seth, Head of Growth Hack & Loyalty at Boost, Malaysia. Boost is Malaysia’s award-winning homegrown lifestyle e-wallet app. Founded in 2017, Boost believes in being a customer-centric brand driven by cutting edge technology like AI, personalization, and predictive analytics. Salil shares solid insights on the following:

  • The need for brands to rewire their supply chain to adapt to the frugal spending patterns of consumers
  • The importance of the organizational C-Suite to have a growth mindset
  • The key challenges faced by the BFSI sector when coming to terms with the new normal
  • The essential need for churn analysis and management in the financial sector to improve user retention
  • The role of AI-led marketing automation and personalization in arrest churn and build user loyalty

Hear what an award-winning digital payments platform like Boost has to say on pursuing regrowth on the pillars of AI and customer-centricity particularly in the BFSI sector.


Episode Transcripts

Triton: “Welcome everybody to this new episode of the podcast series. So this is a podcast series focused on MAR Tech powered by Netcore where we listen to the thoughts and insights of thought leaders in the industry. My name is Triton D’Souza and I am the country manager of Malaysia for Netcore. Today on this podcast episode, we are pleased to have Mr. Salil Seh. Salil is the head of the growth hack and loyalty business for Boost. For the benefit of our listeners boost is a homegrown e-wallet in Malaysia, which has made life very easy for consumers where they can easily do payments via the mobile app and in turn receive very good rewards and cash backs. Welcome, Salil. It’s a pleasure to have you on this episode of the podcast. “


Salil: “Thanks Triton. It’s pleasure to be here”


Triton: “Salil, you know the first thing that I would like you, to you know, enlighten our listeners is a little bit about you know, Boost the growth that we have seen with Boost and what has been your association so far.” 


Salil: “Alright, great. I think a lot of guys here would know the Boost is the homegrown app, which was developed. I think back to 2017 and we have reached a massive scale as of now. We are covering more than 150 K touchpoints of the merchants in our whole ecosystem spread evenly across West Malaysia and East Malaysia and also we got encompasses a range of sweets of services. We have like offline payment transactions, online also with the bill and a payment transaction that cuts across different industries and most importantly we are moving into the financial ecosystem providing a lot of different services such as micro-lending, micro-insurance and which will be I think kind of play a pivotal role moving forward especially in this unprecedented times and I’ve been playing a key role in growing this business, starting from the last year onwards we have evolved our entire consumer Journey looking at the ways in which how we have onboard consumers easily and able to attract them to a wide range of services that we have and we have able to accomplish that growth. From last year. I think we have witnessed 12x growth in the gross transaction value as the top line of the business and also, I think there’s a 5x growth in the merchant touchpoints as well so it’s turned out to be a great year leading up to this unprecedented times.”


Triton: “Yes Salil, so that is phenomenal growth. 12x growth and transactions, 5x growth in Merchants. Wonderful. Congratulations to you and your team for such a great achievement. Yeah, you briefly mentioned this, you know uncertain times the COVID-19 pandemic. So my question to you on this aspect is? What are your observations around this pandemic? What is the change that you have seen in consumer behavior?”


Salil: “All right. I think what we all are going to is an unprecedented time is a virtual standstill of the economy and if you have ever lived in a fragile economy or the economy that has hit by a natural disaster you will know what are those times and we have seen a sudden stop economy at the global level. All right, and there is a very impotent inconsistency that we all need to reconcile with such as the health policy and the way the economy is right for the right reasons. The current stage of Health policy is about separation, it’s all about social distancing. Everyone has to care about the isolation and the way that the economy and society are wired is completely opposite. We all have the right exact moment of getting together. The fundamental desire to explore has come to a halt and with the health, of course, dominating sort of action, so it gets to a sudden stop. So with this scenario what’s going to happen next also already happening right now is consumers will become more frugal and they discretionary spending will going to take a huge hit they will be and they will be solely focusing on these essential services spending part and they will be in eventually a sluggish demand in the market. People will not be able to spend as what they’re likely to spend and airlines tend to be a leading indicator in that which will actually almost killed in rest of the other Industries and then in accordance with that companies will also have to rewire its supply chain and they need to make sure that they are able to fulfill the new range of innovation, a new range of demands that are emerging out of this right and then it may actually once there is a sudden severe decline in their revenue, they have to take care of the cost angle as well and it might eventually lead us into a layoffs unemployment rate. It eventually will be an unproductive supply so what we are seeing right now is the simultaneous destruction of both consumption and production. It’s gonna be like this. It’s going to take a huge time to get rid of this situation but I think with this point of view, right, we have the Boost and Boost ecosystem has a plethora of services to offer so we might see a decline in offline sales, but we have actually witnessed tremendous growth in the online segment and also the other payment segments, that is still receiving a double-digit growth. “


Triton: “Absolutely, so I think, the online presence of a lot of brands is helping them in these times whereas offline have completely seen a decline. How is Boost adjusting to these periods and the changes in consumer behavior, any strategies that Boost has undertaken to take care of the situation?”


Salil: “Yes, I think of a couple of initiatives that is happening both on the merchant phasing and the consumer phasing and I think it’s not only about the Boost, I think the whole XERR group is actually coming forward with the range of scenarios to take care of this pandemic and also result and I think most importantly help micro SMEs which are impacted by this pandemic and I think it’s even aggravated by this current MCU scenarios and to give you more perspective, these micro SMEs, they usually consists of like 50% of all SMEs in Malaysia and usually tends to fall in the 40 segment arising in minimal kind of savings, they are facing with the cash crunch scenario and they are facing, Usua the cash scenarios are usually move around from month to month so they are actually finding a difficulty is to operate and the way we are actually working towards is actually XERR group along with Boost, cellcom and our subsidiary company as per our see, we have launched 15 million Ringgit fund to address this scenario and to aid those micro SMEs with the kind of like quick process loans application. To give you a scenario, like let’s say if you are running a viable business, right? Let’s say a restaurant chain and if you are running that scenario and you tend to have a significant attraction but in this extremely challenging time, you are now facing what we call severe destruction of your consumption side drive, their revenue has taken off, off the chain and that you will face a problem in catering those cost those costs are fixed for your point of observation right in this case and those fixed spots are eventually leading into a liquidity problem and once you have this liquidity problem the obvious step is to go to the financial institutions such as us or such as other Banks and to provide you to cater this liquidity problem and usually that incorporates a long process of due diligence and application and less safe, god forbid everything goes well that you will receive your funds and that also takes a bit of time. So if you consider those two problem statements, then it eventually doesn’t get to your liquidity problem. It turns out to be a bankruptcy. You have to go bankrupt and it eventually turns into a solvency problem and it actually can lay off the people and then it becomes a vicious cycle in which both consumption and production are again affected. So to get rid of all those situations we have launched a micro-financing platform through our extra C channel, which is our subsidiary company, which will offer a three-minute online process to undergo your application for this process so that we are addressing ease of application problem statement and also once it gets approved your funding will be allocated to you within 48 hours so that we provide those kinds of funds to those individuals, those organizations who made most at this point of time. For this process so that we are addressing that ease of application problem statement. And also once it gets approved your funding will be allocated to you within 48 hours so that we provide those kinds of funds to those individuals those organizations that may be the most at this point of time but that’s mostly happening on the merchant facing that’s on the micro-lending site and also we are launching a different range of micro Insurance products that will help them that this COVID assistance and also with emergency income or any accidental mishappening that may happen. Alright, that’s on the merchant facing and on consumer-facing, we have launched a boot COVID-19 donation program. I think as of now we have I think so far seven hundred thousand Ringgit that we have raised so far through this program and we should Be allocated soon to the front-liners who are helping our country to run back to this normal State and we will be offering I think on the consumer side, we are doing a bunch of services, a bunch of new offerings, giving, promoting our essential Services component. We have like groceries, F&B retail, food, and delivery partners that we are launching in conjunction with the partnership with them and promoting those for transactions. Alright, so it goes on the consumer side and Merchants side as well.”


Triton:  “Wonderful. I think Salil, these are some really good things that you guys are doing and I think it will be very helpful to both the merchants as well as consumers in these uncertain times. Wonderful initiative, Salil if I may ask you, coming back you know to the growth that you guys have achieved and clearly I see that is one of your, you know key responsibilities as well so what are the most important objectives from the perspective of growth or user attention that you have.”


Salil:  “I think currently as of now we all have witnessed spending will go way lower than what it would use to be so and they would be a certain decrement in retention as well. So keeping in view of this, right, so we are catering our services essentially gathering on those most important services such as the one that I just mentioned before. How can we phone our customer experiences and a customer offering along with those essential services, part of groceries, bill payments? Those are something that you have to pay for regardless of the scenarios that are happening around the world. Right? And if you cater around those Services well and also indulge into a delivery partner and inculcating the loyalty program that we have that provides you a quick reward Services. I think these are all initiatives that we are catering towards plus also the new range of features that is coming on board. We are going to launch our new wallet feature that will actually increase your spending limit to a much higher level. So if people want to spend more they are much more welcome to do so and also a different range of services. I think it’s going to launch by mid-may and mid-June which will actually phone us on to this path and I think the growth will now actually come forward with this new set of services, which is the financial services because people will actually require the insurance, the safety net more at this present time. So we are actually very excited to launch this move: micro-financing and micro Insurance Services very soon to our public to our ecosystem.”


Triton: “Oh great. That sounds good. So I see there are quite some, you know initiatives and quite some things that you are looking for, for example, the launching of these new things but very important what you said is owning the customer experience and building the Loyalty where if they want to spend more they can do that. Salil, my next question to you will be what are the challenges that you face, you know keeping these as your parameters for growth.”


Salil: “Correct. I think the challenges will remain and the first challenges are that the people with some form of unemployment that may happen in our economy,  we were able to restore them back to the spending pattern that they were before. It’s gonna be a big Challenge and the same issues, right? That’s like yesterday demand that will remain with the suite of services that we have that we’re going to still be remained and I guess we all need to cater to those aspects, but build services that can actually divert them to much-needed Services, right, so such as the financing such as the grocery, other essential Services may come into the path. I think the other challenges that may come into the industry is I think the eventuality did this all these challenges may actually result in the great opportunity for the entire e-wallet businesses because if you consider cash right cash is the single denominator for transfer of germs or the infections and if you can see that one cash actually travels multiple facets of human community and eventually it’s into your wallet and it can easily catch many germs and infections so I think all these challenges will impart greater acceptance of equality across the board because people want to move away from any form of social interaction or contact bit unnecessary items. So I think cash will be added to the worst P but I think there are greater challenges that come with greater opportunities for us. And we are all set for this change.”


Triton: “Why so like the perspective of looking at the challenges as an opportunity? You know the way you put it. I think it’s extremely true. We need to see what the opportunities are and move ahead, wonderful that.  The other area that we have seen, so I have spoken to a lot of brands and the kind of growth that you have got so what is required is to take care of a lot of these aspects at scale. Also, you mentioned customer experience so the two things, you know, which are scale and customer experience bring me to the topic of personalization. A lot of brands have benefited big time by using personalization at various touchpoints of their consumer experience. What are your thoughts on personalization and is Boost doing anything on the personalization front?”


Salil: “Yes, we are doing a lot of new initiatives in personalization and automation. One of the examples was the aspect of financial services that we are launching. We are inculcating a different range of personalization aspects. For example, all these Merchants that sit under our ecosystem. We have actually seen their transactional history for the matter of Inception time, we can see how frequently they have transacted. What was the attraction on their platform? So we have that creditworthiness, the credit history for those kinds of merchants. So by establishing  In that creditworthiness, we can actually curtail our we can personalize our offerings in such a way to those individuals that I will ease applications will become much faster. So that was the stepping stone in that three-minute process, right? Because we know our customer web and that’s why we can inculcate the application process as compared to the bank or other financial institutions, which may take much more time right? so that is taking care of the merchant side, but from the consumer side, I think we are already indulging in a lot of automation especially in our consumer Journey aspect starting from right from the onboarding and I think starting from right from the accusation part in which we get acquired the right kind of individuals and indicating the right set of preferences all the way from the start, onboarding them to the path of least resistance so that they know exactly what they need to look at and what are the rewards and services that we are already offering to them and then any inculcating into a long-term Behavior, which will actually be our different range of metrics and models that help us into this space. One, the easiest way to understand here is to make sure that we have a recency frequency Matrix. I think that’s the cool way of looking into users who are about to churn and how we can actually stop them from churning and how can we actually make sure that the protective part actually comes into this part? So for example, if we know that Triton is gonna get churn after let’s say after a certain transaction then we know exactly how we can curtail him back to our ecosystem. So after incorporating those changes, I think we have seen positive growth and will likely double down on this kind of new initiative.”


Triton: “I’m glad that you have been able to see some growth using personalization and so is the trend that you know, we can see all across. You mentioned a little bit about print prediction and that brings me to my last question. So what are your thoughts on Predictive Analytics or the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning? How can these Technologies be used better to get better results?”


Salil: “Yeah, I think it’s a huge topic that is building up across the globe digitalization personalization. And also there’s a predictive aspect that is coming into the entire consumer journey. I think the most important aspect that they all want to consider is the continuous engagement of the consumers. So that’s the fundamental objective that they are looking for. How can they engage consumers at and much deeper level so that customer lifetime value will sustain to a much higher degree and they are indulging it is in a lot of different activities such as the ones that I mentioned before in case of financing and also in case of like cohort retention and the churn aspects but also different Industries such as you consider like manufacturing example or banking example, they can enlist like what is the How is my production chain or assembly chain looks like of now and what are the features that may require automation aspect and which the other features that require a human aspect to come into play? Right? So I think the greatest example that we have all learned last year was Tesla, the case of Tesla. In the last two years, I think they have fully automated the general assembly line and they have figured out that there was a production dip and they have actually witnessed a production dip and also a lot of errors and issues incorporated into those chains. So how they actually move out is like by bringing that human aspect back to the chain, right? So even though we know that machine learning and this predictive heart can help us to automate a lot of repetitive mundane aspects of the work,  humans will still play The Continuous and important role in those aspects. I think 3D printing will also play a huge role in the manufacturing aspect. And I think is also already playing a critical unique role in this case in this I think in especially Predictive Analytics have a key role in this digital ecosystem because you are continuously fading up with a lot of consumer insights, consumer data, and once you Incorporated that full chain of information, you can actually predict about the behaviors of the consumers and once you can able to predict that behavior, then you can design your customer experience in such a way that you can fulfill those desires and needs and able to form that deep connection with them. Yeah.”


Triton: “Yeah. Wonderful. I like the way you said that you know, human intervention is also very necessary. So I think it is going to be a combination along with human intervention using this technology. And then using smart predictions to give a beautiful experience to the consumer is going to be the key. So I take this as learning from what you have mentioned. So yeah Salil that brings me to the end of this podcast. Some wonderful insights that you have shared across from your experiences and the knowledge that you have and I think it has been a wonderful session and a great insightful session for our listeners. I would like to thank you on behalf of Netcore and behalf of all our listeners to share your insights. Thank you so much, Salil.”


Salil: “Welcome, Triton It has been a pleasure to be here, and let’s catch up soon.”


Triton: Absolutely, looking forward to the relaxation in MCO and I’m sure things will be better. We should definitely catch up and spend some time together. 


Salil: “That’s Great”


Triton: “Have a good day, Salil.”


Salil: “Thankyou”

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