2C2P, a leading Southeast Asian payment services provider, has landed $7 million in Series C funding from Hong Kong’s Amun Capital and Japan’s GMO Venture Partners. That brings total funding for the 12-year-old company to $10 million.
2C2P will use the funds to make senior hires and to expand its “cards, cash and cash equivalent acceptance services [and] the issuance of physical and virtual co-branded debit and prepaid card with partner banks and retailers.” Although the company’s headquarters are in Singapore, Burmese founder and group CEO Aung Kyaw Moe and his family live in Thailand. Aung travels a lot, not even counting trips to the United States, where he is completing an executive program at MIT. The company’s staff of 85 are spread across offices in Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia. Vietnam is the next likely site. 2c2P also does work in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Aung’s drive and confidence are very inspiring. When he landed in Bangkok in 1999, he had nothing. Well, he had two years of information technology studies in Yangon and his English had improved after teaching for two years at a computer training school in Phnom Penh. But he didn’t speak Thai and didn’t have any professional contacts. When he heard of someone that needed a website, he agreed to do it and then quickly learned HTML. Eventually he got a job the way many Burmese computer engineers in Bangkok still do: by knocking on doors.
But how do you stumble into something as complex as online payments? Not being very technologically inclined myself, I find it difficult to grasp but, according to Aung, if you know the programming language it’s not all that esoteric. He had been concentrating on building mobile games around 2003 when a friend asked him if he was interested in doing a job for a Thai bank that want to improve its security software for Visa cards.
He did the work–for free. That isn’t as insane as it sounds: he earned a solid recommendation that he then took to other Thai financial institutions that became his customers. It also meant working with the usual suspects: American Express, JCB, MasterCard, VISA and later on, China UnionPay. 2C2P also built Paysbuy, a PayPal type service for use by Thai SMEs, which was eventually sold to telecom operator DTAC.
New Customers – Airlines and Retailers
While Aung was attending Sasin, Chulalongkorn University’s well-respected business school in 2006, a professor encouraged him to move the company’s headquarters to Singapore and to think beyond Thailand.
It’s only been in the past four years that the company branched out to working with retailers and the like that process payments or want to pay their own suppliers more efficiently. Airlines in particular don’t want to be locked into one bank; they want the technology to have connections with a lot of them. One customer is Thai Airways, In the past year, 2c2P has also been adding Myanmar airlines like Air KBZ, MAI and Asia Wings.
Still, only 10%-15% of the population in Southeast Asia owns a credit card or a debit card that merchants accept. Providing security for direct bank-to-bank transfers therefore is another important service; many people in Southeast Asia even buy things online that way. Nonetheless, the vast majority of the adults in Southeast Asia don’t even have a bank account, never mind an ATM card. In Thailand, 2C2P has created a system with call centers and online merchants that enables customers to complete their transactions in cash at more than 60,000 locations–such as convenience stores–that serve as cash collection points. “There are so many other ways” to sidestep banks, Aung told me, “like reloadable Visa cards.” With so many people in the region now getting their first regular access to the internet with cheap smartphones, we will see more telecom services intervening in the payments chain too.
As a Burmese citizen, Aung has had a certain advantage in courting banks and consumer companies as Myanmar hurries to build its banking and payment infrastructure. Last year 2C2P worked with the Myanmar Payments Union (MPU) to launch the country’s first e-commerce platform. MPU is like China Union Pay or the original Visa in that it is a platform owned by all the country’s banks. The 1 million Burmese that own MPU cards now can use them at ATMs or to purchase products at more than 20,000 physical points-of-sale or from websites.
In the past year, 2C2P also introduced iACCEPT and the Citizen Card in Myanmar. iACCEPT enables customers to make payments at a points-of-sale using their smartphones or tablets. The Citizen Card is the country’s first prepaid card that enables users to conduct transactions with a smartphone app.