Cover Caecilia Chu, CEO and co-founder of YouTrip and YouBiz

Caecilia Chu, the co-founder and CEO of YouTrip, says the pandemic has made her a much more effective business leader

When I launched YouTrip in late 2018, it was a breakout success. It was the first mover in Southeast Asia to offer a payment app enabling payment in over 150 currencies with no foreign currency (FX) transaction fees. It also supported in-app exchanges of ten major currencies at the lowest rates. It meant users no longer had to research exchange rates, queue at money changers and pay transaction fees overseas. The year before the pandemic, 2019, was also a golden age for travel, especially among our millennial customer base. Our revenue multiplied ten times within a year.

But the Covid pandemic in 2020 meant we lost a substantial part of our business overnight. It was a real shock to the system, but I eventually realised it was important to focus on what we did from that point on.      

 

Finding the "a ha!" moments amidst crises

As an entrepreneur, adapting to change is the single most important business lesson for me. Over the last 18 months, we transformed our business to become pandemic-resilient. For us, that meant broadening our offerings into e-commerce and insurances, and launching YouBiz, our corporate card that provides SMEs compelling cashback offers and overseas transactions at no FX fees.

YouBiz came about because of two “a ha!” moments we had during the pandemic. The first came about a year into the pandemic, when we noticed that some YouTrip users remained extremely active—even regularly maxing out their transaction limits—when no one was traveling. They turned out to be small retail and trading businesses that were using YouTrip to pay their overseas suppliers, taking advantage of our zero FX fees. And because they hit the S$30,000 annual limit quickly, they would even get their friends and family to sign up for our cards.

The other realisation was that we ourselves weren’t harnessing YouTrip’s favourable rates for our company’s payroll and business transactions, which involve multiple currencies including USD, SGD, HKD, and THB. Not only did 95 per cent of my corporate expenses involve FX, there was also the inconvenience of having to open new bank accounts in every country we operate in. This has become a more far-reaching issue as many employees now work in hybrid or remote arrangements. As companies become more geographically dispersed to capture new opportunities, their cross-border and transaction needs are only going to increase.

 

Keeping the focus on the customer

We work hard to understand our customers’ lives and needs. During the pandemic, we observed they were buying more things online from overseas as they had more disposable income from being unable to travel. These of course included clothing, but also Nintendo games, health supplements and even online chartered financial analyst courses. We quickly regained our transaction volume by expanding our online segments, covering everything from apparel to education and gaming. Our online consumer spending is now growing at 20 per cent month-on-month because of our newly diversified portfolio.

We didn’t just rejig YouTrip to build YouBiz. Instead we took in all our learnings and rebuilt it from scratch as a fully customisable platform. This is what it takes to win in the SME space because no two companies are ever the same, even if they’re in the same industry or selling similar products. With YouBiz, each company can create unlimited physical and virtual cards dedicated to specific expenses, departments and employees; and they can also set custom spending limits per card and assign permissions for team members.

We also incorporate features based on local needs. For example, we introduced electronic fund transfer service PayNow as a top-up channel early on and were also one of the first fintech companies to adopt the MyInfo KYC standards—which we’re also incorporating for our B2B services.

Remember what is within your control

Optimism is a choice. At the height of Covid, I was checking the news several times a day for the latest updates on when the pandemic would be over, or whether a particular travel bubble would finally materialise. There were lots of ups and downs. And this is when I realised that choosing to have hope and demonstrating it to your staff is extremely important. As the pandemic evolved from an expected duration of one month to two, to six, to a year and even more, it became increasingly easy to be pessimistic and give up. Times like these are really when you see the true colours of a company’s founder.

The second point is for leaders to always focus on things they can control and avoid becoming distracted. Stay the course – you won’t immediately see the progress from day to day but you’ll see how far you’ve come when you look back periodically. It’s this combination of hope and staying focused that has really helped us transform ourselves as a company.


Caecilia Chu is the co-founder and CEO of YouTrip, a regional financial technology company dedicated to creating a next-generation digital banking experience in Southeast Asia. The neobank recently launched YouBiz, a corporate card for SMEs to earn unlimited cashback and save on FX fees. Chu is also an honouree on the Gen.T 2020 list.

This piece is part of a collaboration between Tatler Asia and Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a global leadership community of chief executives, which counts more than thirty thousand members from 142 countries among its members.

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