Having launched the Get4x app in Hong Kong fairly recently, we were honoured to be invited to the RTHK Radio 3 studio, where our co-founder and CTO, Chris Vanden Berghe spoke to Money Talk host, Peter Lewis, about why Hong Kong is one of our key markets. Here’s what transpired in the interview.
Peter: I’m joined now by Chris Vanden Berghe, who is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of 4xLabs who is going to tell us about a new app to make fund exchange transactions easier and cheaper. Morning Chris. Thank you for coming along.
Chris: Good morning Peter. Thank you for having me.
Peter: So tell me a little bit first of all about this idea that you have, well it’s more than an idea it’s a real app isn’t it that you’ve developed for consumers who are looking to do foreign exchange transactions.
Chris: Sure. So I’m part of 4xLabs which is a company that provides services that address some of the pains around foreign exchange. So we have about 29 people in Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam which is our development team and we have both like B2B solution which is called Biz4x as well as a B2C solution called Get4x. So me, just like many people when I was traveling before, I was always using my credit card or my ATM card to withdraw money at a destination.
Peter: Which is an expensive way of doing it, isn’t it?
Chris: Exactly. My local friends kept on saying this and they were always using cash but I never did the effort of making that calculation because it’s extremely difficult to do. The banks make it fairly opaque when you withdraw money. It basically says how much the local amount is, but it doesn’t tell you how much you pay for that. So if you want to do that calculation you have to go back, look at your bank receipts and look at the historical rates and do the calculation at that point you’ll have an idea how much you actually paid.
Peter: So does this app tell you basically you know what the real cost of the transactions are, what you are paying in fees and also I mean there are many different places you can go around Hong Kong to actually do your foreign exchange; does it compare the different rates you get, the cost around different places?
Chris: Yes exactly. So it turns out that cash is significantly cheaper. However it’s not very convenient. If you want to compare money changers you basically need to walk from money changer to money changer, look at the also fairly cryptic board where the rates are always written slightly differently, the units are different, sometimes the rates are inverse and then that point you can make your choice which money changer you want to get your money from. Now our app allows you to see all these money changers live, all the money changers around you and you can pick the best deal for yourself.
Peter: Ok. Why did you set this app in Hong Kong? Why did you set this app in Hong Kong?
Chris: So at the time, about a year ago, I started a business in Hong Kong which was around remittance and foreign exchange. The business then got acquired by 4xLabs in Singapore which I then joined as co-founder and CTO. The business in Hong Kong, if I take a look at what any entrepreneur needs well is a good idea and you need a good execution but if I can take a step back is what you need is market access, what you need is access to talent, access to capital, as well as good early stage infrastructure.
Peter: So when you do this, if you have this app, you can see where to go. Could you actually transact through the app so you don’t even have to go anywhere, you know you could just press the button, and order the currency and go and collect it later, lock in that rate. Is that possible?
Chris: Absolutely. At this point we focus mostly on providing the information so you can see the rates around you and then you can make the decision on what the best money changer is to go to, based on the distance as well as on the price. What we also allow is for booking, that allows you to lock in that rate and at that point you’re certain that the money at the money changer is actually available. What we’ll do in a later stage is delivery and then you’ll get the full value chain. As a consumer you go to the app, you’ll order the money, it will be delivered to your office later on.
Peter: So presumably, because you are really a fintech company, you have all the technology; it must be quite cheap therefore for you to set this up and therefore you can keep your cost low and be quite competitive I should imagine it, as many fintech companies do.
Chris: Absolutely. A fintech company is ,so the word fintech is a bit of a buzz word these days but basically fintech companies are startup companies that leverage technology to provide a better and more efficient service in the financial services. They typically compete with traditional players in the financial industry and want to disrupt this market. Now for us to provide this technology, we are able to scale this fairly quickly as we are a technology based company, we are currently in four different cities which is Hong Kong, Mumbai, Bangkok and Singapore. It would be ten by the end of June and we will have all major transportation hubs in Asia by the end of the year.
Peter: And is Hong Kong, for a startup company like yourself, entrepreneurs like you that are looking to set up new businesses; is Hong Kong a welcoming place, a competitive place to do that compared to other cities around the region?
Chris: I would say definitely it has its advantages, there are also still some things that need to be worked on. If I take a look at the points that I made earlier around market access, it has a fairly small local market. For a B2C startup that can potentially be an issue but well it has a big neighbor of course in China. Then if I take a look at capital access it’s a great place for angel funding, a lot of high net worth individuals but then when I take a look at more institutional VC funding that becomes a different story. Just to give you an idea, in Hong Kong there was about a hundred million US dollar in VC funding last year compare this to almost seven hundred million dollars in Singapore then it is still behind quite a bit. If you take a look at talent, it is quite easy to find talent in the finance area, but if you’re looking for tech talent then it becomes slightly more difficult. And finally it is often difficult to hire foreigners. If you look at immigration policies it’s more geared towards large organizations that are…
Peter: … Bringing in their own people basically from overseas offices.
Chris: Exactly. Here there is a lot of requirement around your revenues to bring in talent from abroad.
Peter: Ok Chris, well thank you very much for coming in and explaining that. That’s Chris Vanden Berghe who is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at 4xLabs.
Get4x is now available in Hong Kong!
Exchange your currency with our Get4x app.