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Interview: Why BNPL firm Ablr saw 'great potential for growth' in MY despite cluttered industry

Interview: Why BNPL firm Ablr saw 'great potential for growth' in MY despite cluttered industry

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Buy now pay later (BNPL) customers are more active and engaged across transaction volumes, digital app engagement, and length of the relationship, according to McKinsey in 2021. In fact, the average annual transactions per account for BNPL are twice as much as for private-label credit cards, the report added.

BNPL is becoming increasingly popular among Southeast Asia with brands such as Atome, hoolah, Pace, and Klarna vying for consumers' attention in the industry. Another player in the scene is Ablr which recently expanded into Malaysia after starting up in Singapore in 2017, according to its LinkedIn. 

Amanda Chin, Ablr's CEO, told A+M in an interview that its expansion into Malaysia was driven by the country’s “great potential for growth”, as a highly digital-savvy nation with a population that has a high mobile penetration rate.

More importantly, the brand has seen increasing use of digital payments and the desire for faster, safer, and more convenient methods of payment. As such, these characteristics of the Malaysian market enable Ablr to come in and provide its services.

To solidify its branding and raise awareness in the increasingly cluttered BNPL space, Ablr updated its logo to emphasise a key element - the ampersand symbol. “We use this signature symbol to signify how Ablr is essentially an enabler – an association we want people to be able to make with Ablr and how we can help customers achieve their life fulfilling dreams and for our merchants and partners, how we can unlock new and potential revenue streams,” she explained.

Currently, Ablr’s Malaysian team comprises 10 people, including the marketing team. According to Chin, the local team in Malaysia has "sound business knowledge, expertise and experience in the fintech, payments and technology space". In fact, its marketing and operations team is headquartered in Malaysia, supporting the overall business in both countries and Chin anticipates Ablr's total workforce to double by year-end.

ablr old new logo

According to its LinkedIn, Ablr is on a mission to utilise technology, design and data to create and humanise financial services that help improve people’s lives. Aside from humanising financial services, Ablr also looks to address the underserved market so more Malaysians and Singaporeans can be digitally and financially included. It touts itself to be fast and simple without any hidden costs such as late fees or late interests. On the merchant front, Ablr claims to currently be the only BNPL player that does not charge merchants for integration within the merchants’ eCommerce or in-store platforms, nor does it charge for setting up accounts, subscription to the service and interchange to other platforms. 

While Ablr has its own unique selling points and opportunities, the journey to building a brand in Malaysia still isn't easy. Chin said one of the challenges it faces is managing the perception and concerns around the BNPL proposition, adding:

In some quarters, BNPL may be seen as an avenue to buy even more and thus increase one’s debt. This is where consumer education will be integral.

Beyond financing, Chin said that Ablr's role as a BNPL provider must also include an always-on education element to help the public understand how to use BNPL responsibly and how it can be used as a method of sustainable financing, especially for important purchases.

The other challenge is the growing number of BNPL players, which signifies the need to further differentiate Ablr and continue to expand the merchant partner network. It continuously eyes partnerships with both established and local merchants across a wide breadth of sectors. Among the merchants the brand is targeting in Malaysia include health and wellness, education and enrichment, home and family, and travel and experience pillars.

Brands such as Spine and Joint, BORDERS, electrical appliances brand KHIND, and International Psychology Centre, among others have come on board in Malaysia. Chin told A+M that the brand is looking out for companies which are keen to explore opportunities for growth and scale, while also actively seeking to support its customers in achieving some of its life-fulfilling goals that enhance and elevate their lives.

Ablr is looking to work closely with existing and new merchant partners to introduce new propositions to build awareness of the brand in the next couple of months, Chin said. In addition, it aims to highlight the various merchant partners that are enabled on its platform and incentivise customers with attractive offers.

To assist merchants, Ablr is providing marketing support both online and in-store, such as reviewing its marketing materials and providing comprehensive training to management and retail staff. According to Chin, this is so that “they can better communicate about Ablr as a payment option at the point of sale”.

Differences between Singapore and Malaysia

Chin assumed the role of Ablr’s CEO in January, according to her LinkedIn. Prior to this, she worked at Touch n’ Go, TNG Digital and Detroit Electric and these experiences have helped her in her new role at Ablr, as well as shaped her vision for the brand, according to Chin.

“With the BNPL space just starting in this region, I’m excited about building Ablr in Malaysia and then expanding into other Southeast Asia markets with a focus on value-driven business – most importantly one that is sustainable, so that it can continue to have business continuity and growth in the long run,” Chin explained. 

Chin is well aware that achieving business growth and continuity in Malaysia will require localisation to fit market needs. In order for the brand to offer solutions that are tied closely to achieve consumers' aspirations, it was important for Ablr to understand what some of consumers' priorities, goals, and ambitions were.

According to her, the Singapore market provided Ablr with a more sophisticated consumer and merchant base for it to launch proof of concept (POC) in identifying the right product fit. As such, the feedback received from the POC has guided the brand further to improve, scale and localise the product into the Malaysian consumer base and merchant market.

Meanwhile, Malaysia is viewed as a test-bed for Ablr to springboard its expansion into Southeast Asia, a more complex and diverse market, as it mirrors the diverse mix of underserved markets. In fact, the brand is eyeing expansion opportunities in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines next.  

Advertising trends to keep a lookout for

Sustainability is one of the top priorities among companies these days and also a personal interest for Chin, more specifically sustainable practices and responsible consumerism. She believes this to be less of a trend and more of a lifestyle choice and preference.

"Consumers are increasingly choosing brands that value sustainability or urge others to better their practices and take accountability for their impact on the planet and society. Consumers are taking more care over the products they choose to buy and the brands they choose to associate with. Many brands have listened to this, capitalising on the opportunity and seeing it as a responsibility to be doing good while doing well," she said. The ESG practices and lifestyles also give way for the concept of ethical financing and mindful, responsible spending. According to Chin, this is very much aligned with how Ablr wants the business to be.

She is also interested in shaping consumer behaviours. Chin explained that Ablr is able to encourage behaviours through harnessing the power of data coupled with creative means and propositions. "This will continue to be a game-changer in the way businesses are being run traditionally, particularly in the banking and finance sector. This will be very instrumental in the way Ablr is seeking to shape positive consumer behaviour towards more responsible and sustainable spending, setting a benchmark for the BNPL industry," she said.

During her four years at Touch n’ Go and TNG Digital, Chin served in various capacities such as leading the innovation, SME enablement and transport departments. This enabled her to gain experience in strategic planning, business and product development, customer experience, stakeholder management, customer retention, and digital transformation of platforms and processes.

Over the years, Chin said she was able to grasp the inner workings of rolling out a successful fintech solution from the get-go combined with her overall experiences leading revenue monster as its CEO during the pandemic, a payments solutions provider pivoting into digitalisation with digital tools.

As such, she is optimistic that the knowledge, capabilities, and learnings gained over time will help her to chart strategies to build Ablr’s presence, product market fit and partnerships that will deliver an overall increased value to stakeholders, and merchant partners and consumers in Malaysia and regionally.

Chin added that her experience working with the “best-in-class to build a start-up and shape the industry from the ground up” had provided her with a rewarding experience. In fact, she described it to be "a complete mind shift when trail-blazing in a pioneering industry". 

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