The Hong Kong based start-up Valoot is working hard to improve the transparency for foreign exchange rates used on credit card purchases abroad. Ovidiu Olea, Founder & CEO, shares Valoot’s story and his views on what the future of FinTech will look like in the region.
[KAE] Tell us more about Valoot, including what makes the company and its vision unique?
Valoot was originally born out of the routine frustration of not having any visibility or control over the FX rate used for our card purchases abroad. It is unbelievable that in 2017, when I can order an Uber in under 2 minutes, I have to wait 3 days or more to find out how much my purchase abroad actually cost me. And upon finding out, if I don’t like the rate that was used, there is no avenue for appeal. I was sick and tired of feeling like a victim and decided to do something about it.
The solution is simple: democratise foreign exchange. Wherever Valoot is available, consumers can choose their own payment currency before using their credit cards and also know the FX rate in advance straight from the market, enabling them to sidestep hidden mark-ups and commissions. By giving the consumer the opportunity to fix the rate in advance, they can save over 50% of the average commission and charges related to the FX conversion. Essentially, every purchase is an actual FX trade, straight onto the FX market.
[KAE] What do you think are the critical components for Valoot’s success up until now and what are the main challenges you have faced during your journey so far?
The recipe for success is simple. Come up with an idea that solves problems, educates people and provides them with value. Relentlessly dedicate yourself to turning that idea into a reality with the help of a great team. Use everyone in your network, pivot when you need to and pray a lot. As a startup, you do need a lot of luck and/or divine intervention. The odds are stacked against you from the start.
[KAE] Are there any innovations and/or technologies that you feel will be game changers over the next 12 months in the international payment and FX spaces?
I foresee WeChat Pay becoming the first truly global e-wallet. Previously, I was a firm believer in the old adage that “e-wallets are the future and always will be”. However, WeChat has the social media element and it also helps that they already have 960 million users. WeChat is gradually expanding outward, with local wallet offerings in Malaysia and Hong Kong, so their international ambition is becoming more evident.
On the FX side, Valoot will be the tip of the lance in the pursuit of FX market access for regular consumers. The advancement of electronic FX from large financial institutions and FinTech provide the appropriate backdrop for consumers to access market rates smoothly and quickly.
[KAE] Some Hong Kong-based FinTechs have struggled to tap into new markets outside of the region. Why do you think that is the case?
Quite frankly, not that many startups out of Hong Kong have had truly innovative and scalable solutions. When that combination does happen, then international expansion is pretty straightforward – just check out the GoGoVan example. They dominated in Hong Kong because theirs is a valuable solution, and then scaling internationally was very quick to happen, especially with the correct amount of funding in place.
[KAE] In your opinion, what does the future of FinTech in Hong Kong look like and how can Hong Kong position itself as a leader in the Asia-Pacific region?
Hong Kong will have to depend on local talent with entrepreneurial spirit giving things a go. As a market, Hong Kong is too small and saturated to attract large FinTech players from outside. Especially since using Hong Kong as a base to launch FinTech services into China is a moot point, since China is already racing ahead in the FinTech stakes. As a growing FinTech based outside Hong Kong, it would probably make more sense to be based in Singapore and then go after the South East Asia market, which is very large and lagging behind China.
[KAE] What is the biggest mistake you’ve seen made in the FinTech space and why?
On many occasions I have nearly ruined partnerships and business deals because I have become very impatient since launching Valoot. For the first time in my professional career, I am not shackled by middle management, global policies that make no sense at local level, multiple levels of approvals etc. However, this new found freedom means that I get frustrated very easily when obstacles appear in the path of something I know is achievable. Luckily, I have a great team and they have stepped in to temper my enthusiasm, alleviate my frustration and actually save the day.
[KAE] What is the one pearl of wisdom you would share with anyone starting their journey as a FinTech now, and why?
Don’t aim to make a living, aim to make a difference. Don’t waltz through life without creating something. Stop texting, tweeting, twerking and just build something. Progress is not measured in how many times you check your Facebook – that is just meaningless movement, actions without result, wasted life.
About the Author:
With over a decade of experience in cash management and foreign exchange, Ovidiu (Ovi) Olea established Valoot in order to address the inefficiencies and lack of transparency involved with card purchases abroad.
Prior to setting up Valoot, Ovi worked in sales in transaction banking and foreign exchange in Hong Kong, London and Frankfurt with Citibank and HSBC.
Inspired by seeing a beggar in Shenzhen collecting donations over WeChat Pay, Ovi decided to pivot slightly and with the help of his amazing team managed to launch WeChat Pay in UK in 2 months.
Originally from Romania, Ovi graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with a degree in International Relations and Economics. Ovi has lived, studied and worked in various countries across the world including Japan, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.
More about FinTech Vantage:
This post is part of the FinTech Vantage series by KAE that provides a fresh perspective and hears first-hand from various players across the FinTech ecosystem.
KAE will be posting a number of interviews with FinTechs that share their candid viewpoints and to really get under the skin of the FinTech world.
If you would like to share your views and participate in the FinTech Vantage series, feel free to reach out to us at FinTech@kae.com