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Beating the banks at their own game

 | August 6, 2012

A young entrepreneur hopes to help Malaysians save time and money through his website.

INTERVIEW

KUALA LUMPUR: Entrepreneur Lee Ching Wei is seeking to change the way Malaysians spend their money. To use his own expression, he wants to “disrupt” the normal order of spending behaviour in Malaysia.

The former wealth adviser came home this year after eight years of studying and working in Australia and saw “a lot of inefficiencies” that he felt he could easily redress. And he decided to kickstart iMoney.my.

iMoney is a website that compares financial products offered by different institutions: credit cards, car loans, home loans, personal loans, savings accounts, debit cards, and fixed deposits and other investments.

It claims it can help Malaysians save time and money and, in Lee’s words, “beat the banks at their own game”.

Instead of combing through tons of brochures and websites, Lee said, Malaysians can now go to his “one-stop centre” and make smarter financial decisions.

iMoney also posts articles, tips and guides to help potential bank customers make decisions. And Lee is planning to work with the banks to allow online applications for various financial products.

“All my life I’ve told people what to do with their money,” the 27-year-old Lee told FMT in a recent interview at his workplace, a small cubicle located at the Gardens South Tower.

“When I came back in January this year, I wanted to do something big. This is the first time I’m really putting myself out there.”

His workplace may be small, as is his staff of four, but his dreams are huge. Lee plans to make iMoney the No 1 site in Malaysia within a year and in all of Southeast Asia in five years.

“The dream is to grow it into a big, big company,” he said. “More importantly, it is also about changing the course of how Malaysians do things. That excites me.”

He has a philosophy that goes beyond just having a profitable business. Lee wants to make an impact, solve problems and give back to society.

“I’m just a regular guy who wants to make a change,” he said. “I have some experience in the financial world and I’ll focus on my strengths… to give back to the country. I want to bring the next generation forward.

“I want to inspire people to follow in my footsteps too.”

Lee graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2004 with a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance. He stayed on at the university, working as a research analyst, before taking up a position as personal financial adviser at Shadforth Financial Group, an Australian wealth management and financial advisory firm.

Homesickness

Subsequently, he joined Frontier Investment Consulting, one of the largest investment consulting firms in Australia. There, he managed larger amounts of money, handling pension clients for three and a half years until he decided to come back.

“Eight years I was away from home, and then I decided it was enough. Three reasons for my return: my family, my girlfriend, and the longing for home.”

Lee has always thought of himself as an entrepreneur. He sold quilt covers and operated an e-store selling ukuleles even while he was studying and holding a day job.

“I delved into working on various things on the side,” he said.

“With my quilt cover business, I tried to change the way it was used, but it didn’t really take off. My ukulele store is now completely outsourced. It was a sort of a pet project where I learned the strings of the business. We got sales every week, but it was not what I wanted.”

So with five years in the financial sector under his belt and having made some savings, Lee started looking around for an opportunity to start a business here.

He said he saw “many opportunities” available soon after he started chatting with other entrepreneurs.

“Malaysia has actually a pretty good eco-system, with a lot of entrepreneur events and conferences,” he said.

He eventually met up with a former schoolmate, Says.com founder Khailee Ng, who is considered one of the leading young personalities in the start-up scene.

“I’m very lucky. After talking to Ng, the idea of iMoney came about and he decided to be my angel investor.”

Ng became the chief adviser for iMoney, and Lee its CEO. The site was launched in May, just 21 days after the idea hatched. Lee and Ng believed that the way to go was to launch iMoney “lean and incomplete” and constantly evolving and improving.

With the portal, Lee said, he could address three issues:

“One: there is currently no easy way to compare financial products. To find the best rate for a loan, you have to call five different banks, talk to five different sales agents who try to pitch you their products. That takes up a lot of time.

“Two: many people don’t understand financial terms and jargon. Not everyone has a financial background but banks love to use these jargons.

“Three: we wanted to make online applications for bank products a reality. In this day and age, it just doesn’t make sense that if you want a simple product, you have to walk into a bank and spend 30 minutes in a queue.”

Filling a gap

Lee said he saw a gap which no one had bothered to fill.

To be sure, there are other product-comparison sites, but they are not comprehensive, according to Lee. Bank Negara has one, but he said it could be much friendlier.

iMoney claims to be the first online site in Malaysia that would allow online applications across multiple banks.

Asked if fraud would be a big issue, Lee said that it was an issue being exaggerated by banks. He said that although it was a concern for banks, it should not be an excuse to stop from doing something good.

“I think there is adequate technology to overcome fraud. But you can’t do something because you are afraid. You must make sure that your processes are good enough to prevent those things from happening. That’s the key.”

At more than two months old, iMoney is already attracting 500 unique visitors a day.

It is capitalising on a big market: Google says that in every three seconds, two people would search for a financial product. In Malaysia, 40 people search for financial products every minute.

Lee said the site would be updated twice a week until banks start to supply information live. He admitted that iMoney could not at this point guarantee that all its information is up to date.

“But we’ll change that. Banks are open to supplying us up-to-date info. It is in their interest, anyway, as we’re advertising for them.”

iMoney gets its revenue from referrals. “When people apply for a product, we get paid by that bank,” Lee said. “This model might change, but our core revenue comes through partnership agreements with product providers. We don’t want to crowd our website with advertisements.”

iMoney plans to also be comparing insurance schemes and investment funds.

“We want to be the destination for all things related to money. I like to tell people: You know how jobstreet.com.my is related to jobs, and how iproperty.com.my is related to property, we want to grow iMoney to be the website to be anything to do related to money.”


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