For most consumers who aren’t Scrooge McDuck, learning about personal finance is like dental checkups—boring, sometimes painful, but necessary. Vinod Nair, the founder and chief executive officer of MoneySmart, wants to change that. The site, which publishes articles and lets users compare services like home loans and credit card, tries to make personal finance fun (or at least engaging).
Nair believes its approachable tone will give MoneySmart an edge as it expands beyond Singapore, where it is headquartered, and competes with other financial startups that also want to serve Southeast Asia’s rapidly growing middle class. Founded six years ago, MoneySmart just raised a $1.96 million Series A led by Singapore Press Holdings, the country’s largest media company, with participation from returning investor Golden Gate Ventures, Convergence Ventures, and OPT SEA.
The startup hopes to integrate services with Singapore Press Holdings, since the publisher sees finance as an important media vertical. It also owns some of the largest car and property online classified platforms in Singapore and MoneySmart will look at opportunities to work with those sites.
When MoneySmart first launched, Nair says there wasn’t a lot of information about financial products for consumers online. The site began by letting users compare mortgages (Nair’s last startup was a real estate search engine) before expanding to other services like credit cards. MoneySmart’s sites now have 750,000 visits a month in Singapore and 650,000 in Indonesia, where it expanded last year, and about a million unique users combined.
Nair says MoneySmart’s content side, which he describes as “BuzzFeed meets personal finance” is just as important as its financial comparison tools. The site’s blog has headlines like “4 Reasons Why Retirement In Singapore is Like That Big Exam You Didn’t Study For” and “What Is Compound Interest And Why Should You Love it?”
“Just looking at product information is not the whole picture. It’s not just about the right loan to take out, but also what are the considerations to keep in mind when choosing one,” says Nair. “When the government announced new measures, people read news reports, but they don’t understand how it affects them so we break it down into layman’s terms.”
After five years of focusing on Singapore, the most developed economy in Southeast Asia, MoneySmart expanded into Indonesia by acquiring KreditAja. While Singaporeans are concerned about the country’s high cost of living and securing home or car loans, many Indonesians are entering the middle class for the first time.
Just eight million Indonesians, or about three percent of the population, own a credit card, but that number is expected to quickly increase.
“There is a lot of room for financial products because as people’s incomes move up, they want credit cards, insurance, loans for their businesses,” says Nair. “We want to be in there early enough to influence decisions in the long-term.”
Other companies that want to offer similar services to Southeast Asia’s increasingly affluent consumers include CompareAsia, which raised a $40 million Series A from Goldman Sachs in April and is currently present in eight countries. There are also a host of local competitors, like KreditGoGo in Indonesia and Malaysia’s iMoney.
Nair says MoneySmart will differentiate by taking a slow and deliberate approach to expansion, studying countries closely so it can localize business strategies and content. It plans to enter just two new markets next year and is currently considering the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia.
“The competitive landscape is interesting and all of us have a different perspective on things, but I believe our approach and strength, especially in content, will allow us to get traction a lot faster than our competitors,” says Nair.