AirAsia, the low-cost airline in Southeast Asia, is considering an initial coin offering (ICO) as part of a push into financial services.
Tony Fernandes, CEO of the $3 billion company which is publicly listed in Malaysia, told TechCrunch that he is analyzing the potential to hold an ICO that would raise money by introducing its own cryptocurrency.
“We have two things that are very interesting which will have relevance to ICOs, one is our loyalty card where we have [loyalty program] BIG Points, and I think those BigPoints can be easily transferred to the blockchain,” Fernandes said on the sidelines of Money2020 in Singapore.
“We have a product that can be a currency in Big Loyalty, [and] we’re building a payment platform so the two can marry quite nicely. We have an ecosystem that enables you to use that currency, there’s no point having a currency that can’t be used,” he added.
Fernandes has built a reputation as a businessman who is prepared to take risks and chase new ideas. AirAsia pioneered the low-cost airline model in Southeast Asia, where it claims some 65 million registered customers, and Fernandes himself owns English football club QPR and once founded a Formula One team.
ICOs generated more than $6 billion for startups last year, with Southeast Asia, and Singapore in particular, emerging as a hub. To date, however, most ICO have been undertaken by young companies, if it did opt for an ICO, AirAsia would be the most established — and highest-valued — consumer business to take that route.
Messaging app Telegram is a notable example, however. Earlier this month, the company closed an initial $850 million in funding as part of an ICO that could bring in as much as $2 billion in total.
At this point, it is not clear how much AirAsia might raise in an ICO.
Fernandes’ newest strategy for AirAsia is to move into financial services as it aims to grow to 100 million customers. Beyond a proposed payment platform that would make its cabins ‘cash-less,’ the Fernandes announced this week that it will look into offering loans and insurance services to its users with the aim of helping SMEs and entrepreneurs.
“The world is changing so fast but I think we have the ability to innovate and think quickly on these things but the ideas are based on our data and based on our ecosystem,” Fernandes told TechCrunch.
“I like [the idea of an ICO] because it just takes cost out of my system. So I’m driven, not by trying to take over the world, but in the first instance, everyone buys in my ICO and I take out a lot of exchange risk, I take out a lot of settlement risk, etc etc. So there are many ways of how we are looking at it,”
The legalities of ICOs are still being figured out by governments across the world, with the U.S. SEC in particular reportedly investigating ICO companies and hedge funds that invest in them and other crypto.
So far, in Southeast Asia, governments haven’t introduced regulation. In Singapore, the Bank of Singapore and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have engaged with the community while also warning investors of the risks of buying into ICOs.
Fernandes maintained that AirAsia is in a strong position with government connections and general airline regulation.
“We’re in the most regulated industry in the world, so we know how to deal with regulators and regulations,” he said.
AirAsia would need to deal with the uncertainty around offering its own crypto tokens — which do not include equity — while balancing its shareholders and status as a publicly listed business.
Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency.