Tired of being shortchanged when making payments overseas? Singaporean startup YouTrip wants to help you get more bang for your buck. CEO Caecilia Chu talks us through her entrepreneurial journey and tells us her thoughts on the future of the FinTech industry.
We’ve all experienced the pain of having to fork out hefty foreign transaction fees after making overseas payments. Venturing to solve this problem, Hong Kong native Caecilia Chu created Singapore-based startup YouTrip, an innovative take on overseas payments that eliminates all foreign transaction and cross-border fees. A multi-currency mobile wallet which has amassed 500k downloads and processed over 10 million transactions since its inception in 2016, Caecilia ran us through her startup story from coming up with the concept to going up against big banks to secure funding and now rolling it out across Asia.
Before founding YouTrip, Caecilia already had a long list of accomplishments to her name: after graduating from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, she went on to get her MBA from Harvard Business School before working as a banker for most of her career for the likes of Citibank and McKinsey. She first began her entrepreneurial journey in 2012, working in the e-commerce space selling children’s clothing. “That experience was definitely humbling as I had to unlearn everything and start from scratch again.”
It proved helpful as she went on to found YouTrip, an app that boasts a seamless, fee-free experience, providing access to over 150 currencies, of which 10 selected currencies can be stored in-app, allowing users to exchange them on-the-go. After registering for a YouTrip card through the app, the user can begin to make purchases and exchange currencies at the wholesale rate. To make its revenue, YouTrip takes a small commission of each purchase from the merchant without any extra fees from the user. “Singapore was chosen as our first market because of the attractive outbound tourism market,” Caecilia explains. “During our market research, we saw that Singaporeans are spending an impressive USD 27 billion dollars overseas every year, the biggest contributor to the SEA outbound tourism market.” They are also known to be extremely tech-savvy and willing to test out new apps, which Caecilia explains provided exactly the type of traction they sorely needed when first launching. Since then, the startup has witnessed tremendous growth, having started with a team of five in a single office to now housing over 100 employees in offices across Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand.
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The idea for the app was borne from Caecilia’s own experiences. Due to the nature of her previous jobs, she often went on last-minute work trips, during which she found herself having to rely on credit cards for overseas payments. “I noticed that I was forking out so much in foreign transaction fees on credit cards whenever I travelled.” She also recalls her time studying cross-border payment products in Lufax, a Chinese peer-to-peer lender startup: “I saw that there was absolutely no entry barrier. There was no minimum. There was no dormancy fee. It was free for all users to use.” Wanting to give others a similar experience, she founded YouTrip alongside MIT graduate Arthur Mak, whom she had met through mutual friends.
It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk for the entrepreneur, who has faced her fair share of challenges. “Being the first mover in the travel payment space in Singapore, we definitely faced challenges. We had to convince partners to believe in the idea.” As a FinTech startup, they were also pitted against traditional, long-standing banks that already had an established consumer base: their launch as a brand new product with zero hidden fees seemed too good to be true. “Looking back, everything that we have experienced and the challenges we have overcome are all invaluable learning points for us to improve on,” she explains, giving the following advice: “Whatever setbacks you may face, you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue moving forward, no matter how tough it gets.”
Going forward, Caecilia has a clear vision for YouTrip’s future: to expand to other Southeast Asian regions, which have seen a rapid increase in travellers in recent years. Although there is a high barrier to entry due to the region’s highly fragmented nature, she sees a great opportunity, believing they can penetrate these markets by bringing highly localised and personalised solutions that cater specifically to their consumers. “As a startup founder, we are always looking to the future,” she says. “Our ultimate goal is creating the best mobile financial services for Southeast Asian travellers.”