Hong Kong fintech unicorn WeLab targets eight-fold growth in customers, tapping digital banking demand in Southeast Asia


Hong Kong fintech unicorn WeLab targets eight-fold growth in customers, tapping digital banking demand in Southeast Asia

WeLab, a Hong Kong-based fintech unicorn backed by billionaire Li Ka-shing, wants to grow its users eight-fold in the next 10 years to 500 million by expanding further in mainland China and Southeast Asia, according to its founder.

“We believe in adopting technology and partnerships, and we can provide banking and wealth management services to a much higher number of people across Southeast Asia and mainland China over the next decade,” said Simon Loong, founder and group CEO of WeLab, in a media briefing on Wednesday.

Co-­­found­ed by Loong in 2013, WeLab is a home-grown unicorn that has expanded rapidly in the city and on the mainland. The company has attracted early investment from the likes of tycoon Li Ka-shing’s Tom Group, ING Bank, Sequoia Capital, Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund and Allianz Group’s digital investment unit.

Providing online lending and virtual banking services in Hong Kong and making loans on the mainland through partners, WeLab now serves 60 million individual customers and 700 corporate clients, and has made total loans amounting to HK$100 billion (US12.74 billion).

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Loong has now set a target to boost users from 60 million to 500 million in Asia-Pacific by 2032, with a focus on the populous Southeast Asia and mainland China markets.

“We cannot stay in Hong Kong only as the market is too small, which is why we need to go overseas. We will go to Southeast Asia markets first and may consider the Middle East in future,” he said. “We would also like to expand … into wealth management services and B2B services such as providing technology solutions.”

WeLab has operated the online lender WeLend in Hong Kong since its inception, before launching WeLab Bank in 2020 as one of the first batch of eight online lenders licensed by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. It offers loans in the mainland through partners, while it has also expanded into Southeast Asia in recent years.

WeLab and its partners spent HK$4 billion to acquire Bank Jasa Jakarta (BJJ) in a process that lasted two years, with completion in September last year. WeLab plans to introduce digital banking in Indonesia via BJJ, which is now a traditional bank without big digital capabilities.

“In Indonesia, over 70 per cent of the nation’s 270 million people are underserved by banks. We believe there is a big opportunity in digital banking in Indonesia,” he said.

In August WeLab signed a memorandum of understanding with HSBC to explore a partnership in Malaysia. Loong and his team will also visit Vietnam soon to check on its potential.

“As the world’s economic focus shifts eastward, Southeast Asia has become Hong Kong’s second-largest trading partner with tremendous opportunities,” Loong said.

WeLab applied to list in Hong Kong in July 2018 before pulling the plan due to market volatility. Loong has no intention of seeking a listing imminently.

“We are open minded about a listing, but we do not think the timing is right now as market sentiment is not very good,” he said. “We will focus on developing our business first before considering a listing.”


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