The SG:D Techblazer Awards celebrates digital transformation efforts

M-DAQ Group blazes the trail for tech innovation with its Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions

For M-DAQ Group, success is a team effort.
For M-DAQ Group, success is a team effort.PHOTO: M-DAQ GROUP

As Singapore’s digital landscape continues to evolve, companies are encouraged to explore innovative solutions through new technology. For eight companies, their efforts were lauded at the inaugural Singapore Digital (SG:D) Techblazer Awards 2018 held last November.

SG:D Techblazer Awards, jointly organised by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and SGTech, is the nation’s highest accolade for Singapore-based companies that exemplify the spirit of innovation in technology development or adoption. Last year, 218 companies filed 331 applications in three awards categories — Most Impactful, Most Promising and Best Adoption.

M-DAQ Group was the inaugural Gold winner in the Most Impactful category in 2018.

Mission possible: Seizing opportunities and thinking out of the box

On Chinese New Year Eve four years ago, fintech start-up M-DAQ received note that Ms Lucy Peng, then chief executive officer of Ant Financial (formerly known as Alipay), would be arriving in Singapore on the fourth day of Chinese New Year. Her trip was the result of an elevator pitch made by one of its investors, Mr Tan Hee Teck. Her visit to Singapore presented M-DAQ with an opportunity to pitch an idea that would be relevant to the Alibaba Group.

With less than 100 hours to get ready, M-DAQ pulled together a team of five people, one of whom was an ex-staff originally from Beijing, to come up with a working prototype, deck and explanation materials in Chinese.

But a key problem still remained: M-DAQ knew nothing about e-commerce, online travel or consumer businesses. Established in 2010, the company had primarily been focusing on enabling international securities trading. That’s when the company turned to an existing product for an idea.

“Our first international securities trading product was built on the fundamental belief and hypothesis that if you create price certainty for the customer by offering their local currency for transactions, this clarity and transparency encourages them to commit to the transaction,” says Mr Richard Koh, founder and chief executive officer of M-DAQ Group. He was part of the five-person pitch team in 2015.

“When this e-commerce opportunity came along, we saw it as a chance to test the same basic idea. While people were buying and selling small ticket items such as T-shirts, charging cables and cosmetics instead of shares, the concept is exactly the same.”

The five-man team worked through the Chinese New Year break and Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions was born. M-DAQ pitched a service that came with a guaranteed rate FX conversion tool, giving e-commerce platforms the ability to offer multi-currency payment options to customers in different parts of the world, while allowing merchants to receive payments only in their desired currency. Both customers and merchants would be able to transact in a currency familiar to them.

With FX rates that are transparent, fair and competitive, the fintech solution helps to build trust among merchants and customers.

“A merchant selling in a global online marketplace can quote in their preferred selling currency, and through Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions, he can quote a guaranteed price in currencies from 33 countries. This represents nearly 2.5 billion potential buyers,” says Mr Koh.

Another feature is that the selling price is constant for 24 hours. On long weekends and public holidays, the price could remain unchanged for up to a week. It also applies to product refunds for up to 90 days, which means customers can get back the same amount that they paid for the product — down to the last cent — if they seek a refund.

“Foreign exchange difference is one small but critical component in the e-commerce industry. When there’s an uncertainty regarding the price, one tends not to commit,” says Mr Koh. “International sales outside of China went up by 300 per cent after Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions was introduced just by ensuring that customers get to encounter their local currency.”

“The rest is history,” says Mr Koh. Eight months after the initial pitch, Ant Financial invested $100 million into M-DAQ. With the introduction of Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions, M-DAQ witnessed actual revenue growth of nearly 1,000 times between 2015 and 2018, and a compound annual growth rate of 900 per cent over the last four financial years. M-DAQ’s Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions clients include AliExpress, Tmall World, Fliggy and Cainiao, subsidiaries under the Alibaba Group.

M-DAQ’s Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions clinched the Gold award in the Most Impactful category. The category recognises established companies whose cutting edge innovation helps improve the way a business operates or enhances a consumer’s quality of life.

Winning the award and the success of Aladdin Cross-Border Solutions has raised the company’s profile and opened more doors to new markets, particularly for its products in international securities trading.

This year, M-DAQ will be part of the Awards’ judging committee to pick new winners.

“No longer can a business model thrive without considering the impact of the digital,” says Mr Koh. “To innovate for digital transformation, start with a grand vision and be guided by a clear mission statement. Be constantly hungry and willing to experiment.”