Asia Blockchain Review recently spoke to Robin Lee, CEO of HelloGold, the world’s first Shariah-compliant gold mobile application that changes the way users buy, save, sell, and redeem physical gold. Robin talked about how HelloGold encourages more investment in the precious metal, ensuring transparency and security to users, the company’s entrance to African markets, and his plans for the future of HelloGold.
Asia Blockchain Review: Can you tell us about the mission and long-term goals of HelloGold?
Robin Lee: The amount of money people have in their wallets should not prevent them from accessing the financial products they need. Yet today, too many basic financial products and services remain unaffordable and inaccessible to all.
HelloGold is a mobile platform for retail financial services that aims to serve mass-market consumers in emerging markets. We want to democratize essential savings and lending products to ensure affordability and accessibility for everyone — starting with gold.
ABR: Who are the team members of HelloGold, and what expertise do they bring?
RL: Before HelloGold, I was the former CFO of the World Gold Council where I was also the principal accounting officer for SPDR Gold Trust (‘GLD’), the world’s largest gold ETF (Exchange Traded Fund), which holds over US$30 billion in gold under management. My co-founder, Ridwan Abdullah, spent 7 years at AEON Group Malaysia in the retail and financial services industry, specifically in strategy and partnership development.
We are now 60+ professionals with gold industry, financial services, technology and digital user experience in Malaysia, Thailand, and the UAE, and hope to continue growing from here.
ABR: Can you tell us about the importance of user experience? How much does HelloGold focus on this area?
RL: As HelloGold is focused on the mass-market consumer, user experience is incredibly important. We specifically do not target the mass-affluent or high net-worth individuals, because we believe that existing financial services providers already cater to them. Instead, we want to provide essential, affordable, and accessible financial services and products to the underserved and the unbanked.
That’s why we’re focused on simplicity and ease of use. We continuously test user experience with our customers in focus groups, either on a quantitative or qualitative basis, to ensure that our application is customized to local habits. Currently, HelloGold is available in all 4 languages spoken across Malaysia and Thailand: English, Malay, Chinese, and Thai. We also want to ensure our services remain accessible to everyone, including people without bank accounts. For example, our customers in Thailand can opt to go through offline as well as online payment channels.
I believe this is one of the reasons why we’ve been able to grow our customer base in Malaysia to 120,000 customers over the last 2 years and why we now see 3 times the rate of onboarding customers in Thailand compared to Malaysia on a like-for-like basis since our launch in June 2019.
ABR: How does HelloGold encourage more people to invest in the precious metal?
RL: Gold, in many ways, is the oldest investment product available to man. It’s common across all cultures, from the Middle East and Africa to Asia and South America, and has been around longer than fiat currency. And so, for our target market, the mass market, the need to educate them on the inherent investment qualities of gold is not as necessary. Earlier this year, a study by UNCDF confirmed that gold is one of the 3 asset classes that the mass market actually want.
Therefore, our aim is to create the awareness that gold is now accessible and affordable for everyone. This includes information on how to obtain gold as well as on how we operate, so that the mass market can decide if they want to buy gold through HelloGold, a jewelry store, or any other means.
ABR: How do you ensure transparency and security for your users?
RL: At HelloGold, we are committed to providing our customers with full transparency and security. All customer-owned gold is stored with our trusted vault providers in Singapore, where they are regularly audited by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) approved third-party auditor, Bureau Veritas. This includes a physical count of gold bars; a random test of individual gold bars where the bar number, refiner code, and purity of each bar will be checked against the records of the company; and a test of the weight and purity of random gold bars against its product description.
Customers are welcome to visit our vault provider in Singapore to inspect their gold at an added fee. All gold is fully insured and customers can view the insurance certificate for the gold online.
Additionally, our custodian, BullionStar, publishes a list of their total gold holdings (gold bar list) at the end of every working day, which we share on our website. For transparency, we also publish our own daily custody gold list (customer gold list). This lets our customers review the list to see his/her customer ID and the record of the gold owned by him/her; check the total amount of gold that HelloGold holds for all its customers; and then cross-check this total directly against the bar list total published independently by HelloGold and our custodian.
Lastly, we practice complete transparency with regards to our fees, and any fees charged have been optimized to be as affordable as possible. All fees are listed on our FAQ.
ABR: Can you tell us about your partnership with Baobab Group to enter Africa? What are the next steps in this project?
RL: HelloGold has entered into an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Baobab Finance to provide gold-backed financial services to its 650,000 customers spread over 10 African countries. The partnership will see the launch of an integrated savings platform developed by Baobab that will allow its customers to access savings, loans, and money transfer products.
We are currently working with our partner to finalize the integration of our platforms as soon as their platform is completed and launched.
ABR: What new developments and projects can we expect from HelloGold in 2019-2020?
RL: Malaysia remains our launch market for many of our products and services in the next 24 months and the foreseeable future. Beyond gold, we intend to apply for a digital banking license from Bank Negara Malaysia. However, HelloGold’s approach will differ from the traditional banking model, as we intend to build a banking platform for the underserved and unbanked rather than one that competes with existing financial services providers. We also plan to apply for an investment management license to create innovative savings products through fund structures for our target customers.
Within ASEAN, our Thai business will focus on building out its partner network in the next 24 months. Our Indonesian launch and partner strategy will be focused on an exciting product that will help the Muslim community to save towards their pilgrimage goals.
Outside the ASEAN region, we will work with our existing partners in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey to integrate HelloGold’s offerings into their existing platforms.
ABR: Among the awards that you have received, which award is your proudest achievement and why?
RL: We are very grateful for all the awards we have won in the last few years. Each and every one of them is a recognition of our team’s hard work in making HelloGold what it is today. Ultimately, however, we are not here for the awards, but to serve a real need for the people that we were set up to support.
Perhaps the most gratifying element of our work is reflected in the feedback we receive from our customers, some of whom have reached out to tell us that HelloGold has enabled them to start saving when they were unable to do so before. We hope to continue our mission to provide everyone with a way to save for their future, no matter how much they earn.
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