2021 is an exciting year for FinTech as it continues its rapid transformation and growth. We speak to someone at the frontline of this industry, Thunes SVP Sylvia Koh, featured in The Financial Technology Report as one of Asia’s top 25 women leaders in the industry in 2020, and hear about her journey and how she leads by example.

Tell us about your role in Thunes and your journey in FinTech.

I currently head the Thunes team in APAC – a key region for the company. A big part of my role is growing our customer base and building strong partnerships, with the aim of accelerating revenue growth for Thunes. 

I joined Thunes (previously known as TransferTo) in 2015. That year, the company secured its financial license and had yet to establish itself as one of the leading FinTech names we know today.

From the start, I was tasked with getting partners on board and growing the Thunes network. Today, my role is to build new use cases for the company: identify market gaps and develop solutions for them. This industry is, and will always be, in constant flux, so agility and constant innovation are key.

What Thunes is doing is building a connected global network to bring banking services to the unbanked and underbanked in emerging markets reliably – using our technology to improve lives.

Ever since I was a University undergrad, I’ve been impressed by the transformative power of science and technology to make a positive difference to peoples’ everyday lives. Working with Thunes was a chance for me to put that concept into practice.

What are some of the more memorable moments in your career?

When Thunes first started, our biggest challenge in getting partners on board was proving to them that we were credible. But to do so, we had to have existing partners to establish ourselves – something we sorely lacked as a new startup. It was a classic Catch-22 situation.

My job is all about seeking innovative solutions and solving complex challenges involving key stakeholders.

For example, when working with our partner Kasikornbank in Thailand, compliance was a major obstacle. We worked through the difficulties and ultimately reached a successful partnership by getting the Central Bank of Thailand to sign off on some of the measures that were implemented. These experiences are crucial and formative; they help you understand the banking landscape in different countries, and also give you the know-how to overcome similar challenges elsewhere.

Where do you see Thunes growing in the future, and what part do you play in that?  

This is a very exciting time for Thunes as a company. Just last year, we secured our Series B funding. Having seen Thunes from inception until today, I’m more than confident that there is huge room for growth in the next few years.

The goal of the company is and has always been, to be the benchmark for the cross-border payments industry. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of the service, expand the team, and increase our presence in more markets so we can bring our product to more customers.

In 2020, COVID-19 greatly accelerated the digitalisation of money transfers and reduced reliance on traditional channels. With increased connectivity to mobile wallets, there has been more traction where the unbanked are getting themselves involved in the digital financial wave.

Based on this trend, I expect it to continue long after the pandemic. This is because of the increased reliance on FinTech solutions as businesses, users, and more start experiencing the benefits of it first-hand.

In the future, my role will include pushing out our collection services to the world as well as establishing some of the new corridors we have in the pipeline.

What is your biggest takeaway as a female leader in the industry?

The finance industry has largely been a male-dominated space. But a new industry like FinTech holds massive opportunities for growth and diversity. We see that happening with more and more female representation within FinTech.

With over 28 nationalities and strong female leaders in the company, Thunes is a good representation of that diversity. I have also been fortunate to have the encouragement and support of bosses who value my contributions as a team member, regardless of gender.

If you are looking to enter this industry, you have a very exciting path ahead of you. View challenges as learning opportunities and growth will follow.  

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