#Asia Ex-McKinsey analyst taps AI to help people choose the right credit card, insurance

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series of credit cards

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee / Flickr.

The credit card market is a murky one for consumers. With wildly varying fees, interest rates, and rewards, it’s hard to know which card is the best for you. The same goes for insurance. One startup’s solution is a comparison site called Masii (English version), which recently launched in Thailand.

Thai people compare up to a dozen different prices before buying car insurance and credit cards, suggests research done by Masii. Compare that to three for the US, and one can see the true need for an unbiased comparison site.

“Despite having some of the most sophisticated online consumers in the world, many of the sites serving Thailand’s financial service market lack the platform architecture and advanced integrations to really show the best prices – or even accurate ones – to the consumer in real-time,” Masii co-founder Maxwell Meyer says.

Call centers are pretty archaic.

So Max and his business partner Matthias Jurgens set out to make a difference in this sector. Max is a Harvard grad who has worked as an analyst and senior associate at McKinsey in China, while Matthias is an expert in mobile technology and cloud computing, having been a pioneer at Deutsche Telekom.

Their startup gives transparent credit card and car insurance quotes from nearly all of Thailand’s major banks and insurers. Users may filter their search depending on what they’re looking for. For example, for credit cards they’ll look at points, cash back, or air miles. For cars, they can check year, brand, and model. The site also compares personal loans, travel insurance, mobile plans, and hotel cards.

Launched in stealth-mode beta in February and then officially this September, it has since had over 40,000 applications for credit cards and car insurance. It’s now number one in this sector in Thailand with over 400,000 page visits in the past month, shows data from Similarweb, beating long-time players like MoneyGuru, which received US$40 million in a funding round led by Goldman Sachs last year.

max-meyer-masii

Masii co-founder Max Meyer.

Masii represents one of Thailand’s most reputable businesses’ gambit in Southeast Asia’s financial comparison market. 138-year-old multibillion-dollar conglomerate B.Grimm backs the startup, putting an undisclosed amount in its seed round. B.Grimm has been in decades-long relationships with the banks and insurance companies that finance and insure its power assets throughout the region. Starting as a medicine shop in 1878, it has diversified its portfolio to include energy, air conditioning, and real estate. Masii has other investors who are from the tech world, but the founders declined to disclose their identities.

Purely online

The founders claim Masii is a breath of fresh air in Thailand’s financial comparison market – unlike other players, it’s purely online and uses artificial intelligence.

“Others like to say how important call centers are. We think that’s pretty archaic,” notes Matthias.

Those rivals use their websites as a means to get people to ring the call center and apply for a product. Masii does the whole thing online – like how you might book a hotel or a plane ticket. There’s an “Apply now” or “Buy” button accompanying each product on the site that directs the user to a bank’s application page. On places like MoneyGuru, you’d have to open a new tab and find the card yourself.

“Maybe it’s just me but my generation is quite bad at making phone calls, and prefer to be online,” Max quips.

But the phone is still an option. “We do have a call center but we prefer to use it for support rather than sale. Nevertheless, the team we have is specialized in both,” explains Max.

Right now, he says they’re experimenting with algorithms that use on-site behavior to learn about what’s important to customers when they buy, and try and direct them toward other products they might like.

In the longer term, the goal is to have super-smart Thai-speaking chatbots, which should be able to answer any question a user has in exceptional detail.

masii-team

The team.

Beyond Thailand

Masii makes money when its partner banks and insurers do. That means when someone makes a purchase via the site, that partner gives the startup a part of the sale, either a flat fee or a percentage, depending on the company. They’re held to strict contractual obligations to not disclose those cuts, although Max says they’re “modest.” He’s also keeping quiet about their revenue numbers. “But yes, we are earning revenue,” he states.

Masii plans to expand to the rest of Southeast Asia, though there’s no definite timeline yet.

Max says there are well over 200 million credit cards issued each year and more than US$10 billion in car insurance premiums paid annually across the region, as per the team’s research. A small fraction of that business is online, despite Southeast Asia having some of the highest consumption rates of social media and other web devices in the world. It all boils down to trust and convenience, he says.

“Buying a credit card or insurance online is a big jump from buying an airline ticket. Consumers have lots of concerns – what if the insurance doesn’t cover me? Who do I call if something happens? Can I trust the seller?”

Max sees this both as a challenge and an opportunity.

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