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There are not too abounding banks that get advised on TripAdvisor. But again Vietnam’s Timo isn’t a accepted bank.
Part applesauce café, allotment internet café, allotment air-conditioned acquittal from Ho Chi Minh City’s close humidity, Timo employs baristas at its shopfront, an old KFC aperture in city Pasteur Street.
The agents mix a auspicious – and chargeless – adhesive soda alongside an espresso as their teller colleagues accumulate about you and any additional bell you ability accept quicker than you can say “neobank”.
Inevitably, because it is TripAdvisor, the reviews for Timo’s alive Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) alliance (NOT a branch) are mixed. Of the bristles acquaint aback 2016, which is aback Timo opened for business, two assume added like ads from insiders.
“For the aboriginal time ever, Vietnam has its aboriginal Agenda Bank,” says one of those postings.
Two others accord a acceptable pump-up.
“Cafe? Bank? Both? Unique!” says one.
A fifth isn’t so afflicted with the cyberbanking allotment of blind out at Timo: “Pleasant about incompetent!”
Timo – the name has no acceptation in Vietnamese, but is an English-language blend of time and money – was founded in 2015 by Vietnamese-Canadian Don Lam, one of the lions abaft avant-garde Vietnam’s actualization as an advance hotspot.
– Cameron Warden, Timo
Lam is a alleged Viet Kieu, the appellation for the bristles actor or so associates of the indigenous Vietnamese banishment that’s about taken as autograph for those who fled in the after-effects of the country’s communist-led reunification afterward the Vietnam War.
“I was one of the baiter people,” says Lam, as he describes his own perilous escape age-old 10 above the South China Sea to Hong Kong, one of 270 refugees awash into a baiter congenital for a atom of that number. “I was athirst and agog all the time.”
That was in 1979, four years afterwards South Vietnam had collapsed to the arctic antipathetic regime, which again boarded on a barbarous re-education of – as Hanoi’s ideologues saw it – the freewheeling southern population.
Lam’s ancestors eventually begin their way to Canada, area Lam went to academy and able as a accountant accountant; a job with Coopers & Lybrand took him aback to Vietnam in the average of the 1990s aback the country was in the aboriginal affliction of bazaar reform.
“My ancestors anticipation I was crazy to go back,” he says.
But Lam backward and, in 2003, founded one of Vietnam’s aboriginal committed advance houses, VinaCapital, which is now one of the country’s better clandestine investors.
Lam says his afflatus for Timo was mostly Prague-based Air Bank, which started a decade ago in the Czech Republic with the mantra of actuality “the aboriginal coffer you can like”.
Lam says he saw parallels amid cyberbanking in eastern Europe and Vietnam: both regions had emerged from communism, but their bequest banks were still abounding by what he describes as the “appalling annual mentality” of state-imposed bureaucracy.
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“I abhorrence activity to the bank,” says Lam, “and I anticipate a lot of Vietnamese abhorrence that acquaintance too.
“That created an befalling in Vietnam.”
Lam was right. Timo has accepted accepted amid Vietnam’s fast-emerging able class, decidedly afresh minted burghal millennials. Afterwards an antecedent advance of “less than $1 million,” Lam says Timo has a abstract appraisal of $25 million.
Timo’s 250,000 barter mostly appear from Vietnam’s alleged ‘doi moi generation’, the 20- to 30-somethings who were built-in afterwards 1986, the year aback Vietnam adopted the bread-and-butter reforms that agee it away from a Marxist command abridgement to the accelerating embrace of the chargeless market.
Akin to the perestroika reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union and China’s ‘open door’ action of the backward 1970s, doi moi agency to barter (doi) with an association of addition (moi acceptation new).
The doi moi bearing doesn’t buck the aforementioned wariness appear banks or technology as its parents and grandparents, who accept endured war, ancient corruption, bread-and-butter collapse, authoritarian communism and coffer nationalization.
In a Vietnam abounding by smartphones, its abridgement motoring forth at 6.5% advance and acquisitive to embrace digitization, Timo seems a business of the times.
Four years afterwards launch, Timo’s Canadian arch controlling Cameron Warden is afraid to acknowledge how abounding times Timo’s app has been downloaded above “hundreds of thousands”.
But he has noticed added banks artful the Timo model, and besides, he says, “the business charcoal a assignment in progress. The deposits are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, so it is cogent money. The antagonism is appealing fierce. Any coffer accomplishing agenda cyberbanking is attractive at our app and putting in swipes. Or aggravating to innovate for the annual of innovation.”
On top of that, he says, “philosophically they don’t accept area we’re advancing from as a company. They can’t blanket their arch about the actuality that we’re cellophane and the customer’s aboriginal and we can accomplish money.”
– Don Lam, Timo
Warden, 42, is not a archetypal coffer boss. With his arresting tattoos, linen shirt and sneakers, his claimed appearance is added millennial than McKinsey, added hipster than Harvard Business School. His able accomplishments is in announcement in Canada and authoritative music in Los Angeles.
He has been in Vietnam for seven years and Timo’s arch controlling aback 2017 (he abutting a year beforehand as arch of marketing).
Timo was Warden’s aboriginal job in banking.
Lam says: “I told my lath aback we started Timo that I didn’t appetite anyone who had been a banker. Cam’s that guy.”
Warden annoyed accoutrement aback he took over as boss: “I brought in all new management, restructured everything. My chief agents wouldn’t let me drive my motorbike for about a ages because some bodies were aggressive to annihilate me. It was tough.”
He additionally had issues aback visiting accompany and ancestors in Canada.
“I acquaint them I run a coffer but cipher believes me,” he laughs.
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It was alone afterwards his mother apprehend his name in an commodity about Timo that she was convinced.
“I’m beneath no apparition that I could go run VPBank [Vietnam Prosperity Bank] or Standard Chartered,” Warden says.
So, is Timo authoritative money?
“Yeah, we do,” says Warden. “And they (other banks) are like: ‘But you can accomplish 10 times added money if you spiral them over.’ They’re absolute short-sighted. The appearance that we have, they don’t accept the acumen why we did it. With the alliance downstairs, I go bottomward to my computer all the time, allocution to customers.”
As with a café, Timo’s hangouts don’t breach for cafeteria and break accessible until 7:30 pm, three and a bisected hours afterwards Vietnam’s added banks accept shut.
Anecdotally, at least, there is activity for Timo. During 10 canicule in Vietnam in July affair bankers, techies, investors and bureaucrats, Timo’s name came up about every time in altercation about what was hot in Vietnamese banking.
– Cameron Warden
Asiamoney about asked smartphone-wielding doi moi locals in assorted Ho Chi Minh City cafés and brainstorm stalls to see who was appliance Timo and how.
Of the 25 or so announced to, about 15 had the Timo app on their phone. Of those, about 10 users said they kept funds on drop in an e-wallet that they acclimated regularly: to pay bills, top up phones or at the bar café, or to accelerate banknote to accompany and family.
Lam says Timo’s centralized abstracts shows 68% of those who accept downloaded the Timo app are approved users.
“People use it now and they go: ‘Wow, it’s absolutely acceptable (and) fast. It feels secure’,” says Warden. “We accept a lot of celebrities and singers and bodies that use it and they acquaint everybody to use it. It’s chargeless influence. Bisected of our barter appear through chat of mouth, through referral.
“I anticipate area we win is area we would about be everybody’s accessory bank,” he adds. “Our barter don’t accept time to angle in lines; they do aggregate on their phones.”
Warden has begin that customers, aloft actuality paid, alteration funds to Timo to use for circadian transactions.
“A lot of companies actuality behest which coffer your bacon goes into,” he says. “You accept no choice. But again they alteration funds to their Timo account”
Traffic through Timo’s annex in HCMC, one of four branches nationally that Timo prefers to alarm hangouts, ability be addition guide. In Asiamoney’s four visits to the HCMC alliance on Pasteur Street, one had to delay for one of the 30 or so seats to be alone on three occasions, at accidental times of the day.
The alone concrete adumbration that Timo is about money is the co-branded Timo-VPBank ATM axial the hangout’s entrance. Timo doesn’t yet accept a academic cyberbanking licence, but operates through a accord with VPBank, which does accept the official licence.
Visitors absent to accessible an annual accommodated with a Timo adumbrative and with axial bank-approved staffers, sometimes from VPBank, who get them set up aural 10 minutes.
“We API [application programming interface] into their amount cyberbanking system,” says Warden of Timo’s amalgamation with VPBank. “If you anticipate about it, we’re aloof a front-end band of the amount cyberbanking system, with a altered chump acquaintance and a altered access to market.”
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The accord seems absolutely one of convenience. Inquiries to VPBank about Timo were deflected aback to Timo. Warden says VPBank gets an bearding allotment of revenues for the use of its cyberbanking licence but has no circadian captivation in Timo’s management.
“They accept aught disinterestedness in Timo,” he says. “They actually aloof accommodate the licence. It hasn’t been ideal, but I beggarly we’ve fabricated it work. We’ve accepted the model. They do appetite to accumulate alive with us because they appearance it like they’re accepting chargeless barter that they wouldn’t get otherwise.”
– Don Lam
So, is Timo an internet café, a bank, a fintech, a software account or that acquittal from the calefaction that ability alert addition TripAdvisor review?
It seems to be a little bit of each, which Warden says is all allotment of its appeal.
“Some bodies disagree,” Warden says. “They’ll say: ‘You’re not a bank, you’re a software company’ and we say… in the customer’s eyes, we are a bank. If your agenda got skimmed, for example, you would appear here, and say: ‘Hey bank, my agenda got skimmed’. So the chump angle us as a bank. Internally, we accomplish not so abundant a bank. We’re in the bazaar to change cyberbanking for the customer.
“We use what VPBank has, what they offer, and we aloof bear it in a altered way,” he says. “In a customer-first way with transparency. If there’s a fee, we go: ‘Here it is.’
“You’re attractive at a aggregation that’s blame cyberbanking forward. Whether the approaching is what this is or not, I don’t know. We fit into that addle somewhere. But bodies go ask me: ‘Who are your competitors?’ and I would say: ‘Well, acceptable banks that are aggravating to catechumen into agenda and wallets’.”
The aggregate of Timo affairs are fee-free, its big affairs point on launch. But things are alteration and Warden says he’s activity to accept to acquaint fees at some point.
“I anticipate what we’ll end up accomplishing is apparently introducing tiered accounts, area some are fee-free and some are not. Depends what you want. We’re attractive into actuality like that.”
Warden says there are no absolute bankers at Timo.
“The majority of the agents actuality do not appear from a cyberbanking background. I appear from advertising. But we’ve got hundreds of years of actuality cyberbanking barter and going: ‘That’s a affliction point, that’s a affliction point, that’s a affliction point,’” pointing to the frustrations that can appear appliance accepted banks.
“No ties here,” he says. “Maybe in a columnist appointment I’ll put a clothing on.”
In March 2017, about the time Warden became Timo’s boss, he did put a tie on. Timo was signing a affiliation accord with Montreal-based SunLife, the big Canadian insurer, to administer allowance articles through the Timo belvedere in Vietnam.
Two months earlier, SunLife had bought a 25% pale in Hong Kong-based Crescent Asia, the captivation aggregation of Timo’s abettor Global Online Cyberbanking Solutions. Today, two of Timo’s four hangouts are operated in affiliation with SunLife. The added two Timo hangouts in Hanoi and the HCMC arch appointment are run separately.
What does the approaching authority for Timo? Does the VinaCapital aggregation banknote out and advertise to a bank? Some analysts and rivals say Timo’s claiming is to move from actuality a utility, that everyone’s-secondary-bank position that’s acclimated alone for on-the-spot convenience, to actuality afterpiece to a acceptable bank, with assets, a antithesis sheet, a fuller apartment of products.
“What’s amiss with that?” says Lam, in acknowledgment to claims Timo is added account than bank. “People use us because they don’t like appliance bequest banks. It’s the banks who accept to change.”
Warden agrees: “We’re a abrasive team, and that’s area we do accept attitude. Our administrator accumulation is scrappy, and we’ve had to action with the coffer and the government to try to change things. What we may end up accomplishing is I may footfall into a altered position and we get a added ‘bank-y’ CEO.”
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Though Timo seems to be a champ for Lam so far, he says he has no ambition of selling. He’s had offers to sell, he says, which he’s angry down. He believes the Timo archetypal is exportable, and is eyeing the Philippines and Indonesia for Timo’s antecedent forays abroad, with western markets additionally on the horizon. “We are the antitoxin to bad, arid banking,” says Lam. “I absolutely accept that.”
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