A microloan initiative that’s making waves across South-East Asia and beyond.
By Tom McLean
Wearing his passions on his sleeve and a smile on his face, Sainath Reddy’s enthusiasm towards technology is both infectious and enlightening. At only 25 years old, Sainath is the Chief Technology Officer of Siam Digital Lending, a sister company of masii, which is a market leader in the field of financial comparisons. Like masii, Siam Digital Lending’s goal is to help its customers in a sustainable way, providing compassionate financial solutions. Within minutes of meeting Sainath, it’s clear why he’s the right man for the job, with his humble attitude belying profound intelligence, empathy, and drive.
A childhood in India’s tech-hub Hyderabad played a part in shaping Sainath’s aspirations, having grown up near the offices of Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. Fuelled by dreams of start-ups and innovation, Sainath went up against 400,000 applicants in order to secure a place at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Hyderabad, the number one university in the state of Telangana. Sainath’s Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science then progressed into a Master’s degree, which he chose to pursue in Bangkok’s Asian Institute of Technology.
Falling in love with the country, Sainath now considers Thailand to be his second home and is striving to improve the lives of its citizens through ethical financial technology. He shares his experiences and insights with Masala:
How did you first become interested in the field of technology and development?
I remember reading an article years ago that really blew my mind. It basically compared human minds to computers, equating binary code, with its ones and zeros, to neurons switching on and off in the brain. I never really had it in me to go to medical school, but this theory set alight my passion for computer science.
What was it like transitioning from India to Thailand?
Immersing myself in such a culturally diverse place was a fantastic experience but the food took a little while to get used to. The biggest difference I encountered was actually in the education system. In India, our computer science studies were primarily theoretical while in Thailand our learning was a lot more hands on. Within the first week, we were writing software that would actually be used by other people.
How did you first join masii?
After graduation, I knew I wanted to continue working in Thailand. The corporate culture in India wasn’t a good fit for me and I felt I could learn more working for a start-up, gaining insights into entrepreneurship. Luckily, masii ticked all of my boxes. I was interviewed by the company CEO, Max Meyer, and I loved his attitude and grand but achievable ambitions. You can only give 100 percent when you believe in both the people and the mission. Here, I believe in both. This was my first real job and I started off as a full-stack developer before growing into my current role as the Chief Technology Officer of Siam Digital Lending.
How has masii grown since you joined?
As a financial comparison site, it used to take us four weeks to develop new features. Nowadays, it takes two. Meanwhile, our web traffic has grown from 100,000 a month to around a million a month. Previously, we were just a financial comparison company, but now I can say we’re financial educators. We want to consult and aid people who aren’t knowledgeable about finance.
Can you tell us a bit about financial technology and why you believe it’s flourishing around the world?
Financial technology, or FinTech, is any innovation that cuts down on manual processes in finance. Back in the 1960s, FinTech was technology like ATMs. In the 90s, it was software that companies could use to process loans in bulk. The definition remains the same but the parameters have evolved. The crux of it is cutting down on the need for labour and maintenance in order to alleviate costs, and it’s flourishing due to the amount of money that gets saved.
Have you encountered any challenges in the way FinTech is perceived by the public?
Some people think that FinTech is taking away jobs but I believe that it removes the robotic element of labour. It means that workers can apply themselves in a more creative, human way. The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely influenced public perceptions of FinTech for the better. Even the least adaptable of consumers are moving over to digital platforms in order to minimise risk and avoid excess human interaction.
What is Siam Digital Lending?
Siam Digital Lending is a fully digital lending solution, with no need for physical branches. Commercial banks aren’t really suited to microloans. Generally they have to follow a procedure called know your customer, which is when staff have to physically meet with clients to verify their identities and risks. This is a time-consuming, labour-intensive process. Our technology is electronic know your customer. It was crucially important for us to implement this tech in order to prevent fraud. Through advanced, facial-recognition technology, we can verify that applicants’ identities are correct and approve loans entirely through our customers’ mobile phones. It’s our aim to approve loans within five minutes of applying and give them out within one business day.
What was the inspiration behind this initiative?
Our main driving force is preventing vulnerable people from being exploited by loan sharks. Many individuals are forced to use unregulated markets to secure a loan and then become trapped in a downward spiral. Someone might borrow THB 10,000 in the morning and by the afternoon they’ll have to pay THB 12,000. It’s heart-breaking. With Siam Digital Lending, we’re aiming to fight back against the loan sharks and make a positive difference. Customers can receive a compassionate loan, processed speedily, and with low interest rates.
How do you see this technology reshaping Thailand’s financial landscape?
I’m positive that the sheer economics of digital lending will make physical lending obsolete and disrupt the situation in Thailand. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to leave a mark on the world, especially with our humanitarian touch. I don’t think there are many banks doing what we’re doing right now.
What are your plans for the future?
After we’ve successfully processed our first loan, we’re aiming to initiate even more FinTech projects, like fully digital insurance sales. With masii as our foundation, it’s our goal to penetrate even more financial markets.
What advice would you give to prospective developers who want to break into the tech industry?
I would say get the basics right first. Developers shouldn’t spend too much time trying to learn every single programming language. In this ever evolving industry, you’re constantly learning and adapting. Stick to what you’re good at and you can specialise after you’ve joined a company. Even if you know a company’s programming language, it might change in a few months anyway. I also follow a lot of tech seminars and use social media platforms to stay ahead of the curve. It’s all about your willingness to adjust. As Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
For more information, check out: www.masii.com