5 female-led Philippine fintech startups promoting financial inclusion

According to the Global Findex Database 2017 by the World Bank, of the 1.7 billion adults in the world without a formal financial account, 56% are women. That statistic becomes larger in emerging markets, which shows that disadvantaged women have a higher chance of not being given essential financial services than their male counterparts.

One of the few exceptions to that observation is the Philippines. Not only are Filipino women at equal footing with Filipino men when it comes to accessing financial services, but they are even more likely to have formal financial accounts than men. It shows that gender isn’t impeding the development of financial inclusion in the country, and that the local financial ecosystem is set up to be inclusive and accessible to every Filipino, regardless of gender.

At the heart of these efforts for better financial inclusion are several fintech startups that promote the accessibility of financial services. These startups are introducing innovative digital solutions that address the country’s numerous gaps in the distribution of financial services, and they’re all making sure that both Filipino men and women are granted equal access to these services. Here they are: 

The growth in the popularity of Bitcoin in recent years has led to many startups finding use cases for cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. The seamlessness, security, and immutability that blockchain technology can provide has opened up numerous opportunities for startups to innovate and produce impactful solutions that can disrupt traditional processes. 

For blockchain startup Qwikwire, the traditional processes it’s aiming to disrupt are the listings and transactions behind real estate. Among Qwikwire’s suite of solutions for real estate developers and buyers alike is Aqwire, a blockchain-based real estate listing platform for commercial and residential properties.

Headed by Jacquiline Romorosa who eventually became Qwikwire’s chief operating officer, Aqwire allows property developers to directly connect with potential buyers, eliminating the need for middlemen thanks to the efficiencies brought about by blockchain. The platform also makes cross-border transactions easier thanks to its blockchain-based system, allowing a property buyer to purchase real estate in any part of the world like they’re buying goods on an e-commerce platform.

Qwikwire has received numerous accolades for its business model, winning both the Ignite PH and the Geeks on a Beach pitching competitions in 2017. The startup has also received funding from various venture capital firms in the US, Japan, and the Philippines, most notably from global early-stage investor 500 Startups.

Most of the fintech startups in this list are solving financial gaps for the end consumer, whether it’s through increasing financial access or through digital platforms with easy-to-use information.

However, some also have a business-to-business (B2B) component, with majority of the country’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) also being financially excluded as they cannot afford to accommodate the in-house financial management services that most large corporations benefit from.

As a result, transactions and settlements within these SMEs are often inefficient, and poor controls take valuable resources away from an already lean operation.

That’s what Maggie Po aims to address with B2B startup FullSuite, which aims to be the financial concierge of choice for SMEs around the world. FullSuite’s team of seasoned accountants offer various services relating to business registration, renewal, bookkeeping, and compliance. The company also aims to help any business owner in all matters related to strategic finance such as fundraising, managing runway, cash flow, and even mergers and acquisitions.

Fullsuite’s commitment to providing good corporate housekeeping, financial management, and strategic finance for all businesses has led it to be recognized by Xero, the world’s leading provider of cloud accounting services. The company recently attained the Gold Partner Status, the second highest tier, which means that the company has used Xero’s software to help hundreds of clients. It is one of only four companies in the country to have achieved this distinction.

Filipino consumers are always canvassing for the best deals, whether it’s the biggest discounts on products across malls and e-commerce sites or the cheapest ticket one can buy for a flight. Unfortunately, that tenacity doesn’t transfer over when it comes to financial services. Not only are Filipinos unaware that there are a myriad of options when it comes to financial products, they also largely do not know much about them as a whole and how they can benefit from them.

Financial comparison website eCompareMo aims to remedy that by providing an accessible and easy-to-use platform where Filipinos can freely compare loans, credit cards, and non-life insurance. Once a user finds the best product for them, eCompareMo can connect them with the provider and make the purchasing process as seamless as possible. It recently announced that it will go beyond providing a financial comparison platform by rolling out an alternative credit scoring system, giving unbanked Filipinos the opportunity to secure larger loans. 

Under the leadership of CEO Stephanie Chung, eCompareMo now services over 500,000 customers each month, introducing financial services to Filipinos on a budget who would otherwise be unaware of them. Its parent company, C88, is one of the few startups in the region to have closed a Series C funding round, announcing that it raised over US$28 million in 2018.

4. Olivia 

A 2017 BSP survey revealed that only 3% of Filipino adults are investing in stocks, bonds, pooled funds, and other similar vehicles. While the biggest reason for not having investments was due to the lack of money, other main reasons include the low awareness of investment vehicles and the lack of perceived need for investing capital.

The latter two reasons are being addressed by mobile app Olivia, a personal financial tracker specifically catering to female investors. While it also introduces and links investors to pooled funds just like several other finance apps, Olivia’s tracker foregoes the heavy emphasis on statistics, metrics, and charts and instead focuses on investment goals and horizons. Whether it’s for their families or their personal projects, Olivia can show how much its users need to invest, how high the monthly interest rates have to be, and how long it should be kept in a vehicle in order to reach their goals.

This simple but effective business model turned Olivia into the 2018 Philippine winner of She Loves Tech, a global competition that focuses on female-owned startups as well as businesses that specifically cater to women. Olivia’s CEO, Jocelyn Pantastico, represented the Philippines in the She Loves Tech 2018 global finals, which was held in Beijing, China in September 2018.

5. Vesl

Vesl aims to protect SMEs with trade credit insurance. By purchasing insurance from Vesl’s platform, SMEs are able to protect themselves from instances where invoices or receivables would be left unpaid. Vesl also directly links these SMEs with insurance providers through its digital marketplace, giving them better opportunities to purchase insurance that would otherwise be only available to larger companies. With a reliable way to insure their invoices and receivables, SMEs can acquire new clients and expand their businesses more quickly and confidently.

Established by three female co-founders Maureen Nova Ledesma, Jessica Manipon, and Yroen Guaya Melgar, Vesl received support from global startup accelerator Startupbootcamp in 2017. The company was also the Philippine winner of She Loves Tech 2019, representing the country in the global finals last September. – Rappler.com

Aileen Reyes is a financial risk management analyst for Manulife. She has been working in the financial services industry for several years and also served as a risk analyst for other multinational financial corporations.