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Ongo rides financial inclusion push

Jan 06. 2019
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By Khine Kyaw
The Nation

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The B2B payments service gears up for expansion across Myanmar as Yangon promotes digital services

ONGO, a business-to-business (B2B) digital payments service, is plotting expansion across Myanmar in a bid to substantially increase its growth on the back of the government’s vision to boost financial inclusion for consumers and business at all levels.

Chief executive Allen Gilstrap said more than 400,000 people use the application, and the user base is expected to grow to one million customers by the end of 2019. It now has more than 110 corporate clients, thanks to its B2B digital payment services in key sectors: digital services, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), micro-finance and consumer lending.

“In the first phase of our operations in Myanmar, we emphasised B2B. This helps us build capacity and relevance with merchants who perform Ongo payments multiple times each week,” Gilstrap said in an exclusive interview.

“It also enables a successful second phase roll-out to individual users whose service benefits from the liquidity and extensive transactional volume already in our network.”

Ongo operates in 55 cities and has more than 900 full-time employees. The firm’s services are widely available in eight of the 14 states and regions in Myanmar, and will be expanded into other provinces, said Gilstrap.

“Our expansion plan is driven by the needs of our corporate clients. We will set up new operations in any state or region where our clients do their business. The only requirement is mobile network coverage to provide our service.”

Major services for corporate and merchant clients include digital cash and credit collection, digital invoicing and digital payroll services. For micro-finance (lender) clients, the firm provides digital loan disbursement and repayment services. Consumers can use Ongo to buy airtime from any telecom operator and Ananda data services, pay bills, transfer money and shop online. Customers earn rewards for making digital transactions. 

“We provide financial inclusion to hundreds of thousands of Myanmar people, as well as help merchants and corporations, by providing easily accessible, low-cost and convenient digital payment services at a neighbourhood, person-to-person level,” he said.

It takes less than 10 minutes to set up a consumer account in a simple process. Additionally, no bank account is required to use the application. One can download it from Google Playstore or directly from its website. No one can access Ongo account without knowing a registered PIN.

Gilstrap said Ongo has more than 25,000 merchants and expects to increase its base of merchants in 2019, as its FMCG client business expands across Myanmar.

“Merchants receive deliveries from our FMCG clients and pay for those deliveries using our network. Our shareholders are really pleased with our continued growth and look forward to providing digital payment services to consumers and businesses nationwide,” he said.

“Our FMCG clients are liberated from literally metric tonnes of cash they no longer have to collect, transport, count, and recount again.” 

Gilstrap considers cash as the firm’s main competitor in the Myanmar market where digital payments are yet to be widely accepted. Yet, he urges consumers to choose Ongo, as it is licensed and operationally structured to support B2B payment transactions.

“We provide an extensive menu of consumer services and the elevated level of customer service that our B2B focus enables us to deliver via an extensive agent network with full-time employees,” he said.

The firm recently partnered with Ananda, an Internet service provider, to allow customers to easily top up their data accounts at any Ongo agent shops across the nation. Gilstrap expects the partnership will enable both companies to accelerate their growth and provide an enhanced digital lifestyle for consumers.

“Great partnerships require a shared vision, trust and a strong ability to execute. These are all attributes of our partnership with Ananda. Our goal is to promote financial inclusion in a safe, simple and convenient fashion,” he said.

“We fully expect Ananda to be at the forefront in providing consumers with a full suite of digital products and services particularly as we see the integration of services within the digital marketplace.”

Since July 2018, the firm has partnered with Myanmar Oriental Bank for the launch of a secure and convenient digital payroll service for employers. The service features desktop software in which employers can instantly send all payroll payments digitally to their employees’ mobile wallets with a single click.

“This digital payroll solution provides extraordinary convenience to employers while empowering payroll recipients to keep firm control of their money with both mobile wallet and debit card,” said Gilstrap.

“Businesses that utilise our digital payroll service express a similar liberating digital experience when cash payroll to hundreds of their employees is replaced with instant digital disbursements to their employees’ mobile wallets.”


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