Synagie Corporation co-founder and executive director Zanetta Lee says the company is well positioned to harness the e-commerce wave in Southeast Asia. ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

 

The Sunday Times and the Singapore Exchange’s research team interview company bosses to help investors get a view of a firm’s operations and strategic direction – aspects that go beyond the financials. We speak to Synagie Corporation co-founder and executive director Zanetta Lee to get her insights on the firm.

Lorna Tan    Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent

Synagie Corporation helps brand partners such as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and multinational corporations by providing a plug-and-play solution to manage their multi-channel, e-commerce and offline operations.

It works with more than 270 brand partners, including well-known ones like Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Shiseido. The company was set up in late 2014 and listed on the Catalist board of the Singapore Exchange last August. Staff strength has grown to around 100.

Last year, Synagie was ranked the fastest-growing technology company in Singapore and No. 22 in the Asia-Pacific by Deloitte.

Its end-to-end commerce enablement and fulfilment solution is powered by its cloud-based platform. This covers all aspects of the e-commerce value chain, from technology, online store operations, and content and channel management, to digital marketing, customer service and warehousing, leveraging technologies such as big data analytics and artificial intelligence.

 

Q HOW DID SYNAGIE CORPORATION START?

In 2014, Synagie’s founders, Clement (Lee), Olive (Tai) and I, noticed a disruption in the Singapore retail market. We found that more consumers were starting to shop online, leading to a decline in the traditional retail market.

This led us to launch our first e-commerce portal Beautiful.me, an online shopping club for women focused on selling health, beauty and baby products, in late 2015.

Although most of the brands that we approached initially were keen to sell their products online, few had a digital product catalogue that included, among other things, product images, descriptions, marketing banners and detailed specifications.

The team spent most of 2015 cataloguing more than 6,000 units of fast-moving consumer goods products for its brand partners in exchange for product samples that were later sold at trade fairs, as most of the brands did not have an e-commerce budget to pay for the cataloguing services in those days.

We also noticed that most of the brands were keen to sell on different online marketplaces and channels, but did not have the capability to do so as their warehouses and supply chains were not built to handle e-commerce fulfilment, which requires the packing and sending of individual parcels to consumers as they order online.

Seizing this opportunity, we decided to build a platform that would provide a one-stop solution ranging from cataloguing and marketing to warehousing and last-mile delivery. This was launched in mid-2016 and now serves as an easy-to-use solution for more than 270 brand partners who manage their businesses via Synagie’s platform.

 

Q HOW HAS YOUR INSURTECH BUSINESS PERFORMED SINCE ITS ACQUISITION IN APRIL 2018?

Our insurtech subsidiary has more than seven years of experience in providing third-party administration services for our multinational customers in the computer, communications and consumer electronics sector.

We work with our insurance partners to provide an integrated solution for programme development, claims management and after-sales customer support to help customers manage their extended warranty programmes in more than 12 countries in Asia.

After the acquisition, we started developing our cloud insurance platform that provides digital distribution, claims automation and dynamic pricing for insurance products.

We believe there lies a huge opportunity to provide on-demand insurance products for consumers in South-east Asia. Leveraging our relationship with leading insurance partners and our domain expertise, we plan to offer instant coverage on a pay-as-you-use basis to consumers by working with A-rated insurers who use our cloud insurance platform to deliver products to consumers digitally.

 

Q CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR NEWLY LAUNCHED INSURTECH APP KIASU.ME?

Kiasu.me… provides affordable and instant custom-fit protection for consumers in Singapore and South-east Asia at a tap of their fingers.

The app is available for both iOS and Android devices and focuses on delivering pay-as-you-use insurance policies, tailored to protect consumers from threats and hazards in their digital lifestyle. Kiasu.me targets the pocket insurance market, where premiums are low enough to be paid with pocket change.

We believe most traditional policies do not work for the on-demand economy and the current insurance policies that consumers buy are likely to be larger than what they require, with many paying premiums for coverage that they may not use. Consumers can now get instant protection anywhere, any time by paying for coverage that they really need, and have the option to add additional coverage or cancel any time.

 

Q WHAT IS THE COMPETITIVE EDGE OF THE INSURTECH APP? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS?

A Kiasu.me is unique in a sense that it changes the traditional insurance model by offering “tailored-fit” protection for what consumers need so that they do not pay extra premiums for coverage they may not use.

Kiasu.me works like a subscription with a low monthly or yearly fee, where consumers have the freedom to add more coverage on the go or cancel their protection any time, anywhere.

In addition, all Kiasu.me policies are excess-free where consumers do not have to pay anything when they make a claim, unlike some traditional insurance policies where consumers have to pay an excess amount.

Filing of claims is also hassle-free through artificial intelligence… that will process claims in seconds. The consumer will be paid directly via his bank account once the claims are approved, almost instantly.

On-demand protection, zero excess and no paperwork are the advantages Kiasu.me has over the competition.

 

Q WHAT PRODUCT OFFERINGS CAN WE EXPECT FROM INSURTECH IN THE NEAR TERM?

A The first product is Device Shield, a smartphone insurance. It offers a 12-month, app-based accidental screen damage protection for new mobile phones and is underwritten by a regional A-rated insurer.

Device Shield covers the cost of one screen repair for all major brands of new mobile phones at a price of only $39.90 a year with coverage activation and automated claims powered by Kiasu.me.

It also comes with an app-based concierge service for free pick-ups and returns during repair. Repairs are done by official brand repair centres, using 100 per cent original parts so that the existing warranty for the mobile phone will still be intact after repair.

Device Shield comes in the form of a scratch card available at leading retail mobile phone outlets in Singapore. We believe the card is a novel distribution method for phone insurance as it provides instant protection when customers purchase a new phone.

Other product offerings in the pipeline include cyber-risks and family insurance.

We are always looking at introducing more innovative insurance products to protect everything – ranging from the stuff you love, the people you love, to the lifestyle you love – in a mere 90 seconds.

 

Q WHICH MARKETS ARE YOU IN AND WHAT ARE YOUR GROWTH PLANS?

A From 2015 to 2017, nearly all our revenues were derived from Singapore. We expanded into Malaysia towards the end of 2017 and have our newly established operations in Vietnam. We expect the Philippines to be operational by June and Thailand before the end of this year.

We are always looking to strengthen our geographical presence. Last year, we entered into a collaboration agreement with United Overseas Bank to assist SMEs to expand and manage multiple online sales channels, starting from UOB’s client base in Singapore, followed by Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

We are looking at extending the distribution of our Kiasu.me product to other countries in the region, as Singapore is our initial test bed. Moving forward, we will seek more partnerships as they are critical to the growth of Synagie.

 

Q WHAT CAN INVESTORS EXPECT FROM SYNAGIE?

A According to a recent report, South-east Asia e-commerce activity hit an inflection point last year and is on track to reach US$240 billion (S$325 billion) by 2025, surpassing previous estimates by US$40 billion.

With a young population, high mobile penetration and just 3 per cent of retail sales done online, there is still plenty of room to grow as businesses work to overcome challenges in payments and logistics.

Synagie is well positioned to harness this e-commerce wave.

Although Synagie has a short operating history, its cloud-based solution has been well received with more than 270 brand partners using its services.

Synagie operates an asset-light, high-growth business model – reflecting a compound annual growth rate of 340 per cent from 2015 to last year – that is highly scaleable across the region.

Synagie is also confident that its insurtech business segment, coupled with the recent launch of the Kiasu.me mobile app, will complement its growth.

 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 14, 2019, with the headline ‘Affordable, custom-fit insurance on the go’. Print Edition | Subscribe