Financial literacy is defined as the ability to understand how money works. When a person is financially literate, he/she can make informed financial choices in saving, investing, and borrowing, among others.
Having more financially literate citizens is ideal for any country. Unfortunately, in a 2015 report by a US financial services company Standard & Poor’s (S&P) entitled “Financial Literacy Around the World,” the Philippines sits at the bottom group of financially literate countries with only 24 percent of participants in their global survey showing financial literacy. The Philippines ranks behind South African countries like Rwanda (with 26 percent), Chad (26 percent), Namibia (27 percent) and South American countries like Panama (27 percent), and Peru (28 percent).
Among its neighboring Asian countries, Philippines lags behind Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore in financial literacy ranking, according to an Asian Development Bank study. The country, like Indonesia, is also yet to have a national strategy for financial education despite having one of the more thriving economies in the region.
Hoping to address this problem, financial comparison platform group called Compare Asia launched the Philippine-focused comparison site MoneyMax.ph.
In an interview with the The Manila Times, MoneyMax’s British managing director Moritz Gastl introduced and explained their website.
“The concept of financial comparison has started in the United Kingdom through a company called Money Supermarket. And now in the UK, about 80 percent of credit cards are being bought online through a financial comparison platform. The concept was picked up by our founders, so to speak, and they moved to Asia when they realized the potential in here, especially in Southeast Asia,” the expat shared.
Gastl further noted that the Compare Asia first made a home in Hong Kong but soon identified the Philippines as one of their key target markets, not only because it is one of the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia but also because of its massive 45 percent internet penetration.
“But obviously, to start something like this, you have to start with focusing on your back ends—you have to start with developing your website first, developing how you capture customers’ information and how you monetize it eventually. So that’s how the year and a half has been for MoneyMax.ph since we started in July 2014. And for 2016, we are focusing on scaling up, and also adding different channels into our website,” Gastl continued, while adding that their current main channel at MoneyMax is about motorcar insurance.
Giving the power of choice
Meanwhile, Rahul Maira, product manager for MoneyMax, said that their website wants to create a sense of comparison in across financial products. “The goal of a website like MoneyMax.ph is to bring the power of choice in the hands of the consumer.”
In action, the website wants to show consumers what’s available in the market and let them decided what’s best for them. “For example, you come across financial products, we make sure that you see what are the options—what’s available, what’s the interest rate, or what are you getting charged of, among others—all those kind of things, those are the problems we want to solve, in a way,” Maira enumerated.
“Essentially, how we want to get there is by starting with educating people, providing transparency in terms of providing a series of financial literacy articles where we show customers like, for example, these are the components for a car insurance, these are the components that actually affect the premium, the price,” Gastl added.
To benefit this service to their Filipino audience who, according to aforementioned studies, are not exactly the most financially literate citizens, MoneyMax sees to it that they present information in chewable servings.
“When we talk about car insurance or personal loans, there are a lot of terms that are only available or only known by financial literate people” Gastl admitted.
Browsing the website, a user can easily compare the available offers in broadband, credit card, personal loans, and housing loans that are arranged in tables and can be adjusted to the visitors’ preferred factor. For example, when looking for a credit card, a user can browse by banks that offer the lowest interest rates, those that offer the lowest balance transfers, or those that showcase the best rewards.
For their first channel that is car insurance, on the other hand, they get the nitty gritty and specifics of a users’ car, such as manufacturer, model, users’ location and usage (personal or commercial) and then sends the details of deals listed on their website through the users’ provided email address.
“We want to have the best deal available for the Filipino consumers so that [eventually]when someone is looking for a financial product, they would simply go to MoneyMax.ph,” Maira simplified.
In an effort of educating Filipinos, Moneymax.ph also has an onsite blog that covers personal financial tips like the relatable “Credit card for first timers,” “Tips when buying a car before hitting 30 years old,” and the more seasonal tips like “Summer destinations near Manila you can visit under P1,000,” or for parents, “Budgeting finances in the midst of tuition fee increase.”
Armed with the same goal for their website, MoneyMax has gone beyond the internet sphere and has inked a deal with The Manila Times where they would continue to educate Filipinos through their weekly business column, which began on February 18 in the Business section.
Young and dynamic
Having satisfied themselves in explaining what MoneyMax.ph is about, The Manila Times prodded two of the young and dynamic minds behind the site to introduce themselves to their future column readers.
The 26-year-old Gastl originally came from London and had been working in the Philippines for a different investment banking company for two and a half years when MoneyMax.ph founders approached him.
“Before I was asked to join the company, I was in a very straightforward banking job. Then I would go on thinking, do I want to sell something or do I want to promote something?” Gastl shared.
He eventually went with the obvious answer that everyone wants to save money. “That’s my main reason why I wanted to join the company because for me, it would make a lot of sense if I’m able to explain to someone, ‘If you use my MoneyMax, you will save money.’ If I can do that, then I could say that my day is made,” he added.
While Gastl has already worked for a considerable amount of time in Manila, Maira—who hails from India—is yet to complete his first year locally. He used to work in strategy for a company in Germany and for leadership development in South Africa before coming to Manila to work for MoneyMax.ph.
“For me it all comes down to a very purposeful role that we are doing here, which is, helping the Filipino consumers with the sense of transparency that we can offer as specialists,” the young professional said.
When The Manila Times asked how they perceive the country now that they are living here, Gastl replied, “I knew nothing about the Philippines—nothing. I initially thought about staying here for three to six months and then the people convinced me to stay. I find Filipinos as friendly people—very, very nice to work with, and very accommodating. Those are the reasons, obviously aside from the business opportunities why I’m here.”
Maira, as young as he might be in the country, already picked up a Filipino trait. “I picked up this one line that my officemates taught me which is Kaya mo yan! It’s my favorite line in the Philippines, and I truly feel that the people are very into the thought that yes it’s possible; that whatever obstacle turns up, yes we can do it together. And if we are in it together, we can make it happen.”
When it comes to business, the two further agree that Filipinos are their ideal customers.
“When you travel here in the Philippines, at every corner, you see business opportunities. There are a lot of improvements to make. I mean, a lot of the things that are already taken for granted in Europe are just not yet established here,” Gastl observed.
“I think the consumers here are very, very strong. They want a good deal. It’s not like they will settle for just anything. And I really like that, and I think that’s why we are here, because we want to offer the best deal for our consumers. And we feel that as time is passing, Filipinos are getting more affluent, more strong, more easy and savvy,” Maira commented.
As such Gastl and Maira’s MoneyMax .ph column is focused on educating readers how to invest properly.
“This also includes how to blow off the best credit card, how to get the best loan, and how to save money on personal loan. I believe there are some blogs out there in the Philippines [doing this]but I find that some of them give biased views. It’s also kind of our forte to provide transparent financial advice, not based on an individual making money or a blogger making money,” Gastl shared.
Maira’s “forte,” meanwhile, is revealed in the following statement: “I am in general a very thrifty person so for me its about how can you be thrifty and save here and there. I come from India, so you know,” he added laughing.
“We were actually joking about it in the cab, and I said, we would probably write something about 5-6 ways to save money. Or, I don’t how but maybe something about the perception of Indian people in the Philippines from an Indian not from the Philippines,” he ended.
MoneyMax.ph is published in The Manila Times’ Business section every Thursday.