OUTLOOK FOR THE E-CONOMY 2017
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Fresh from the launch of Carro Express, the team is back again to shake up the industry. Today, Carro announced that it has raised US$12 million in its latest round of funding.
But while funding news are pretty common, what’s interesting is that the 2-year-old Singapore startup is taking the funding and using it to develop a subsidiary that while at first seems unrelated, is actually intimately linked to their main business.
The new fintech kid on the block is Genie Financial Services, and is described to be a hire purchase provider which offers speedy auto loan approvals, and an artificial intelligence (AI)-based chatbot for interested parties to use.
What Genie offers / Image Credit: Genie
The creation of Genie stemmed from an internal need, and Chandra Tjan, managing partner at Alpha JWC reveals, “As Carro got to scale, we realised that getting access to auto financing can be complicated. We thus setup a team to look into providing a one-stop, speedy, hassle-free solution for customers looking for auto financing. That team eventually became Genie.”
Genie is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Carro, and holding the reins is Helen Neo, who has an illustrious 30 years of experience in the auto financing industry.
Said Stefan Jung, Managing Partner of Venturra, “Helen brings with her in-depth knowledge of the space which we would have otherwise taken the Carro team years to acquire.”
Having transacted over $50 million worth of cars in 2016 alone, Carro CEO Aaron Tan reveals that one of the main issues he noticed was how auto financing can often be a tedious and complicated process:
Image Credit: Carro
“There were many instances when we sold a vehicle at Carro, but the buyer was rejected for an auto loan – and that hurt our sales figures. That was when we realised that the credit underwriting methodology and algorithm by the banks are catered to a certain set of the customers. We decided that it was painful enough and decided to look into auto financing.”
“[With Genie], we want to do our part in making auto financing more efficient and accessible. Unlike other major automotive markets such as China and the United States, a larger proportion of consumers tend to take financing in Southeast Asia.”
One need not look far to understand why the trend of taking up loans is prevalent.
Owning a car in Singapore is a costly affair, and it’s not just the vehicle you need to pay for – it’s everything else that adds up to a whole lot.
Beep Magazine lists the various taxes and fees that come in addition to the base price (or OMV) of the vehicle, and how a $74,914 BMW could end up setting a driver back a whooping $395,800:
Image Credit: Beep Magazine
Thus, it’s no surprise that the regular Singaporean usually needs to take up a loan to finance their car-driving dreams.
Genie isn’t only for those who are buying new cars, either.
Basically, if you require something with 4-wheels in Singapore, Genie’s got your back covered.
Not just providing the convenience of having loan calculators, application formsand various loan rates available in a single platform, Genie also differs from other financing portals in a few crucial ways – it is able to compute a loan to suit the risk profile of an individual using algorithms, and, living up to its one-stop promise, underwrites the loan for users, as compared to simply redirecting them to banks.
All users will need to do is fill up the forms made available on Genie’s website, and the team will handle the rest.
Edgar Hardless, CEO of Singtel Innov8, explains: “We wear different size of clothes, cuts, colours and design – auto financing should be the same. It should be tailored to suit your needs. So rather than just being another financier, the team decided to redesign the entire customer journey and provide them with an alternative experience.”
Following the slew of chatbots popping up to serve our various needs, from Bus Unclesto Uber/Grab/taxi promo code curators, Genie also offers an AI-based chatbot, Genie Bot (on iOS and Android), which, for the buyer who can’t afford to wait, offers 24/7 help and guidance.
Trying out the Genie Bot
But why a chatbot?
“We were looking at ways to differentiate and more importantly provide customers a better service quality. And that idea came about after having served over a few thousand customers where we realised that the questions were mostly repetitive. We looked into that and decided that the combination of AI, Chatbot and KBMS was the way to go for Genie Finance,” explained Tan.
However, the chatbot wasn’t “built off the shelf on top of existing platforms”, and Tan revealed that the situation presented them quite a few challenges – but these were ones they were more than willing to take up.
“We spent a few months researching on good libraries (NLP, AI and ML libraries) and decide what was worth building and what was not, and spent time only writing libraries that matter.”
“The team was also very well-equipped to build it – we have a few data scientists and our engineering team was familiar with building chat apps at Carro, so it was overall a good team effort to pull everything together.”
At the moment, the bot is still in its infancy, and using it, I realised that there were limitations in what I could ask on the app.
However, Tan reassured that this was just a start of more things to come:
“We have only been training the bot over the last 2 weeks, so there are naturally some limitations on what it can answer. The building blocks are mostly in place, the plan is to continuously train the machine. The goal is to allow the chat bot to handle the entire car purchase transaction end-to-end via the app.”
Founded in 2015, Carro has progressed leaps and bounds – not just in their original business of dealing with cars, but now, even expanding into the fintech side of the industry.
It won’t be surprising if soon, we’ll be seeing even more aut0-related subsidiary coming from them.
Watch this space for updates!
The Carro team has also offered an exclusive promotion for our readers: