Insight & Analysis

60 Second Interview: Wilson Koh, Group Treasurer, Grab

Published: Oct 2019

Grab is Southeast Asia’s leading super app that provides everyday services that matter the most to its customers. Its mission: solve key problems in the region whilst improving the lives of millions. Through its open platform strategy, Grab works with partners to provide safe, accessible and affordable transport, food, package, grocery delivery, mobile payments and financial services to millions of people in Southeast Asia. Headquartered in Singapore, Grab is Southeast Asia’s first decacorn.

Wilson Koh, Group Treasurer, Grab

What does running Grab’s treasury entail?

With such an array of differing businesses, serving completely different markets, it is down to my team to keep the company running smoothly. The way I think about running corporate treasury is that if we are doing a good job, nobody will even realise we exist or the extent of the value we create. Our consumers and partners deserve the very best, and it is imperative that we earn the right to serve.

What are the key challenges for Grab?

Southeast Asia is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. The numerous countries within it account for more than 640 million people and there are large economic realities separating the region – such as differing central bank regulatory frameworks.

This presents challenges in managing cash, liquidity and treasury activities, ranging from cross border payments, reducing the costs of funds-in and funds-out, foreign exchange transactions, counterparty risks, investments and financing to bank account management, across the different markets, while conforming to different local regulations and constraints.

We adopt a hyperlocal approach to businesses by setting up a local presence in every country that we operate in and we work closely with relevant government authorities, including tax and banking regulators.

Just how critical is it to find the right partners?

Very. What has been effective for Grab is the forging of strategic partnerships where the intentions are aligned and to access deep local expertise. This is due in part to the fragmented nature of the markets and the dynamic operating environment across Southeast Asian countries. We recognise that there are differences in social trust between people, as well as the way they interact with cash and cashless channels, coupled with the way they transact with banks across markets.

As we expand our service delivery platform in the region, leveraging these strategic partnerships has enabled us to drive innovation, ensuring that quick-to-market, regulatory-compliant and market-relevant products and services are deployed. To take some examples, when we started a lending business, we found a joint venture partner to enable the target business model. When we wanted to deliver an insurance service offering to our consumers, we found another joint venture partner.

Grab are a Highly Commended Winner of Treasury Today Asia’s Adam Smith Awards Asia 2019 in the category of Harnessing the Power of Technology. Can you explain more?

In November 2018, we forged a strategic alliance and partnership with United Overseas Bank in Singapore to access a variety of banking solutions as part of a broader commercial collaboration. We rolled out an instant payment solution for settlement with driver partners and merchants, using a straight through processing application programming interface. This greatly enhances the payout experience for our driver partners and merchants on a 24/7 basis.

The partnership with UOB has created many wins for Grab’s finance and treasury teams – from enhancing driver and merchant payment experience to reducing costs, improving cash visibility, standardising documentation, executing FX, leveraging industry-standard SWIFT interfaces and other banking requirements via a single platform.

Winning the award is testament to and validation of our strategy of leveraging local partners and technology to create impact.

You mentioned your team earlier, what visions and values should a good treasury live by?

At Grab we call them the ‘4Hs’: heart, hunger, honour and humility. These values are something that we as a team have to extol daily. We need the heart to do things for the right reason and serve the community, the hunger and grit to push ourselves to raise our game and not settle for less, the honour to be ethical and keep to our word, and the humility to own up to our mistakes and be better versions of ourselves every day.

I’m also a strong believer of continuous learning and improvement. My team members are encouraged to learn new skills such as data analytics, to network and share ideas, and take charge of their own career aspirations. In other words, being proactive to future-proof their careers in the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) environment.

The full version of this interview will be available in the November/December 2019 Treasury Today Asia edition in print and online.

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