In September 2021, Ascend Money became Thailand’s first fintech unicorn, achieving a US$1.5 billion following a US$150 million funding round. While we have learned to take fintech valuations with a few grains of salt, Ascend Money does have a strong ecosystem built on its TrueMoney wallet, which says it serves more than 50,000 users through its platform and 88,000 “agents.” The TrueMoney platform and the strategic investment that Ascend Money has from Ant Group could give it an edge as it expands internationally.

What seems to separate Ascend Money from the majority of Thai fintechs is its regional footprint, which has allowed it to build greater scale than companies only active in Thailand. Ascend Money operates in Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia as well as Thailand. Malaysia is a middle-income country like the Thailand while the others  are emerging markets characterized by intense competition but a lot of low-hanging fruit. With the exception of Malaysia, these countries have less entrenched incumbent banks than Thailand, which could be an opportunity going forward.

The Malaysia market is TrueMoney’s newest, with the expansion having occurred earlier this year via a partnership with Lotus's Stores Malaysia. With a wallet size of RM10,000, TrueMoney is the official payment provider for all of Lotus's locations nationwide. As of May, TrueMoney hasd acquired over 25,000 key payment touchpoints to connect with.

The success of Ascend Money may also speak to Ant Group’s ability to pick winners. It has an estimated 25% to 30% stake in the Thai company, and has been one of its key investors since 2016.

Ant is counting on TrueMoney to boost the reach of Alipay+ with Thai and other Southeast Asian users. In September, it announced that users of the TrueMoney wallet could make purchases in mainland China using the Alipay+ network as Ant tries to build a payments network that solves interoperability hiccups for consumers and merchants.

Meanwhile, in May, TrueMoney co-president Monsinee Nakapanant laid out some ambitious goals for Thailand’s most prominent fintech: reaching profitability this year (though he did not specify in the EBITDA sense or net income) and having 50% of the Thai population use its services “actively” on a daily basis by 2025. To be sure, these are ambitious goals, but they are probably achievable. The company’s financials must look fairly good for Nakapanant to be talking about profitability this year. It has reportedly already achieved net profit in payment services.

The key for TrueMoney will be building on its strong base in payments to segue into higher-margin services like banking. It plans to apply for a virtual banking license in Thailand. Provided its financial condition is solid, its chances of winning such a license are pretty good. The license would allow TrueMoney to start building a proper deposit base and lending business. It does already have some 2.5 million users of savings, investment and lending services, but cannot directly offer certain services without a banking license.