August 28 2023

Has Grab got its mojo back?

Written by Kapronasia

Investors seem happy with Grab’s Q2 results. Since the self-proclaimed Southeast Asian super app said last week that it expects to break even in the third quarter rather than the fourth quarter, while its quarterly losses narrowed and revenue rose 77% to US$567 million, its shares have risen 17%. But questions remain about the long-term viability of Grab’s business model.

For Grab to be taking a long time to reach profitability is not unusual for a platform company in this day and age. And even Amazon needed nine years to reach the black. That said, it is worth pondering why investors and investment bank analysts are sanguine about a company that has been burning money with a vengeance for more than a decade and lacks the differentiating qualities of the great platform company successes that have preceded it, whether that be Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba, Kakao or Rakuten.

Grab looks a lot like GoTo, and both companies look a lot like Southeast Asian versions of Uber plus digital financial services. As is the case with GoTo, there is nothing in the Grab ecosystem that is indispensable to consumers or businesses. The brand power is limited, and nothing in the app is “killer.” That’s why both companies have had to use subsidies so extensively and will continue to use them, if in a more controlled manner.

We aren’t convinced that marrying ride hailing and food delivery with banking is a winning formula, but that said, Grab’s fintech division did do pretty well in the second quarter. Revenue rose 223% to US$40 million on the back of improved monetization of the payment business and higher contributions from lending. However, gross merchandise value declined 13% to US$1.3 billion from US$1.49 billion in the same period last year. Meanwhile, loan disbursement grew by 47%.

We wonder what the endgame will be for Grab’s digital banking ventures in Singapore and Malaysia. One could make an argument there isn’t a significant underbanked demographic in Singapore, while in Malaysia there is one, but it’s probably not as large as that figure Bain came up with of 55%.

The banks offer Grab the best shot of reaching some attractive margins. It’s pretty unlikely to happen in payments. But whether Grab can build a real digital banking ecosystem with a strong lending business, wealth management products and so on remains to be seen. The markets with the best potential for Grab are the ones where it doesn’t yet have a digibank of its own, countries like Indonesia and the Philippines and Vietnam. It also remains to be seen if Grab has the time, money and resources to compete in all of those markets.