June 04 2024

Why Sea has a growing fintech business

Super apps in Southeast Asia have been forced in recent years to confront a harsh reality: More is not necessarily better, at least when it comes to the number of services provided by the same app. Sea Group, the most valuable listed company in Southeast Asia, has never branded itself as a super app, but its business model has sought to tap the synergies among its gaming, e-commerce and fintech arms.  Recently, however, the fintech business has begun to grow rapidly – and not necessarily because of integration with Shopee.

Sea’s fintech business had a solid first quarter. Revenue rose 21% to US$499.4 million, while adjusted EBITDA was US$148.7 million, up 50.3% year-on-year. Sea’s digital financial services revenue and operating income are primarily attributed to its consumer and SME credit business. As of March 31, 2024, consumer and SME loans principal outstanding was US$3.3 billion, up 28.7% year-on-year.

While Sea’s first digital bank was in Singapore, and it also has one in Malaysia, we like the prospects for its online banks in the Philippines and Indonesia. These markets have ample low-hanging fruit, and Sea can bring onboard customers who are entering the formal banking system for the first time, not just those who are opening a secondary account just to benefit from a promotion.

SeaBank Philippines posted a profit of P110.7 million in the January-March period, the company’s first profitable quarter since launching its app in June 2022. SeaBank attributed the profitability to the doubling of its loan portfolio to P13 billion over the previous year and a 75% growth in deposits to P20.23 billion. What is interesting about Sea’s bank in the Philippines is how it has carved out a niche as a so-called “rural bank” – for which licensing requirements are less stringent than the six official digital banks in the country.

We suspect SeaBank Philippines’ loan portfolio is benefiting from the tie-up inked last with WeFund Lending, owner of the JuanHand app. Under the agreement, SeaBank announced last November that it planned to provide roughly 300 million pesos in loans to eligible borrowers through the JuanHand app. JuanHand offers loans from US$36 to US$902 payable within 30 to 120 days.

Meanwhile, Sea is also considering increasing its fintech presence in Indonesia. While it already has SeaBank Indonesia, which was originally Bank BKE before Sea bought it, the Singaporean company is expected to acquire a 10-15% stake in HiBank, a subsidiary of PT Bank Negara Indonesia Tbk (BNI), according to Royke Tumilaar, BNI’s president director. The deal could close as early as the end of June, and would give Sea a new channel from which to tap digital financial services opportunities in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.