Taking innovations to Hong Kong and beyond

TOPICS: Entrepreneurship , Fintech

by Simon Loong

Before founding WeLab, I had been a professional banker for my whole career, which is not uncommon among Hong Kongers. After over a decade in banking, I had witnessed first-hand how traditional banking fulfils people’s financial needs with a suite of comprehensive products and services, but also how it is often inefficient in making credit accessible and simple for all consumers. I decided to take a mid-career sabbatical and spend a year studying at Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley. There, I explored more about financial technology in banking, and how technology could help us work smarter, not harder. Once I came back to Hong Kong, I re-joined the banking industry, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how technology could change financial services for the better.

It was certainly a tough decision to make. Many people in the middle of their careers would consider doing a startup, but one of the biggest deterrents is that you have to give up a stable career and the lifestyle that you’ve spent years building. But I decided to turn this into my advantage: rather than focus on what I was “giving up” in the banking world by starting a business from scratch, I focused on what I was “bringing in” from my strong banking background into my startup.

I founded WeLab in January 2013, in a tiny office on Wing Lok Street crammed with 11 people. At the time, there were only a handful of fintech startups in China, and there was nothing in Hong Kong or most of Asia. I saw a great growth opportunity here in fintech.

Not long afterwards, I led my team to achieve our first, ground-breaking step in our home market of Hong Kong. By July of 2013, WeLab launched its minimum viable product (MVP), in the form of a purely online, interest-free loan of around HKD $10,000 to individuals, to be paid back over three to six months. The first hundred loans were a test and at no interest. I just wanted people to know about our service and prove the digital business model was effective. Indeed, it worked. The MVP evolved to Hong Kong’s largest purely online lending platform – WeLend. Yet I knew we should not become complacent within our home market. It was imperative that we continue to find creative ways to expand while also developing new products.

From that point on, my team and I worked hard to introduce and operate market-leading online consumer credit platforms across Asia. On top of our work in Hong Kong, in 2014, we expanded to WeLab Digital in Mainland China, and in 2018, we partnered with Astra International to launch Maucash in Indonesia. Today, we continue to grow in these three markets of Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Indonesia, and we never stop searching for ways that we can create better financial experiences.

Fast forward to today, in August of 2020. WeLab now has over 800 employees across 3 markets. Beyond the 46+ million users who have achieved financial freedom through our consumer platforms, we have empowered hundreds of millions more through our enterprise solutions. We are a preeminent technology enabler, providing the consumer lending technology we developed to leading banks and institutions, thereby helping them launch their own fintech product and services.

Now a new chapter of our journey has just begun. My team and I have a vision to bring joy to your financial journey, because we believe that everyone deserves a positive and delightful experience when dealing with money. In July of this year, we launched WeLab Bank, Hong Kong’s only homegrown virtual bank, which offers a wide range of digital financial services from your mobile phone to democratize banking and make banking fun.

WeLab became the perfect manifestation of my original desire to improve banking through technology. Looking back, I found it was never a single-track race with a clear finishing line. Little did I know when I left my banking life to start a fintech company that I would come full circle and build a bank from scratch 7 years later. There are different ways of realizing your aspirations. The decisions you make along the way are what makes your journey so unique, and it’s so important to adapt to new circumstances while pushing yourself to reach outside of what you are used to do. Through this process, you will always come out stronger and maximize the impact you can make.

About the Author

Simon Loong is the Founder and Group CEO of WeLab – a leading fintech company in Asia with one of the first virtual banks established in Hong Kong.  WeLab provides financial services by creating seamless digital experiences to over 46 million users and 600 enterprise customers across Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Indonesia.  WeLab also provides B2B enterprise solutions to traditional financial institutions which utilise WeLab’s technology to offer fintech-enabled services to their customers. WeLab operates WeLend and WeLab Bank in Hong Kong, WeLab Digital (我来数科), Taoxinji (淘新机) and Tianmian Lab (天冕) in Mainland China and a fintech joint venture AWDA in Indonesia.

Prior to founding WeLab, Simon spent 15 years in retail banking divisions of Citibank and Standard Chartered.  Simon has a Master of Science in Management (MSM) from Stanford Graduate School of Business and is a Fellow of Certified Public Accountant (Australia).

Simon is a non-official member of the Business Facilitation Advisory Committee of HKSAR, and serves as an advisor to many professional organizations including Shenzhen Consumer Council, Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and was also a founding Board Member on the FinTech Association of Hong Kong.

Simon has received several awards in recognition of his achievements including 2016 "CEO of the Year" by Capital CEO, 2017 “Innovation Leadership Achievement in Hong Kong” by The Asian Banker, 2018 "The InnoStars Award" by Our Hong Kong Foundation and “The World Outstanding Chinese Youth Entrepreneur Award”. Simon has also been named as “one of the 20 people shaping Hong Kong’s future” in the next 20 years by leading Chinese media outlet, YiCai.