The ‘monster’ fighting for good
Ming Chan (BEcon 2007) Co-founder of FinMonster, is helping startups and SMEs get the funding they need.
Ming Chan has created a ‘monster’ – in a financial sense. Powerful and disruptive, it is helping the small guy; the startups and entrepreneurs that offer so much to the economy but often lack access to financing. Hong Kong government stats show there are over 340,000 SMEs in the city, providing job opportunities to about 1.3 million people. That they are underserved is wrong in the eyes of Ming, co-founder of FinMonster.
In Hong Kong, it is becoming easier for entrepreneurs to set up companies, but finding funding is still an obstacle that many cannot overcome. Enter FinMonster, an organisation that acts as a matchmaker between passionate entrepreneurs and bankers that want to invest in them.
The key is technology powered by proprietary AI-driven algorithms and big data analytics. It sounds fancy, but visiting FinMonster’s offices in Cyberport that overlook Lamma Channel, the vibe is laid back, exactly what you might expect from a rising tech star. The sun is shining through huge bay windows as Ming tells us about his journey from his ten years in banking industry to the world of startup excitement. You can tell he is passionate, humble, and aiming to make a difference.
‘Monster’ attack on traditional financing
Small companies have a notoriously difficult time trying to get the money they need to scale. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Inefficiency and lack of transparency means these companies don’t get the financing they need, and the best way to do this on our single marketplace is putting customers’ interests first. Working in banking, I saw first-hand how everything was done on paper in a laborious way, and banks would probably take a decade to digitise their process,” says Ming.
Ming met key co-founder Jess Cheng in a previous role, while the other partners come from diverse backgrounds including IT and marketing. Cheng was Ming’s supervisor at the time the idea popped into his head. One can imagine the conversation – ‘hey do you want to start a company?’ The team began their startup journey in 2018, joining the Cyberport incubation programme. “When we began this, many people told us it was a bad idea. But we wanted to sustain ourselves and help small businesses,” Ming says.
Having found offline marketing ineffective, FinMonster took a digital approach and it has paid off handsomely. “People don’t particularly want to go out during an epidemic so doing things online is the way to go. Covid-19 has been ironically a good thing for our business. It’s been terrible for other people but we’ve turned lemons into lemonade,” Ming laughs.
Most SMEs simply cannot get funding or if they can, have high collaterals or interest, in addition to going through a time consuming process: the result is small companies don’t get decent loan deals. FinMonster takes the pain away by helping small companies develop a credit rating that bankers can trust. “We are like a Trivago in the corporate banking space,” says Ming. While Europe has similar products, Asia does not have anything like FinMonster, and it has become a partner of choice for both traditional and virtual banks. With open API, FinMonster allows banks to directly leverage data to find small companies worth funding.
A ‘monster’ journey starts at HKU
Ming sees time spent studying Economics at HKU Business School as pivotal to his startup journey, particularly the experience on exchange at the University of California, Irvine. “The international exposure I received was really useful in the startup space, and I also managed to go to Disneyland as well!” he jokes.
Soaking in the creative and entrepreneurial atmosphere was also a key part of Ming’s study experience, and gaining a critical network would help him in his career. “We recently had a partnership with another startup founded by HKU Business School alumni that we knew from back in the day, and there are lots of great talents from the alumni network that we can leverage,” he says.
Together, these startups are building a new vision of banking that goes beyond being safe and boring, and spending days in a safe job counting the hours away. “We are always solving problems, taking ownership and also we can dress more casually! But it’s not for everyone; I would tell students that if they want to enter the entrepreneur space, they need to identify the right problem in the market, and execution is the most important part – you need a strong team,” says Ming.
More importantly, Ming helps bring a vision of equality to finance – while most monsters wreak havoc on society, FinMonster helps change finance for good.