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Looking through an emphatic lens with BeamAndGo’s Jonathan Chua

Written by Taro Ishida Published on     6 mins read

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BeamAndGo have used the COVID situation to pivot towards tech driven social impact.

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BeamAndGo is a payment and digital marketplace that empowers overseas Filipinos by giving them control over how their remittance money is spent by their families back home. The platform solves the problem of leakage and misuse of remitted funds.

Currently, over 7,100 redemption points throughout the Philippines accept BeamAndGo, including supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, and more.

BeamAndGo was part of Accelerating Asia’s first cohort and has recently been accepted into the Fintech For Impact program run by UNICEF and ING. KrASIA spoke with co-founder Jonathan Chua about the company’s recent experiences.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): How did BeamAndGo originally start?

Jonathan Chua (JC): Normally migrant workers use remittances to take care of their families. They send the money through Western Union or a bank. Beneficiaries in the Philippines then get the money in cash. But the problem that affects many Filipinos, and this also affected my family when I was growing up, is that cash is great because it can be used to buy anything but that’s also why it is bad.

Cash can be used to buy groceries, medicine, and pay bills but it can also be used on alcohol, drugs, gambling, and buying non-essential things like the latest iPhone. The sacrifice of that migrant worker is inevitably wasted because the money is not being used to uplift the family. We thought with our platform, we can shift the power to the migrant worker because they have control over their funds. When we started it was just supermarkets, then we just started adding more options like pharmacies, department stores, and convenience stores.

A migrant worker can go onto our platform or partner website, or visit remittance centers. They just place an order of let’s say PHP 5,000 to a family member in the Philippines, but they can only use it to buy groceries. We generate a code that has a value, in this case, PHP 5,000, with the designated purpose of buying groceries. We send that code to the family member and they can go to one of our member supermarkets to use money. This way, no money is ever sent, it’s just a code that represents monetary value. The chances of abuse are greatly reduced and savings are enhanced.

Kr: BeamAndGo has grown a lot since you started. Obviously, COVID-19 posed challenges to many startups and yet BeamAndGo has pivoted to a new and fresh direction. Can you tell us more about that?

JC: It’s really software architecture that enables, empowers, and educates migrant workers on how to achieve financial security for their families. We didn’t know until recently that it could be used for other things. But when COVID-19 happened we were approached by two of our partners, Celo and the Grameen Foundation, who were seeking a new method of dispersing funds to people who were affected by COVID-19.

They saw what we’re doing and asked to use our platform to distribute funds to about 3,500 families that were affected by COVID-19. The money was dispersed in the form of BeamAndGo credits so they could track how the money was being used.  We onboarded them into our system, so through our site, they were able to buy groceries and medicine that they need for their family.

Kr: Can you provide more detail on your cooperation with UNICEF?

JC: UNICEF’s mandate is to level up children so that they get food, education, and don’t live in poverty. They focus on other areas such as digital literacy, basic infrastructure, schooling, vaccines, and affordable health care. This year they partnered with ING Barings to create the “Fintech for Impact” program where fintech startups use financial technology to help children. Coming off the work that we were doing at that time, it was something where we thought we can really add a lot of value.

We wanted to evolve our platform into something the entire family can use because, in the Philippines, that’s how it works. The whole idea is that empowerment is not just about the migrant worker, it’s actually about the whole family. The platform itself will use what we call an emphatic lens to create a user experience that provides financial education with the goal of cultivating a stable financial future for users.

We want families to have a certain resiliency and we want the kids of these migrant workers, to not become an orphan when they grow up. Instead, they have a path to uplift their families in the Philippines.

We’re now working with a group of advisors and mentors that are aligned with not only what UNICEF is doing but with how we want to develop as a business. We are excited to not only to provide the tools, the platform, and services to build resiliency, but we can also to give back to the development community.

One of the mandates of this program is it everything has to be all open source.  We’re going to build an open source community so now we have the potential of a whole world of developers that could be contributing to this project of ours.

Kr: It sounds like there’s a lot going on for BeamAndGo, what’s the plan for next year and beyond?  

JC: In the next few months we’re launching our digital wallet. In Singapore, they’re enabling wallets to be directly connected to something such as Pay Now. We can talk to the employers of these foreign workers and instead of paying them in cash, you can now pay them into their BeamAndGo wallet so that they don’t have to go anywhere to top up. It just becomes convenient.

We also want to address the repatriation issue. The majority of foreign workers that finish their contract and return home, actually end up leaving again. Part of the reason is they didn’t save enough money for the longterm but another big part is that they’re just not prepared for life in their home country. When they get back to the Philippines, some of them have been away many years, some of them a decade. When they return it is very overwhelming because there are no opportunities for them. They spent ten years as a waiter or as a domestic helper so they didn’t build up any skills they can use when they’re back.

We’re working with a few agencies and academies to be able to offer what we call continuing education. In these cases, a migrant worker could take courses so when they go home, all they need is an internet connection and can work from there. It also means that they’re with their families, they don’t have to leave the country again and be separated from them to earn a living.

The last thing I want to mention is we’ve been working with a company called LafargeHolcim, which is a global construction company. According to a survey we found, about 70% of migrant workers have ambitions to build or renovate a home in the Philippines. Some of them can afford a plot of land but they don’t know how to proceed. They also lack any kind of credit. We’re working with LafargeHolcim along with other credit and lending agencies to be able to provide a service that enables them to renovate or build a home.

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