TNG Digital CEO Syahrunizam Samsudin: Understanding social impact

Small ideas can lead to major progress.

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TNG Digital CEO Syahrunizam Samsudin: Understanding social impact

To Syahrunizam Samsudin, the CEO of e-wallet company TNG Digital—a joint venture between Alipay and Malaysian smart card Touch ’n Go—humans have a greater capacity to learn new things than machines, but the scalability of technology contains the potential for greater impact.

Samsudin got his start in tech in the late 1990s. While working for Petronas, a Malaysian oil and gas company, he was handpicked to set up a subsidiary of Petronas and lead a tech team to develop secure information and communications technology solutions for the oil and gas industry. Since then, he’s been a technocrat at heart.

At the Kuala Lumpur leg of the recent Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge, Samsudin was one of the judges. Along with other well-established figures who were on the same panel, he listened to pitches made by social entrepreneurs from Malaysia, each of whom set out to solve a widespread problem that exists in their country.

KrASIA recently caught up with Samsudin to learn about the joint venture between TNG Digital and Alipay, the mobile payment space in Malaysia, and his thoughts about the event.

The following responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

 

What made you build the e-wallet TNG Digital in Malaysia, and how did you go about doing so?

It was about three years ago now when I saw the potential and opportunity of bringing payments services beyond just the banks and started to pitch this idea to the board of Touch ‘n Go.

Given that data availability in Malaysia isn’t as prevalent as it is in China and Singapore, we felt that the only way to scale mobile payments beyond the banks was to work with global players like Ant Financial and Tencent.

 

Why did you choose Alipay for the joint venture?

We actually spoke to both Tencent and Alibaba. As proper alignment is crucial when it comes to partnership, we ended up choosing Alipay for three main reasons.

First, Alipay shares a vision with us. We both want to support small and medium-sized enterprises and local consumers by lowering transaction costs.

Secondly, we both believe in the importance of building non-proprietary technology that can scale quickly. When people come on board, they can expect to be able to make mobile payments anywhere.

Thirdly, to maintain the integrity of our platform, we require partners to develop new technology that makes data and transactions more secure. Alipay is one of the few companies capable of doing that.

 

How is TNG Digital’s mobile wallet different from others?

We are able to offer integrated services with the Malaysian government. Additionally, we can bring about greater financial inclusiveness, even to those who live in non-urban areas. People in rural areas also know about us.

 

In your opinion, what are the new developments that we can expect to see in Malaysia’s mobile payment space in the next few years?

I believe that mobile payments will be the de facto payment service in banking.

As there will be huge costs to meet scalability requirements and to educate users, we will likely see more banks working with e-wallet providers. Take TNG Digital as an example; we are backed by the Malaysian bank CIMB.

There could also be a wider proliferation of Islamic finance products.

 

What are some of the key takeaways from the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge?

Generally, I find that this is a good platform for budding social entrepreneurs. A bigger venue to host the event might be better though.

The pitches were really creative and there is no doubt that waste management is going to be a big thing going forward. More can be explored and there are many other ways where social entrepreneurs can look to better manage and recycle waste.

Fat Hopes, for instance, has a compelling idea to manage unhealthy trans fat oil. People need to know that trans fat oil doesn’t need to be poured down the drains, and more tools can be designed to capture that waste, which is, in fact, capable of generating more efficient energy than fossil fuels.

Another takeaway that I caught was the need for social upliftment. As the world advances, there will be those who can’t keep up and find it a challenge to generate income. One of the startups, Grub Cycle, makes unwanted fresh food available to those who are less well-off. That’s one way to address this.

I also felt that in terms of breadth, there is more to be explored beyond areas like waste management.

 

What are some of the considerations when weighing a financially viable business idea against quantifiable social impact?

Creating social impact and financial viability, at times, do seem to go in opposite directions. It is important to understand the social impact that one intends to create first, before looking at how easily the services or products can be deployed or produced, and finally how that can be managed in the long term.

It is pertinent to link up with partners that have the same vision and build a platform that is scalable. And when it comes to scaling, social challenges aren’t limited to your home country—in this case, Malaysia. There is actually a much wider market to reach.

Editor: Brady Ng