FinTech Female Fridays: Rebecca Kersh, CEO and Founder, Tang App
Why did you start this company Tang app rather than include it on another mobile peer to peer payment platform?
TANG app connects remittances from the US to last mile daily payments in the Philippines, filling a gap in the current ecosystem. It is the only international peer-to-peer transaction app, best positioned to help bring financial inclusion in the Philippines.
TANG app’s social mission of financial inclusion provides users with a financial history through the use of e-money adoption in rural areas in the Philippines. Our in-market customer exploration, as well as market research, showed us that existing players still face significant conversion challenges because behavior change from cash to e-money is difficult. We decided to challenge the existing financial ecosystem disintegration where players are either only remittance-focused or domestically peer-to-peer. TANG app includes the Filipino diaspora as a customer by allowing them to play a major role in changing financial behavior back home.
Almost every family has a relative that goes abroad as a migrant worker, making huge sacrifices for the sake of opportunity. Where in the Philippines over 70% of adults are unbanked, US-based Filipino migrant workers use digital financial services regularly. Offering them a cheaper, faster, and more convenient solution is how they will drive change with loved ones back home.
Tang app is not just a peer to peer mobile payments company, but you can use this to pay businesses in the Philippines. How were you able to find businesses in the Philippines to support this application?
The four largest remittance markets in the world are India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines. Most of these markets have similarities in their diaspora of migrant populations and even in personal financial behavior. Where the Philippines differs is in a helpful regulatory ecosystem focused on furthering financial inclusion by embracing technological innovation and digital options.
TANG app’s initial focus on the Philippines is because of the impeccable work of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, BSP or the Central Bank of the Philippines. Their goals of 30% of payments to be e-payments and other policy measures strike a balance between allowing digital solutions for finance to enter the environment, while also protecting at risk communities. The BSP recently piloted a national QR code system, which allows merchants and TANG app to connect easily on PoS transactions.
How were you able to build Tang app from scratch? How long did it take to build out?
My stubborn determination, passion to help Filipinos, which stems from my Filipina heritage, but also my past professional experiences are what helped me to grow TANG app relatively quickly.
I started my Master in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) in 2018 with a goal of further understanding problems like financial inclusion in the Philippines. In the summer of 2019, I went to the Philippines for the summer to interview dozens of Filipinos in rural and provincial areas to understand financial exclusion better. I soon realized the gaps in the ecosystem that TANG app could fill.
I hit the ground running, and soon TANG app was selected to receive grants from the Social Innovation and Change Initiative at HKS and the Social Impact Fellowship Fund at the Harvard iLab. It also won grants from the Acumen Academy and the Rockefeller Foundation and was one of the winners in Harvard University’s President Innovation Challenge.
Since founding TANG app a little over a year ago, TANG app just launched its iOS and Android mobile app on the Apple App and Google Play stores with its first product allowing people in the US to buy phone credit for loved ones in the Philippines - a product we chose to include due to the pandemic, knowing relatives internationally are having a hard time staying connected with lockdowns in the Philippines limiting phone credit purchases. We will be launching remittances next year.
What lessons have you learned to build out a mobile payment application?
It has been a lot of fun founding TANG app, both the company, the product, and everything that entails. The biggest lesson I learned, especially as a female Asian founder, is that balance is key.
Being a woman in a predominantly male environment in finance and fintech, can be intimidating, especially in the early days. I found myself over relying on advice, when in fact I knew from my own business instincts the advice was not always sound nor relevant. I also at times let my insecurities dominate my work, meaning I would overfocus on one subject matter and wrongfully neglect another. While TANG app achieved a lot in a year, with limited funds, I am most grateful for the personal development it gave me.
I am in this for the long run and determined to achieve our mission and bring about our vision. I learned that thinking big is important and my goal on TANG app’s impact matters, but I have to find a balance. A balance between what to spend my daily hours on: managing the team, administrative tasks, strategy setting, product management, fundraising, partnership building. I simply cannot do everything and I need to balance what my team can work on and what requires my time, but also what do I dive deeply into and what decisions can I make without doing that. Also a balance of being a feminist and a founder. I want the world to look different in diversity and I try hard to play my part in it, by mentoring young women and I love what NYC Fintech women is doing and am honored to be a member, but I am also building a company.
I also have to balance caring versus not caring about criticism. I, like many women, feel tremendous pressure to be perfect and I know I am often, even subconsciously, held to other standards. When I am confident, I have received the feedback that I am an arrogant founder, when I am humble I almost always immediately am given advice. When I navigate a path in between confident and humble, I have been told my speaking is “bipolar” or I get frequently interrupted. Finding when to onboard criticism as helpful feedback and when to leave it by the wayside has also been a balancing act.
I have certainly gained a lot of technical knowledge and entrepreneurial experiences, absolutely valuable, but when reflecting on this past year, the word that comes to mind is balance.
Where do you foresee mobile peer to peer payments specifically in southeast Asia heading in the next 12-16 months?
Payment and fintech are booming in Southeast Asia, and it’s very exciting to be a part of the change. However, there are different trends among each of the countries and I want to be cautious in drawing generalizations for the region.
The way we look at the opportunities for service improvements in emerging markets, like in Southeast Asia, is best described through this metaphor:
When the world moved from landline phones to mobile phones, emerging markets went straight to mobile phones. At TANG app, we see the same opportunity for banking. Emerging markets like the Philippines can go straight to digital payments and banking and not first need a traditional brick-and-mortar bank branch based checking account.
When emerging markets went straight to mobile, each country made that transition differently and at varying paces. In the Philippines, TANG app is entering at the right time as it would have been hard to predict a few years ago that smartphone penetration would nearly double in a few years like it has. We see that in other Asian emerging markets mobile payments and banking tends to take off a few years after that hockey stick bend in the graph. For other countries in the region that tipping point already arrived and digital payment and banking solutions have taken off, a phenomenal change to follow.
Regardless of each country’s pace, these opportunities are becoming clearer to the rest of the world and the entire fintech innovation and investment landscape is going to continue to grow rapidly. We’re excited at TANG app to be a part of, but mostly to help, shape these fast changes.
Reach out to Rebecca on LinkedIn.