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Millennials warm to digital purser

Planto founding member
Planto founding member Jessica Liu, Ankit Suri and Taha Sabih collect a funding cheque from Cyberport

Millennials might have more earning power than young adults from any previous generation but they are also prone to spend more. To help their peers manage money and be prepared for a comfortable eventual retirement, three Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs have come up with an innovative solution.

Planto is an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled financial literacy mobile app that makes it easy for people to easily manage their finances and make more informed financial decisions. It keeps budgets on track and makes personalised recommendations aimed at boosting a user’s overall financial standing. As co-founder and CEO Ankit Suri explains, Planto can, for instance, “help you to pick a better credit card for your spending habits or alert you to take action for your retirement because you’re not saving enough”.

Planto (“plan to”) also helps its users set targets. “You might plan to buy a home one day or be planning to go on a holiday. Our app does the mathematical equations to achieve those.”

Mr Suri and Planto co-founders Yousaf Masud and Taha Sabih came up with the idea as colleagues working in the personal-finance sector in Hong Kong.

Avoiding financial mistakes

Planto
Planto, the financial management AI app developed in Hong Kong, targets digitally-savvy millennials

Originally from India, Mr Suri moved from Indonesia, where he grew up, to Hong Kong to study in 2010. He absorbed financial management skills as he grew up but not everyone in his age group learned those lessons. First as a student, and later as a graduate working at HSBC, Mr Suri saw how expensive living in a big city can be. He decided to “look into how people can save more and avoid making financial mistakes”.

Planto aims “to help everybody” but its target is the millennial generation, of which an estimated 58% – or more than one billion – live in Asia.

“Asians tend to self-manage their finances, but we do believe that this generation has a greater need for structured financial education,” Mr Suri said. Given their digital savviness and demand for convenience, an all-mobile approach seemed best.

The partners quit their jobs in November 2017 and incorporated their start-up in February 2018. The bilingual (English and Chinese) app was launched in October 2018 and already has 70,000 users – more than 3% of the millennial population in Hong Kong.

Streamlining accounts

The app lets users streamline financial relationships, Mr Suri explained.

“The average Hong Konger has a lot of financial relationships: you might be banking with four different banks, have five credit cards, as well as your retirement accounts,” he said. By aggregating all these accounts, the app provides transparency across the user’s financial data, including highlighting fees and charges they may not even realise they are paying.

“It can show you how you’re spending money, how you can save, and how you’re performing against your saving goals,” Mr Suri said.

He said Planto’s security meets industry-best standards. “We are independently audited every six months, and those reports are released to our customers,” he said.

“Secondly, our infrastructure is designed to ensure a user’s credentials are saved on your mobile phone, so access is limited to you. The data that is on the cloud is anonymised, meaning it cannot be linked to a person.”

The app is free for users. Planto’s revenue stream comes from partner financial institutions which pay a fee every time a user takes up a product.

Mr Suri said: “When we give advice we link to financial products, but we would never recommend anything that wasn’t to the user’s benefit.”

Investor backing

The company, which started with just the three co-founders, now has a workforce of 14. It was seed-funded by a combination of government grants from Cyberport, early investors – Canada’s Portag3 Ventures, Leadway Ventures from Hong Kong, Zeroth.ai, an AI focused accelerator, and angel investors that include financial-services executives and the owner of global media publications. Planto is being incubated at the University of Hong Kong Entrepreneurship Centre (iDendron).

The founders are now seeking next-round funding in the range of US$2 million – US$3 million from interested investors.
Mr Suri said Hong Kong is a great place to launch a fintech business because of the credibility the city offers a start-up, which has to earn the trust of users, and also the financial support available.

“Our first year is focused on the Hong Kong market, which is growing quite rapidly,” he said. Planto should be rolled out in other cities in Asia next year.

Is global expansion on the horizon? “We have ambition,” Mr Suri said. “We are solving the problems across Asia first.”

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