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NBS finance graduates launch online money changing service that delivers foreign currencies to customers

Singapore's first online money changer, which delivers foreign currencies to customers, has launched in January 2018, under the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) FinTech Regulatory Sandbox.

Named Thin Margin by its founders, it is the brainchild of Tan Jin and Alstone Tee, who both attained first class honours for their bachelor of business degrees (banking and finance) from Nanyang Business School (NBS) in 2013.

They came up with the idea of making it convenient for busy professionals to buy foreign currencies and have the money sent to their home or office. Having travelled frequently for work and play, they found the process of buying foreign currencies from money changers in the central business district (CBD) extremely time consuming. Even though there were many in the area, the long queuing process during lunch hour often left Tan and Tee little time to have their meals.

Accessing money changers for those who work outside the CBD must be even more difficult, they thought, as these people could only visit the money changers in their neighbourhood after work or change money at the airport. Both options offer relatively poor exchange rates.

"We then thought, if you can have everything from food to pets delivered to you, why not foreign currencies too?" says Tan Jin.

Before joining hands to work full time on setting up Thin Margin in 2016, Tan and Tee had promising careers at global investment bank Morgan Stanley. Tan was an equity research associate who analysed the macroeconomic and industrial trends of Southeast Asian countries. At the bank, Tee was part of an equities team that covered the Southeast Asia energy, chemicals and utilities sectors.

Asked why they gave up their jobs to bet on their start-up, Tan says: "It’s just doing what we feel is right. We've identified the problem and we are confident that we can solve it. If that means forgoing the opportunity of a career in Morgan Stanley, then so be it."

"I’m still young, I think I can afford to take the risk."

"I believe that you always regret more for not doing stuff than doing it. I don’t want to look back in my 80s and feel that I could have done a start-up and things could have been very different instead of just working in a job."

Tan adds that while he was content with his work at Morgan Stanley, he was not passionate about it and he had always wondered if he could start his own business.

"I looked at my directors and asked myself if I wanted to have the same career as them 10 years down the road," says Tan.

"So that’s when I realised that maybe it was time for me to do something on my own. Because at the end of the day, if I can't see myself in their shoes in the long-run, it’s probably not the right job for me."

Thin Margin has been awarded the ACE start-ups Grant from Spring Singapore. They are currently self-funded and have no investors.

Tan says Thin Margin will be able to aggregate higher volumes throughout Singapore as opposed to existing money-changers that only cater to their geographical proximity.

"Higher volumes enable us to achieve economies of scale, and hence access to lower prices from wholesalers and banks, which we will then pass on to the end consumers in the form of better exchange rates", says Tan.

He and Tee are considering promotional incentives and are keeping their options open on whether to impose delivery charges.

In terms of security, Thin Margin will use non-uniformed full-time employees to make deliveries. It will institute various security measures to safeguard the money.

Tan acknowledges that starting Thin Margin is risky, but he says that his education at NBS has prepared him for it.
"I’m trained to adapt to situations, not so much to stick to the status quo. For me as an entrepreneur, attitude is very important," he says.

"NBS has instilled in me a strong sense of self-discipline, which allows me to stay focused on my business."

As for competition from rivals such as the 24-hour money changing service at Mustafa Centre, foreign exchange brokers and peer-to-peer exchanges such as Marco Polee, Tan says he does not view them as direct competitors, arguing that Thin Margin will be serving busy professionals, a different market segment.

Unlike Marco Polee, which has to arrange for two parties to meet, Thin Margin "eliminates the need for meet-ups", says Tan.

Written by Kevin Tan

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