Welcome to our Payments Powerhouses series, where we discuss current trends with the movers and shakers in the fintech industry.
In this episode, we chat with Naveen Asrani from Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Naveen Asrani is the Head of Strategic Growth, Digital Businesses, and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), ASEAN, at AWS. After about seven years in his advertising stint, Naveen transitioned into a career in technology and platforms, where he has worked with startups to help build and scale their products.
Today, Naveen is a seasoned executive with over 20 years of experience building ecosystems, categories, and products.
Joining us as part of 2C2P’s 20th-anniversary special, Naveen shares about:
Naveen: I'm a product guy. My role is to help startups build their products and help to scale them. Today, I work with some of AWS’ largest unicorns and digital native businesses in Southeast Asia, helping them build new products, revenue streams, and market expansions.
One of the most important things for businesses to scale is establishing trust with customers. For example, 2C2P offers payment rails for a large part of businesses across the world with various forms of payments like acceptances and cross-border payments. It may not seem to be newsworthy, but it's the trust that everything will be working that makes the product memorable. In fact, no news is good news, and businesses earn trust every day with their customers.
One of the critical areas for founders to look at is whether they want to be mile wide, inch deep, or inch wide mile deep. I’m saying this because you can mean something to someone or nothing to everyone. If your product has been intrinsically built at scale, and you have understood global trends across geographies, markets, and segments, then you're in a position to build a platform.
However, sometimes founders go wide, not deep. The challenge for startups here when you go wide is unless you have a moat of money or a moat of technology that doesn't allow anyone to come in, it's difficult to sustain. With macro headwinds and when funding gets harder, it's better to be sharper and specific rather than wide.
Your company is one the best examples. 2C2P is an omnichannel player for payments, and you're probably almost the best payments player across Southeast Asia, if not the world. What you've done has been to go deep in each market to ensure your customers trust your transaction, availability, customer experience, and integration with other payment channels. Your customers can expect 2C2P to be there no matter what.
AWS is a platform that started in 2006 with the primary intent of serving Amazon as a business by understanding and building the technology it needed. Fast forward to today, we have over 200 full-featured services served to our customers globally, millions of customers, and thousands of partners. These services are built on an infrastructure that scales 99 availability zones across 31 geographical regions, 15 availability zones coming in, and five geographical regions coming in, including Canada, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Thailand.
The infrastructure that we’ve built allows our customers and partners to innovate. That is why the platform has been trusted globally with some of the most innovative companies. I say ‘innovative’ because startups and digital native businesses predominantly change business models, an experience, or the entire canvas of the industry. That's what we have seen across the spectrum with customers like Netflix, Grab, Lyft, Stripe, and Slack, to name a few.
A huge part of AWS is about allowing our customers to innovate and build solutions and opportunities for their customers and serve them better at a scale with millisecond latency across regions.
At AWS, we've got Amazon SageMaker, which is a tool to allow us to help rapidly build, train, and deploy machine learning models. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have been around for a while, and it is constantly evolving. These technologies essentially use datasets to train machines to extract insights and help to inform decision-making.
I think that's the value customers create – when you look at transaction data, customer experience data, and forecasting models, and use them to predict where your business needs to go. That's what helps you look around the corner. For example, if you need a personalised experience, it’s AI and ML behind the scenes. With payment transaction data, you can predict fraud. It intrinsically leverages your insights and then unlocks the value you want from your business. As builders at AWS, we provide the tools and the platforms, and the value you unlock is left to you.
Before 2C2P moved its infrastructure to the AWS cloud, the downtime was 24 hours. That was not acceptable in the payments industry, which was growing rapidly, especially if you want to serve customers globally. So in 2014, 2C2P moved to AWS, and the team, including the account manager, the solution architect, and the technical account manager (TAM), put a lot of work into the project. It was not just about making it viable for 2C2P to move to AWS, but their faith and belief to change the paradigm in the industry, which was on-prem, to moving to the cloud.
They were lighthouse bearers for the rest of the region because financial services are known to take their time to be deliberate. There are also regulatory issues and institutions that govern the entire environment, which requires education, time, and effort. So the move in the initial years was primarily to advise, share, and give insights on how this could shape the industry.
Looking back today, it's very easy to say it was the obvious choice. But I know a lot of work went in there during the time from the leadership at 2C2P as well as the AWS team. So that was the initial journey. And I think that brought 2C2P to a point where you were actually scaling customers across Southeast Asia.
Whilst AWS is building solutions to the infrastructure, our customers are a North Star for us all the time. In this specific case of 2C2P’s PCI 3DS request, a customer need from 2C2P was a requirement. As a business, we listen to what the customer is saying, and it potentially has broader ramifications. So thank you for your insights on what the regulatory industry for payments requires, especially for credit card processing at that time.
Payments is a very sensitive business because everyone takes payments very seriously and personally. It is an intersection where intention meets action. Therefore, the payments industry has very high expectations, whether for itself, from its partners, or its customers. And the reason why Khun Myo and Khun Aung wanted 99.999% availability was because it's an industry that expects nothing less.
This is one of the things we learned and resonates with AWS because, for us, payments and trust are also very critical from a security perspective. Security is Day Zero for us at AWS. It attracts the value of customers, partners, ecosystems, and yield for businesses globally in real-time or almost in real-time. And that's why the payment industry is such a critical player.
One of the things I always say is businesses can pivot but people shouldn't, because businesses are shaped by people. What I like about Khun Aung and Khun Myo is the values they upheld when building 2C2P – they never forgot their roots. After knowing them for five years, they are incredibly humble, accessible, and willing to listen.
I believe leaders maintain a company’s culture through example, and they live that out. In 2019, our account manager Jackathep was scheduled to go to Myanmar to run a session on cloud technologies at a local university. Khun Aung could not turn up, so his father went in his place. To me, this showed how important the session was to him that he put the next best person to go. This reflected his values, which are that talents should be given a chance to be educated.
Another example was the Breath of Life initiative, where 2C2P helped to raise donations for oxygen cylinders for The Mirror Foundation. I really liked the fact that they were willing to put the rails of the business to make a difference by collecting donations from people from different parts of the world. This showed me a lot about the values they hold for 2C2P as an organisation – listening to your customer, being where they are, and showing up when it matters.
I also remember the conversation leading to the white paper, How Southeast Asia Buys and Pays. We talked about how we can give a narrative of the payments industry in Southeast Asia in a way that allows people to look at it differently. This was a great example of how the team at 2C2P is willing to put themselves out there to indicate to the industry what good looks like.
All these examples show me a lot about the values that 2C2P leadership has cultivated in the company, which are timeless.
Enjoyed this? Check out our other 20th Anniversary Payments Powerhouses interview with Melissa Guzy, co-founder and Managing Partner at Arbor Ventures, on investing in Asia's fintech innovations.
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Payments Powerhouses is a monthly editorial series interviewing the movers and shakers of the payments and wider fintech industry in Southeast Asia and beyond. If you’d like to be featured on Payments Powerhouses, reach out to us here.