Week in Review: Merchantrade’s journey to become a disruptor bears watching

  • Founder Ramasamy Veeran aims to be a disrupter, rather than be disrupted
  • Injects senior banking talent into leadership ranks to help it disrupt banking

IN order to disrupt others, one must first look to disrupt one’s self. No, I didn’t get that off a chain message on whatsapp. Rather I got that from two traditional companies we wrote about this week that have already begun the journey to disrupt their tried and tested models while they are still in positions of strength.

And surprisingly, Malaysian money services provider, Merchantrade Asia Sdn Bhd is ahead of the curve in disrupting itself, having begun the journey in 2011 with the launch of an online version of its offline remittance service. How many companies can say that they were ahead of the curve compared to a global consulting company, in this case McKinsey & Co? Now that’s a delicious fact.

Another fact is that we are all still drawn to big names because the McKinsey story has been more strongly read than the Merchantrade one, even though I feel the latter is the more interesting story with lessons for entrepreneurs and executives from traditional businesses.

In the case of Merchantrade, its founder and MD, Ramasamy Veeran, credits his frequent travels around the world and conversations with various executives as opening his eyes to the disruption that would eventually hit all traditional businesses.

And he rightly states that if anyone is going to disrupt his business, he was determined that it would be him first. He wasn’t afraid of cannibalizing either – as long as the business was still being captured by Merchantrade.

Ramasamy is familiar with disruption, although it was not called that back around 2002-2003 when he got into the pre-paid telco business by selling VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calling cards to migrant workers especially. That was his first experience leveraging on internet based technology to deliver a cheaper product to customers. During that era incumbent Telekom Malaysia had a monopoly on international calls and it literally cost a bomb to make overseas calls.

But what’s also interesting about the disruption that Ramasamy is leading is that he has assembled, not a team of young digital savvy executives to help him, but rather a highly experienced team of ex-bankers and consultants (no one from McKinsey, yet). Why? Because he has his eyes on a larger pie than the businesses he is in currently, though those are worth over RM100 billion combined.

Ramasamy aspires to disrupt the banks. And describes his innovative pre-paid multi-currency card launch on Thurday as the latest step in that direction. And when I asked about the senior team he has been assembling over the past few years and the treasury unit he has built, his explanation was simple. To disrupt banks, you had to know banks and that requires bankers. He is hoping that putting them in an entrepreneurial environment unstifled by too many layers of decision making, will help these former executives help him build digital products and services that become disruptors.

And while there have been too many examples where seasoned brick and mortar executives have failed to adapt culturally when joining smaller companies with less processes and systems in place and when working with lesser caliber talent they are used to, Merchantrade already has good systems and processes in place, thanks to Japanese conglomerate, Sumitomo Corporation, investing in them back in 2009.

That has made it easier for incoming senior executives from large companies to fit into Merchantrade, says an executive who joined them from a global company. His motivation to join? When you have been with a company for a long time and recognize you have hit your upward ceiling with them, you either have the option of accepting that and just work to meet your numbers without any excitement in coming to work. Or you can take the risk of stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something exciting and being part of an entrepreneur’s big dream.

And that’s what all the top talent around Ramasamy are doing. Feeding off his entrepreneurial flair and energy, they are revitalized and pumped to be disruptors. Because of this, Merchantrade, coincidentally a GAIN company under Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), bares watching as they transition from Brick&Mortar to digital disruptor.

With, that, I wish you a restful Sunday and a productive week ahead.


Editor’s Picks:

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