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Singapore's Razer gives up costly ASEAN e-wallet battle

More consolidation expected as big players invest heavily in user acquisition

Razer Pay will be shut down at the end of September as e-wallet competition heats up in Southeast Asia.

SINGAPORE -- The high-cost battle to capture Southeast Asia's growing e-wallet market has claimed a major casualty, with Singaporean startup Razer announcing it will shut down a business that had over 1 million users.

Razer, primarily a gaming hardware maker, will stop its Razer Pay e-wallet at the end of September. The withdrawal could make other tech companies rethink their e-wallet strategy and pave the way for industry consolidation.

"The app will no longer be available from October 1, 2021 onwards," Razer said in a notice on its website, instructing account holders to withdraw their balance. Payments will only be accepted until the end of this month, and new sign-ups are no longer allowed.

Razer's e-wallet shutdown comes as the high costs of customer acquisition weigh on operators. The company explained it will narrow its focus to business-to-business digital payments, in which it provides payment processing services for merchants.

"We took the view that if you have capital -- not unlimited -- and if you want to invest in certain areas, it was the decision that the B2B business has the opportunity," said Lee Li Meng, Razer's chief strategy officer and head of its fintech unit. He told reporters on Wednesday that the e-wallet business involves a lot of user acquisition costs, "especially in Southeast Asia."

Razer Pay was launched first in Malaysia in July 2018 and then Singapore in March 2019, acquiring about 1.1 million users in total.

Originally, Razer started the payment service to allow gamers to buy its gaming items online. Then it expanded the service for nongamers by installing it at offline merchants such as convenience stores and even vending machines. Touted as an "e-wallet for youths and millennials," it targeted young consumers, including those who do not have a bank account or a credit card.

But competition in the field only intensified. Like Razer, many tech companies entered the e-wallet space as an extension of their existing business, such as ride-hailing, hoping to tap the region's nascent payment market. Malaysia alone, for example, had 53 providers as of October last year, of which 47 were not banks, according to a report by S&P Global.

The biggest e-wallet operators in Southeast Asia include Singapore's Grab and Indonesia's Gojek. They have been aggressively expanding GrabPay and GoPay as the core of their "superapp" strategies. There are also well-funded local champions such as Vietnam's MoMo. Traditional banks, like DBS Group Holdings, also have a strong presence.

Notably, Singapore's e-commerce giant Sea has dramatically increased its e-wallet presence over the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitalization. It spent as much as $166 million on marketing its digital finance business during the April-June quarter, such as cash-back campaigns, resulting in a quarterly operating loss of $159 million for that business.

"For a platform that primarily centers on gaming, convincing both existing Razer users and, more importantly, new users to use Razer Pay would have been incredibly challenging and expensive, especially as gaming doesn't naturally tie into spending money, say, in a convenience store or buying groceries online," said Zennon Kapron, director at financial research company Kapronasia in Singapore.

"Razer seems to have come to the realization that continuing to grow the e-wallet business would have been both incredibly expensive and a continuing distraction to their core business of gaming."

Indeed, Razer appears to be much more focused on its core gaming business, which has steadily grown throughout the pandemic. On Wednesday, the Hong Kong-listed company reported a net profit of $33.9 million for the six months through June, compared with a $17.3 million net loss a year earlier.

Meanwhile, the focus of Southeast Asia's e-wallet battle is shifting to the next phase. E-wallet operators hope to add other services such as online lending and microinsurance to scale their fintech businesses. Sea, for example, acquired a bank in Indonesia to provide digital banking services in the country.

Razer had also eyed that direction. It applied for a digital banking license in Singapore. "We know in the long run a wallet by itself, just as a payment, is something that's very difficult to make money [with] because there's competition not just in a country but regionally with the bigger players," Lee told Nikkei Asia in an interview in early 2020.

But Razer lost in the digital bank bidding to Sea and Grab, which might have made the company rethink its consumer fintech strategy.

With Razer heading for the exit, the pressure is growing for other e-wallet players.

"Losses appear to be mounting for technology firms," an analyst at S&P Global said in the report, pointing out that revenues from payment services are limited. "The e-money market could see consolidation, and the tech firms are likely to seek mergers or close collaborations."

Kapron pointed out that a unique value proposition is critical for an e-wallet. "The e-wallet space in ASEAN won't be won necessarily by size, but by ecosystem," he said, noting that Tencent Holdings' WeChat Pay in China is successful because millions of Chinese use the app not just to pay for things but also to chat with friends and be entertained.

"The ASEAN wallet that is able to provide a similar sticky value proposition that encourages users to use the platform on a daily basis will be the winner," Kapron said.

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