Headquartered in Hong Kong, Oriente is building a new digital financial services infrastructure to unlock economic opportunity for emerging Asia's underserved. Oriente was started in 2017 by Geoff Prentice, a Skype co-founder and ex-Chief Strategy Officer, Hubert Tai, a founder of Ping An’s Lufax and Chinese unicorn dangdang.com, and investor Lawrence Chu. In this interview we talk with Geoffrey about the origin of the brand name, their mobile credit app Cashalo and how did they get the domain Oriente.com.
Geoffrey, how was the idea born for Oriente?
After Skype, during my time (as a founding partner) at Atomico, we were looking at various deals and opportunities not just in Europe but around the world, and of course, in Asia too. At the time, one of the companies we watched closely was Ping An and more specifically comparing the success rate of venture capital firms against Ping An, the parent of Lufax (now Lu.com). What we found was that only about 15% of Atomico’s portfolio companies were successful, compared to 75% of Ping An’s.
When we dissected why — we understood their secret-sauce to be — recruiting the best talent in the world, access to a copious amount of capital, and a captive user base ripe to be exploited. A pretty simple formula, but one that is hard to bring together and deploy.
I was keen to see where this could be applied effectively and I knew it had to be somewhere in Asia. More specifically, Southeast Asia — where economies are cash-based and home to more than 10 percent of the world’s financially excluded individuals — some 400+ million who have been left behind by the limits of traditional financial institutions — but are mobile-savvy and clamoring for change.
At Skype we quickly realized there was a unique opportunity to change how people communicate, here we realized there was a huge financial inclusion problem that had to be solved for millions of unbanked and underbanked consumers.
Also, no one was looking to build a viable and scalable solution to address this problem. So we decided to build a smart financial services infrastructure designed to unlock economic opportunity and value for consumers and merchants — that became the purpose and mission for Oriente. We’re here to serve communities by-design.
In 2017 I co-founded Oriente with Lawrence Chu, founder of BlackPine Private Equity and Hubert Tai, formerly founding COO & CTO at Lufax.
Who came up with the name “Oriente” initially? What is the backstory?
The name Oriente was actually the name of my house in Uruguay and I ended up putting it down to be the name of this company. However, it fits really well with our purpose-driven mission because Oriente means “East” and we’re a company that was born in Asia to serve communities in this part of the world by-design.
The sun/ future/ new day rises in the East and we want the communities we serve to know that we are deeply committed to helping them access the financial services they deserve and empower them to build a stronger financial future with us.
What happens when you tell someone your company’s name? What has been the effect of having it for your brand?
I think it’s a bit early for that to be honest. We’re excited to be a fast-growing start-up that more and more people are becoming familiar with. However, we are under no illusions that we have a long way to go before we become a household name. We are steadfast in our commitment to being a responsible company, and building a sustainable business that puts our customers and first at every step of the way to create value for the communities we serve.
As we have grown our businesses over the last couple of years and brought onboard more partners and investors who share our mission, we are excited to expand the reach and impact of our core values — respect, integrity, collaboration, inclusion, and innovation.
Your business is run on a short and memorable domain name, how did you come to select the name and why has that been so important to your business?
As mentioned, it wasn’t something we honestly spent a lot of time on. It just sort of came together serendipitously. I do believe that having a short, memorable name does become important and that’s the experience we had at Skype. The company was originally called Skyper, but we realised there was already another company incorporated in Germany with that name, so we had to change it. One of our co-founders at the time, had a simple, yet brilliant idea which was to just drop the “R”. We did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Similarly, we believe in keeping things simple at Oriente so that has become central to how we operate and the kinds of products and services we build for our customers. Financial services traditionally have been very complex. We’re here to take the complexity out and deliver simple, meaningful, honest solutions that our consumers love.
Startups often compromise on their business domain name, you clearly didn’t. How do you justify investing in a good domain name at such an early stage? Would you advise others to do it?
Having the right brand identity is important and more often than not, that starts with the company name which ideally is the domain name. If you can get that right from the start, that’s a huge advantage.
If your brand is a person, how would you describe its personality?
Approachable, fun, thoughtful. We’re a young company that is looking to attract the best ideas and talent to build the most innovative and user-friendly tech solutions for emerging Asia.
You recently launched your first product called Cashalo, for which you also secured the exact brand match domain name Cashalo.com, can you tell us what’s Cashalo and who can use it?
Cashalo, is our fintech venture in the Philippines that helps unlock financial access and economic opportunity for Filipino at the push of a button on their smartphones.
Cashalo is a play on the words Cash and ‘Kasalo’ which means partner i.e. More than Cash, Your Financial Friend/ Partner.
Through the Cashalo mobile-app, we connect millions of unbanked and underserved Filipinos with a secure platform through which they can create a financial identity, access digital-credit in line with our mission to provide them with more transparent, secure, and reliable financial services that they can use to participate in and contribute to the formal economy.
And once again, you have opted for the global .com domain extension. What was your background and knowledge regarding domain names and their value?
In the digital age it is important to always remember that no man is an island and every brand has the potential for global relevance. We built Cashalo to solve a real problem; one that is not just limited to the Philippines, or Southeast Asia, but one that needs to be addressed globally. Over 2 billion people globally are excluded from the financial system and over 11% of them reside in Southeast Asia.
When we started Skype in the early 2000s and then Atomico, our mantra was KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s something that holds true in branding today and will for decades to come.
How important is the presence of your brand online, what plays the most important role in people finding you on the Web?
This is hugely important. We are a technology company after-all and we exist online to serve tens of millions of consumers and thousands of merchant partners in the markets we operate using our technology platform, solutions, and infrastructure. Having a strong online presence is critical as that is where most people will first go-to for information. Ensuring people are able to find the correct information in regards to our company and the solutions we offer through our fintech platforms is critical.
What’s the next milestone for Oriente? What gets you excited about the future?
At Oriente, we are always excited to push the envelope in innovation and design better solutions to serve consumers and merchant partners across Southeast Asia.
We’ve recently launched a number of firsts for the region in terms of digital-credit/ pay-later financing solutions to rival those by global firms like Affirm, Klarna, and AfterPay; in the coming months we’re excited to expand some of these solutions to other markets that we serve in the region, scale our financial literacy programs, and continue to accelerate on our mission to helping recognise millions of ‘credit-invisible’ consumers and help them build a financial identities using our platforms.
Fintech is a nascent industry and with the explosion of interest and investment in this space, especially in Asia, so we’re also very excited to see how the sector matures. A few weeks ago, our fintech venture in Indonesia, Finmas, was granted a business license as a fintech lending company by Indonesia’s Financial Services Authority (OJK), making it one of just 13 companies licensed to operate in the market (among 127 registered companies). We’re also very excited to continue working closely with various regulators and government agencies to ensure we are involved in any conversations around the development of new policy or regulatory framework concerning the fintech sector to ensure that customer protection and innovation are prioritised.
We hope this will be of use to you in the process of getting your perfect domain name. If you have any questions, need any help or just want to chat to someone about the process, book a free consultation using the form below. We are always happy to hear from you.
Conducted by Kristina Mišić