Vietnam's best digital bank 2019: Timo/VPBank
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Vietnam's best digital bank 2019: Timo/VPBank


Cameron Warden, CEO, Timo.jpg
Cameron Warden, Timo

Is Timo an internet café, a bank, a fintech or an air-conditioned respite from Vietnam’s tropical humidity? It seems to be a little bit of each, all part of its appeal. 

It’s also hugely popular among Vietnam’s fast-emerging professional class, particularly its freshly minted urban millennials, who don’t carry the same wariness towards banks or technology as their parents and grandparents.

Three years after launch, Timo’s Canadian chief executive Cameron Warden may be reluctant to divulge how many active users he has, how many times Timo’s app has been downloaded, or any other performance metrics at privately held Timo, but Asiamoney randomly surveyed smartphone-wielding locals in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to see who was using Timo. Of the 25 or so 20- and 30-somethings spoken to in July, about 15 had the app on their phone. Of those, about half said they had cash on deposit and used it regularly to pay for shopping, movie tickets or at the café, or to wing cash to friends and family or pay bills.

Foot traffic through Timo’s branch in HCMC – open from 9am to 7.30pm and one of four outlets in the country that Timo describes as ‘hangouts’ – might be another guide. In four random visits again in July, it was impossible to find a spare seat among the 30-odd being used.

The only physical indication that Timo is about money is the branded ATM at the hangout’s entrance. But it’s all business with the hangout’s waiting staff, who don’t ask you first what drink you would prefer, but how they can help with your account.

Perhaps the telling indicator of Timo’s impact in attracting cash-rich millennials to its app and hangouts are the handful of envious imitators forming among Vietnam’s more staid, state-owned banks, who have struggled to make inroads into the younger market.

Timo doesn’t yet have a formal banking licence – it operates through a relationship with VPBank that does – but when it does, and when the lumbering central State Bank of Vietnam realizes it’s now the 21st century – Timo’s backers of mostly overseas Vietnamese returnee financiers might find they have a winner.

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