Mobile super apps are turning into operating systems for life

They say that in certain Asian countries, such as India, there are more people who own smart phones than people with access to toilets. “In terms of digitalization, Asia is much further than Europe. In many countries, laptops and desktops have become an obsolete technology in everyday life,” says Tomáš Pondělík, Home Credit’s expert on digital technologies.

People there spend more than six hours a day looking at the screens on their mobile phones and tablets. For example, more than 99% of clients in China use Home Credit products via mobile devices. It is a revolution of sorts, aided by the huge coverage of mobile Internet and the boom of smart devices, and in turn by the development of services delivered to users this way. The Prague-headquartered credit provider uses the trend in a highly progressive way. Mobile applications obviously make sense to customers as well as to businesspeople and sales agents. They are used for communication as well as for sales. They also greatly contribute to risk assessment and loan approval.

“I work at the headquarters but I also get to spend a lot of time in the countries where we operate. Our task is to figure out how we can take something that has proven its worth in one country in other markets as well. That being said, we have to keep the regional specificities in mind,” Tomáš says.

Competition is changing rapidly. “A phenomenon known as super apps is gaining momentum in Asia – WeChat and Grab offer users significantly more services within a single mobile app,” explains Tomáš. In effect, he believes, super apps are becoming a sort of operating system for life. People can use them to buy plane or train tickets, book a hotel, get discount vouchers for restaurants and immediately make reservations in them and they can also get their daily news and chat with friends, since these apps are in fact social networks as well.

“When thinking about our future market position, we look at ways of how to work with these super apps, what we can do better than them, what we can offer them or how our own apps should be different. At the same time, we are looking to take advantage of our presence in the offline world, where we actually meet our customers. We are very good at bringing these two worlds together,” says Tomáš.

Crazy for a European, yet attractive and functional for an Indian

Competitors in certain markets need hours or even to days approve a loan whereas Home Credit manages this in mere minutes. This is largely thanks to an application that a prospective borrower uses to apply for a loan online that also makes the approval process more efficient and faster. This is primarily because it provides more data for the decision-making process – of course only after the user’s approval for this data to be used.

“The application differentiates between several groups of users. At the first stage, they are anonymous users who download it because they know the Home Credit brand or saw an ad. The second stage is when they register – that is when we get to know how they use the application as well as who they are. The third stage is when they start actively using our services – shopping at a marketplace or taking out insurance or loans,” explains Tomáš. At every stage, the application provides certain insights about the user. “Our advantage is that we are able to work with such data in a way that most of our competitors in many Asian markets are not yet able to,” Tomáš says.

One of the chief tasks of his work is bringing more of a user perspective into the development of applications and related projects. “For example, in Indonesia we took a look at everything through the eyes of a customer instead of just analysing Excel spreadsheets. We wanted to understand what they see in the app after they scan a QR code from a leaflet and download the app; where they go from there. Until now, all we saw was our process behind it – but users are not interested in that,” explains Tomáš. Removing a few unnecessary clicks is often all it takes to make things more user-friendly, in turn making more people inclined to become customers instead of merely downloading the app.
One of the traits of the online world is that a product is faults are not easily hidden. “When you come to a shop, you interact with the sales assistant and you don’t care what system or software they use because you cannot see its shortcomings. In the digital world, however, you use the app yourself, so it has to be built well enough to let you use it naturally and intuitively,” Tomáš says.

It is important to pay attention to different customer preferences in different countries. “Applications in China, India and Indonesia are very different from each other. User tests show that we are often wrong assuming that Europeans can build a better app for a particular market than the locals,” says Tomáš. In India, for example, Home Credit was testing two designs – one by a renowned European company and the other by an Indian partner firm. “When we saw the locally made app, we thought it was crazy. But most clients chose the local version. These are valuable findings that help us better understand the local market, adapt to it and at the same time, bring our own experience into it.” Says Tomáš.

Czech expert Tomáš Pondělík is a Business Transformation Head at Home Credit in Hong Kong. Tomáš has a master’s degree in Territorial Studies from the Metropolitan University of Prague. He started his career in Home Credit as a Digital Expert Lead in 2017.