A lifestyle worth aspiring to at TNEX

January 19, 2023 | 14:09
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David Jimenez Maireles, deputy CEO of TNEX, the Vietnamese digital-only bank created by Maritime Bank, shared with VIR’s Hong Dung his life-changing mindset after coming to Vietnam to put on show his expertise.

In 2018 when you were a manager in Spain for Raisin, you were often seen in photos well-dressed in suits, but in Vietnam you tend to take on a more casual style. What led to this change?

A lifestyle worth aspiring to at TNEX
David Jimenez Maireles, deputy CEO of TNEX

Since I arrived in Vietnam, I have changed my lifestyle. I started to do exercise regularly and eat better. Fortunately, Vietnamese food can be healthy, with plenty of vegetables, fish, and more. This has helped me get in good shape. The casual style is more about the new culture and style of TNEX. We are a young company trying new things and innovate to bring new ideas and solutions for our customers’ problems. In TNEX we always say the best idea must win. And to do that, we need to bring out the very best of our employees.

We want to wear them whatever clothes they like and feel comfortable. In TNEX we don’t have dress codes. We want everyone to feel empowered to develop their own ideas and responsibility.

Why did you choose Vietnam to build this?

When I received the call to build the first digital-only bank in Vietnam I couldn’t believe no-one had done so already. In 2020, nearly 70 per cent of the population were without a bank account, while 72 per cent had a smartphone. People in Vietnam spend over six hours on average on the internet, talking with friends on social media, watching videos, or playing games each day.

However, if anyone wanted to open a bank account, they needed to go to a branch and spend an hour signing papers, and waiting perhaps up to two weeks to receive a debit card.

There are 37 million Millennials and Gen-Z in Vietnam. Most of these customers would like to run their entire lives on their phones. They were born digital. In the past few years, super-apps have become a big phenomenon. Many are trying to race to be the first, the best, and the most used. For those reasons, I couldn’t resist coming to Vietnam and doing something good for the country.

You and your staff have been developing a Vietnamese-made digital-only bank but it is hard to find such a bank gaining profits in the world, so how do you get around this?

Yes, we are very proud to say this bank is made in Vietnam. Of the 150 employees at TNEX, 148 are Vietnamese. If you travel around Vietnam, as I have done in the past few years, you realise that most people in rural areas are still worrying about basic things: access to food and clothing their children.

This is why our employees have built TNEX in a very different way. I think everyone can recognise that TNEX is a different bank. We care about our customers’ health, starting from financial health, then mental, physical, and social health.

We have developed features like step counter to help customers to become healthier or Vitamin T, our education platform to help customers to manage their money and improve their financial literacy.

There are almost 20 digital banks that are profitable nowadays. However, it takes time to build a sustainable business. Digital banks are the future of financial services. Only the traditional banks that are serious about their digital transformation will still exist in the next 5-10 years, or new players will take their business.

There is no doubt that branches are going to disappear, especially in Vietnam where 65 per cent of the population live in rural areas. How can banks serve these customers? Opening hundreds of branches or through mobile apps? For me, the answer is clear. The battle now is between traditional banks turning more digital or digital banks becoming profitable.

You stress that it is necessary to bring a convenient and truly free bank to Vietnamese people; however, we all know well that there is “no free meal”. How is TNEX any different?

Of course, nothing is free. TNEX is investing a lot of money to make banking free. We were the first bank to offer free banking services in Vietnam two years ago. Now many banks followed suit and removed their fees.

Our business model is fully digital, cloud-based, lean, and agile. We are investing in the long term. We want to get our customers trust by building fair, simple, and real-time products that help our customers daily, such as our emoji-driven multi-purpose fund to help them manage their money.

Banking should be made accessible for everyone. If we scale fast enough, we build products that generate revenue, and we offer an incredible customer experience, we will be profitable in the next few years.

There is a saying that “the mission of fintech startups is to die”. Pioneering the trend of digital-only banking in Vietnam, have you ever worried about your bank’s mission?

I don’t agree with that quote. The most successful companies today started as startups. Think about PayPal, Stripe, Adyen, and others. There are many fintech startups profitable around the world. In the last few years, we have seen many companies go bust because they didn’t build a sustainable business model. Venture capital funds deployed money to many fintech startups focused on growing quickly without any revenue.

In the next few months, we will see more startups having problems because their economics didn’t make sense. However, there are some fintech groups that will emerge out of this period strong. I believe that Vietnam has massive potential. With more than 40 million people with a bank account and more than 60 million without access to other banking products like investment, savings, insurance, or lending. TNEX is fighting against cash, not against traditional banks. There are so many opportunities for digital-only startups to flourish in a well-connected market like Vietnam.

As an extremely creative and passionate person, have you ever felt disappointed when people around you do not keep up with your speed? How do you balance everything?

It’s always complicated to find that balance. I have spent so much time with my team, challenging their ideas, bringing new ones, and giving them space to innovate. When I started TNEX, I wanted to create a company that allows people to try new things and fail. The only way to success in business is either to be the best one or be the most creative one.

The response of the team has been phenomenal. There is no command and control. Employees feel empowered to bring their own ideas and take responsibility for them. One of our successes is to be very close with our customers. Every week, we invite existing and potential customers to interview them. We co-design our products based on their feedback and comments.

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