South Korea- and Malaysia-based earned wage access (EWA) startup Paywatch has raised $5.25 million in a seed round led by the US venture capital firm Third Prime and undisclosed family offices in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Other investors that participated include SparkLabs, Won & Partners, and CTK Investments, the company said in a statement.
The startup works with banks such as Malaysia’s Hong Leong Bank and Hana Bank in South Korea to provide workers access to their wages before pay day. It said it is working with five “established financial institutions” across Asia.
Currently operating in South Korea, Malaysia, and Hong Kong, the company plans to use the fresh funds to expand in the existing markets and enter other Southeast Asian markets, including Indonesia, and the Philippines.
“On-demand pay has seen meaningful traction in the United States as a modern way for individuals to exercise greater control over their financial health. We see an enormous opportunity for Paywatch to use this model to democratise access to capital throughout Asia,” said Third Prime partner Michael Kim in a statement.
Founded by brothers Alex Kim and Richard Kim in 2018, Paywatch is one of the growing number of EWA startups emerging across Asia, such as GajiGesa and wagely in Indonesia, GetPaid in Singapore, Nano Technologies in Vietnam, and Refyne in India, which scored $82 million earlier this week in a Series B round led by Tiger Global.
GajiGesa secured $2.5 million in February 2021, while wagely raised $5.6 million in June 2021.
Richard Kim, the former country manager of MasterCard Prepaid and a former market director at HSBC in South Korea, founded Paywatch after noticing that his employees “lacked access to banks and were forced to turn to high interest cash on credit cards or payday lenders to cope with unexpected financial strain,” according to a statement.
“For companies, our flexible payroll system has made them more competitive in attracting talent and increased retention in the face of the ‘great resignation’,” Richard Kim said.
In Southeast Asia, salaries are paid at the end of the month, except in The Philippines where wages are paid on a fortnightly basis. It’s common for workers to ask their employers for a salary advance, usually at a zero-interest rate. However, not every boss gives them the advance, Vidit Agrawal, co-founder and chief executive of GajiGesa had told DealStreetAsia in an earlier interview.
In such a situation, the alternative for an employee is to turn to payday loans which are typically doled out at 30-60% interest rates per month.