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My path in payments: Dawn Lee, Grab
A ‘superapp’ needs someone with an expert understanding of payments to run it. And even more so when that app is Grab, a leading Southeast Asian superapp.
Step forward Dawn Lee, Grab Financial Group's Regional Lead for Partnerships and Business Development. Her brief includes payments — a tough enough challenge in normal times. But when you’re tasked to help build a smart payment routing engine that can process transactions for customers and merchants across the eight countries and 400 cities that Grab operates, you understand why Dawn talks about the need for a "super in-depth" mindset for the job.
Grab launched its in-house payment platform in 2020 to have more control over costs and their merchants’ and users’ payment experience. This gives it greater adaptability to enter markets at speed. And Grab is a business constantly on the move, meaning Dawn's remit can quickly shift.
Knowledge from all sides
Part of Dawn’s current remit is developing Grab’s ecommerce capabilities, and she believes in applying the same principle that was key to delivering the payments engine. "It's about joining the dots," she says. "Payments and ecommerce form a complex ecosystem featuring a wide variety of payers. And it's only by understanding how all these different players interact that you can begin uncovering the real friction points and problems that merchants need solving."
Dawn's ability to understand how to solve merchant problems doesn't only come from her innate curiosity and willingness to challenge the status quo. It's also informed by her experience looking at payments challenges from multiple perspectives.
Before joining Grab, Dawn worked as an Account Manager at a payment service provider. She explains how this role helped her understand the nuts and bolts of payments. "There was always lots of information flying around about everything to do with payments," she recalls. "Being on the provider side also allowed me to understand many different challenges merchants face. And these are all case studies that I've been able to call on since moving in-house."
That experience continues to help her conversations with the third-party providers supporting Grab’s payment platform. "I've been on the other side of the table. So I understand the dynamics of the relationships and how we can best work together for win-win outcomes."
However, internal stakeholder engagement can sometimes be more complex, as Dawn has learned. "I went from an environment where people talked about payments all day, every day, to one where payments is just one component of the business. It's a big change. Payments happen "behind the scenes", and appreciating the intricacies only comes when you are responsible for ensuring the seamlessness of the payment service
This means that, like many other payment professionals, Dawn has to dedicate time to educate stakeholders across the business about the intricacies of payments. It's also been about ensuring that everyone is on the same page. "Migrating to an in-house solution doesn’t just impact payments. We needed to address finance’s concerns around reporting. and our customer service and operations teams had to be confident the product would help them with their day-to-day work."
Learning the lessons of success isn’t the same as dwelling on past glories, and Dawn is in no mood to stand still. At the front of her mind right now are the opportunities to make payment experiences completely seamless across online and offline channels, and embedding payments into social commerce and day-to-day messaging apps.
But that could all change, as happened with the pandemic. "We've seen a significant shift in consumer behavior, impacting how people use our services," she says. "For example, we've seen growth in GrabPay transactions on ecommerce sites and online stores as people had to stay home. We've also seen growth in usage of PayLater, Grab’s buy now, pay later (BNPL) solution, which has helped our merchant-partners generate more sales. These changing trends have required us to adjust our focus and adapt our roadmaps."
Grab is also doubling down on the financial services it offers customers. "We saw this was increasingly important for a digitally-savvy crowd. Grab was once an app that people only used for ride-hailing, but Grab users can now invest, buy insurance policies, and pay for transactions in interest-free installments via the app. This is what innovation really looks like.”
And Dawn is bullish about what's next, especially in Singapore, given the innovation-friendly and digitally forward stance of the regulators. For instance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is driving seamless cross-border payments for retail customers by bridging payment networks between Southeast Asian countries, which means the addressable markets for even smaller merchants could grow significantly beyond local markets in the near future.
Different tasks, different skills
Currently, Dawn’s team is also incubating different ideas on ecommerce. The core will be "about ensuring merchants can grow their brand and build a deeper connection with their customers in a thoughtful and cost-efficient way". It's the latest example in Dawn’s career that demonstrates "just how broad payments are as a job," she explains.
What is key is understanding that different tasks require different skills. "If I’m focused on growing the customer base and entering new markets, I need to know about attitudes to cards vs. wallets vs. BNPL, for example. If I’m designing the checkout, I’ll want to understand the customer journey in detail to maximize conversions. But if I’m working with a payment provider on the backend, then I need in-depth technical knowledge of the mechanics involved."
Her advice to would-be payment professionals is to learn about all the different inflection points that payments touch and decide which is of the most interest. From there, you must understand the skills needed to do it. Through it all, it is key to bear in mind that payments have many moving parts and touch different stakeholders. "The people whom I've worked with that can push projects fast know how all the different players in the payments ecosystem work together."
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