Resilience during COVID-19: Q&A with Airwallex’s Neil Luo

As ​Airwallex’​s Head of Growth, Neil leads the company’s global growth and user acquisition strategy. He has over a decade’s experience working across marketing, strategy, technology and data science, previously holding roles at SEEK, Hotels.com, Expedia and The Boston Consulting Group.

What lessons can we learn from Airwallex’s experience navigating through the crisis in China?

For the past few months, most of us have adjusted to a new reality of remote working and abiding by social distancing measures. As a global company, we are fortunate to have a unique lens on how major issues play out globally, with a network of ten offices worldwide to share this insight. In this instance, we were better prepared for the current pandemic after first riding the wave in China.

Given the speed at which COVID-19 struck China in February, we had to rapidly adapt to the changing environment overnight — transitioning our entire China team into remote working and shifting our communication strategy and business approach.

Communication, and over-communication, was key in ensuring that even though our staff were working remotely, they were clued into the latest company updates and remained in regular contact with the rest of their teammates. Digital collaboration tools such as Zoom, Slack and Google Suite played an important role in connecting all of us and creating a resemblance of the office environment. Simple things like leaving one’s camera on during video calls helped to maintain rapport between team members, and setting clear direction and goals daily ensured consistent levels of productivity across teams.

Social distancing rules also led to the cancellation of events and meetings across the region and eliminated opportunities for face-to-face interactions with our stakeholders. In China, we reinvested our resources initially set aside for offline business development into digital marketing and WeChat campaigns, as social media and mobile usage increased during this time of isolation. Taking this learning to Australia, we have switched our focus to social media campaigns, webinars and online content.

How will the landscape evolve from this crisis — and how will this impact fintechs?

Major global disruptions in the past have taught us that in every setback lies an opportunity. For example, the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s accelerated the adoption of e-commerce in China and propelled the growth of companies like Alibaba and JD.com. The Global Financial Crisis in 2008 saw the birth of the gig economy with companies such as Airbnb and Uber

offering both asset owners and workers a platform to earn extra income. Could COVID-19 offer an opportunity for fintechs to rise?

The current pandemic has drastically changed the way consumers shop and how they make payments. We have seen more turn to online shopping to buy the products they need, such as household essentials. Consumers are also increasingly ready to embrace digital wallets and contactless payments to avoid handling cash. We also expect an increasing number of businesses and retailers who will transition to digital channels, which will in turn drive growth in online payment processing.

With conserving cash flow increasing in importance, both consumers and businesses will be more willing to explore alternatives to the traditional banks for better rates as well as the ability to set up and manage their bank accounts online.

What can business leaders do to support the wider community?

These are unprecedented times for all of us and we’re wading through the crisis as best as we can. Businesses who are struggling are looking for reassurance of normality and hope, and any act of kindness or solidarity will have a positive impact within the community. As business leaders, we need to step up and do our part to offer reassurance and relief in an already stressful situation.

When COVID-19 first struck China in February, we waived international transaction fees for e-commerce businesses in China who were importing personal protective equipment (such as masks). We have since extended our support to Australian and UK small businesses in need by offering to waive their international transactions fees. Our efforts are joined by a number of other tech companies who have also offered their products for free or pledged funds. These gestures — big or small — go a long way in helping local businesses affected by the pandemic.

How can Airwallex help other fintechs during these uncertain times?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has had an effect on fintechs, including ourselves. With travel and offline events no longer possible at this point in time, we have had to scale back on a number of priorities that we had set for the year. The current situation has provided an opportune moment for us — and other fintechs — to focus on strategic partnerships and hunker down on product development initiatives that will meet the emergent needs of our customers.

We’re here to help any fintech looking to innovate and scale globally during these times. Our global financial infrastructure and API suite will enable fintechs to grow their financial ecosystem and add key capabilities such as our Borderless cards and cross-border payment and collection, with ​FX fees waived on the first A$100,000.

Our communication channels are also open to businesses who are currently facing difficulties. The Airwallex team is happy to provide as much support and direction as possible during these uncertain times.

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