If you’re a gig economy worker, listen up – there’s a new payment solution that may just be perfect for you.
hoolah (pronounced Hu-la) is a Singapore-based payments startup that splits your online purchases into four equal, zero-interest instalments over two months.
No sign-up fee, no processing fee. The participating merchant gets charged a small fee for the service, but for the end consumer, it is totally free.
Let’s say you’re eyeing a new sofa priced at S$800. You can’t afford to pay that amount straight up but know that money’s coming in. hoolah’s payment solution splits that $800 into four equal and zero-interest payments of $200 over two months so you can be the proud owner of a new sofa on the spot. Your debit or credit card is then charged automatically on the four due dates.
How does hoolah work?
Started a year ago, hoolah’s service could go a long way towards solving the bane of those working in the gig economy: irregular cash flow.
Gig economy’s cashflow problem
The gig economy, made possible through start-ups and platforms like Airbnb, Grab, Go-Jek, Deliveroo and freelancer marketplace, Fiverr, refers to a whole new model of working in which independent contractors are paid for short-term, on-demand job assignments. According to a 2016 Ministry of Manpower report, there are as many as 200,000 workers involved in the gig economy in Singapore.
While this system of working provides independence and flexibility, planning for monthly expenses can be challenging with the seasonal demand for work. This results in irregular income; some “giggers” may be earning as little as a few hundred a month, while others could be earning several thousands of dollars more than the average worker.
With an irregular income flow, essential purchases like clothing, food or even home and living expenses have to be delayed and can prove daunting to gig economy workers.
“There is very little room for them to pursue a lifestyle they aspire to. That’s where hoolah comes in,” said hoolah CEO Stuart Thornton.
According to Thornton, 3 in 4 customers with the intent to buy don’t check out their shopping cart. His company’s interest-free, instalment solution provides easy affordability to customers, and for hoolah providers, a greater likelihood of more items being added to a shopping cart. Win-win for both parties.
Thornton, an Australian in his 40s, first got the idea of hoolah during his time in global payments processing company, Worldpay. There, he came across a company called Klarna that offers instalment-based payments for retailers like H&M, IKEA, and Lenovo in Europe. Upon meeting them, Thornton saw the potential of bringing this concept to Asia.
“My first thought was: ‘Why does that not exist in this region?’,” said Thornton.
With co-founder Arvin Singh, his ex-colleague in Worldpay, he launched hoolah in Singapore. Occupying an office space in The Hive SG, his team is now 20 strong and aggressively hiring.
Changing the instalment payment game
The concept of instalment-based payment plans has been around for a long time. Most popular home furniture or lifestyle stores in Singapore also offer low rate cards or instalment plans as part of in-store financing options but Thornton says, “all of these will cost more in totality over the length of the instalment plan”.
Many banks also offer instalment payment plans (IPP) with selected merchants and through the use of specific credit cards. Full time “giggers” may not qualify for these credit cards due to their irregular income.
In addition, when a credit card is used, the entire amount of the purchase is charged to the card, slashing your credit limit for the entire duration of the repayment period.
hoolah’s process is much simpler. Their business model only charges a merchants fee for the use of their platform. For the consumer, it’s totally free. Unlike IPPs, consumers are only charged when each instalment is due, improving their cash flow. The platform also allows you to also pay with debit cards across all banks.
And how does hoolah decide which customers can afford to pay all four instalments on time? Thornton says hoolah’s proprietary AI technology can instantaneously assess which users have the purchasing power to repay their instalments through their overall buying behaviour.
“We’re not pushing anyone to spend or go into debt,” said Thornton, whose company motto is “responsible affordability”. “We’re very aware that we are different things to different people.”
Thornton shares an instance where a driver he met had been banned from his ride-sharing app for a month and ended up borrowing money from a loan shark to cover his monthly expenses.
“I mentioned what we did and he was very keen because of the inherent values that we spoke about – especially the 0% interest – more so because it could help him afford the things he needs to buy.”
Besides gig economy workers, Thornton says his service is also popular among 18- to 26-year-olds, typically students or fresh graduates just entering the workforce who cannot yet qualify for a credit card. Next, the 26- to 35-year-olds, who spend more on need-based goods.
Expanding its base of merchants
One year since its launch, hoolah is already partnering with 50 companies, including furniture store Castlery and athletic wear brand Base Athletica. It’s actively expanding their base of merchants and hopes to provide customers with an even wider variety of products and services.
While hoolah’s payment solution is currently only available in Singapore, there are plans to expand across Southeast Asia, home to the world’s fourth largest workforce. Of the 127 million people who are working, about a third are working less than 35 hours a week and are likely to be part of the gig economy, according to official government data.
As a dedicated budgeter himself, hoolah’s mission seems almost a personal one to Thornton. His financial acumen was inspired by his businessman father’s prudence and admits to “hating surprises” when it comes to managing his own money.
With more Singaporeans choosing to leave full-time employment for flexibility and autonomy, hoolah’s payment solution allows gig economy workers a chance to afford the life they aspire to lead.
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By Annie Teh
Annie believes that the best stories come from real people. She is obsessed about optimizing her life through tech, talking to Grab drivers, and collecting little conditioner bottles from hotels.