Grab’s latest partnership shows it means business in the “super apps” battle royale

Photo Credit: Jon Russel/Flickr

Grab is poised to become the go-to app for millions of customers. Senior MD Reuben Lai explains how the company’s latest partnership with ZhongAn from China will improve Grab for its drivers as well as ordinary users.

By Preetam Kaushik

Barely 20 years ago, a mobile phone could do three or four tasks at best. It was hard to envision that in an age where you can do just about anything with a tap of your finger. But just as mobile manufacturers found ways to cram more sensors and tech onto their hardware platforms, app companies are finding ways to add more services to their software platforms. We are in the age of a new breed of “super apps,” and Asia is at the epicentre of this super app revolution.

One app will rule them all

Roughly 2 million apps are currently vying for the attention of mobile users (both iOS and Android). With folks drifting towards a usage pattern where they spend most of their screen time on a handful of apps, the competition to draw users attention, and then keep it, is intense.

In Asian markets, apps like WeChat, Grab, and PayTM are trying to take it to the next level by incorporating as many services as possible into their platform. Their logic is quite persuasive— why depend on multiple apps when you can get everything done on a single platform? 

Open any one of these apps and you will find dozens of services, ranging from ride-hailing to food delivery, online shopping, movie tickets, and online payment services.

The focus of these companies has been on strategic acquisitions and partnerships to deliver maximum value to the consumer. “Customers will ultimately judge apps based on which one is able to deliver,” Reuben Lai, Senior MD of Grab Financial, told ASEAN Today. With a “one app to rule them all” situation, the stage is set for a super-app showdown with the winner taking all the spoils.

Grab is ASEAN’s undisputed leader

Lai says, “payments and financial services underpin the user experience on an everyday platform and we expect that to remain the focus of many platforms.”

WeChat may have started this trend in Asia, but in the ASEAN region, Grab is the undisputed leader. Initially just a ride-hailing app, it has since diversified into the realm of online banking, payments, and microloans. 

As a homegrown app from the South East Asian region, Grab knows the lay of the land extremely well. It was this knowledge that allowed it to neutralise the threat posed by its bigger global competitor Uber. It is this same inside knowledge that has prompted Grab to expand beyond its ride-hailing roots in recent years.

The entire region is prime territory for massive fintech expansion. Traditional banking insurance services remain elusive for a majority of the population in all its major economies. But mobile users are not in short supply, with connectivity at an all-time high and on an upward trend. Along with positive attitude from regulatory bodies, this has created a trifecta that makes fintech a prospective goldmine for aggressive companies like Grab.

Their financial arm ended 2018 as the leading player in Southeast Asia, with the largest merchant network and “partnerships with over 60 leading financial institutions and e-payment licenses across all six of ASEAN’s core markets,” according to Reuben Lai.

Another puzzle piece falls into place

Grab’s recently announced partnership with ZhongAn feels on the money in this context. Just like other basic financial services, insurance distribution is also critically underdeveloped in Southeast Asia. “For Grab Financial, insurance makes sense because our goal is to bridge the accessibility divide for essential financial services by using technology”, says Lai.

Sources: ASEAN PostBIS

Grab already has partnerships in this sector, with Chubb providing insurance products to its drivers. With the ZhongAn tie-up, the company is poised to take this to the next level, with faster in-app access to more personalized insurance products.

Access to these products will not be restricted to their drivers alone. Grab will launch insurance services for its estimated 130 million users across Southeast Asia in the near future. Lai adds, “Our partnership with Chubb announced in 2018 provides our drivers access to a range of insurance products. Driver-partners also have the option to extend coverage to their spouse and children through the current insurance products like Grab Partner Guard.”

However, these coverage options currently have to be purchased outside the Grab app.  “The partnership with ZhongAn enables the offered products to be available at drivers’ fingertips,” Lai said.

Lai remains bullish about his company’s prospects in the coming years: “Financial services is a green field of opportunity for us, with full-scale launches expected in 2019 for services such as lending, remittance, and insurance.”  With no signs of slowdown and an expected forecast of 100% growth in revenues in the coming year, the sky seems to be the limit for Grab at the moment.

About the Author

Preetam Kaushik
Preetam Kaushik is a Mumbai-based journalist covering business, tech and economy. A former freelance Mumbai correspondent for Business Insider India and freelance journalist for, his work has been published by The Times of India, The Huffington Post, Economic Times, WIRED, and World Economic Forum.