Romeo “RJ” Laguardia is the Senior Hydrocarbon Finance Process Improvement Lead at Royal Dutch Shell based in Manila and an Executive MBA student at the Hong Kong Chicago Booth campus. He has been competing in this year’s Global New Venture Challenge [GNVC] with his team, FuSure. They are working on an app that enables overseas workers to save money and invest in their future while also sending funds back home to beneficiaries. FuSure’s initial target market are Filipino foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. We spoke with Laguardia shortly after he learned FuSure would be advancing to the final round in the competition.
It’s been reported that Hong Kong employs more than 340,000 foreign domestic workers, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. What are some of the challenges they face while working abroad, and how does FuSure hope to assist them?
People take jobs abroad, and specifically, domestic worker occupations – which involve household activities and taking care of the elderly and small children – because they have acquired these skills at home and working abroad allows them to earn a living for their families at several times the rate local jobs would. As the family breadwinner, they remit the bulk of their salaries back home. Sending money is costly for these foreign workers because they have limited opportunities to save. A common scenario is a domestic worker returning home to retire – they call it going home “for good” – only to find she has to go abroad again because there is not enough money. Sending money isn’t easy either. Domestic workers get one day off each week, and often wait in line for 2-3 hours to transfer their money.
FuSure wants to help by offering a savings component to their money transfer, allowing them to set aside an amount for long-term spending needs that goes into an investment pool, which they can monitor. They also get to fulfill short term spending needs by sending money to their family securely and reliably, at the best rates, and without having to wait in long lines. The goal is to embed good financial literacy habits into their remittance activities.
Why is this issue to important you and your classmates?
Our team includes three Filipino nationals, so we have some understanding around the hardships overseas workers face. We know people who have gone home “for good,” but had to leave within a few months. We also know how important remittances are to the national economy. We also have teammates from Hong Kong and Singapore who employ Filipino domestic workers, and consider them members of their extended families. There is a lot of genuine passion within the team to make it easier for overseas workers to provide for their families and live comfortably.
Romeo “RJ” Laguardia (pictured third from the left) conducts a focus group in Hong Kong with members of the Legion of Mary overseas workers group.
Executive MBA students enter the program from a wide array of different industries and functions, with expert-level experience. How has this played out on your GNVC team?
We like to say that we have about a century’s worth of collective experience within Team FuSure. We first met during our International Quarter, when we had classes with students from the Chicago and London campuses. Our CEO, Celeste Marie Lim, has Philippine retail banking management experience, and she is connected to a network of banks in the Philippines which we tap into for our distribution of remitted funds. Saleh Zaidi works in currency trading, so we turn to him for his foreign exchange and risk management expertise. Mark Canizares works in asset management, and crafts our savings strategies. Brajesh Santosh works in wealth management, so he develops our client policies and establishes banking relationships. Gil Serra Arnau is an experienced consumer marketer and can devise our market research and activation strategies. I have experience in accounting, IT systems implementations, and operations management, so I link all the various parts of the business together. It also helps that, despite heated debates, we are all really good friends and enjoy working with each other.
Business students have a reputation for being competitive. What’s it like to go head to head against your classmates in the competition?
I don’t think that reputation holds true at the Hong Kong campus. We all want to do well, but we also want to have fun in the process. When we could, we helped out the other groups. We bounced off name ideas with classmates. There are even shared resources between teams, prompting jokes about a spin-off GNVC shared service concept. It also helped that we got to see each other’s first presentations so we could learn from each other and improve for the semi-finals. Overall, I think there was an atmosphere of collaboration and support, which I enjoyed immensely and greatly appreciated.
FuSure will join teams from Chicago and London to compete in the GNVC finals on March 16th for seed money. Have you discussed the future of FuSure, regardless of whether or not you win?
We are very excited about going to Chicago for the finals. Even before the GNVC, at our first meeting as team FuSure, we discussed where we wanted to take this concept. We decided that, to make this experience worthwhile, we all had to want to go ahead with it even after the GNVC. This still holds true today. We are already discussing putting our own money into the venture. We are talking about governance structures and the details of working with our affiliate banks. We are in talks with service providers to finalize agreements. Some of our mentors are still in touch, offering help. We have gotten into discussions with interested VC’s. Most importantly, we are connected with a set of overseas worker groups eagerly awaiting developments with our pilot runs. Whatever happens in the finals, I’m sure that you’ll hear about FuSure in the years to come.