Travel-tech firm utu will leverage CardsPal’s hyper-localized rewards tech expertise for rollout in major tax-free shopping markets.
Singapore, June 28, 2023 – SC Ventures, Standard Chartered’s innovation, fintech investment and ventures arm, has completed the sale of CardsPal, a Singapore-based platform offering hyper-localized rewards, to utu, a Singapore-based travel-tech firm transforming customer experiences in tax-free shopping, for an undisclosed sum.
“The cross-border travel market is ripe for a technology-driven transformation, with tax-free shopping presenting vast untapped potential. By enhancing the value of VAT and GST refunds for travellers, we’ve reimagined the cross-border retail experience and devised a technology-based business model unlocking previously inaccessible value. This strategy benefits all stakeholders—brands, hotels, airlines, and VAT refund operators—while also enabling governments to compliantly recycle VAT refunds within their borders,” said Asad Jumabhoy, co-founder and CEO of utu.
In 2023, the travel industry is expected to reach US$9.5 trillion or 95% of 2019’s pre-pandemic peak, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Despite the remarkable turnaround, McKinsey reports that only about 1% of venture funding in the past 15 years has gone to travel, mostly in short-term rental hospitality. The tax-free shopping sector, where tourists can reclaim the value-added tax (VAT) on their purchases, is especially subject to this innovation lag. Tax-free shopping was designed to stimulate tourist spending, but the cost of refund processing has stymied its potential benefits for travellers.
utu, which is co-founded by travel retail and VAT refund veteran Asad Jumabhoy, collaborates with refund and travel industry partners to enhance refund value through innovative B2B and B2C solutions. By linking payments, rewards and shopping, utu introduces new value for tourist shoppers, retailers, VAT refund operators and the tax-free shopping value chain. Travellers using utu’s Tax Free Card, can gain up to 40% more value by opting for frequent flyer miles or hotel points over cash refunds. utu is also able to issue immediate store voucher equivalent of up to 120% of the VAT or GST paid during overseas shopping. For retailers, airlines and others, partnering with utu could potentially increase their revenue from tourist shopping by up to 40%. utu currently partners with 10 leading global airlines including Air France-KLM, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. It also partners with Accor, Europe’s largest hospitality brand.
Incubated by SC Ventures, CardsPal’s technology and mobile-first technology talent will equip utu with a digital marketplace, a unique promotions engine, and a self-service merchant registration portal. It will also help expedite utu’s rollout in major tax-free shopping markets like Italy, Thailand, the UAE and some 50 countries offering VAT and GST refunds. Additionally, utu is planning to integrate CardsPal’s hyper-localised retail experience into an improved pay-with-points offer for its users.
“CardsPal is a great example of why we at SC Ventures believe in the power of innovation and support our employees to have transformational impact. Through SC Ventures’ Intrapreneurship Program, CardsPal grew to become a business with award nominated UX. We look forward to utu’s continued success scaling its products across the globe using CardsPal’s technology,” said Gautam Jain, Member, at SC Ventures.
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For further information:
Chi-an Chang, PR & Comms Lead, SC Ventures
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