Q&A with Mr. Htin Hlaing, CTO at Wave Money


Appsynth and open-finance enabler Brankas recently hosted an intimate roundtable dinner for top executives from banking and financial services. Below are a few highlights from our Q&A with guest of honour Htin Hlaing, CTO of Wave Money, Myanmar’s leading digital wallet provider.


Htin Hlaing built his professional career in Silicon Valley, holding Engineering leadership positions in various US companies over the span of two decades. He is deeply experienced leading high-performing technology teams at scale through agile development, big data and multi cloud adoption.

He currently serves as CTO for Wave Money in his home country of Myanmar, driving the company’s mission to build a better Myanmar for its people. Prior to this, Htin served as CTO for Ascend Commerce, part of CP Group in Thailand.

Since relocating to Yangon in 2020, Htin has helped lead his company through difficult times, from the Covid-19 pandemic to navigating regulatory and economic challenges. Having spent most of his adult life in US, Htin is proud to be back in Myanmar helping to better people’s lives through financial inclusion. 

How as a leader do you nurture innovation in your teams and within the organization?

In Myanmar, when it comes to innovation, we have to think really, really hard. We have a lot of challenges. But I think those challenges also drive our innovations as well. But the key, actually, is empowerment. Something that I’m really pushing on our team is that, traditionally, our teams are like mercenaries, right? The leadership team says, “This is the thing that we need to do, this is our KPI, these are our must win battles, here’s the project, you go and develop it.” And these guys develop it, deliver it, and forget about it, right? And they move onto the next stage, and we come to the next stage. So we spend so much time, money, and when it comes to the outcome, it’s not really satisfying.

So what we have been doing is that we change that around, and we move into empowerment. So what I mean by that is that we actually structure our teams based on the business streams into what we call tribes. Each tribe will have their own business, product, tech, and delivery all together. So we empower them, they can come up with their own discoveries of what they want to do that align with us, and then they come up with their own innovation on how they want to achieve it. This is not really a new concept, so we are learning a lot from other companies, books, online materials. We learned a lot from them, the challenges, and pitfalls, to truly provide empowerment. But the key is that through empowerment, innovation comes. 

What new technology are you most excited about seeing how it’s going to impact the Banking and Financial Services industry?

Well, I’m sure that everybody knows the answer already. AI and Chat GPT right? So, actually, it’s true. For our business, we have to look at the whole life cycle, and then we have the acquisition, onboarding, retention, and also our transaction services, and then the customer services. So all along the way we are actually re-engineering different approaches. This is where innovation is coming as well. It’s not like an invention. I think this is something that we actually see in other parts of the industry as well. But adoption of more automation through AI/ML approaches is something that we have been working on, especially as far as the customer experience side of it, customer services side of it, because today, actually, our call center receives about 14,000 calls a day. So then what we want to do is reduce it down to 80% of it through the use of different AI-based approaches.

So through the use of the AI-based knowledge base, AI-based chatbot, AI-based general ticketing, to get to the right channel as quickly as possible. And then only the real problems where they need to speak to a live person will get to the call center. That’s basically the task that we focus on as well. Along the way, actually, we are engaging with Appsynth quite a bit as well to see what areas we can optimize our practices from product development, UI, UX, and different areas. So I think that’s why we are very good partners as well.

Are there any examples from places you have worked where you have either opened up an API for third parties to integrate and innovate with or partnered with third parties to bring their services into your core product?

We do allow our third-party partners to integrate with us through our API, Pay With Wave, and that integration can be done by the partners themselves. We haven’t yet fully gone into the direction of an open API in the truest sense that allows independent third parties to develop using our APIs. As a conglomerate with various entities within the group, we have common APIs that we expose, which can be leveraged internally across working entities.

We recognize that this is an area we want to explore further, especially in the context of the super app and mini app ecosystem. It’s not just about the super app or mini app; it’s about fostering an ecosystem where integration in both directions is easy and enables us to better serve our customers. This is something we are actively working towards.

We’d like to express our gratitude to Ko Htin for flying in from overseas to join us for the event and sharing his insights with everyone. Check out the Q&A with our other guest of honour Dr Dennis Khoo, Managing Partner at allDigitalfuture in Singapore and former MD of TMRW Digital Bank, here.

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