Lighter wallets have benefits in the heavily crowded retail loyalty and rewards program business, according to Ameer Jumabhoy, MBA ’17, and his father, Asad Jumabhoy, SM ’86.
The two recently launched a Singapore-based business, UTU, which will make loyalty and reward points programs available internationally, allowing consumers to take advantage of real time usage of those points anywhere. UTU, which translates to “rewards” in Maori, launches in Thailand this month and will continue its rollout through Asia in 2016. The company plans to make its way to Europe and the United States in 2017.
The initial Thailand launch is a deliberate move as each Thai citizen holds an average of seven loyalty cards, according to in-house research.
Ameer Jumabhoy said the traditional way of providing rewards to customers is outdated and until now, it was impossible for rewards to be transferred internationally.
“Today, if I buy a Pumpkin Spice Latte [at Starbucks] in Boston using my accrued points through the Starbucks Rewards program, I can’t get a coffee with my Starbucks points in London or Tokyo,” Jumabhoy said.
The father-son duo created a free mobile platform that links reward points to consumers’ actual payment cards—such as Visa or American Express—or mobile payment options like Apple Pay. Customers can securely link up to five cards to UTU. Whenever customers use a payment card at a participating retailer, they can earn and redeem rewards points in real time, which will show up on the app.
In addition to retailers with established loyalty programs, UTU will work with smaller businesses that might only have one location and don’t have a rewards system in place. These mom-and-pop retailers can distribute and accept UTU points that can be exchanged across different merchants all over the world, Jumabhoy said.
The UTU rewards network is also designed for collaborations with the larger chain companies that may prefer to issue their own points. If Zara, for example, wants to continue distributing Zara points, UTU will work with the retailer to convert UTU points to Zara points. UTU also enables customers to gift each other UTU points in real time.
The Jumabhoys have been considering the rewards network startup for nearly 10 years, but have been collaborating full-time on UTU for the past two-and-a-half years, according to Asad Jumabhoy.
“The perfect storm of technological advances [smartphones and cloud computing] enhances our partners in payment networks and the loyalty program world alike,” said Asad Jumabhoy. “As we composed the product roadmap, we put the finishing touches on UTU by harnessing the analytical power of data science and the insights from machine learning.”
Previously, both Asad Jumabhoy and Ameer Jumabhoy worked at the Scotts Group investment company and the Fintrax Group. The son has called his dad “an inspiration,” and Asad Jumabhoy has said it is “fulfilling” to work together.
“I learn so much from him as we tackle new problems together. Through him, I learned to remain current in so many ways,” Asad Jumabhoy said.
UTU is based in Singapore, with a total of 27 employees in several locations, including India, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.