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Money Forward CEO wants to take popular budget-tracking app global

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Staff Writer

Budget-managing app operator Money Forward Inc. stoked investor excitement when it became the nation’s first financial technology venture to go public in September, reflecting strong interest in the nascent but fast-growing sector.

Yosuke Tsuji, the startup’s founder and chief executive officer, is now looking to expand and refine his service to make it the first of its kind to break out of Japan.

“I really want to go global. I want to create a world-class company like Sony,” he said during an interview with The Japan Times on Thursday, referring to the electronics giant and former employer.

The initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers market for emerging high-growth stocks saw Money Forward raise roughly ¥3 billion.

Since then, Tsuji said he has been contacted by many firms interested in working with his company, now valued at ¥56 billion. He said he’s open to all possibilities.

“It’s not just about raising funds. I think the IPO has given our credibility a boost,” he said on the sidelines of the two-day Share Summit 2017 in Tokyo that ended Thursday.

“Whether it be partnerships, investments or mergers and acquisitions, I’m very much looking forward to working with people who share our vision,” he said. Tsuji didn’t elaborate on whether there are any deals in the works.

Launched five years ago, Money Forward has grown rapidly to become one of the hottest financial technology startups, with its namesake application now boasting 5.5 million users. The firm is known as a pioneer in developing a digital kakeibo (household bookkeeping) app, where users can keep track of financial accounts for banking, credit card, e-wallet and point services. The company’s free app for the Android platform has won the best finance app award on Google Play for three consecutive years since 2013.

Fintech, a portmanteau of financial technology, has been gaining global momentum and Japan is no exception, with numerous startups launching services ranging from online payment and digital currencies to artificial intelligence-powered financial advice. Major financial institutions have begun teaming up with many of these players to catch up on the trend.

Yano Research Institute projects the domestic market for fintech will surge to around ¥81 billion in 2021 from about ¥4.8 billion in 2015.

Another key growth driver for Money Forward is a cloud-based software the company says is now used by 500,000 businesses and 2,400 accounting firms to handle tax accounting and invoices.

The whole point, Tsuji said, is to remove the hassle often associated with money matters by providing a comprehensive and user-friendly platform that can swiftly and transparently manage complicated transactions.

“My dream is to create a world where people don’t have to think about money,” he said. On that end, Money Forward launched a new service in September called Siratama that helps people save money by collecting small change. Users, for example, can spend ¥500 on their credit cards for a ¥460 product. The ¥40 difference will then be saved in their bank accounts.

“It’s for people who have a hard time saving,” Tsuji said.

Tsuji, 41, graduated from prestigious Kyoto University and joined Sony Corp. before moving to online security broker Monex Inc. He also earned an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Helped by personal connections he established during his 10 years at Monex, Tsuji launched Money Forward in 2012.

The small startup that began in a one-room apartment in Takadanobaba, a neighborhood in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, has since expanded to employ around 230 staffers, of which around 40 percent are engineers.

Tsuji said he has set his sights overseas, although various obstacles remain for his service to be accepted outside Japan.

“Money issues, including payment methods, are different depending on the country, so it’s not a matter of simply translating our service into English,” he said.

“We need to think of how we can adapt to each country.”