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Alumni stories: Making an exchange with Victor Yip

How UCL inspired Victor Yip to make paying for travel easier.

Victor Yip

7 September 2020

Hong Kong entrepreneur Victor Yip believes everyone should have the opportunity to travel and learn from other cultures. That’s why the first product from his start-up financial technology company Pecutus is readytravel.io - a platform for people to exchange international currency directly with each other, cutting out expense and the need to be in a crowd. It could be a game-changer for young people in Asia. And it was his experience studying at UCL that inspired Victor to do it.

“After experiencing first-hand how being exposed to different culture can shape your life, I want everyone else to be able to travel too,” he says.

Parallel universe

A high achiever from childhood, Victor was able to enter higher education early, aged 17. He studied Global Business and Economics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. This led to him working as an analyst at banking giant Merrill Lynch, rising to Assistant Vice President within three years. But something didn’t feel right. “Even though I was paid well, I didn’t feel like I was making an impact on society,” says Victor. “I was trading hundreds of millions day-to-day, but it’s like a parallel universe, and when you leave the office you could disappear and it wouldn’t make a difference to the world.”

In 2016, Victor successfully applied for a prestigious Chevening Scholarship, funded by the UK government, and set his sights on the tech realm, undertaking a Master’s in Business Analytics with specialisation in Computer Science at UCL. “The course was 50% of the attraction,” he explains. “I also wanted to surround myself with great people - the best and the brightest. And another big factor was the programme director back then - Dr Daniel Hulme - he was very open-minded and reassuring. He told me ‘just be prepared to work hard and you’ll be fine’.”

Culture shock

Victor knew UCL had a high ranking and great employment results. But its culture of ‘disruptive thinking’ and truly international approach became clear to him on arrival, and sowed the seeds of his future entrepreneurial direction. “My class wasn’t big, about 45 students, but about 18 nationalities,” he says. “I really enjoyed talking to people from different countries, hearing different viewpoints. Now, building my own team in Hong Kong, we have a CTO from the UK, an engineer from India… we’re very multicultural, which has more benefits than challenges.”

In his year at UCL, Victor applied his new data science skills working on projects with a number of real-world companies. Then he found himself with a full-time position at Echobox, a London social media company for publishers, working with AI to pioneer the world’s first human-level intelligent hashtag generator, among other things.

But UCL, and coming to the UK, had also inspired Victor to be brave in his career. “In London, the culture is different from Hong Kong,” he says. “So seeing friends diving into different projects, having the courage to just explore, not playing by the book - that helped me a lot. And having had exposure to real-life settings with my skills, I realised if I can solve one ‘pain point’ in the world, and that ‘pain point’ is big enough to feed me and my team, then maybe I can have a start-up.”

And so, in 2018, Pecutus was born, with travel finance platform readytravel.io as its focus. “I saw something could be different,” he says. “In Hong Kong, when you need currency you have to call the bank three days in advance, then go to a specific branch, and there are always queues. But this seemed ridiculous to me. My idea was to make an inclusive experience - one that fits the lifestyle and need of travellers today.”

Inclusive tech

While still in its infancy, readytravel.io is already turning heads in the fintech sector. It’s a simple idea, but so effective. “We use 24/7 automated systems,” says Victor. “On the app, you just let us know what currency you want. Or if you have cash, that’s okay, you just go to one of our ATMs in the airport and drop it off - no opening hours, no need to see anyone. Cash is still important in Hong Kong and our target markets - Singapore, Thailand and Japan, where things are still quite traditional. We want to ensure our platform is inclusive.”

It’s not hard to imagine large numbers of UCL students using the new currency exchange systems Victor and his team are developing in the not too distant future. “People love to travel, especially the young generation,” Victor adds. “And I see travel as being as important as your formal education. So why should travel payment, something integral to all travel experiences, be so backwards?”

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