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Malaysian Content Landscape Analysis: Personal Finance

When it comes to creating content for the masses, it feels like we can only choose two out of three: what’s fun, what adds value, and what is financially sustainable.

Travel and lifestyle are fun but aren’t necessarily done in a different way that adds value and not to mention, highly competitive. Journalism and education are important but aren’t something advertisers are eager to sponsor.

So, we’re left with topics that might be a bit bland but are useful and still advertiser-friendly such as personal finance and property. 

(Tech is perhaps the only exception since it ticks all the boxes, albeit a bit harder to localise).

In this article, I’m going to focus on the topic of personal finance and its place in the local content landscape. What’s already out there, what’s missing, what can be improved?

Getting to Know the Audience

As we’ll see later in Competitors Analysis, personal finance portals in Malaysia will either target the masses or a more niche investment-oriented audience. For me, I’m always more interested in educating the former. 

So, who are “the masses”? What do they look like, how do they spend, and what are their main concerns?

Household income and expenditure

In 2019, the median monthly household income for Malaysians was RM5,116. Keep in mind that this number varied greatly when zooming in by state with the highest being Putrajaya at RM9,045 and the lowest one being Kelantan at RM3,304.

While household expenditures are also relative to each state, the percentage of spending per household income remained similar across the nation at around 68.7%. The rest of the disposable income was typically used to finance other commitments including loans and credit cards. This does raise a question as to how much money is left for saving after servicing all that commitments if there is any saving at all. 

The purchasing power remained low, with 56.2% of Malaysian households spending less than RM4K a month.

This survey by the Department of Statistics expands more on the spending habits, where you can find interesting tidbits such as how Selangor has the highest household using e-commerce at 27.8%, compared to other states that are only at a single-digit percentage

Savings and retirement

In 2021, it is reported that almost half of EPF contributors have less than RM10K in their account, and more than half of that has less than RM1K. The EPF also estimated that members will need to work between an extra 4-6 years to rebuild the savings that they have utilised during the pandemic. 

Just last month, the prime minister announced another round of EPF withdrawal of RM10K. 

According to a national financial survey in 2020, 53% of respondents could not survive more than three months with their savings.

Debts and bankruptcy

Among bankruptcy cases in Malaysia, personal loans remain the main reason followed by vehicle purchases, property loans, business loans, and credit card debt. As for the age group, Malaysians aged 35-44 years made up the biggest chunk.

Keyword Trends

In Google’s Year in Search 2021, 5 out of 10 top searches have to do with governmental aid and EPF withdrawal. There’s even a ‘Bantuan Kewangan’ category that seems to be unique to last year.

Think With Google expands more on the subject by sharing how Malaysians’ behaviours and attitudes are reflected in keywords trends such as:

  • 100% increase for “shopee pay” and 145% increase for “e-wallet”
  • 150% increase for cryptocurrency-related topics including “bitcoin price” and “dogecoin” 
  • 310% increase for “redeem code” 
  • 225% increase for “pay later”, denoting the “Buy Now, Pay Later” micro-loan schemes

Going beyond money, there has also been an uptick of interest in improving well-being such as a 115% increase for keywords that are related to mental health including “mental health journal”, “self-love”, and “self-improvement”.

Overall, these keyword trends reflected the heightened financial anxiety, the adoption of mobile payment and e-commerce, and the shifting life priorities after the pandemic. 

Competitor Analysis

First, there are the big financial portals such as RinggitPlus and iMoney. Their main business is being a financial comparison website first, and the content comes second as a marketing and SEO device.

Their nature of being product-centric typically bleeds into the content strategy, with topics such as insurance, loans and credit cards.

Here’s how each site handles their approach a little differently:

  • iMoney is a good place to start in understanding how to do content, from the selection of the topics to how comprehensive and well-structured the articles are. 
  • RinggitPlus almost only covers current news such as product launches or promotions, instead of evergreen educational articles. 
  • Loanstreet goes a little further in localising personal finance, with topics that are timely and more relevant to the everyman such as the flood or the rising price of goods. (Disclaimer: I was briefly an editor for Loanstreet many years ago).

Secondly, there are the niche personal finance blogs such as KC Lau and MyPF that typically have a stronger editorial voice and are more opinionated. This, in turn, helps build credibility since some of them provide personal financial planning as a service.

Compared to the previous financial portals that are catering to the masses, these blogs serve a more dedicated audience who are looking for specific advice or answers. As a result, the selection of their topics tends to be more exciting, albeit less accessible.

Lastly, are the short-form personal finance Instagram accounts such as The Simple Sum and Singapore’s The Woke Salaryman. These are my personal favourite due to their selection of topics. Instead of simply being utilitarian about money, they reflect on how it affects our values, relationships, worldview etc (and vice versa).

In the two accounts mentioned above, I also sense a genuine intention to help people achieve financial liberation.

Putting it All Together: Content Gaps and Opportunities

Who speaks to the everyman?

Looking at the target audience and keyword trends, it seems like there is a huge gap to be filled in terms of educating the public. 

While there is a lot of content that offers product-centric solutions, there is only so much to write about insurance and credit cards for the regular, struggling Malaysian citizens. It doesn’t get into the root problem of Malaysians acquiring debts in the first place.

Therefore, beyond the usual money tips and tutorials, it is worth re-examining our relationship with money, to begin with. How much do society and peer pressure influence our financial decisions? How do we align ourselves closer to our values and life priorities? Is there an alternative to the way things have always been done? 

Big props to platforms such as The Simple Sum and The Woke Salaryman who have already established this kind of content strategy. 

Extending content pillars

Recently, the Malaysian Pay Gap account on Instagram has exploded in popularity for breaking the taboo of discussing salary openly. 

This has opened up a new possibility, where we can extend our content pillars to include career and education as well. The discussion shouldn’t only be centred around the wages but should be holistic including the work-life balance, the environment (corporates vs SMEs, agency vs client-side etc), the nature of the role (problem-solving vs creative work), and many more.

Hopefully, with more exposure to all kinds of industries and roles, Malaysians will have more options for jobs that fit them the most according to their personalities, goals, and life circumstances.

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