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Fast Cash: 8 Ways Malaysians Are Getting Alternative Financing

When the pandemic hit, many households in Malaysia faced a rude awakening about their financial state. Even prior to the pandemic, many low-income families and some middle-income families were already struggling to survive with growing inflation rates and increasing cost of living. Having just a nine to five job is not enough – especially for single-earner households[1]

The pandemic revealed and introduced new ways to gain additional income. We have highlighted eight different ways Malaysians are getting money through alternative financing methods. 

#1: Dipping Into Retirement Funds 

During the lockdown, the government’s initial decision to withdraw through the I-Citra scheme provided a lifeline to struggling families such as Ishak, a single parent to four children. 

As a taxi driver, I have not contributed to EPF for the past 15 years. The last time was when I worked at a factory before I got married. However, when the government introduced the i-Citra initiative last year, I withdrew from EPF twice, RM10,000 first and then RM5,000. – Ishak, a taxi driver and a single parent[2]

Following the initial initiative, the government has offered two more withdrawals (i-Lestari, i-Sinar) during the lockdowns due to the demands of different parties. These withdrawals have resulted in a total of RM101 billion being distributed to at least half of EPF members (over 7.4 million members) between April 2020 and February 2022[3]

In the light of the flash flooding that has only placed households into more financial hardships and many continue grappling to make ends meet, a special withdrawal was announced in March 2022. Experts voiced their concerns that many would have to work well into retirement[4], but for low-income households – it will relieve their financial burdens. 

Now, I can buy stuff for my house and repair my car that was underwater in the floods in Betong. – Azuan Embong, recent flood victim[5]

The cycles of ad hoc early withdrawal of the Employee Provident Fund (EPF), a savings fund dedicated to retirement, received criticisms and worries from financial experts and economists alike. 

#2: Swimming With The Loan Sharks

Based on the World Bank 2021 report[6], the informal workers have been excluded from formal entitlements such as EPF withdrawal schemes and have turned to alternative financing methods. At the same time, many have limited access to loans from financial institutions, leading to a slightly higher reliance on informal borrowing in the earlier part of the pandemic. 

This includes borrowing money from friends and families but also soliciting loans from Ah Long or loan sharks. The Muslim Consumer Association Malaysia stated that they have seen a 30% increase in cases of loan shark victims asking for help with at least 25 new cases each day during the early days of the pandemic[7].

From 2019 to October 2021, 3,149 complaints regarding loan sharks were recorded by Polis Diraja Malaysia[8]

The dire financial situation coupled with retrenchment propelled Aliff from Kuala Lumpur to borrow from a loan shark, but it didn’t end well[8]. Aliff is being threatened and continuously terrorised by the loan sharks demanding payments with exorbitant interest rates. 

I just borrowed RM300. My dad asked for my help, but I wasn’t working at the time because of the Covid-19 lockdown. My friends suggested this phone app through which I could submit a loan application. I had to give a copy of my identification card and a video of me saying I borrowed money through the app. That’s all. I got the money immediately. – Aliff, borrowed from Ah Long out of desperation[8]

During the pandemic,  business owners also relied on the assistance of loan sharks to stay afloat. 

Business owners who borrow up to hundreds of thousands of ringgit and end up paying exorbitant interest rates until they cannot pay anymore will have to give up their house, car and everything they own. – Datuk Nadzim Johan, Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) lead activist[9]

#3: Trading Jewellery For Cash 

Pawnshops provide financial services to populations living in the outskirts or rural areas. Often the main customers of these establishments are from low-income households that have been investing their savings in gold, jewellery and precious stones. At times of financial hardships, it is the quickest way to earn cash by trading gold for money.

During the initial lockdown, pawnshop owners have commented that their customers have reached out and requested for shops to open, pointing to the desperation of the low-income household to survive. 

During the MCO period, many customers called and asked me to reopen my shop. They urgently need cash to survive. – Freeman Tan, a pawnshop owner in Petaling Jaya[10]

Source: Yahoo News

True enough, when restrictions were lifted, there was a long queue in front of pawnshops.

Pawnshops see a surge of customers for different transactions. Some either renew their tickets or claim their valuables. But many have brought in their gold for pawning.

We had 140 customers today, most of them pawned their gold for cash. They had run out of money during the MCO and didn’t have any food at all. Mr David Yew, manager of a pawnshop in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Kepong[11]

One of the households who opted to pawn his wife’s jewellery hinted that the pawnshop is one of their last resorts.  

If PKPB is not implemented and the pawnshop is still closed, maybe I will have to borrow money from relatives. Although it may not be possible to return to our hometown, my wife and I want to go through preparations for Raya such as buying new clothes for our children to make them happy. – Mahmud, 44, plumber[12]

#4: Selling Pre-loved Items

Malaysians spend more time at home during the lockdowns, it gave way to spring cleaning and living more minimally. This in particular has accelerated the growth of the resale marketplace, also known as recommerce. 

The supply and demand went up because a lot of people have more time at home, so they used recommerce like Carousell to compare prices and see the value that they can get.  Also, many people started to do a spring cleaning or look in their closets and see what they can sell for an additional source of income. – Tang Siew Wai, Carousell Country Head for Malaysia[13]

Carousell found that home-related items, furniture and appliances are among the top-selling on their platform. 

Categories that saw increased activity for the various Movement Control Orders included electronics such as computers and furniture for online schooling and work-from-home practices. – Tang Siew Wai, Carousell Country Head for Malaysia[14]

During the MCO period, Malaysians made an average of RM1,396 selling on the platform with more than 690,000 transactions for second-hand items[15]

The recommerce market such as Carousell and will only grow in the future as consumers search for items for the value of money and spend less on the desired items. 

For buyers, they will buy second-hand items due to the value of money and some want to save money by buying brand new items at the retailers as they are not sure about it. – Tang Siew Wai, Carousell Country Head for Malaysia[14]

#5: Launching E-Commerce Ventures

Another industry that sees a massive boom during the pandemic is the e-commerce market. Lazada Malaysia sees growth of 120,000 new retailers from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) getting on board in the past two years[16]

According to Shopee, another popular eCommerce platform, in 2021, 35.4% of their sellers are full-employed and run businesses as a second-and-third income source[17]. The beauty of relying on e-commerce is the work hours flexibility that allows many to run their businesses. 

Of the 11,850 sellers surveyed, 5,406 are new entrepreneurs enabled by e-commerce, who cited that their businesses are operated 100% online. Of these, 72% are women entrepreneurs and were able to generate RM3,950 on average monthly. – Ian Ho, Shopee Regional Managing Director[18]

The e-commerce platform has also identified sellers that are able to grow their businesses exponentially. 80 local sellers who joined Shopee in 2021, have achieved more than RM1 million in sales[19]. Among the 80 sellers is Liow Chee Kah, from Bera, Pahang. 


Liow works in a factory that produces furniture in Pahang and when the business was affected during the pandemic, he and his wife turned out to establish an online business to support their household income. Within 7 months of running their Woohuu Store, the husband and wife reached the RM1 million mark[19].

Alternatively, Malaysian housewives stepped into the world of business by becoming drop shipper. Fatimah Zaharah Mohd Zahib, a housewife from Terengganu took her chances and became a drop shipper with a brand, Nurraysa to help her husband[20]. That sets a transformation in her household income. 

August last year during the COVID-19 pandemic era, I managed to reach RM1 million in a month. I recorded a total sales of RM7.4 million in 2021. – Fatimah Zaharah Mohd Zahib[20]

#6: Influencing The Public With Your Persona And Pizzazz

Instagram is arguably the most common social media platform of choice in Malaysia with 11,488,00 Instagram users to date[21]. With newer social media platforms, the number of active social media users on platforms such as YouTube and Tik Tok is on the rise recording over 4 million users in Malaysia. 

As more and more Malaysians divert to social media for their news and entertainment –  marketing strategies have also diversified to approach different target markets. One of the shifts includes the utilisation of social media influencers or digital content creators to make money. 

In 2018, the influencer market size was valued at between RM280.46 million and RM560.91 million in the country[22]. The income of an influencer is nothing to scoff at as their average income varies according to their tier. 

For starters, a nano influencer with 1000 followers may earn between RM100 to RM300 per post whilst a mega influencer with over 1 million followers would earn up to RM6000 per post[23]

Our estimate is that an influencer’s average income – which includes all types of product sponsorship, cash rewards, vouchers and such – ranges between RM39,400 to RM78,700 per year. – Terrence Ngu, StarNgage chief community officer[22]

tiktok youth initiative
Source: AFP picture, retrieved from Malay Mail

Some social media influencers have made a name in the sphere and with their income have provided a better life for their families. For example, Ernaliyana Ali, a youth who started doing paid reviews when she was 15 years old and has since grown a strong following.

I don’t come from a high-income household.  My mother passed away, while my father is old and no longer working. So I use my monthly income to help my family. – Ernaliyana Ali, a social media influencer[24]

Another success story is Zukie from Kelantan, whose life transformed after posting a humorous video online. From earning RM800 per month as a zookeeper, Zukie now owns a production house and bought his Mazda RX8 in cash[25].

Through my own production house, Kasi Bikin Drama Sdn Bhd, I am earning revenue by making short funny videos. The income from being a social media celebrity is quite good. I can help my mother and siblings every month. – Zukie[25]

#7: Artist Entering Into The Lucrative World Of NFT

The presence of NFT or non-fungible tokens in Malaysia has received divided opinion however, for now, it is here to stay. 

From September 2021 to January 2022, more than 60,000 NFTs have been minted and we are approaching a total sales volume of six million. – Irsyad Saidin, CEO and co-founder of local NFT platform[26]

One of the sectors that remains untapped in Malaysia is the creative sector. Artists have often found it hard to get the necessary market exposure and income to sustain themselves. With the cancellation of arts festivals and closure of art galleries, the source of income for artists, the artist communities have to break out of their comfort zone to survive.  

Faizal, a special needs artist in the past, has relied on conventional ways such as providing links for interested buyers to download illustrations. However, the income has been unpredictable[27].

Out of desperation to travel to Penang to meet his father and with the encouragement of his friend, Faizal started uploading his art pieces on the NFT platform,  So far, he has managed to sell 9 out of 36 art pieces priced between 0.07 and 3.0 Binance. NFT utilises the Binance or BNB as a currency where 1 BNB is roughly equivalent to RM2,000 depending on the current value[27]

The growth of the NFT scene has changed the way artists in Malaysia traditionally make a living – from commissioned artworks – offering “newfound confidence as well as a source of income that doesn’t rely on client’s requests, but rather on what artists want to personally achieve creatively. – Munira Hamzah (Moon) of Malaysia NFT[28]

#8: Food delivery riders

A job that started on a part-time basis has grown exponentially over the years. To those who have been retrenched during the pandemic, it tides them over. With the growing number of food delivery services, delivery riders on the road have only increased.

Foodpanda rider base has increased from 13,000 at the start of 2020 to over 35,000 at the end of 2020 – a 169% increase. – Sayantan Das, foodpanda Malaysia managing director[29]

A GrabFood rider, Muhammad Fakhrullah Harizz Masnawi, 26 was working as a CAD designer in an oil and gas company. He worked as a rider on a part-time basis, however, his work contract ended when the first MCO started[30].

Source:Malay Mail

After my employment contract was not extended when PKP was implemented, I decided to continue working as a full-time Grab delivery partner so that I can still generate income during this difficult period. – Muhammad Fakhrullah Harizz Masnawi, a GrabFood rider[30]

With the income, he managed to stay afloat during the tough times. 

My average monthly income can reach between RM3,000 to RM4,000. In fact, the highest I have earned was RM6,000 to RM7,000 before MCO was implemented in March 2020. – Muhammad Fakhrullah Harizz Masnawi, a GrabFood rider[30]

Explore our sources: 

  1. World Bank. (2020). Aspirations Unfulfilled: Malaysia’s Cost of Living Challenges. Link
  2. The Star. (2021). Many struggling to survive even after dipping into EPF savings. Link
  3. C.Yeap. (2022).The bad and ugly side of allowing more EPF Account 1 withdrawals. The Edge Markets. Link
  4. A.Yunos. (2022). More EPF withdrawals? You’ll probably work till the day you die, expert says. New Straits Times. Link
  5. I.M.Iskandar. (2022).Mixed feelings over approval for EPF withdrawal. The Star. Link
  6. World Bank Group. (2021). Malaysia Economic Monitor: Staying Afloat. Link
  7. D.Grunebaum. (2021). Pandemic Gives Loan Sharks More Prey. Link
  8. Z.Mohd Yusof. (2022). Ah Long victim in fear as RM300 loan swells to RM45,000. Free Malaysia Today. Link
  9. The Star. (2020). More expected to borrow from loan sharks. Link
  10. Y.W.Xiang. (2020). We Talk To Pawn Shop Operators To Find Out The Truth Behind Viral Photos Of Long Queues. Link
  11. H.Hassan. (2020). Coronavirus: Rush on pawnshops as cash-strapped Malaysians hock valuables. The Straits Times. Link
  12. BERNAMA. (2020). Ramai ke pajak gadai selesaikan urusan tertangguh – MPBA.Link
  13. A.Hazim. (2021). Pandemic accelerates resale marketplace growth. The Malaysian Reserve.Link
  14. A.Hazim. (2021). Electronics tops second-hand purchases during pandemic. The Malaysian Reserve. Link 
  15. Business Today. (2021). The Carousell Recommerce Index 2021 And Environment-Friendly Purchases. Link
  16. J.Y.Tan. (2020).In the pandemic, Carousell Malaysia evolved to become an e-commerce platform for the people. Digital News Asia. Link
  17. Z.Saieed.(2021).Big jump in retailers heading onto e-commerce. The Star. Link
  18. L.Nathan. (2021). The boom of e-commerce in Covid-19 era. The Malaysian Reserve. Link 
  19. Malaysiakini. (2021). Shopee saw its sellers more than double this year as more Malaysians venture onto e-commerce. Link
  20. Berita Harian. (2022). Nurraysa sedia peluang jana pendapatan. Link
  21. N.Dahodwala. (2021). Malaysia’s Changing Influencer Culture In Malaysia. Link
  22. N.H.Abdul Malek. (2018).Rise of social media influencer. The Malaysian Reserve. Link
  23. N.Aziz. (2019). Social Media Influencers Earn RM5k – RM6k per Post. Confirm Ah? Loanstreet.Link
  24. S.Z.Sahib. (2018). Jana pendapatan sebagai Instafamous. Harian Metro. Link
  25. Z.Mustafa. (2018). Becoming social media influencers. New Straits Times. Link
  26. A.Azuar. (2022). Malaysian art market continues focus on NFTs. The Malaysian Reserve. Link
  27. A.M.Zulkifli. (2022).Behind the NFT craze. MalaysiaNow. Link
  28. M.Ferrarese. (2021). Malaysian artists earn freedom to be creative with NFTs. Al Jazeera News. Link
  29. A.S.Aman. (2021). Foodpanda to help Malaysians who lost full-time jobs. New Straits Times. Link
  30. MStar.(2021).Cerita rakan Grab musim pandemik… kena rajin kerja, baru boleh buat duit.Link

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