Something you should know about Southeast Asia’s FinTech industry

Bocconi Students Fintech Society
9 min readJul 23, 2020

The Fintech ecosystem in the Southeast Asia (SEA) region is the most promising and dynamic in the world, covering a wide range of areas such as payments, asset management, crowdfunding and insurance.

This scenario is led by Singapore and followed by Indonesia, the two dominant countries in the region in which are operating about 50% of the fintech firms in the SEA. There is also a consistent portion in the Fintech industry represented by Malaysia, which is the strongest of the nascent markets, followed by Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The proliferation of fintech products is driven by several factors: first of all, the majority of the adult people is unbanked, and this provides an opportunity for the open banking firms to serve Digital Payment and Digital Lending solutions (which are the two largest business in the SEA fintech landscape).

Then, the local governments, recognizing the Fintech’s potentiality, are playing a main role by supporting the industry through regulation plans and incentives for companies.

Last but not least, the internet penetration and the forward-looking technologies employed allow a more rapid diffusion of the digital financial instruments, better personalization of services by exploiting data and a more efficient risk and fraud detection by leveraging AI and machine learning.

The leading role of Singapore

Considering the relatively small size of the domestic market, Singapore fintech industry is rather large compared to its Asian neighbors and the city-state continues to witness developments in the local fintech scene and attract foreign entrepreneurs.

Singapore is considered one of the strongest Fintech hub in the world: according to “The Global Fintech Report 2020” it’s ranked 4th in the world’s Fintech ecosystem, preceded by San Francisco, London and New York. The ranking is based out of many factors such as size of the city’s fintech hub, supporting structures, growth of fintechs in relation to the number of unicorns, events, easiness of doing business in the city and the regulatory environment.

The reason why Singapore is positioning itself as the major industry player in Asia is mainly due to the Southeast Asia’s context (about the 60% of the adults are unbanked), favorable regulations, global alliances and the international network of entrepreneurs that facilitates the overseas growth.

As regards the global alliances the city-state in 2014 signed two cooperation agreements, one with Australia and the other one with the UK, aiming to help the foreign fintech firms to speed up the process of accessing and the expanding in the Asian markets. Thus, Singapore’s fintech industry is rising globally especially since the deal with the UK, considering that London is the second world power in fintech, according to the Global Fintech Index City Rankings 2020.

Moreover, in May 2019 the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Asia-Pacific Future Financial Research Institute (AFF), signed an agreement to promote academic exchanges, information sharing and research cooperation on FinTech in order to encourage greater collaboration between business and communities from Singapore and China.

Focus on regulation

In 2014, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans to make the city-state the world’s first ‘smart Nation’ by 2030, using technology to improve the economy and enhance the standards of living. To start this process, with the help of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (known as “MAS”, the local central bank and financial regulator) was created a ‘smart financial center’ where technology is used to increase efficiency and create opportunities. Since 2014, $168m have been allocated to encourage financial institutions to collaborate with fintech startups.

To give a clear example, “Startupbootcamp fintech Singapore” is Singapore’s fintech accelerator, the world’s leader among all the accelerator focused on financial innovation. It provides funding, mentorship, office space, access to a global network of corporate partners, investors and venture capitalists for up to 12 selected FinTech and InsurTech startups selected across the globe.

Furthermore, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s senior minister and chairman of MAS announced that the regulator will be issuing up to five virtual banking licenses by mid-2020 in order to start a process of banking liberalization ensure that the banking sector continues to be resilient, competitive and vibrant.

MAS has received 21 applications for its digital banking license race and among the contenders, there are Ant Financial (Alibaba’s fintech arm), ByteDance (Tik Tok’s holding) and some consortium such as one between Grab (a Singapore colossus) and Singtel (Asian’s leading communication group based in Singapore). As of now, The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has dropped seven applicants meaning 14 other applicants will move forward to the next phase of its evaluation process, with the winning bidders expected to be unveiled by year-end.

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) set up an Innovation Hub center in Singapore whose aims are “to identify and develop in-depth insights into critical trends in financial technology of relevance to central banks, to explore the development of public goods to enhance the functioning of the global financial system, and to serve as a focal point for a network of central bank experts on innovation.”

The BIS has already established another unit in Switzerland and another one in Hong Kong which has not yet been officially announced. The cooperation between the three centers will deal with topics such as central bank’s digital currencies, global stablecoins, payment innovations, the impact of big tech on financial intermediation, Regtech and Suptech, fast-paced electronic markets, and digitalization of trade finance. According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), this project “reflects Singapore’s position as a leading international fintech center, with an advanced fintech ecosystem.”

Some of the Singapore’s most relevant fintech firms

Grab is a tech startup providing transportation, food delivery, digital payments, and more, across Southeast Asia. It started as a taxi-hailing mobile application in 2012 and then it has slowly expanded its platform services offering private car services (as GrabCar & GrabShare), social carpooling (GrabHitch), motorcycle taxi service (GrabBike), and last-mile delivery (GrabExpress). Its fintech side is called “GrabPay” and it provides a mobile wallet payment solution.

Singlife is a digital life insurer that offers its customers the possibility to manage their money through a connected financial experience that brings together savings, investments and insurance into a mobile app. Singlife has also recently launched the Singlife Visa debit card a service that allows the debit card holders to instantly access their savings, eliminating the need for application forms in order to withdraw cash from their insurance accounts, with no penalty for early withdrawals. The company claims to be the first of its kind in Singapore.

PolicyPal is Asia’s first independent app that uses artificial intelligence to simplify and digitize insurance. Users can manage and optimize policies through the AI chatbot and receive personalized recommendations on insurance policies. The mobile app gives users a convenient digital folder of their policies from different insurers. Users are also able to buy policies through the app. It allows users to speak with ‘Kate’, PolicyPal’s digital insurance manager, to know their protection needs before purchasing coverage.

Silot is a Singapore-based Fintech startup that empowers banks with a fast and scalable AI platform. Silot uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence and knowledge graph technology to work with banks around Southeast Asia, turning them to be smarter and more efficient.

By leveraging machine learning, the aim is to empower banks and their decision-making ability, with the ultimate goal of creating an intelligent banking system.

The Company platform helps to connect the processes of payments, marketing, loan underwriting, KYC, and compliance, turning data into applicable business conclusions and Intelligent decisions through AI.

Indonesia

Indonesia is the second-largest economy in the ASEAN region, with a population of over 264 million people, of which 73% are adults (median age of 29). According to the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance’s report (CCAF), currently in Indonesia only 49% of adults have access to a bank account and 69% of the unbanked population own mobile phones. Furthermore, the internet penetration is getting more and more relevant and there is a limited number of ATM and POS terminals spreaded in the country.

All those factors demonstrate that there is a tremendous opportunity for FinTech firms to disrupt the traditional financial system which turns out to be less flourishing with respect to the other relevant economies.

An important contribution is given by the fintech’s regulations, which in Indonesia has a strong influence especially when looking at digital payments. The main entities in this field are the Indonesia’s Central Bank known as Bank Indonesia (BI) — whose primary function is to regulate payments towards monetary policies arguing that they have a big direct impact on the monetary stability — and the Otoritas Jasa Keuangan (OJK), the financial services authority.

Whereas OJK adopted different strategies in order to issue the digital financial innovations, performing the function of the supervisory arm of the government regulating several sectors such as P2P Lending, Crowdfunding, Digital Banking, Insurtech, Fintech in Capital Markets, Online Financing, data security and consumer protection.

Initiatives to prop up the fintech sector in Indonesia by the regulators include the setting up of the Fintech Office, the launch of the National Payment Gateway, the establishment of the Fintech Regulatory Sandbox and regulation for Peer 2 Peer lending services.

Indonesian fintech firms

GoJek is an on-demand multi-service platform and digital payment technology group

with more than 20 services including payment services such as Gopay (a digital wallet service), Gobills, and Paylater (a service that allows you to pat at the end of the month), transports and logistic services such as Gocar, and other utilities like Gofood, Goclean and Goplay. It operates in Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and Philippines. Gojek is the first Indonesian unicorn company

Cashlez is a financial technology company that provides solutions from merchants and offers more value so that business owners can manage and grow their business by using, for instance an mPOS (mobile point of sale) system created by the company.

Malaysia

Malaysia is considered to be a key player in the current fintech revolution in the ASEAN region. This is mainly due to its growing middle class, its high mobile phone penetration rates, and strong government support in the digital economy. Malaysia’s fintech companies are taking advantage of fintech innovation embracing the technology by providing mobile wallets and electronic payments services, crowdfunding platforms and Insurtech.

According to the IMF analysis, internet banking in Malaysia has quadrupled in the last decade, topping a 90 percent usage rate in 2018. Mobile banking is also booming, supported by near-universal 4G network coverage, affordable data, and 5G is in the works.

Focusing on regulation, there are two main regulatory authorities in Malaysia: Central Bank, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), which regulates the country’s financial institutions, credit system and monetary policy and the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC), the capital market regulator

As regarding the BNM, it has recently issued a regulatory sandbox discussion paper in order to encourage innovation in financial services by allowing regulated financial institutions and startups to experiment with fintech solutions in a production or live environment subject to appropriate safeguards and regulatory requirements.

Malaysian Fintech companies

CoinGecko is among the largest crypto data aggregator in the world, tracking nearly 3,300 tokens from more than 260 cryptocurrency exchanges. It provides a fundamental analysis of the crypto market and in addition to tracking price, volume and market capitalization, CoinGecko tracks community growth, open-source code development, major events and on-chain metrics.

BigPay is a company under the Air Asia group, and they describe themselves as an alternative to banking e-wallet, by building a neo-bank module. BigPay comes with a well-designed budget management function and pre-paid Mastercard which you can load and use in any merchants around the world that accepts Mastercard.

Author:

Sources:
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Bocconi Students Fintech Society

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