Asia Weekend read

Fintechs Expanding Across South-East Asia in 2021  

It’s no secret that Asia is one of the prime fintech hotspots of the world. Currently leading the fintech agenda, innovation and opportunities within the region are pushed at a rapid pace, keeping Asia ahead of the curve.

Company announcements

Stripe, a US-based digital payments company recently announced their plans to take a firmer hold in the Asian market. After having opened a regional headquarters in Singapore in 2016 and launching an interbank transfers pilot programme in Indonesia at the beginning of 2020, the company is planning to expand its presence in the region, particularly Japan, India and China, after telling Reuters it had boosted its staff in the region by 40% to over 200 people -and are still hiring.

The Asia-Pacific region is a particular hub for the digital payments sector, helped by the pandemic, making it ideal and enticing for Stripe to move into. Regulators have also recently looked to standardise digital payments infrastructure and regulation to foster new growth and innovation. There is also a substantial e-commerce offering in the region, perfectly suited for Stripes payment capabilities.

Even UK based digital bank Revolut is tapping into Asia, setting its sights on doing more in the region after launching in Singapore in 2019 as their first official entry in the continent. After a long but clearly successful beta period the company went live with 30,000 new members, a number which has surely grown and contributed to Revolut’s over 12 million customers worldwide, with plans to grow that to 100 million over the next 5 years.

“The country is a natural hub for our expansion efforts. In Singapore, our revenue is back to pre-Covid levels and we are seeing very encouraging signup numbers,” said James Shanahan, CEO, Revolut Singapore in an interview with finews.asia.

The company are keeping up their momentum there by announcing the launch of new features, creating a web app for customers to access their accounts without phones, as well as looking to launch Revolut Business in the country at the beginning of 2021.

Further expansion for Revolut and YouTrip

Singapore isn’t their only Asian effort, as the fintech Unicorn announced its launch in Japan back in September 2020, offering their new Japanese customers their products and services, including premium plans, but are still working on expanding other offerings such as cryptocurrency and stock trading. Working to “tear down financial borders,” Revolut users in Japan will also be able to send instantly send money to other Revolut customers for free globally.

“When spending or transferring money overseas, most people are unaware of the hidden fees that banks are charging them,” said Nikolay Storonsky, CEO and Founder of Revolut. “According to a report from the World Bank, international remittance fees in Japan are 2 times higher than in the US. The world is becoming more connected and financial services should be supporting this, not hindering it.”

Not only are European Fintechs looking to expand into Asia, but even homegrown fintechs are attempting to conquer the rest of the continent. YouTrip, a multi-currency mobile wallet based in Singapore, recently announced a six-year partnership with Visa in order to accelerate expansion into South-east Asia, particularly Malaysia and the Philippines.

“Leveraging Visa’s global network of 70 million merchant locations worldwide, YouTrip aims to enable South-east Asia travellers with access to cross-border payment solutions such as wholesale exchange rates and no foreign currency transaction fees in over 150 currencies,” YouTrip and Visa said.

“Together, we look forward to bringing faster, safer and more convenient digital payments to people across the region,” added Matt Wood, head of digital partnerships for the Asia-Pacific at Visa.

Regulations to consider

However, despite the great boom in Asian expansion, and the many reasons why the continent is rife with opportunity, there are also certain considerations that these fintechs need to consider, mainly the different regulatory landscape that they will have to deal with.

“Going into Asia…It’s like building an entire second company. It’s a different thing to expanding. It’s like you’re building all over again,” said Yann Ranchere, a partner at early-stage venture capital fund Anthemis, to Sifted.

“Culturally it’s also very different if it’s India or Singapore or Vietnam…Those markets are mature and not mature at the same time.”

The recent crackdown of The Ant Group has also been all over the news, with China looking to tighten regulation in the financial sector and ordering a shake-up and scale back of the fintech giants operations, creating concerns over the future of fintech there.

However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, with Robert Ang, General Manager, Asia Pacific at Unlimint believing that the recent move by Chinese regulators to curb the growing monopolies of Ant Group, and other tech giants in the country, will create new opportunities for international brands selling into the market. 

“While it remains to be seen exactly what the final regulations will be after the consultation stage, the expected measures promise to spur innovation and bring greater competition into e-commerce, payments and across wider financial services.

“I look forward to the introduction of a new clear regulatory framework, as I believe the increased competition and innovation will, ultimately, benefit the consumer most of all, and help to drive new and more diverse business opportunities in the long-term.” 

Continued innovation

The fast acceptance of blockchain and digital currencies throughout South-East Asia is now powering adoption throughout the hospitality and leisure industry. Now SolidBlock, a smart contract development and management platform for transforming real estate into digital shares that can be traded, is working with Blue Horizon to tokenise The Beachfront hotel in Phuket, managed under the Best Western Plus brand.

 The partnership between SolidBlock – a portfolio company of BuiltUp Ventures, a PropTech venture capital firm investing in some of Israel’s most innovative startups – and Blue Horizon Developments, marks the first real estate securities token offering (STO) and the first real estate project to raise money on the blockchain in Thailand.

 “As Thailand continues to recover from COVID-19, we believe the country’s tourism industry will come back stronger than ever,” said Yael Tamar, co-founder of SolidBlock. “By tokenizing the expansion of The Beachfront, we are helping to ensure the hotel can meet this anticipated demand.”

 Located on Rawai Beach along Phuket’s tranquil southeast coast, The Beachfront hotel offers guests a private beach and is just a few minutes from the famed Nai Harn Beach, as well as the nearby Promthep Cape and its breathtaking sunset viewpoint.

“Phuket is one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, normally attracting more than 9 million visitors per year,” noted Andres Pira, CEO & Founder of Blue Horizon Developments. “Despite the near-term effects of COVID-19, the island will emerge much stronger than it was before the pandemic.”

 The Beachfront currently has 190 rooms and suites, with 96 additional units planned for the expansion.

Why is South-East Asia so attractive to fintechs?

Even despite the challenges of 2020 and the global Covid-19 pandemic, the fintech industry has boomed globally, with the Asian scene being no different. Due to an uptake in the use of digital services, such as digital banking, e-commerce and online payments, caused by covid-19 lockdowns and the need to stay home, around 40 million people came online for the first time in 2020 in 6 countries across Asia.  according to a report from Google, Temasek Holdings and Bain & Company. The total number of internet users in South-East Asia Increased to 400 million, nearly 70% of the population. Not only did it prompt new consumers, but the pandemic also presented new opportunities for fintechs to take advantage of, again in the use of digital services and solutions. And this “New Normal” of digitalisation won’t be going away any time soon. 22 million people in South Asia alone become of “mobile age” every year, Asia is continuously seeing a huge development in the digitisation of financial services products and services.

Asia also offers a wide variety of inhabitants, and despite the great technological advancement of the region many of its citizens remain unbanked, underbanked or underserved – offering a competitive landscape with problems for fintechs to solve.

Not only that but as Asia contains China and India, the most populous countries in the world by a wide margin, it makes sense that the continent’s fintech is booming due to a large and ever-growing base of consumers ready to adopt new tech.

Author

  • Polly is a journalist, content creator and general opinion holder from North Wales. She has written for a number of publications, usually hovering around the topics of fintech, tech, lifestyle and body positivity.

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