Spotlight Asia
Asia Fintech Spotlight

Guide to Asia-Pacific Fintech Hotspots; Covering Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Bangalore and Mumbai

The Asia-Pacific region is a fintech powerhouse, blending established fintechs hotspots like Hong Kong and Singapore with newer fintech challenger hubs like Melbourne and cities in Indonesia and other parts of South-East Asia.

An illustration of its power is that Asia-Pacific has more fintechs (42) than the UK and EMEA (36) and the Americas (22) registered in KPMG’s reputable Fintech 100 which analyses fintechs globally.

The top five fintechs, according to the accountancy firm, all hail from the region: with payments giant Ant Group (China); ride-hailing company Grab (Singapore); financial services company JD Digits (China); delivery service GoJek (Indonesia) and payments platform Paytm (India).

China, which is home to a rising number of wealth and insurance fintechs, is on the march to build fintech hubs nationwide, with a focus on blockchain and digital currencies.

Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are those earmarked as Chinese fintech hubs according to a report from the 2020 China Financial Technology Forum.

Elsewhere across Asia-Pacific, India is an increasingly important fintech hotbed, with over 2,000 new startups numbered in 2019, compared to just over 700 in 2014, according to a key fintech report on India.

In Australia, Sydney is now a firmly established fintech hotspot while emerging markets in South-East Asia such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand are attracting an increasing number of startups.

Here The Fintech Times takes a look at some of the fintech hotspots across the region.

Singapore

Heralded as Asia’s tech capital, Singapore has around 500 fintech startups, headed up by a strong presence across payments and the peer-to-peer lending sectors. 

Leading fintechs in Singapore include BetterTradeOff (which uses AI to offer life planning advice); Singapore Life/Singlife (insurtech), Capital Match (peer-to-peer lender) and Toast (online remittances).

Singapore also boasts a bustling crypto industry. Cryptocurrency Litecoin was founded in Singapore while TenX (crypto wallet service), Everex (blockchain-powered cooperative banking for international traders) and Coinhako (crypto wallet service) are among the leading entities based in Singapore.

An important part of Singapore’s fintech drive has been backing from Singapore’s central bank from the get-go.

Recently, Singapore shook up its banking industry by allocating its first virtual banking licences, with ride-hailing firm Grab and China’s tech giant Ant Group among the winners.

While digital currencies are seen with scepticism across many Asian countries, Singapore has created a regulatory framework for crypto services.

Startups can be aided by Singapore’s Sandbox scheme (a seal of approval from the authorities), which helps them develop innovative offerings by relaxing rules. 

Startup Propine, for example, was granted the first licence to provide digital asset custody services in 2019.

There are at least six different colleges across Singapore that teach students fintech fundamentals. 

One of these, the Institute of Blockchain, allows tuition fees to be paid using the cryptocurrency Ether. A key event, meanwhile, is the Singapore Fintech Festival.

Singapore case studies: Validus and Coinhako

Both Validus, the peer-to-peer lender, and Coinhako, benefit from Singapore’s regulatory policies, robust infrastructure and connections to the Southeast Asian market, say company heads.

Coinhako CEO Yusho Liu emphasises the importance of government support – like the recent Job Support Scheme – in scaling the startup. “We have doubled the size of our team since the start of 2020,” he says.

Ajit Raikar, executive chairman of Validus, says it has “benefited greatly from being an active member of the Singapore Fintech Association as well as from our VC partners such as Vertex Ventures and Openspace, who are in the vicinity and often host networking events.”

On its office space in Hong Kong, Raikar adds that “there is high demand for office space in the CBD area pre-Covid, and we were fortunate to secure a very cost-effective space for our startup.”

Hong Kong

A rival to Singapore, Hong Kong has over 600 fintechs and its government is on a quest to grow its status as a fintech powerhouse.

Fintech firms in Hong Kong have hoovered up over $1bn in investments between 2014 and 2018, industry figures show.

Hong Kong has been dubbed the “wealth management centre of Asia” and boasts several robo-advisors, including Quantifeed and Aqumon.

Hong Kong-based virtual insurance platforms Bowtie and OneDegree have garnered much attention while Hong Kong-based unicorns include crypto exchange BitMEX and alternative finance provider WeLab.

The Hong Kong government is on a drive to propel the industry to greater heights through aiding talent, funding and helpful regulation.

Last year, Hong Kong’s Monetary Authority issued eight banking licences to fintechs including Standard Chartered-backed Mox and Livi, the virtual bank co-owned by the Bank of China.

Government support has also been important during coronavirus, with one example being the FAST Scheme, which earmarked HK$120m to create a thousand fintech jobs.

King Leung, the head of Hong Kong’s government agency focused on attracting foreign investment, says wealthtech is the first phase of Hong Kong’s fintech evolution. 

Phase two, he says, will see the rise of insurtech, regtech, and enterprise companies.

Hong Kong Fintech Week is a landmark event while the University of Hong Kong offers qualifications in fintech.

Hong Kong case study: OneDegree

Alvin Kwock, co-founder of OneDegree, an insurtech company, said there are several benefits for OneDegree to be based in his home city of Hong Kong. 

These include its reputation as an “international financial hub” and the government’s aim of promoting fintech and attracting “top-notch” talent.

OneDegree became a licenced insurer in Hong Kong this year, after taking part in Hong Kong’s Insurance Authority Fast Track scheme, which permitted firms using digital channels to enter the insurance market.

Kwock says OneDegree works with traditional insurance firms, helping them digitize their operations.

OneDegree’s Hong Kong office is based in the emerging business district of  East Kowloon in Hong Kong, where office space is “relatively affordable”.

On the downsides to its location, Kwock said: “Eight virtual banks and four virtual insurers have been set up in Hong Kong in two years. Regrettably, there are not enough trained professionals with the skill and proficiency needed to meet the demand.

“So there is a need to find talents from global markets, and to set up other fintech hubs to aid the development.”

Sydney

Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, is home to around 60 per cent of the country’s fintechs. 

Some say Sydney’s fintech scene is stronger than Hong Kong and is challenging Singapore. 

Volt, Xinja and 86 400 are among the neobanks based in Sydney while other notable fintechs include lenders Prospa, Valiant Finance, and Society One.

“Neobanks have been resurging over the past few years,” said Alex Scandurra, CEO, Stone & Chalk, the Sydney-based not-for-profit fintech innovation hub, which has helped fintechs flourish.

US digital wealth company Acorns and US lending startup OnDeck both have key offices in Sydney, indicating its importance. 

Sydney has been aided by recruitment from the University of Technology Sydney – which offers a Fintech in Banking course – and the University of Sydney.

Fintech events in Sydney include Fintech Sydney while the city also hosts the Tyro Fintech hub, a dedicated space for fintech entrepreneurs.

Melbourne is also seen as a rising star of Australia’s fintech scene.

Sydney case study: 86 400

The neobank specifically decided on using Sydney as a hub when starting their business. A spokesperson said, “Gone are the days of banks needing to take high-street real estate to position themselves in close proximity to their customers. As a bank designed for smartphones, we provide full banking services right in our customers’ palm and are with them every second of every day – all eighty-six four hundred of them.”

The bank has recently outgrown its office space and relocated within the city to further grow, the spokesperson added, “We had an abundance of choice, but our decision came down to four main factors: central location, existing fit-out that matched our company culture, loads of collaboration space and a cost that aligns with our stage of growth. Sydney benefits from a vibrant and collaborative startup ecosystem both within the banking and finance sector and complimentary industries which we are big supporters of. While the challenges of 2020 have meant some of the collaboration events have been deferred, we’re excited to kick things off again in the new year to continue building a smarter banking alternative for our customers.

“As Australia’s Global City, Sydney offers us the right mix of opportunities both domestically and internationally to continue developing and growing our business, with the express purpose to help every Australian take control of their money.”

Bangalore

Known as the Silicon Valley of Asia, Bangalore is home to thousands of fintech startups.

“Bangalore is a melting pot for tech entrepreneurs and the rise in fintech will change the way people use money – more so in the next decade,” Abhishek Pasari, partner at fashion company AVP Industries, said. 

“The tech sector, in general, has a vibrant startup brigade that’s not afraid of taking risks and trying ideas that have a huge impact.” 

Prominent fintech in Bangalore includes the lender Capital Float, Ezetap, the digital payment company, and Jana Small Finance Bank.

The success of unicorns like the e-commerce platform Flipkart and Swiggy, the online food company, have also added lustre to Bangalore, which is also known for its edtech scene. 

Bangalore’s success has led to significant overseas investment, most noticeably from SoftBank which has invested billions through its Vision Fund into the Indian tech scheme, with a focus on Bangalore. 

Corporate giants Microsoft and Tata have put their names to the city’s thriving incubator and accelerator scene and the plentiful co-working spaces in the city has helped its fintech industry grow.

Bangalore case study: Digit Insurance

A spokesperson for Digit Insurance, which aims to make insurance simpler, said the Koramangala area of Bangalore has a “very urban culture” and is “fast-moving which has helped us draw young and talented resources”.

On its office space, the spokesperson said it is “exciting, fun and collaborative.” They added: “We have open seating so that everyone is accessible to one another and also has a positive vibe.”

Digit Insurance has also benefited from existing fintech infrastructure in its area, which has helped it in “functioning smoothly and increasing our base.”

On possible downsides to its office location, the spokesperson said “ no, currently we are happy here and there is no plan of relocation.”

Mumbai

Like Bangalore, Mumbai has thousands of startups spread across healthtech, edtech, e-commerce and enterprise services.

Its strengths run across alternative lending, B2B fintech, digital payments, insurance and wealth management.

Leading fintechs in Mumbai include the unicorns BillDesk (digital payments) and YONO (digital payments) while other prominent fintechs include Freecharge (digital marketplace), Mswipe (point-of-sale merchant) and Neogrowth (SME business loans provider).

Mumbai’s fintech growth has been helped by it being located in Maharashtra, which became the first Indian state to establish its own fintech policy in 2018, which has helped fintechs with capital, market access and skills. 

The aim is to propel Mumbai into a global fintech hub. 

In 2018, for example, eight startups from the Mumbai Fintech Hub showcased their offerings at the Singapore Fintech Festival.

One challenge fintechs based in Mumbai face is that real estate prices are steep compared to the other cities in India, and some move out of Mumbai to help sustain their growth.

Additional reporting by Benedict Smith.

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