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Review: Singapore Fintech Festival 24-Hour Virtual Event Monday 7 December

The Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) is the world’s largest and most inclusive fintech festival that brings together heads of state, financial and technology leaders, fintech founders, policy makers, investors and multilateral agencies. This year the festival will be running on 7-11 December with a unique hybrid format, combining a 24-hour online event with 30 hyper-local physical events in fintech hubs around the world

Day one of the Festival, featuring the Economic Summit, kicked off with a bang with an opening address from Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for economic Policies and Minister for Finance; a session with astronaut Dan Tani and panels on how the financial services sector will respond in 2021, running over various episodes.

How will the financial services sector respond in 2021?

This session was one in a series exploring the challenges faced by the financial services industry in 2020 and what the 2021 focus should be for the sector. Looking in-depth on the importance of bringing the underserved into the traditional financial system, they also discussed the tech industries evolving role in financial services.

The panel was made up of; Su Shan Tan, Group Head of Institutional Banking, DBS; David Marcus, Head of F2 (Facebook Financial), Facebook; Roman Regelman, CEO of Asset Servicing and Head of Digital, Senior Executive Vice President, BNY Mellon; and was moderated by Rebecca Martin, Senior Executive, Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The session kicked off with each of the speakers advising what they thought the main trend in the financial sector was this year. For Su Shan Tan, it was the “massive speed and acceleration of digital adoption by everybody – everybody pivoted because they had to. It was the speed of the pivot, the speed of acceleration and how everyone came together.”

Regelman agreed with this sentiment, advising that financial services were embracing digital a lot more “partly out of opportunity and partly out of necessity,” and that the “financial system proved to be pretty sound despite the situation that we all live in.”

Following on the idea of trends, the panel also looked at what will be the biggest gamechanger for financial services in 2021. In Marcus’ opinion, the year will see an explosion of innovation in blockchain, decentralised finance and programmable money. He said, “While 2021 is not going to be the year that you’re going to see the full impact of these technologies coming together to serve more people and small businesses, it’s going to be absolutely undoubtedly a foundational year for the space that will take us to amazing places.

“I’m actually really, really excited for 2021, and I’m even more excited for 2022 when I think those things will actually scale.”

Whatever is the case, the panellists were certainly optimistic for a bright future, and one where hopefully they will be able to visit the Singapore Fintech Festival in person.

A reset for 2021: trade-offs & strategic decisions for the leading fintechs 

This session was based all around digital banking, focusing on three main topics: the strategy and landscape of digital banking, the products that digital banks are building and how they engineer them, and lastly people and partnerships. The panellists answered a series of quickfire questions from social media and conference attendees.

This discussion was moderated by Aman Narain, Global New Payments Ecosystems Lead, Google, and was attended by Simon Loong, Founder and Group Chief Executive Officer, WeLab; Cristina Alba Ochoa, Chief Financial Officer, OakNorth; Samir Subberwal, Regional Head, Retail Banking, Greater China and North Asia, Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong); and TS Anil, Group Chief Executive Officer, Monzo Bank.

The session passed with the panellists’ sharing a number large number of insights with attendees in a short amount of time. One of the more interesting questions asked was “what are the best parts of a digital bank that you would bring to a digital bank?”

Subberwal said: “The constant engagement of customers and their involvement and feedback across the journey for all products and services that we’ve built has been quite different from what we traditionally do in a bank.” He also advised that he would bring the culture and speed of innovation from a digital bank to a traditional. Anil further commented that the mindset of a digital bank would be most useful, as “a legacy mindset can be a real barrier.”

The very last question asked of the panellists was slightly more on the humorous side, with Narain quoting Starling Banks Ann Boden, asking the panellists if they agreed with her statement that “Women make better bankers.” While the men of the session seemed to err on the side of caution, with Anil saying “Women make better everything”, and Subberwal saying he had two daughters and wife so “what other answer can you expect”, Ochoa provided a clear and concise answer that the financial services industry should definitely take note. She said that “balance is the right answer. The right balance of men, women, age and nationalities is best. The more diversity the better.”

Digital and cultural transformation in a co-Covid world: the successes and failures.

The moderator of this session, Drew Graham, Director Digital Strategy at Barclays, was keen to highlight the term “Co-Covid” in the name of the panel, advising that the financial services industry aren’t just waiting for the pandemic to finish and are rather acknowledging the “Altered conditions that we’ll be living with and working with for some time as society and financial services grapple with this new environment.” Graham was joined by panellists Matthias Kroener, Founder and Former Chief executive Officer, Fidor Bank, Nigel Verdon, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Railsbank, Shee Mphnot, founder of Better Tomorrow Ventures, and Dr Leda Glyptis, Chief Client Officer at 10x Future Technologies.

The first topic posed to the panel was how financial services are doing in reaction to the Covid-19 situation, and how are they working to support society and its needs. Glyptis began, advising that it has been a mixed bag as to whether financial institutions have coped with the immediate challenges of equipping their teams to deal with the pandemic. “The majority of financial institutions have been ranging from pretty good to very good at coping with the immediate challenges, creating payment holidays etc to deploy some immediate solace. Have they been good at making some bold moves down their digitisation agenda? I would say largely not. We have seen some extraordinary results that were the outcome of human effort, but we have also seen the limitations of the cautious digitalisation effort over the last few years and the reluctance to commit to the next move that would give us the infrastructure that would have made coping with the challenges a little bit easier.”

Verdon agreed with Glyptis in terms of the reluctance to fully digitise and spoke of what is known as the “digital death zone” – where analogue processes have just been automated as opposed to creating a truly digital business. “It has been a massive wake up call to actually realise that digital is not about having a digital channel, but it’s a mindset about removing friction from your processes,” he said. “I appeal to colleagues in the industry – lets all work together. If we actually work together, we can get a better outcome for the person that we care about, which is the consumer.”

The panel then went on to discuss what financial institutions should do in order to thrive while serving the current and future needs of society. Verdon began by advising that this was his “Soapbox subject” and that he was of the firm belief that access to financial services is a human right, not a privilege. He said: “One of the key issues is the cost structure of the industry, and in looking at how we change the cost structure we have to deconstruct everything down to its core components and then reconstruct it around the consumer.

“It sounds deceptively simple to put the customer at the centre and take a customer-centric view on what the needs are when you think about products and services, but that can be really transformative across the industry.”

Kroener agreed with the view of putting the customer first, advising that when he started in banking, being customer-centric wasn’t very common. “I would say the problem starts with banks not having an idea about what a digital lifestyle is,” he said. “As a first step, I think this is an exercise everybody must do and look to society; identify a number of megatrends and what kind of behaviour on our customer side is to be expected, so we can be a good partner for that.”

It’s obvious from this session that those in finance have had a lot to think about during this turbulent year, and while many institutions are adapting very well some have yet to catch up. If this panel is anything to go by, its clear that the customer needs to come first as we move into this new, uncharted territory of a co-Covid society.


  • 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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