Fintech in Asia is truly unique. Asian countries have a growing number of opportunities that allow for continual innovation and investment that the rest of the world might never see. Some of this is due to their geographic location that is represented through a history of distinctly different banking decisions of institutions and consumers. Some of this is due to social differences in the cultures, compared to The West, one of which is the complete integration of mobile into the everyday lives of Asians. This guide is made to explain some of the major financial technologies in Asia, the biggest fintech companies in Asia, the countries that matter the most, and what action can be taken on this.
One of the most striking cultural differences between Asia and The West, but also in comparison to The Middle East, Africa, or Latin America is the integration of mobile in people’s everyday lives. Yes, there are language barriers and there are economic barriers like dictatorships, monarchies, and communist regimes, all of which are a concern. Even still no region has more mobile integration than Asia. Mobile integration is at the heart of various fintech companies disruptive strategies. It is where traditional financial institutions have failed to come to terms with the twenty-first century.
Asian communities are more likely to use their mobile devices in banking and financing decisions. The barrier is broken between financial privacy and mobile use. As such, Asians, especially Koreans and Japanese have absolute comfort in budgeting their banking accounts on their phone with or without the help from banking APIs. There is no worry about using mobile pay for the majority of point-of-sale transactions.
Mobile use has gotten so integrated that companies like China’s Be Better has introduced mobile apps aimed at children and youth that encourage financial literacy. Unlike anything in The West, Asia is hooked! Sure, there’s Visa’s Practical Money Skills for The West. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who even uses it.Youth actually use the apps educational apps in China.
They’re also learning coding. The point here is the present and future of Asia is loaded with mobile-equipped, educated individuals who are not shy about using their devices for most of life’s essentials. That leaves investment opportunities for fintechs and venture capital. Let’s take a look at a few new and promising fintech conferences to get our feet wet.
This fintech conference was a real smash for Asia and for those who came to invest in the startups. In its first year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and The Association of Banks in Singapore offered one of the best fintech expos for getting Asian fintech startups immersed with the right clients: government agencies and stalwart financial institutions. Besides government representatives from Singapore, The United Kingdom was also present to encourage innovation. Robust financial institutions who participated in the judging for the awards included: Mastercard, Visa, Bank New York Mellon, DBS Bank, Bank of Tokyo, and others.
Go big or go home is the motto at this fintech expo which strives to focus on implementing technologies in the realm of card-linked marketing. This technology aims at connecting transactions and financial decisions like withdrawals and deposits on mobile devices with incentives and real-time advice. It’s like point systems on steroids. And not only does it focus on spending, but educating the audience. This event in Tokyo Japan on February 7, 2017, will seek to connect the already connected mobile populations of Asia with this fintech that is already getting ready to be integrated into the European Union thanks to PSD2.
China is the sleeping giant in fintech in Asia. They also house some of the biggest fintech companies in Asia. The problem is, of course, The Communist Party. Remember how weary investors were with the Baidu IPO? This has largely prevented international integration from the fintech community. Most people are familiar how difficult it is for Chinese citizens to engage on social media like Facebook or Google+ in China and they wonder how can fintechs get started or even survive in such authoritarian conditions. When studied closely though one finds that The Communist Party that runs the government and economy will do anything that benefits them financially.
The action plan for investors and fintech startups is to focus on what The Communist Party seems to adopt and implement for its citizenry. It’s not uncommon for an industry to really take off once the party endorses or allows it. The widespread speculation and outright bubble that develops can be profitable.
Domain names offer a great example of how the sleeping giant woke up and began picking up important letter and number combinations that converted to Chinese characters in the URL bar. Another great example is the rare coin market. Collectors have long suggested the growth of the middle class in China would allow more casual spending. It’s gotten so big that Heritage Auctions now has offices there for rare coins of China. Fintechs will have to learn to cater to that growing middle-class.
Often forgotten is the healthy growing population of India. Much like China, India has a high propensity of growing middle-class families. A couple of huge differences though present wonderful opportunities for fintechs and investors to take advantage of. Namely, India has a largely bilingual population because of the British colonial legacy. British traditions and the English language are ingrained in India. Another great difference is the largely democratic society that has allowed the success of P2P lending and other banking norms that we largely take for granted. Consider India to be an extension of another market in the West, much like Commonwealth states Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.
The open environment in India can also present a double-edged sword. With such high levels of venture capital floating around and the barriers to entry being so low global financial institutions and established technology companies have greater access and resources to the country and its people. Still, entrepreneurship is healthy and encouraged in Indian culture. For every Amazon, eBay, Tesla, or Paypal, there is an Indian equivalent. The people excel at taking an established idea and making it uniquely Indian.
One of the most successful strategies for fintechs in Asia is taking advantage of the market of underbanked populations. These are people who have been historically unable to receive credit, borrow, and even have basic banking functions are thirsty for businesses who are willing to work with them and make their lives easier. According to the company, more than 350 million individuals in their market have no banking services today.
Coins app uses the blockchain system (the one made famous by the controversial Bitcoin) to create a multi-faceted e-wallet for its clients. Those clients are individuals who like most of Asia are mobile-reliant. Thus they are not adverse to depositing funds into the mobile app and make withdrawals at participating stores and small businesses throughout the target audience regions. The company has expanded into Thailand and just secured $5 Million in initial funding in order to grow its customer base.
One of the most successful fintech companies in Asia is one with global reach beyond the borders of its home country. Though India is an underserved market, the five million customers it services represent just a blip on the radar as the company has begun expanding into Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. Recent fundraising and investment by Sequoia Capital and Amazon prove that this company is on the right track.
BankBazaar acts as an aggregate website for financial products, namely loans, credit cards, and insurance offers. Think of it as a slick Google search function meets Hotels.com. Customers get to freely search for the best results for themselves, all compared against each other in order to find the best deal for them personally. BankBazaar profits from the relationships it builds with the companies that are matched up with individuals. The company has just begun venturing into offering investment products like mutual funds to its search, which continues to be an asset for the historically uninvested populations they are servicing.
With all of the focus in North America and Europe on the latest buzz in venture capital in an effort to acquire the latest and greatest, potentially disruptive financial technology we lose sight of what is actually going on in Asia. Fintech is advancing at a rapid pace in real terms with the majority of the populations in their respective countries. Mobile integration and proficiency of use are the highest in the world. Arguably, this has been the greatest integration in fintech for the past decade, the focus on moving all financial interactions, decisions, consultations, etc. to our mobile devices. It stands to reach the most people and make the greatest impact.
However, with all great circumstances, there are challenges. In China, for example, the government can wipe out a fintech startup in a moment. In India the market is replicable to The West, but the market is already flooded with companies. There are other countries too that either have poor infrastructure, dictatorial leaderships, or protectionist economies. Some even have religious or cultural norms that will prevent financial norms, let alone new technology from integrating into their lifestyles.