Singapore Fintech Week - the Woodstock of Fintech?

Written by: Steven Lemon
Published on: November 22, 2016

Last week, I participated in a Trade Mission to Singapore organised by the UK Department of International Trade (UKDIT). The team at UKDIT did a great job in curating a diverse, best of breed range of Fintechs to showcase to the local ecosystem: Novastone, Suade, Wealth Objects, Crowd2Fund, Misys, Ratesetter, our good friends Azimo and of course I was representing Currencycloud.

The week revolved around the inaugural Singapore Fintech Festival and Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Kirby, speaking at the conference and promoting the Fintech bridge between London and Singapore. Not only did Simon demonstrate how to navigate your way through buzz words and TLAs having only been in post for 2 months, but insisted on posing for selfies with the delegation. Who says these things can’t be a little fun?

It’s clear that Singapore is a great place to do business and worthy of consideration for any business looking to establish an APAC presence. A country in Asia, rather than an Asian country, it’s a new, progressive, extremely diverse and multi-cultural environment ideally suited to serve as a jump point into the ASEAN region.

It also has an exciting and vibrant business community. None more so, than the nascent Fintech ecosystem - as evidenced in this short video.

There was lots of the inevitable comparison ‘which is the bigger Fintech hub, London or Singapore…?’ which is largely pointless. Clearly, centre of the global financial markets,

London is a bigger ‘Fintech Hub’. What is interesting though, are the qualitative differences.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is a regulator that is progressive, forward thinking and very open for business. Ravi Menon, Managing Director, MAS made several announcements during the opening keynote including:

  • the creation of unified eKYC register
  • a Singaporean Blockchain based payments system with a government backed digital currency
  • an agenda to support and even invest in new Fintech companies
  • an agenda to push open APIs and create a centre of ‘Fintech excellence’

I think these are interesting and exciting moves – although, on the face of it at least, a regulator making an investment in a private company represents a conflict, surely? In particular, the reaction to the Open Banking initiative seems to have been one of excitement and co-operation, rather than the grumbling recalcitrance that came from European banks with PSD2.

Perhaps they’ve had more time to digest the global rise of Fintech and see the opportunity for what it is. Perhaps they’re just more progressive – we had a number of meetings with the major banks and all were keen to talk, learn and explore opportunities for collaboration.

What was especially interesting, is that they are all worried about China and the phenomenal rise of platforms like Alibaba and Tencent. ‘They want to eat our lunch’ or even ‘we’ll have no lunch left’ were common concerns aired on several occasions. Perhaps they see Fintech collaboration as a way to prevent the onset of their demise.

The week finished with a very glamorous awards event – quite unlike any event I’ve been to in London. To start with the awards were run and hoisted by MAS and held at the theatre in Universal Studios - shamelessly reminiscent of the Oscars…Secondly, the awards were actual real awards, with predetermined problem statements that the solutions had to address. And the total prize money was S$1,150,000, which was funded by MAS – a little different from the accepted Western norm of paying £10,000 to sponsor a table at a black tie event, in return for a plastic award in a category that typically doesn’t apply holistically to your business.

A closing speech from Anshu Jain was very rousing and extremely elegant, but it did remind me of the London scene four or five years ago – the word ‘Fintech’ being used so many times (during the whole week, in fairness) that it eventually lost all meaning. We did that too.

I don’t however, recall anyone at any time referring to an event - like the inaugural Singapore Fintech Festival – as ‘The Woodstock of Fintech..’

On the upside, I didn’t hear the term ‘Millennial’ once…

Cutting through the noise and excitement, however, Singapore is simply a little further back on the hype curve than other ecosystems. It has a long and exciting journey ahead and I for one will certainly be paying close attention to developments in the years ahead.