The members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) recently agreed to promote e-commerce, which could spur the growth of the region’s fledgling financial technology (fintech) market.
The rapid advancement of digital technology over the past decade has changed everything for consumers and businesses alike. Now with the click of a button, consumers can buy products and services from anywhere on earth, and they will receive their purchases almost immediately. A strong global e-commerce sector is fast emerging, bringing lucrative new streams of revenue for businesses.
It is hard to over-estimate the potential e-commerce holds for companies worldwide. The global cross-border e-commerce market alone, a recent report from DHL – a German logistics firm, showed, is expected to record an annual average growth rate of 25% between 2015 and 2020. E-commerce growth looks set to be particularly strong in ASEAN, which according to the Korea Times, a national portal, will see its online retail market expand from US$5.5 billion in 2015, to US$8.78 billion by 2025.
Expanding the market
At a recent meeting of its Finance Ministers, the ASEAN countries vowed to promote e-commerce moving forward, to realise this potential. The officials recently gathered the Philippine city of Lapu-Lapu for the 3rd ASEAN Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, an annual session where top officials discuss how to promote region-wide economic growth. It is here that the subject of e-commerce came up, as Ministers argued that it could speed up ASEAN economic integration.
Addressing the meeting, Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, said: “Towards realising an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), we are promoting e-commerce in the region, pooling resources to develop the infrastructure we need, facilitating trade and supporting each other’s rising expanding consumer markets. We have developed a Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 and a detailed AEC Blueprint 2025. In less than a decade, we aspire to build a truly dynamic regional economy.”
Promoting global business
Continuing, he said: “The regional economy we envision is a truly ambitious undertaking that will require massive investments. But we have momentum and opportunity on our side. The support of the investor community will be indispensable for this undertaking to succeed.” Carlos took great pains to stress ASEAN believes in pushing globalisation, to ensure regional firms can maximise revenue.
Expanding, he said: “Our governments are convinced that globalization is the way to progress… Our economies have much headroom for rapid expansion, beginning from a massive infrastructure build-up that will bring our region increased efficiency… More extensive cooperation and more intensive integration have been beneficial to the economies of this dynamic region.
“All our economies are driven to a large extent by trade. The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) provided us a framework for dramatically increasing intra-regional trade and investments. This allowed us to negotiate as a bloc with the larger trading economies around us through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP). Over the longer term, we envision an ASEAN Economic Community that will provide a strong driver for growth among ourselves and global growth.”
Realising economic potential
ASEAN’s bid to promote increase e-commerce, in the name of advancing the AEC and boosting region-wide economic expansion, could prove invaluable to its fintech industry. ASEAN is in a unique positon – it possess countries with large, unbanked populations – for example Htet Tayza noted in a recent interview that in member state Myanmar, 77% of the population lacks a bank account. By facilitating e-commerce activity, ASEAN could incentivise the growth of fintech start-ups such as digital payment providers, so unbanked populations can access the online financial services they require to shop online, bringing greater financial inclusion to the region which could lead to higher economic growth.
Also in Singapore, ASEAN boasts one of the world’s top fintech hubs. It’s Central Bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), has invested heavily in fintech, while creating a ‘sandbox’ regulatory policy which maximises fintech innovation. The MAS will also partner with the UN to bring greater financial inclusion to ASEAN, by bank-rolling start-ups which could create new innovations to fuel the progression of sectors such as e-commerce, potentially raising fintech investment in the region. With high demand and Singapore’s infrastructure, ASEAN could see an e-commerce boom, propelling the regional fintech market forward so that it can boost economic progress in South-East Asia.