Asia loves fintech – the region’s businesses have embraced innovative financial technological solutions to age-old problems like no other place on earth.
A fresh approach
Much of this comes down to the way Asian financial infrastructure works – without the huge and unwieldy network of brick and mortar banks and administrative buildings that are found in the west, adopting new technology such as blockchain is a much easier – and more cost effective – way to build a new infrastructure. Fintech for Asia then is the answer to many financial institution’s dreams – it’s no surprise then that it is an area that many businesses realise is well worth developing and that offers great return on a relatively small investment.
An attractive market
Fintech industry events like Intersekt, held in Melbourne and run by Australia’s own growing fintech industry, are also a sign that the world is looking to Asia as one of the leading lights in the area.
“Asia presents incredible opportunities for the Australian fintech industry, including venture capital to help grow our globally focussed fintechs,” says FinTech Australia president Simon Cant. “Intersekt will play an important role in helping expose our thriving fintech environment to an Asian-Pacific and global audience and bringing about the connections and insights to help take our industry to the next level.”
The stars seem to be aligning then for the nascent fintech industry in Asia, with positive signs both within the region and plenty of interest being shown in its progress by its neighbours. But there is another side to the Asian fintech story however – and it’s one that could have worrying implications for the industry if it isn’t addressed.
Asian financial centres are competing with each other in a way that has created a confusing and inconsistent regulatory landscape. In the past, this kind of competition was a sign of the rude health of the region’s economy, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Asian regulators in places like Hong Kong and Singapore need to start working together more consistently on fintech. More cooperation – certainly in terms of regulations, but also including the sharing of best practice – is absolutely vital in order to help maintain the growth we’ve seen so far in fintech adoption in Asia. Over $100 billion has been invested in financial technology in markets across the world, but the regulatory situation in Asia is now starting to hold the region’s businesses back.
“The regulatory landscape is very fragmented and a lot of the initiatives, though well-intentioned, are not necessarily well thought through,” says Mark Austen, CEO of lobbyists Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association ASIFMA.
“By not cooperating on fintech, Asian financial centres are putting themselves at a real disadvantage relative to the rest of the world: that traditional competitive dynamic and rivalry between the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore may actually in this case be a disadvantage,” agrees Hannah Cassidy, of Herbert Smith Freehills in Hong Kong.
Time for change
The opportunities are there then for Asian businesses to lead the way in terms of fintech – but it is absolutely essential that they are not held back by a tangled mess of regulation. Fintech represents a huge opportunity for the region, and our businesses have shown an impressive willingness to embrace new ideas. Now it’s time for the regulators to start taking a similarly open-minded approach.