On September 23, KrASIA and Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) kicked off the second installment of the Singapore x Asia Innovation Partnership Forum 2020. The event saw several esteemed speakers across China and Southeast Asia share their frank thoughts on fintech developments across regions. To RSVP for our third instalment on Deep Tech and to find out more, sign up here.
The following piece is a summary of insights shared by our speakers adapted for public release.
Lim Kok Kiang, Singapore Economic Development Board
Executive Vice President
Over the past decade, Southeast Asia’s digital economy has grown rapidly. At 360 million internet users today, the scale of its digital economy now stands at USD 120 billion. COVID-19 has resulted in a deeper digital penetration into all aspects of work and life. In view of this, the EDB launched a world-first diagnostic tool, the Smart Industry Readiness Index (SIRI), to help companies better evaluate their current digital capabilities in line with the Industry 4.0 movement. Singapore is without doubt an ideal place for fintech companies to grow, as shown by the establishment of Sea Money and the Grab-Zhong An partnership. We are committed to building a comprehensive ecosystem for the fintech and the digital economy, and companies which are interested in seizing the opportunities are welcome to contact us to explore market entry into Southeast Asia.
Sopnendu Mohanty, Monetary Authority of Singapore
Chief Fintech Officer
Singapore has a very dynamic financial ecosystem that has attracted large amounts of international capital, with over 40 banks setting up innovation laboratories locally. Regulatory sandboxes are also being established systemically. MAS is exploring partnerships in using blockchain technology to settle transactions involving digital assets. ASEAN is ripe for market entry now, with COVID-19 accelerating the online conversion of its wealth of small and medium-sized enterprises. In the fintech industry, however, companies need to ensure strict observance of data security and consumer privacy concerns and be wary of data abuses.
Helen Wong, Qiming Venture Partners
China’s fintech industry is relatively mature, and while the penetration rate of credit cards is not high, online payment tools such as Alipay and WeChat are widely accepted. In contrast, the industry is still in its fledgling stage in Southeast Asia. Global capital entering Southeast Asia will help to shape the entire entrepreneurial system locally. Chinese VCs will be able to share their experience working with successful Chinese companies with Southeast Asian entrepreneurs to augment their own vision.
Goh Yiping, Quest Ventures
Chinese fintech companies serve as good reference points for their Southeast Asian counterparts, such as Alipay, which initially leveraged e-commerce to promote online payment. Several internet companies such as Grab and Gojek have already developed their own e-wallets, while an increasing trend to open APIs may help companies collaborate better. Many Chinese VCs are coming to Southeast Asia, and as a local VC, we aim to use our resources and network to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes with Chinese VCs. Each Southeast Asian market has different characteristics and produces different kinds of leaders, but we consistently like entrepreneurs who are ambitious and still grounded.
Song Xuanbi, Zhong An Technology International
Chief Operating Officer
As China’s first online insurance company, Zhong An has witnessed the development of the industry over the years. Over the past year and a half, Zhong An and Grab have entered into a fruitful partnership within Southeast Asia, as our technical expertise complement Grab’s excellent local understanding and branding capabilities. Theorizing is easy, but carrying out a plan is difficult in reality, so finding a good partner will help you achieve more with less effort.
Reuben Lai, Grab Financial Group
Senior Managing Director
Grab has explored the fintech space extensively, and aside from its payments business, has also launched lending and insurance businesses that tap into its powerful ecosystem and unique resources. Aside from this, Zhong An is a key partner for Grab due to its technical capabilities. COVID-19 has accelerated the development of online financial services, such as merchant willingness to accept online payments. There are significant differences between Southeast Asian markets and China, and in order to compete well locally, companies need to communicate and cooperate effectively with regulatory authorities in different countries. The time is ripe for fintech development in Southeast Asia because capital and technology are already in place. The key for entrepreneurs is understanding what problems need to be solved and how to better communicate with both local regulators and the market in each country.
Santitarn Sathirathai, Sea Group
Group Chief Economist
Over the past few years, we have seen strong growth in both user and transaction volumes within the fintech industry. Our finance arm has consistently empowered small and medium enterprises in serving their customers and embracing digital transformation. With a population of 600 million people, Southeast Asia presents both a huge opportunity and a challenge. Consumers in different Southeast Asian markets have different cultures and languages and need to be treated as separate markets. To better meet the needs of these markets, we launched different product versions in different countries, which help us strike the right balance between globalization and localization.
Simeon Preston, FWD Group
Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer
We focus on innovating digital processes within the insurance industry. Previously, end-to-end processes such as sales and claims settlement has been carried out in a traditional manner, but as customer needs increase, we need to better optimize the customer experience and streamline processes. This helps us serve customers better while reducing our costs. Artificial intelligence is a critical tool that helps to make underwriting and claims settlement smoother and more transparent. Current penetration rates in China and Southeast Asia suggest room for improvement. Although different products need to be introduced in different markets, the essence of a good product remains the same, namely, a product that is simple, transparent, easy to understand, and accessible.
Alan Lau, Tencent WeSure
As an insurance platform with roots in China’s internet industry, we have a deep understanding of China’s unique insurance and risk management ecosystem. We can utilize Tencent’s platform and various resources to offer solutions to customers through platforms such as WeChat and QQ. We believe that risk management is at the core of insurance and Tencent’s wealth of data can support this. We do not just want to provide insurance services, but also deepen connections with consumers to enhance their health and life by combining medical insurance with ongoing health management support.
Sheinal Bhuralal, JG Digital Equity Ventures
Senior Portfolio Director
Data privacy and permissions are paramount even when insurance companies carry out the necessary risk and credit investigations. Comprehensive documentary records should be maintained to track consumer data privacy, while data sharing rules between financial institutions should be strictly observed. Stakeholders need to choose partners selectively and prioritize those with data expertise so that they can extract financial information of customers within these boundaries. Also, there is a huge gap between different markets in Southeast Asia and finding a good local partner is key, especially when it comes to product innovation and cross-border business.
Xu Wei, VZoom Creditech
Chief Risk Officer
Providing credit on reasonable terms to small or micro enterprises is a challenge worldwide because such enterprises usually have high credit risk and limited data reliability. It usually takes more manpower and time to obtain reliable data on these potential customers, which leads to increased operating costs for credit investigation parties. The popularization of big data now means that stakeholders will still need to consider how to identify suitable and reliable datasets automatically, increase access to different data channels, and improve the interaction between data sets. This has to happen while remaining mindful of user consent and permissions. As a credit investigations service agency, we can monitor and evaluate customer risk post-lending even after providing initial lending recommendations, so that we can offer a one-stop solution to clients.
Zhu Wei, Igloo
As a Singapore-based insurtech startup, we provide innovative insurance products to consumers. We focus on smaller products with shorter terms, with high consumer frequency and lower premiums are giving us space to iterate quickly across a multiplicity of scenarios such as e-commerce, logistics, and electronics products. The COVID-19 crisis has prompted more companies to shift online, which has led to significant growth in our business year-on-year.
Joyce Zheng, Ins For Renascence
Chief Financial Officer
We mainly provide risk control and strategic pricing services for insurance companies and have established partnerships with over 60 large and medium-sized partners. As the market has developed, China’s life insurance market has shifted from a seller’s market into a buyer’s market, despite the penetration rate of insurance policies remaining low. We have an edge as we use artificial intelligence to segment users and provide personalized pricing strategies while implementing insurance evaluation and risk management strategies for insurance companies to reduce front-end risk.