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传统金融的互联网化国际资讯

传统银行如何应对金融科技的挑战?新加坡提供了一个极佳模板

传统金融的互联网化国际资讯

传统银行如何应对金融科技的挑战?新加坡提供了一个极佳模板

作为一个既关注高科技,又重视银行金融业发展的小型城市国家,新加坡提供了一个极佳的模板,它让人们看到,传统银行如何应对来自金融科技的挑战。

安永今年的一项调查显示,23%的新加坡受访者在去年使用过 Fintech 服务,在2015年这一数字仅为15%。在来自全球20个国家的2.2万名采访对象中,33%的受访者已经在使用 Fintech 产品。安永预计,得益于南非、墨西哥和新加坡的快速增长,这一数字有望上升至52%。

安永称,转账和支付 APP 是当前普及率最高的数字化金融服务,未来还将继续增长。它还预计,借贷和理财规划 APP 的用户将增长一倍以上。

这对世界各地的银行而言都是令人担忧的消息,在银行借贷深入渗透各个领域的新加坡,当地银行业已经感到威胁。截至2017年11月,已经有超过400家 Fintech 企业在这个城市国家成立了办事处,其中许多都提供借贷服务。

这无疑让传统银行感受到了压力。不过,借贷领域真的会来一次大转向吗?新加坡银行的对抗措施是什么呢?

对新加坡银行而言,一个重要战场是中小企业金融服务。

新加坡中小企业数量众多,且占据极其重要的地位。中小企业是指营业收入在1亿新币(7225万美元)以下或员工人数不超过200人的公司,根据新加坡统计局2017年的数据,新加坡220100家企业中,中小型企业就占了99%。

银行通常会避开财务数据未经审计的小型公司,因为很难评估它们的信誉度。传统银行更愿意放款给能够提供抵押物,有已审计的财务数据和信用记录可供参考的公司。

这就为 P2P 借贷平台和科技公司提供了进入市场的缺口。

MoolahSense 是新加坡的一家公司,为需要短期贷款的中小企业和潜在投资者牵线搭桥。公司已运营三年左右,截止今年9月,已总计借出6510万新币(约4698万美元),吸引14326名投资者入驻其平台。

公司的联合创始人兼首席执行官 Lawrence Yong 说,从他收到的反馈来看,中小企业十分欢迎金融公司提供不同的融资渠道。“我们瞄准的是特定的金融领域:短期运营资金贷款,”他说。“很多时候,公司提供了服务,但买家可能无法在短期内——比如90-100天内——完成支付。”由于小型企业资金本来就有限,这会限制它们的增长,妨碍它们开展新项目。

“我们在做的就是通过提供短期(一般不超过一年)贷款,为中小企业解决这一困扰。这是一个银行普遍不感兴趣的金融领域。因为成本结构或商业模式的关系,传统银行提供短期产品需要承担更高的成本,这会影响它们的盈利能力,因此它们更倾向于提供长期贷款等其它产品。”

事实上,银行也注意到了这一趋势,且正在寻求改变。

新加坡大华银行企业银行事业组组长 Lawrence Loh 表示,他们想更贴近客户。

“Fintech 公司如今都在提供借贷服务了,我们要打什么牌呢?”他说。“我们非常关注自己的客户。如今,我们认识到与 Fintech、科技公司展开紧密合作的必要性。过去我们都是以一对一的方式服务客户,但这种方式不可持续,要更好地服务中小企业,我们需要深入这一生态,深入客户运作的领域。”

我们在做的就是通过提供短期(一般不超过一年)贷款,为中小企业解决这一困扰。银行普遍对供应链的这部分业务不感兴趣。

- Lawrence Yong, MoolahSense

Loh 透露,大华银行正在从多方入手寻求改变。他们和新加坡资讯通信媒体发展局(Infocomm Media Development Authority in Singapore)联手推出了"中小企业数字化"项目,旨在帮小型公司提升数字化能力。大华银行将提供过渡性贷款等服务为中小企业提供数字化投资所需的资金。

4月,大华银行宣布与中国的品钛科技控股有限公司成立合资企业 Avatec,目的是将其在东南亚优势的和后者在大数据领域的特长相结合。此外,8月初公布一季度运营数字时,大华银行宣布将在新加坡、马来西亚、印尼、泰国和越南上线全新的手机电子银行服务,目标市场是精通技术的 Y 世代和 Z 世代用户。

大华银行还在与Google、新加坡标新局(SPRING Singapore)、新加坡国际企业发展局(International Enterprise Singapore)等机构合作,帮助新加坡中小企业开展国际化扩张。

Loh 补充说:“为中小企业服务的银行,业务重心一般不在于科技金融公司”,“但我们还是在与金融科技公司合作,因为这项业务挺重要。我们希望成为中小企业数字化业务的领头羊。而且在中小企业的呼吁下,我们也在做数字借贷业务。”

不少新加坡银行从业人员说,那些主打科技又提供金融服务的所谓科技金融公司,已经对银行的业务构成了挑战。为此,部分银行正在想办法与 Google 和腾讯等技术企业合作。

例如,华侨银行就和以色列科技金融公司 ThetaRay 合作,以提高该银行的运营效率和可疑交易检测的准确度。华侨银行还与当地电信企业 StarHub 共同出资4391422美元,开展为期12个月的技术科研。双方还会共享深度数据。如果用户在双方合作平台上注册,需同意华侨银行和 StarHub 双方都可以得到其个人数据。

我们有能力掌握自己的命运,跑在对手前面。

——新加坡星展银行执行总裁高博德

2016年4月,星展银行与 MoolahSense 和 P2P 借贷平台 Funding Societies 签订交叉转介协议,成为新加坡首家与借贷平台开展合作的银行。

在合作期间,星展银行会将本行无法借贷的一些小企业转介给两位合作伙伴;借款人顺利完成两轮融资后,借贷平台又将其转介给星展银行,以求更高额的商业贷款以及现金管理等服务。

Tryb 集团是专注于科技金融公司投资的新加坡企业。集团联合创始人、投资总监 Veiverne Yuen 称,银行对服务低端市场的能力肯定是有顾虑的,服务低端市场让银行自身背负较高的维护成本。

Yuen 说:“但是他们已经取得了很大进展——整个地区的银行都在推进数字化进程,而且在寻求与有前景的科技金融公司合作,服务低端市场。”

多亏星展银行开展的这种合作项目,中小企业才得以在发展的各个阶段获得资金。

例如,Funding Societies 在其官网上放了一段视频。视频中,在线零食销售平台 World Snack 的员工 Nelson Ng Hsueh Chin 说,他在 Facebook 上发现了这家借贷平台,而且觉得和 Funding Societies 的合作“简单”、“直接”。

被问及 Funding Societies 的放款时间长短时,Chin 表示这次贷款是目前为止“最快”的一次,在对他的公司进行背景调查之后就放款了。

他还说:“现在又多了一条融资的渠道,而且他们的利率非常合理。”

突破

MoolahSense 公司的 Yong 承认,虽然中小企业是可以享受银行服务的,但是从银行拿到的贷款一般低于从科技金融公司和借贷平台的金额。

他说:“相对于银行金融,我们这样的平台风险溢价更高”,“所以,我们不会直接在价格上与银行竞争,而是加强中小企业的融资业务。在我们这种平台出现以前,通过传统途径融资的成本非常高。如今,中小企业可以合理的成本得到资本,从而通过充足的资金实现盈利。”

取得更明显突破的是支付市场。

近年来,新加坡涌现出一大批支付服务提供商,比如 2C2P 和新加坡在线支付企业 Red Dot Payment。通过 2C2P,东南亚超过6亿的用户无论是否拥有银行账户,都可以向企业付款。

新加坡星展银行执行总裁高博德表示,对他而言,支付领域的变化最为明显,其中主要有网约车公司 Grab、物流服务提供商 Visa Pay 等企业。高博德认为,目前唯一可靠、有能力的企业就是 Grab。该公司目前已经上线一系列电子钱包服务。

高博德说:“但是钱包不会帮任何人赚到钱”,“因此,问题在于能不能在钱包的基础上开展金融服务业务,我们拭目以待。中国的阿里巴巴就通过借贷、卖保险等开展金融业务。”

高博德提醒说,要想效仿阿里巴巴并不容易。

他说:“在钱包的基础上开展金融服务业务是很多科技金融公司所追求的最高目标","但是,要达到目的并不容易。诚然,中国的科技金融公司确实可以通过钻政策的空子来达到这个目的,而且它们的服务比其他平台优惠太多,因此能够获得长足的发展。而在中国之外的市场,科技金融公司要想建立金融服务平台并非易事。”

不过,高博德还是在为星展银行未雨绸缪,以防情况最终发生改变。

三年来,数字化改革一直是星展银行的重点任务,也因此获得不少赞誉,比如 Euromoney (《欧洲货币》)颁发的年度全球最佳数字银行、Asiamoney (《亚洲货币》)颁发的2018年度新加坡最佳数字银行等。

高博德称,如果阿里巴巴来到新加坡,他就得想一想“采取哪些措施来应对阿里巴巴的影响。我们有能力掌握自己的命运,跑在对手前面。”

科技金融公司造成的威胁

他坦言,星展银行等受到的威胁并不来自于仍在成长中的科技金融公司,而是来自阿里巴巴、腾讯控股、陆金所、Google、Amazon 这样的大块头。只是,这些金融科技大企业的策略对于人口只有560万的新加坡而言影响应该有限,至少现在是这样。

他说:“(关于科技金融公司)有两方面很重要。其一,鉴于其发展志向的性质,它们主要会关注中国、印度、印尼这样的人口大国,城市国家并不是最重要的。目前,到新加坡来明显具有一定优势。但是,为了留在新加坡,它们会烧多少钱?”

"其二,如果银行自身可以突破,提出同样优秀的价值主张,而且如果科技金融公司和银行之间的差别并不大,客户就没有太多转变的理由。我们一直关注的其实就是如何跑在对手前面。"

通过改善技术设施,高博德认为星展银行在支付、借贷或者整个客户体验方面所能提供的服务与客户从其他科技金融公司获得的服务并没有太大差别。

“目前(我们)已经取得初步成绩,市场地位还未因其受到太多影响。”

这就引出了下一个问题:科技金融公司为什么还能在新加坡繁荣兴旺?

如果我要在亚洲的什么地方设立一个科技发展中心,一定是新加坡,别无他处。

——香港花旗银行冼高德

花旗银行东盟市场负责人、战略发展与投资负责人冼高德先生认为,科技金融公司的发展原因在于新加坡金融管理局的“监管方非常支持”。

新加坡金融管理局制定了“监管沙盒”,既可以让金融机构和科技金融公司在生产阶段对创新型产品或服务加以试验,又能维持金融体系的稳定。

冼高德表示:“如果我要在亚洲的某个地方设立科技发展中心,一定是新加坡,别无他处”,“新加坡不仅是写源代码的地方,同时也是开发应用的地方。这里的生态系统已经成熟。”

“我的看法是,不用和香港争夺中国大陆的业务,香港在这方面有天然的优势。新加坡应该集中于更能引人注目的其他领域,发挥自己的长处。”

冼高德说,新加坡传统产业中运用的信息技术、数据科学和工程能力正在为科技金融而发生转变,科技金融的影响正在向机构市场不断渗透。

“新加坡具备很多相关能力,”他说,“这是影响新加坡在未来市场中作用的重要方面之一。并不是说要挑战其他管辖权,而是出现了新的活动类型。而且,新加坡的银行都在采用机器人流程自动化,普及率还很高,通过这个现象可以真切地看出这种思维。”

“但是,还不仅如此。企业靠政府的资助建立技术孵化器和创新中心,这在今后是十分必要的。任何其他管辖都没有对此加以规定或者在此规模上实施。新加坡既有天然的优势,也有动人的故事。这些在本地区机构的其他地方是找不到的。”

科技金融公司的推动作用

近年来,新加坡明显在推动科技金融公司的发展。2016年9月,新加坡这座城市国家和瑞士达成一致,扩大双方在科技金融领域的合作。2017年,新加坡金融监管局和美洲银行监管人员协会(Asba)签订谅解备忘录,加强双方科技金融合作力度。

今年六月,印度的经济事务部门和新加坡金融监管局称,双方拟通过建立联合工作小组加强双方在金融创新方面的合作。

八月,新加坡金融监管局和新加坡股票交易所宣布,共同开发券款对付结算能力,以便跨区块链平台的代币型资产结算。双方选定了新加坡科技金融公司 Anquan、德勤、纳斯达克为技术合作伙伴。

MoolahSense 的 Yong 指出:“金融科技在新加坡尚属新领域,金融科技公司带给市场中的创新、创意,监管人员还正在消化。由于很多法律都是几十年前制定的,沿用至今,会导致紧张很正常;修改法律需要漫长的时间。”

他还说:“在复杂的法律环境中,关键是要找到科技金融公司在运营中不会触犯法规的领域”,“监管人员也知道有这种情况,也愿意加以考虑,但是实施和执行很重要。”

Tryb 集团的 Yuen 补充说:“由于政府提供的基础设施,在新加坡创办企业并不难。创业者会得到政府强有力的支持;而且在监管方面,新加坡金融监管局还设立了极为有利的科技金融监管沙盒机制。各企业也把新加坡当做发射台,以期在东盟地区抓住更多机会。”

星展银行的高博德认为,新加坡有“明确的法律主张”,才能成为转型最成功的国际金融中心。

他说:“有利于金融产业转型的整个生态系统并不是只有科技金融公司的推动,还有举国上下的努力”,“新加坡支持科技金融,并做好了一切准备。在央行和整个基础设施的帮助下,科技金融发生了显著变化,包括国家级支付、贸易融资结构还有全国性的客户调查(KYC)工具。科技金融已经成形,而且已经取得很大成功。”

相互配合

银行不仅要看到自己需要如何改善运营,从而与技术企业竞争,还要想办法让科技企业成为自己的客户。

Selene Cheng 是花旗银行的 eFX(线上外汇交易)业务亚洲区总经理,他指出:"新加坡有很多科技金融公司,市内有很多办公地点,为东盟客户服务。新加坡的科技金融公司也很渴望在本地区得到成长。"

Cheng 说:“我们在科技金融领域取得的成功就很说明问题”,“这些都是行业中的翘楚,他们都使用最新技术。如果花旗银行不能把他们像客户一样对待,也就意味着我们没有保持领先。我们的客户当中不乏大型科技金融企业,也从一方面说明了我们发展速度之快,能够赶上它们的脚步。”

不过,大多数情况下,重点似乎还是合作。通过合作,银行可以利用技术公司的能力,科技金融公司也可以得到银行融资能力和资产负债表的支持。

高博德说:“新建科技金融公司的问题在于,虽然它们能够开发一款有意思的产品,但市场推广是老大难”,“因此,我们会发现科技金融公司和银行合作。它们与银行合作是因为银行有客户。它们仍然可以通过银行借贷,而银行则使用科技金融公司的服务。现在,新加坡基本上都是这样。所以,不论哪种类型的科技金融公司,都争取和银行合作,使用银行的分配技术。”

MoolahSense 的 Yong 同意这种看法,并指出,银行和科技金融公司是不同的企业,各自的优劣势也不一样。

Yong 说:“银行较稳定,但灵活性不足是其弱点之一”,“而另一方面,科技金融公司的相关方比银行少,所以灵活性更大。因此,将两者结合,让科技金融公司与银行合作是有道理的。我们既不会取代银行,也不是银行的直接竞争对手,而是通过扩大中小企业的金融服务来源,对银行业务进行补充。”

As a compact city-state with an emphasis on both high-tech and banking and finance, Singapore serves as a great example for what happens when fintechs and traditional banks collide.

An EY survey this year of about 22,000 individuals in 20 markets globally found that 23% of the respondents had used fintech in Singapore last year versus 15% in 2015. A global average of 33% of those surveyed had adopted fintech, which EY projects will increase to 52%, mostly driven by South Africa, Mexico and Singapore.

Money transfer and payment apps are the most widely used digital offerings, and are set to gain further momentum, according to EY. It also forecasts that the number of users of borrowing and financial planning apps will more than double.

This would be worrying news for banks anywhere, but in Singapore, where the bank lending market is deep, the banking community has good reason to be alarmed. More than 400 fintech enterprises had set up base in the city-state as of November 2017, and many of them are offering lending services to customers.

That’s where traditional banks could feel some pressure. But is a big shift in lending likely, and what are the banks in Singapore doing to fight back?

One sector where banks must tackle competition from technology companies is in their offerings to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

That is not surprising, given the prevalence and importance of such companies. Of the 220,100 enterprises in Singapore in 2017, 99% were SMEs, defined as firms with operating receipts of less than S$100 million ($72 million) or employing not more than 200 workers, according to Singapore’s department of statistics.

Banks tend to avoid small businesses if their accounts are unaudited because it is more difficult to assess their creditworthiness. Traditional banks prefer lending to businesses that can provide collateral and have an established track record with audited accounts.

That creates a niche market into which peer-to-peer lending platforms and tech firms have stepped.

Take the example of Singapore-based platform MoolahSense, which connects SMEs that are seeking short-term loans with prospective investors. As of early September, the firm, which has been in operation for about three years, had provided total funding of S$65.1 million and had 14,326 registered investors.

Its co-founder and chief executive, Lawrence Yong, tells Asiamoney that he has seen a positive response from SMEs that welcome new avenues of funding.

“We target very specific areas of financing: working and short-term working capital loans,” he says. “A lot of companies and businesses have rendered services but the buyers cannot pay their invoices for, say, 90 to 100 days. Small businesses are not flush with cash, and this inhibits their growth and capacity to take up new projects.

“We’re addressing these problems for SMEs in the short-term financing area – typically one year or less – because banks are generally not interested in this part of the supply chain. Because of their cost structures or business models, they can incur higher costs to process short-term products, which cuts into their profitability. So they tend to focus more on other products, like long-term loans.”

Banks are paying attention, however, and are finding ways to adapt. Lawrence Loh, group head of business banking at UOB, says his bank wants to get closer to its clients.

“Fintech firms now offer lending services on their platform. Where are we going to play?” he asks. “We are really focused on our customers and we understand we need to work closely with fintechs and tech companies right now. Traditionally, we have been working with customers one to one. But this approach is not sustainable; we need to be in the ecosystem to be at the heart of where our customers operate, and to help SMEs.”

We’re addressing these problems for SMEs in the short-term financing area – typically one year or less – because banks are generally not interested in this part of the supply chain   - Lawrence Yong, MoolahSense

UOB is doing this in many ways, Loh says. It has joined forces with the Infocomm Media Development Authority in Singapore to help small businesses improve their digital capabilities. Under the programme, called ‘SMEs go digital’, UOB will provide products such as bridging loans to help defray costs associated with investing in digital capabilities.

In April, the bank announced a new business called Avatec, a joint venture with China’s Pintec Technology Holdings. It aims to combine the bank’s skills in southeast Asia with the Chinese partner’s abilities in big data. And in early August, when announcing its first-half results, UOB unveiled a new, mobile-only digital bank targeting savvy Generation Y and Z customers, which will be active in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The bank has partnered with Google, Spring Singapore, International Enterprise Singapore and other groups to help Singapore’s SMEs expand internationally.

“Working with fintech firms is not the typical focus of an SME bank,” adds Loh. “But we’re doing this because it’s important. We want to be leaders in digital in SMEs. And why we are doing digital lending is because SMEs have called out to us to offer them these things.”

Several Singapore-based bankers told Asiamoney there is a challenge to their business from firms that are technology companies first, but that offer financial services – so-called techfins. To counter this, some banks are finding ways to work with the technology firms, such as Google or Tencent, as partners.

At OCBC, for instance, the bank hooked up with Israeli fintech ThetaRay to improve the bank’s operational efficiency and accuracy in detecting suspicious transactions. It is also working with local telecommunications company StarHub; the two firms are investing S$6 million in research and technology over 12 months. They will also share data insights; if users register to the partnership, they agree to have their personal data shared between OCBC and StarHub.

We can build our own fate and get ahead of the game   - Piyush Gupta, DBS

DBS signed cross-referral agreements with MoolahSense and peer-to-peer lender Funding Societies in April 2016, the first Singapore bank to collaborate with these lending platforms.

Under the terms of the tie-up, DBS will refer some of the smaller businesses that it is unable to lend to its two partners. In return, the platforms will refer borrowers that have completed two successful rounds of fundraisings to DBS for larger commercial loans and other offerings, including cash management.

Veiverne Yuen, co-founder and chief investment officer at Tryb Group, a Singapore-based firm that invests in fintech firms, says there is definitely some concern among banks in terms of their ability to serve the lower end of the market, for which they may have to bear higher maintenance costs.

“But they have taken huge steps to ramp up – banks all across the region are pushing a strong digitalization agenda and are also looking to partner with promising fintechs to serve the last mile,” he tells Asiamoney.

Thanks to partnerships such as the ones signed by DBS, SMEs are able to gain access to capital at all phases of their growth.

For instance, Funding Societies features a video on its website from Nelson Ng Hsueh Chin, who works for World Snack, an online snacks marketplace in Singapore. Chin says in the video that he found out about the lending platform on Facebook, and found working with Funding Societies “straightforward” and “easy”.

When asked how long it would take to arrange a loan through the firm, Chin says it has been “the fastest” so far, and took place following a background check of his business.

“It is one additional channel to raise funds and their rates are quite reasonable,” he adds.

Disruption

MoolahSense’s Yong admits that SMEs – assuming they are bankable in the first place – generally incur lower borrowing costs from banks than from fintech firms and lending platforms.

“Platforms like ours have a higher risk premium, compared to bank financing,” he says. “So, we’re not directly competing with banks in price – we are augmenting the financing sphere for SMEs. Before platforms like us, the costs with traditional financing were exorbitant. Now SMEs can procure capital at a reasonable cost, and they can have sufficient carry to make profits.”

Where disruption is more visible is in the payments services market.

A host of providers have sprouted up in Singapore in recent years; these include 2C2P, which helps companies accept payments from more than 620 million banked and unbanked customers in southeast Asia, as well as Red Dot Payment, a Singapore-based online payment service provider.

Piyush Gupta, chief executive of DBS, says the most visible shift for him has been in the payments space, where the likes of ride-sharing company Grab and logistics services provider Visa Pay play big roles.

Gupta reckons the only credible firm right now that has reach is Grab, which has a number of digital wallets available.

“But wallets don’t make anyone any money,” says Gupta. “So, the question is: can you build a financial services business on top of the wallet? That remains to be seen. Alibaba did it in China by moving to lending and insurance, etc.”

Gupta warns that it won’t be easy to emulate Alibaba.

“That’s the holy grail for many of these fintech firms – to build a financial services business on top of their wallets,” he says. “But it is not as easy. It’s true in China because of regulatory arbitrage, and the delta between what they can offer versus others was a lot. So, they got a lot of traction. But in markets outside China, it has not been that easy for techfins to build a financial services platform.”

But Gupta is still preparing DBS for such a shift eventually.

The bank has put digital reinvention at the core of its agenda over the last three years, winning it numerous accolades, including the world’s best digital bank award from Euromoney this year, and Asiamoney’s award for Singapore’s best digital bank for 2018.

If Alibaba comes to Singapore, Gupta says, he will need to start thinking about “what we can do to ourselves that Alibaba may do to us. We can build our own fate and get ahead of the game”.

Techfins threat

He admits a big threat to banks such as DBS is not from fintech firms, which are still trying to build up scale, but from techfins such as Alibaba, Tencent Holdings, Lufax, Google and Amazon. But their strategies mean the impact on Singapore, with a population of just 5.6 million, may be limited, at least for now.

“Two things are key [with techfins],” he says. “One is, given the nature of their ambitions, they tend to focus on large markets, say by demographics, like China, India or Indonesia. So, the city-states are not the highest in their priority. Now obviously there is some advantage to be in Singapore, but how much are they going to burn in being in Singapore?”

“The second is, if you can disrupt yourself and create the same superior value proposition, and if the delta between the tech firm and you is not huge, then there’s not much reason for customers to shift. What we have been really focused on is being ahead of the game.”

By revamping its technology infrastructure when it comes to payments, lending or the whole customer experience, Gupta reckons there’s not much of a difference between what DBS can offer and what clients can get from another fintech firm.

“So far [we have] been somewhat successful, and there has not been much erosion of market position from them.”

This leads to the next question: why are fintech firms thriving in Singapore?

If I want to set up a fintech development hub anywhere in Asia, there’s no place I’d rather do it than in Singapore  - Kuldeep Singh, Citi

Kuldeep Singh, Citi’s head of markets Asean and head of strategic growth and investments, attributes the growth to a “very supportive regulator” in the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

MAS has built a regulatory sandbox that enables financial institutions and fintech firms to experiment with innovative products or services in the production phase, while having safeguards to preserve the soundness of the overall financial system.

“If I want to set up a fintech development hub anywhere in Asia, there’s no place I’d rather do it than in Singapore,” says Singh. “It’s not merely a place to write code, but develop applications. The ecosystem is already here.

“I am of the view that rather than trying to compete with Hong Kong for China business, which is Hong Kong’s natural advantage, Singapore should focus on other areas that are more compelling and play to its strengths.”

Singh Says that Singapore’s capabilities in information technology, data science and engineering that were used in traditional industries are being repurposed for fintech, the impact of which is seeping into the institutional market.

“There are lots of relevant capabilities that exist in Singapore,” he says. “This is one of the key things about Singapore’s role in the future markets landscape. It is not about challenging other jurisdictions for listings, but it’s about new types of activities, and you can see evidence of that mindset in the adoption of robotic process automation in Singapore banks, which is really high.

“But there is more. Companies have used grants from the government to set up tech incubator and innovation hubs. This is very compelling for the future. No other jurisdiction has it or is doing it at this scale. Singapore has a natural advantage and a compelling story, which you don’t find elsewhere in the region in the institutional space.”

Fintech push

Singapore’s push on fintech has been evident over the years. In September 2016, the city-state and Switzerland agreed to expand their cooperation in fintech. In June 2017, MAS and the Association of Supervisors of Banks of the Americas (Asba) signed a memorandum of understanding to bolster fintech ties.

This June, India’s department of economic affairs and MAS said they would strengthen cooperation in financial innovation between India and Singapore through the establishment of a joint working group.

And in August, MAS and the Singapore Exchange announced a collaboration to develop delivery-versus-payment capabilities for settlement of tokenised assets across different blockchain platforms. They have picked Singapore fintech firm Anquan, Deloitte and Nasdaq as the technology partners.

“Fintech is a new area in Singapore, so the regulator is also catching up on new innovations and the new ideas that fintech firms bring to the market,” says Yong of MoolahSense. “There’s a natural tension as a lot of the laws were written decades ago and are still part of the statute; it can take a long time to change laws.

“In the midst of this legal mumbo-jumbo, to find a space where fintech firms can operate without falling on the wrong side of regulation is key,” he adds. “The regulator is aware of that and is open-minded to taking that into consideration, but execution and implementation are important.”

Tryb Group’s Yuen adds: “Singapore is an easy place to set up business, for which credit needs to go to the infrastructure that the Singapore government provides. There is strong support from the government for entrepreneurs, and on the regulatory side, the MAS has a fintech regulatory sandbox mechanism, which is very conducive. Firms also use Singapore as a launch pad to capture broader opportunities in Asean.”

Gupta at DBS reckons Singapore has a “definite legitimate claim” to being the most transformed international financial centre.

“The whole ecosystem around financial sector transformation is driven not just by fintechs, but it’s a whole national effort,” he says. “Singapore gets behind it and brings everything to bed. And with the help of the central bank and the whole infrastructure that has been created, it moves the needle – be it in national-level payments or trade finance structure or national utility for KYC [know your customer]. The fintech has been built out and has been massively successful.”

Working together

The banks are not just seeing how they need to revamp their own operations to compete with technology firms, but also finding ways to make them their clients.

Selene Cheng, Asia head of eFX solutions, corporate, at Citi, points out that a lot of fintechs have a presence in Singapore and offices in the city-state to service Asean clients. Fintech firms in Singapore are also keen to grow in the region.

“Our success with fintechs says a lot,” Cheng tells Asiamoney. “These are the disruptors in the industry – they are the ones using the latest tech. If Citi is not able to service them as clients then it means we are not keeping up. Many of these biggest players are our clients. That says something about how fast we have evolved to keep up with them.”

In most cases, however, working together appears to be key. In this way, banks can leverage the technology firm’s capabilities, while fintech companies can fall back on banks’ financing capabilities and balance sheet.

“The problem with the new fintech firms is that while they can create an interesting product, bringing it out to the market is a challenge,” says Gupta. “And therefore, we find fintech firms collaborating with banks. They work with banks as banks have the customers. They can still do the lending through the bank, which will use the fintech firm’s services. And this to a large extent is happening in Singapore. So all the fintechs – be it for securities or for underwriting, or payments – they try to collaborate with banks and use their distribution techniques.”

Yong at MoolahSense agrees, saying that banks and fintech firms are different animals, with different strengths and weaknesses.

“Banks are stable, but one of their weaknesses is nimbleness,” Yong says. “Fintech firms, on the other hand, are more nimble because we have less stakeholders than in a bank. So it makes sense to marry them both and for fintechs to partner with banks. We’re not substitutes to banks or direct competitors, but we complement them by expanding the sources of finance available to SMEs.”

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