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Fintech Hubs: Why Singapore is Asia’s Leader In Financial Innovation

Financial technology in Asia has seen an explosion in the last couple of years, slowly catching up to its western counterparts in Europe and America.

Investment into Asian fintech reached a record high of $10.5 billion during 2016. This exceeded the combined total of fintech investment in Europe and the US by about $2 billion.

At the forefront of this growth is the city-state of Singapore. Also known as “The Lion City”, the recent Fintech Hub Review, published by Deloitte, found that it came second to London only as a top financial innovation hub.

The city has nurtured fintech startups like M-DAQ and Turnkey Lender into award-winning, global competitors.

With finance attributing more than 12% to GDP and 200 banks calling the city home, Singapore has a strong financial presence, which is often the catalyst that sparks the drive in fintech innovation. However, contrary to other global fintech hubs, where fintech startups set out to disrupt the financial market, it would seem that Singapore has a different atmosphere. Financial technology startups are focussed more on collaboration than disruption.

And the government have a big part to play in this. Apart from favourable corporate tax laws, easy access to global markets, and great infrastructure, the Singaporean government stands out as the number one contributor that turned this small state into a global fintech hub.

MAS Backing

The strong governmental support and heavy involvement from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), makes Singapore a very attractive option for fintech startups to launch their products.

The support comes in the form of expert mentorship and by providing a startup friendly ecosystem through various initiatives.

The Fintech Office was set up by MAS to act as a central point of contact between fintech firms and the government. Singapore acknowledges that in order to develop a vibrant fintech atmosphere, close collaboration with government agencies is essential. If a fintech startup has any regulatory questions or concerns (which they are bound to have), they can contact the office to find a quick and accurate solution. This service is vital to maintaining a progressive growth momentum.

Regulation can be a big hindrance to the survival of fintech startups and can often cause them to stagnate while they wait for regulatory approval. With this in mind, MAS has also implemented a regulatory sandbox to provide a protected environment for new startups to test their ideas without compromising the security of the industry.

It provides startups like, Policypal, an app that aims to consolidate all your existing insurance policies into one dashboard, with an experimental platform to analyse and evaluate concepts. Policypal got approval from MAS to enter the sandbox earlier this year and will be testing their solution over a six-month period.

Any many instances, fintech startups err on the side of caution because they are afraid they might get caught on the wrong side of regulations. This is a big suppressor of innovation. However, within in this protected sandbox, fintechs are able to experiment without the fear of being penalised.

MAS will also be investing around $160 million in the coming years to improve infrastructure and enable the creation of fintech centres. The idea is to unlock the potential that lies within startups by making their growth journey as smooth as possible.

Finally, the Singapore Fintech Festival, introduced by MAS in 2016, is a week-long celebration of all things fintech. Apart from recognizing innovation and successes in the financial technology industry, it puts young fintechs in contact with investors which is essential for their survival.

It is evident that the Monetary Authority of Singapore, along with the government, has been instrumental in Singapore’s growth into a leading fintech hub.

Talented Workforce

With an average age of 28, Singapore startup entrepreneurs are the youngest in the world. Startup Genome recently produced a report (“Global Startup Ecosystem Report and Ranking 2017”) looking at some of the biggest factors that influence a city’s ability to create a nurturing startup environment. One of these factors is technical talent. The report found that when it comes to talent, no other city can come close to Singapore. And this is not just in Asia but globally, beating cities such as San Francisco, London and New York to the post.

This is not a coincidence. Singapore is launching schools with a specific focus on non-traditional qualifications such as machine-learning, AI, Data Sciences and programming languages.

The city also hosts initiatives like SkillsFuture, which helps individuals with a unique skill set, to figure out how they can develop and use that skill to the best of their potential.

This forward thinking approach not only attracts fintech employees from around the world but also ensures the sustainability of Singapore’s fintech growth. By making sure the workforce possesses practical skills for the future, employees are more than able to handle the fast evolving fintech industry.

Infrastructure and Incubators

Infrastructure is a key component for any city that wants to prosper and grow economically. Many people believe that physical infrastructure doesn’t play a big part in the digital age that we live in. But in reality it’s quite the opposite.

Basic infrastructure like roads, public transport, access to basic amenities, and yes, good internet connectivity, all supports the growth in startup success. It is also a very important consideration for multinational corporations deciding where to base themselves.

Singapore has been voted the city with the best infrastructure in the world for a number of years. It has continued that winning spree this year, with Mercer’s Quality of Living Rankings awarding it the top spot yet again.

Singapore capitalises on this strong infrastructure by providing physical spaces to supportive incubators and accelerators. These spaces are located in strategic locations to give fintech startups valuable access to industry leaders.

InspirAsia Accelerator help startups develop a vision and business model for the future by looking at joint sales and distribution strategies for different markets. They also offer free office space at Launchpad, a trendy startup area within Singapore.

The OCBC FinTech Accelerator focusses on mentorship to guide young fintech entrepreneurs on the path to success. It’s a 12-week grooming program to help startups grow faster and more efficiently.

Another contribution from MAS is Looking Glass, a FinTech Innovation Lab that facilitates the experimentation with fintech solutions by collaborating with financial institutions and startups. In addition it provides facilities for networking and training events.

Singapore Success Stories

Singapore produced many of the world’s leading financial technology companies.

With the rise in regtech, BioCatch has emerged a leader in behavioural biometrics, providing protection against fraud, including account takeovers and identity theft.

MC Payment is one of Singapore’s oldest fintech companies and one of Asia’s biggest electronic payment providers. Last year it raised $8 million in funding for its expansion into Thailand.

As remote working agreements become more and more popular these days, CoinPip leverages Bitcoin to make paying remote workers fast and easy through an innovative money transfer platform.

Conclusion

Singapore is a forward-thinking city that builds a foundation in the present to overcome obstacles in the future. It can’t be denied that the government has played a pivoting role in establishing this island-nation as a strong economic competitor. Through intense involvement and support, it has enabled Singapore to become a global fintech hub that attracts highly-skilled employees and entrepreneurs, looking to establish themselves in this exciting and innovative city.

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