As fintech season kicks off in Asia’s financial hubs, how far have we come?

Hong Kong and Singapore to once again host annual fintech ‘festivals’ over coming weeks

The Hong Kong Convention Centre, venue for Hong Kong FinTech Week starting October 23
The Hong Kong Convention Centre, venue for Hong Kong FinTech Week starting October 23

FOLLOWING their inaugural events last year, Hong Kong and Singapore will once again play host to Asia’s fintech community at Hong Kong’s FinTech Week starting this coming Monday, and Singapore’s FinTech Festival scheduled for November.

The two events are scheduled on different weeks this year, to avoid a clash, perhaps showing a greater collaboration between the two hubs. With all the talk of innovation, cooperation, and disruption in the air, how far have we come since last year? And what is still on the cards?

In Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) has made great strides in the fintech space since it first launched its Fintech Supervisory Sandbox last year. The financial regulator recently announced new initiatives on developing a smart banking framework, such as the formation of a Faster Payment System by September 2018, which aims to utilize phone numbers or email addresses for Hong Kong dollar and renminbi transactions. The Faster Payment System will be open to banks and stored value facilities operators, such as mobile wallet providers.

Moreover, the HKMA plans to upgrade its Fintech Supervisory Sandbox, with features such as a direct chat room to communicate with the regulators, and the ability for fintechs to present their ideas without having to go through a bank. As of the end of September 2017, the HKMA reported that it was working on 23 pilots ranging from biometrics to distributed ledger technology.

“The Hong Kong regulator’s decision to launch these sandboxes shows their determination to support the development of fintech in the city, and is a compelling reason for fintech start-ups from overseas with an eye on the Mainland China and Asia markets to base themselves in Hong Kong,” says Charles d’Haussy, head of fintech at InvestHK.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which formalized its own fintech regulatory sandbox in June last year, unveiled PolicyPal as the first company to test its insurance solution on the regulatory scheme. “A lot of entrepreneurs like us are first-time founders. We always need some form of guidance from building a product to building a team,” explains Val Yap, CEO and founder of PolicyPal.

Over the past year, MAS has also formed partnerships for fostering digital solutions with countries in Asia such as India. Speaking at a conference earlier this month, Ravi Menon, managing director of MAS, highlighted Singapore’s partnership with the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in fostering a blockchain cross-border payments framework. “Our banks can work together on new models of cross-border payments to improve settlement time, allow for round the clock operations, and reduce settlement risk,” he says.

In September 2017, MAS signed a cooperation agreement with the Securities Commission Malaysia to undertake joint fintech projects and better understand digital banking within each other’s jurisdictions. The MAS has also established a similar arrangement with the Bank of Thailand with both regulators promising to share information on fintech trends.

But the policy shift when it comes to fintech doesn’t stop with the financial hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore. The governments of Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea have all announced efforts to establish their own fintech sandboxes, meaning more support for ideas that could revolutionize financial services.