Singapore fintechs get lion's share of investments to Asean countries: Report

SINGAPORE - Financial technology (fintech) firms in Singapore continued to attract the lion's share of global funding among Asean countries, and the Republic remains the preferred base for fintech firms in the region.

This is according to a report by United Overseas Bank (UOB), PwC and the Singapore FinTech Association (SFA) released on Tuesday (Nov 12).

"Funding into Asean has grown more than 30 times since 2014, reaching a new high of US$1.14 billion (S$1.55 billion) as at end-September 2019. While other Asean countries have accelerated the development of their domestic fintech sector, it is Singapore, with its more mature fintech scene, that continues to attract the most funding within Asean," the report said.

Now in its third edition, the FinTech in Asean: From Start-up to Scale-up report noted that of total funding in 2019 to date, more than half, or 51 per cent, of total funding went into Singapore. The city-state also continues to be the No. 1 regional base for fintechs, and is home to 45 per cent of such firms in Asean.

In line with the country's push to encourage fintech innovation across different areas, funding for Singapore-based fintech firms was the most evenly distributed, with insurance technology, payments and personal finance leading the way.

According to the report, the diversified funding indicates that Singapore's fintech landscape is more mature, compared with other Asean markets, where the fintech sector is still nascent, and is largely focused on payment-related solutions.

Ms Janet Young, head of group channels and digitalisation at UOB, said: "Singapore's favourable regulatory and business environment, strong investor interest, and maturing fintech sector continue to make it an attractive base for firms that are looking to tap Asean's growth potential. As such, more firms in the country have also graduated from pre-series to later-stage funding.

Notably, businesses were the main target customer segment for fintech firms (79 per cent). Of these, financial institutions made up half of the target segment, followed by corporates (17 per cent), and small and medium-sized enterprises (12 per cent). Consumers and star-ups made up the rest (21 per cent).

In addition, the report also found that fintech firms in Asean are generally optimistic about their funding needs, with almost half of those surveyed confident of raising more than US$10 million for their next funding round.

 
 

Ms Wong Wanyi, fintech leader at PwC Singapore, noted that this optimism is not surprising, given the promise that the Asean region brings, and the liberation of the industry through digital banking licences.

"The increasing penetration of mobile devices, coupled with the capabilities of new innovative technologies, has made fintech firms a key driver in this evolving Asean financial services landscape, providing an experience that is easier, faster and more convenient. That being said, the fintech scene is very competitive, so fintech firms should be focused and have a clear value proposition. Scaling up should be at the right pace and for the right reason."

While having a digital bank licence will enable fintech firms to broaden the scope of services they provide, only 21 per cent of fintech firms surveyed expressed an interest in applying for this licence, the report showed. Nonetheless, almost two in three (65 per cent) fintech firms believe they would be able to seize opportunities to offer innovative solutions, and to collaborate with the region's newly-minted digital banks.

 
 

Lastly, the report also noted that talent remains a challenge, with 58 per cent of fintech firms surveyed indicating that this was an inhibitor to their regional expansion plans.

Mr Chia Hock Lai, president of SFA, said: "Fintech firms need to consider if there is suitable and abundant expertise at the location they have chosen to scale their business. Given the long time it takes to hire the right talent, firms must plan ahead when it comes to expanding their workforce and business in a new market. One way that some firms overcome this challenge is to hire local talents at least six months ahead of their expansion into a new market."