SINGAPORE’S FINTECH JOURNEY
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) stated that “FinTech is transforming financial services in a way not seen before. Big Data has the biggest potential in the transformation of financial services.”1 MAS has started to analyse and combine large data sets to gain richer insights into customer behaviour and needs, identify fraud or anomalies in financial transactions, and sharpen surveillance of market trends and emerging risks. During the Singapore Fintech Festival event held on 14 to 18 November 2016, the absence of Malay/Muslim Technopreneurs (MMTs) was notable. Much is needed to encourage the development of MMTs to represent this segment.
KEY TRENDS OF FINTECH IN SINGAPORE
“Financial Technology” or “FinTech” is a dynamic segment at the intersection of the financial services and technology sectors where technology-focused start-ups and new market entrants innovate products and services currently provided by traditional financial services industry. Boosted by active government support for the start-up community, Singapore has developed a community of more than 60 FinTech start-ups.
FinTech is important for the business economy as it is a catalyst in transforming the financial services, and will help foster a culture of innovation in an industry facing headwinds of lower economic growth and heavier regulatory burden. Innovation must be the way to refresh and re-energise the business model. Innovation is about seeking newer and better ways to do things and about the spirit of enterprise. Innovation also helps to increase efficiency, better manage risks and create new opportunities and improve people’s lives.
Reflecting on the types of FinTech in Singapore, the main trends are:
- (Small and Medium Enterprise) SME lending, where start-ups look at alternative financing for SMEs to cope with the funding gap in the S$500,000 to S$5 million category.
- SME financial management systems, where FinTech start-ups provide the technology and innovative boosts to improve their systems in terms of payables, receivables and payroll.
- Wealth management, where FinTech start-ups involved in financial services or investments applications are tapping into the wealth management sector that is seeing an increase in the number of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) to digitally educate the emerging affluent.
- Data analytics of which increasing cyber security concern means FinTech firms need to look at providing data analysis, intelligence and insights for the financial sector, critically in the areas of big data, cloud technology and Internet of Things (IOT) for mobile platforms.
In light of these key trends and the increasingly digitised state of the financial environment in Singapore and the world over, what does it mean for Malay/Muslims in Singapore? Muslims have recognisably different requirements and expectations when it comes to trade and finance, hence providing a unique opportunity for Muslim-focused FinTech to serve more globally-connected Muslim-oriented business and services.
DISRUPTION IN THE FINANCIAL SECTOR: WHERE THE NEW TRUMPS THE OLD
While the financial service industry has endured a tumultuous decade, FinTech is gaining significant momentum and causing disruption to the traditional value chain, opening up spaces for MMTs to help enhance the way Malay/Muslim businesses are conducted and connecting them to the global market. FinTech can make multiple forms of payments free of transaction fees – e.g. electronic payments via mobile devices – available to local Malay/Muslim businesses so that they can reach a wider customer base. To secure a loan for a small business idea, FinTech can initiate electronic transactions from a bank or financial institution.
Given its accelerating pace of change, the global insurance industry is at a pivotal juncture as it grapples with changing customer behaviour, new technologies and new distribution and business models. MMTs can also make inroads in the asset management and insurance sectors by easing the delivery of tailored products and automated investment modes, as well as provide access to asset classes, such as commercial real estate, to investors. In this context, MMTs are also providing solutions that will address the specific needs of their Malay/Muslim customers by offering enhanced accessibility, convenience and tailored products.
MMTs can also pave the way for collaborations to take hold. This might lead to new markets for loan processing, captive financing solutions, vendor-sourcing, equipment and inventory financing and so forth. These collaborations aim to match market makers and market seekers for the best possible outcomes that can benefit industries and consumers alike.
MMTs can then create a more diverse, and hence stable, credit landscape. The business of internet-based firms is less geographically-concentrated than that of brick-and-mortar lender, thus avoiding mismatched maturities and leverage.
FINTECH AND ITS IMPORTANCE TO SINGAPORE’S FUTURE ECONOMY
Singapore has established itself as the region’s financial hub but this position is untenable in the wake of regional and global developments unless innovation and enterprise continue to flourish in the sector.
Speaking at a conference on FinTech and financial inclusion at the Singapore Management University in August 2016, Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr S. Iswaran emphasised that FinTech is a crucial differentiator for Singapore to remain a leading financial hub in the region. This entails creating a vibrant and nurturing FinTech ecosystem and developing the right skills and talents to meet the constantly evolving needs of the FinTech Industry2.
The government will
- support FinTech innovation and adoption, particularly by small and medium-sized enterprises, that shift towards e-commerce and electronic payments, enabling them to reach out to a larger consumer base and capitalise on the region’s growing middle-class in cities across ASEAN nations;
- facilitate collaborations between industry players to build a FinTech ecosystem through cross-fertilisation of ideas, coordinated implementation and testing by drawing on the specialities and strengths of technology providers, finance players, start-ups, investors and researchers; and
- rope in institutions for the development of multi-disciplinary skills to nurture a new breed of cross-disciplinary talents that the industry needs to enable innovation to thrive. This will be achieved through the school curriculum and the work placement and retraining programmes of various agencies.
3 TIPS FOR ENTRY INTO THE FINTECH INDUSTRY
Given FinTech’s hold on the economic future of the country, it is not entirely too early for the Malay/Muslim (MM) community to start nurturing their technopreneurs. There are steps MMTs should take to play a proactive role in the FinTech industry:
- Become more agile. Huge potential savings can be achieved with the automation of basic tasks and processes by freeing up employees from repetitive tasks and engaging them in true cognitive-based development instead.
- Look for future opportunities and seize them. Rather than viewing disrupters negatively, these should be seen as a means to change and evolve financial businesses into something better.
- Well-balanced team. Rather than single-mindedly hiring employees skilled in finance, they should seek employees with a good hand in technological skills and knowledge as they will be dealing largely in technology.
KEY FACTORS TO BEING A SUCCESSFUL TECHNOPRENEUR
Technopreneurship differs from general entrepreneurship as the former involves a high dependence on technology. Technopreneurs tend to work within the research and development sectors of the technologies they rely on. The tech start-up has to not only monetise the technology they work with, but ensure functionality for the end customer. In general, there are a number of attributes entrepreneurs, both tech and general, do seem to have in common. Here are the key factors in producing a successful technopreneur:
- In a market that is becoming increasingly saturated by information technology, an MMT must be innovative in his idea conceptualisation and successfully differentiate himself from others in the market. This can be done by offering a new product or a new variation of an existing product, with a highly digitised and easily accessible twist.
- An MMT should also focus on execution. Success cannot come from breakthrough innovation alone, but is in great part, derived from flawless execution, which can be found in the assurance of seamless transactions or online product quality.
- Flexibility with a dose of persistence. Every MMT has to be agile, continually learn and adapt as newer forms of information technology become available. At the same time, they have to remain devoted to the cause and mission of their enterprise.
- MMTs should also maintain their focus. Great technopreneurs focus intensely on an opportunity where others see nothing. This intensity of focus helps to eliminate wasted effort and distractions. Companies suffer from doing too many things at once rather than doing too few things very well. To be successful, MMTs should stay focused on the mission.
- MMTs should also trust their team. No individual can be a master of all trades and every individual will need others with complementary skill sets to make for a great team as well as a seamless management process. Leaders or coordinators need to be able to work among and with their co-workers and partners. The ability to go through the bureaucracy, work with different ministries and levels of government will open up golden opportunities for the MMTs to see success in their businesses.
- Last but not least, it is no secret that MMTs should work hard. There is no such thing as overnight success as behind every “overnight” success lies years of hard work and sweat.
To conclude, innovative and disruptive technologies present interesting prospects for the MMTs. In 2015, global investments in FinTech soared to $23.7 billion, up from just $2.2 billion in 2012. For start-ups, venture capitals are accessible to them with relative ease considering that, in the past, their investment-worthiness had to be substantiated by a recognisable measure of success, such as a five-year financial track record. Given that MMTs are still not integrated enough with the tech fraternity to seize the available opportunities, the Malay/Muslim community’s businesses and leadership could consider setting benchmarks for the next five to 20 years, during which they can complement the role of the government in nurturing cross-disciplinary talents within the community. Their businesses also need to capitalise on new technologies to gain a foothold in the industry. ⬛
1 “Singapore Fintech Journey – Where We Are, What Is Next” – Speech by Mr Ravi Menon, Managing Director, Monetary Authority of Singapore, at Singapore Fintech Festival – Fintech Conference on 16 November 2016
With a background in economics, accounting and finance, M Nazri is a venture builder and an angel investor who has assisted many enterprises and start-ups in the region. Nazri has more than 20 years of entrepreneurial, investments and credit ratings experience, covering the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa markets. He leads the Artificial Intelligence (AI) design and solutions for public, private and non-profit organisations. Prior to this, he gained successful fund management and research experience in Fortune 500 companies. He also managed two Japanese investment portfolios worth over USD 250 million and USD 5 billion.