As fintech companies see success in their local markets, the next step is often to cross borders to expand internationally. However, this is not without its challenges.
What should these fintech companies be looking out for while crossing these bridges? How can we support innovators who wish to use Singapore as a base for collaboration and as a gateway to other markets in Asia?
These questions and more were put to panelists in front of a packed audience at PwC’s Singapore offices yesterday evening as part of Fintech Week. Below we’ve included excerpts from Panel #2: Advice for startups looking at crossing the fintech bridges (moderated by Robert Oda of Barclays).
Gina Heng (Marvelstone Group, Co-Founder/CEO; LATTICE80, Founding Partner)
- In launching fintech hub LATTICE80, we wanted to capture a gap in the market. It came after years of entrepreneurial experience leading up to that point, and as a startup we wanted to solve our own problems too: we wanted a community environment to base ourselves and feel inspired.
- Level39 in the UK inspired me, but we didn’t see anything similar in Singapore. We took the risk to launch before Fintech Festival last year, without expecting such a positive response. We didn’t even have a concrete business case at the time. Since then, many governments and regulators from overseas have come to visit.
- Having seen our results over the past 12 months, we’ve decided to expand globally to build fintech bridges with other markets like London and New York. Our goal with LATTICE80 remains to build a global fintech community.
- The past year has been a steep learning curve. We thought it might take a year to fill up the space or be operationally ready. In reality, it filled up in the first few months. Startups didn’t just hot desk, but big teams came in and took up entire desk spaces. At the same time we’ve been trying to understand what’s happening in the market.
- From here, to scale and monetise we need to understand our value propositions to other markets around the world. This might be through adopting new models including venture building and even opening a fintech fund.
Tom Helm (Head of FinTech & Banking Innovation, Financial Services Organisation, UK Department for International Trade)
- Our success metrics (as the UK government) are very different from the startups. We have a few fundamental KPIs: government to government dialogue between the UK and Singapore (regulators coming together and looking at a future of equivalence, i.e. if I’m green-lighted by the FCA in the UK, how can I more smoothly and efficiently transition to being green-lighted in Singapore).
- Business to business considerations are also key: we are here to support export from the UK and high quality investment into it. But we’re also entering a brave new world of negotiating trade agreements, so increased dialogue with key strategic partners is what we need. Singapore is a growing market and major financial hub within Asia. We have a great history of trade between our two jurisdictions, and so now it’s about ensuring there’s a framework upon which we can build fintech bridges, and leverage existing relationships.
- Fintechs need to engage with governments, and vice versa. Both sides depend on each other to support growth while at the same time setting correct barriers. While there is an existing lose framework to bridge the UK and Singapore fintech markets, as government we want to know how we can build on it to better support business growth.
- The idea of twinning is something we’re looking at much closer lately, whether that’s twinning accelerators/incubators in the UK and Singapore, or universities, in order to leverage flows and understand ecosystems. For tangible support, we need to constantly be working with and engaging fintechs.
Henry Goodwin (Partner, PwC Legal International)
- For fintech companies expanding into or out of Singapore, understanding regulations is a critical factor. Most regulators are trying to do what’s fundamentally correct: protect the consumer. Startups can derisk by beginning conversations with regulators in their target expansion market early.
- Fintechs should judge the timing right for expansion, assessing whether they are likely to gain traction in target markets based on their performance in their domestic market. Ensuring they have access to the right people on the ground in an overseas market is also important.
- Legal risk is high on the agenda for fintechs, and often there aren’t perfect answers, particularly in markets in Asia where regulators aren’t always familiar with news models in payments and remittances. Try to get as much clarity as you can. Lawyers can become expensive when getting into prolonged discussions with regulators on behalf of startups.
- Leverage your networks to grow understanding of regulations in different jurisdictions. Consider filing patents in markets where it’s made easy for defensive purposes. These aren’t always fun or exciting, but are issues that need to be addressed.
Amit Shah (Yes Bank, Senior President and Global Head, Corporate Strategy)
- The Indian market is very large, but until about 18 months ago it wasn’t as accessible due to low penetrations of digital and mobility. That is changing and the 1.3 billion population is coming online.
- We launched our fintech accelerator a year ago and had 80-90 international participants. This year, we had 160 applying to us. It shows that fintechs globally are interesting in India as a large market, and that fundamental changes are happening in the country.
- Fintechs looking to operate in India need to adopt price-sensitive models, but appreciate that profits in the country are driven by volume not high margins. They would also do well to partner with local businesses or agencies on the ground to help them navigate the market.
Kevin McSpadden (Editor, e27)
- Singaporean startups should adopt a “just do it” attitude to expanding overseas and taking risks in domestic markets. The example of equity crowdfunding from last year highlighted complications around waiting for regulations to catch up – sometimes fintech startups need to operate in a regulatory grey area until legislation is passed. ICOs this year has followed the same track. Historically, MAS tends to react positively and supportive of innovation in the market.
- Fintechs need to understand target markets rather than getting hung up on technology. For example, when remitting money to emerging markets in Southeast Asia, it may be more important to partner with high street chains like 7-Elevens, before you consider whether to build on the blockchain.