Singapore is crashing the fintech boom – a sector once the preserve of Silicon Valley and London’s 'Silicon Roundabout' in Old Street. Last week the government set up a new fintech innovation group to help egg on the industry, while DBS hosted a weekend hackathon in May, letting its bankers mingle with the city state’s top techies. Meanwhile, finance professionals like Daniel Chia and Cynthia Siantar are increasingly leaving the sector to form their own fintech start-ups.
“The recent rise of fintech in Singapore is due to a friendly regulatory environment that allows innovation to grow, talent coming from all over Asia to start up companies, and an improving infrastructure and more entrepreneurial mind-set within banks when working with start-ups,” says Markus Gnirck, COO of Startupbootcamp.
Here are some of the start-ups trying to take advantage of Singapore’s emerging status as a fintech hub.
Welcome to the new world of “social trading”. Bw8 connects non-professional investors with top traders via a social networking app, allowing them to follow traders and copy trades. The company’s leaders have a classic fintech mesh of trading and IT backgrounds. CFO Gus Banwait was a trade-data analyst at Lloyds, RBS, J.P. Morgan and HSBC, while CEO Amar Banwait was head of trading at Midwestern Capital. CTO Namrata Gandhi designed the ODIN trading platform used by 85% of Indian brokers.
This Singapore start-up has a heavy-hitter at the helm: Bert-Jan van Essen was CIO of Asia Pacific private banking at Credit Suisse until he founded Dragon in 2012. The Dragon Wealth app, which is already used by some global banks and independent wealth managers, allows financial advisors to connect more easily with clients to provide them with better investment information tailored to their portfolio and profile. Dragon hopes to capitalise on rising demand for relationship managers serving Southeast Asia’s growing middle classes.
Fastacash works with mobile operators and financial institutions to let users transfer “value” – money, airtime, coupons – alongside digital content like photos, videos and audio through social networks and messaging platforms. Unlike many fintech firms, most of its senior staff haven’t worked for financial services institutions, although co-founder Shankar Narayanan’s previous company developed consumer applications for banks. The other founder, Michael Wee, has experience in advertising and media, while chairman and CEO Vince Tallent hails from the telecoms sector.
Kashmi’s app is aimed more at hipsters than investors or brokers. It allow friends, “especially young people”, to electronically exchange money via their smart phones – a handy way to split restaurant bills, for example. This Singapore firm has some serious financial and tech talent behind it, though. CEO Rakhil Fernando worked in private banking at Coutts and Credit Suisse, which Harvard graduate and head of technology Mufaddal Lukmanjee was at mobile development company Saberion for nine years.
This fintech start-up is a mobile-based platform for people to save, borrow and lend in money within “trusted digital groups”. It’s looking to find customers within the world’s unbanked and underbanked population and it’s also looking to hire developers. KyePot is led by Sidd Gandhi, a former Bank of America Merrill Lynch vice president, and Abdulkadir Ali Ali, whose diverse career includes four years at Nandos chicken restaurant in Birmingham, UK and one year at Star Alliance in Germany.
Singapore-based Otonomos “is engineering the world's first blockchain-chartered company, in which you hold your shares in the same way as owning bitcoins in a digital wallet”. The firm has three co-founders, including Han Verstraete, a Goldman Sachs banker turned serial entrepreneur. Verstraete’s career took him away from finance for a while – his former start-up, YachtPlus, designed a “spectacular 41ft luxury yacht together with uber-architect Lord Foster”, according to his LinkedIn profile.
OTDocs (the initials stand for “open trade”) is a trade-finance compliance and certification system based on “advanced cryptographic principles” – so it’s not exactly at the funky end of fintech. But with banks seeking to avoid big compliance fines and with trade finance booming in Asia, the company is eyeing up a massive market. Its three founders, Roberto Capodieci, Stefano Galassi and Jean-Daniel Gauthier, are techies rather than financiers, with decades of experience in intelligence, system analysis and software development.
Founded in August last year, Toast is an app that allows Filipino migrants in Singapore to bypass banks and send cash from their smart phones to 7,000 pick-up location back home. Money transfers by low-skilled overseas workers is a $350bn industry globally and Toast sees plenty of room for growth. Founder and digital-currency veteran Aaron Siwoku named his company toast because he thinks moving money should take less time than it takes to make a piece. He now employs seven other staff in Singapore – entrepreneurs, developers, and banking and remittance professionals.