Asia Payments Research

Compared to many of its neighbors, Thailand has been digitizing its financial sector at a slower pace. Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has no digital banks – not even any framework for digital lenders – and until recently, no fintech unicorns. Ant Group-backed Ascend Money is Thailand’s first.

It was only a matter of time before buy, now pay later (BNPL) caught fire in India. All of the necessary elements are in place, from high internet connectivity and low credit card penetration to booming fintech investment and strong demand for alternative digital-first credit. A flurry of deals in recent months signify BNPL’s ascendancy on the subcontinent.

The delay of Kakao Pay’s US$1.3 billion IPO signifies a toughening regulatory landscape for the company and fintech overall in South Korea. For years, Kakao's fintech business in South Korea grew largely unfettered. Neither incumbents nor digital competitors – there were very few – posed a serious challenge to the firm, while regulators seemed content to take a relatively hands-off approach to its digital finance business. That’s all over now. What remains to be seen is whether this is a bump in the road or a harbinger of a rough ride to come.

In recent years, Asian countries have begun experimenting with instant cross-border payments on alternate payment rails, as covered in depth in a recent white paper by Kapronasia and ACI Worldwide. The idea is to enable instant, affordable and transparent payment flows using state-of-the-art digital technology. While much of the activity has been in Southeast Asia, India is an important player in this space as well given the prominence of its United Payments Interface (UPI) platform. The advent of the link-up between Singapore’s PayNow and UPI – slated to go live by July 2022 – marks an important step forward for real-time cross-border payments in the region.

Jakarta-based Xendit is Southeast Asia’s latest fintech unicorn, hitting a US$1 billion valuation after a Series C fundraising round that raised US$150 million led by Tiger Capital Management with participation from returning investors Accel, Amasia and Goat Capital. It has now raised a total of US$238 million. Xendit is best known for its digital payments infrastructure.

Singapore-based Nium became Southeast Asia’s first B2B payments unicorn in late July following a series D funding round that raised more than US$200 million. Nium is using that substantial capital injection to support an ambitious international expansion plan that includes the United States, Europe and India.

PayPal has long been one of the world’s preeminent online payment companies, but to stay at the forefront of the industry it needs to capture new market segments and build a larger presence in Asia Pacific, the fastest-growing region for digital finance. Targeted acquisitions will be integral to PayPal’s strategy, hence the recent purchase of the Japanese buy now, pay later (BNPL) platform Paidy for US$2.7 billion.

Ant Group-backed Mynt has grown expeditiously thanks to the success of its e-wallet GCash in the Philippines. In January, Mynt closed a funding round that raised US$175 million and brought the company close to unicorn status. In late July, Mynt’s chief commercial officer Frederic Levy told Nikkei Asia that the company was aiming to become a “double unicorn” – with a valuation of US$2 billion. But it is unclear if Mynt can maintain the same level of growth now that the Philippines has five genuine digital banks.

With the Australian buy now, pay later (BNPL) segment increasingly crowded, some of the biggest players are searching for greener pastures overseas. While Afterpay has been the most aggressive in terms of global expansion, its rival Zip (Australia’s No. 2 pure-play BNPL firm) is catching up. Having already expanded to New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the UK, Zip is now foraying into Africa with the acquisition of South African payments startup Payflex.

The super app trio of Grab, GoTo and Sea is growing increasingly dominant in Southeast Asia, but not yet in Vietnam. In fact, it is the homegrown MoMo which leads Vietnam’s e-payments market. MoMo says it has a 60% market share and processes US$14 million annually for 25 million users.

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