After a rocky 2019, South Korea's Toss has performed strongly thus far in 2020. Despite the pandemic, Toss broke even for the first time in April. In late August Toss's parent company Viva Republica announced it had raised US$173 million, bringing its total war chest to US$560 million and its valuation to US$2.6 billion. Investors in the fundraising round include Aspex Management, Kleiner Perkins Digital Growth Fund, Altos Ventures, Goodwater Capital, and Greyhound Capital. Toss will use the cash to support the next stage of its expansion.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a new normal that is affecting the livelihoods of billions of consumers and businesses globally. Singapore is no exception as the fintech industry faces unprecedented challenges. However, the Singapore government has been very supportive of the industry and there are a number of public and private initiatives that have been launched to help the industry along. As part of Kapronasia's work to help companies through this time, please do not hesitate to reach out for a conversation of how we might be able to help your business weather this time. As a Singapore-based firm, we are able to work through many of the programs that are listed below which provides clients with the same Kapronasia quality at often a much lower cost through grants and incentives.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) threw FinTechs a lifeline in April following a survey of Singapore FinTech Association (SFA) members which found that 47.8% of respondents felt that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on their business.
As part of the S$125 million “Covid-19 FinTech Care Package,” funded by the Financial Sector Development Fund, the MAS announced a new Digital Acceleration Grant (DAG) under the Financial Sector Technology and Innovation (FSTI) scheme. The DAG seeks to help smaller financial institutions (FIs) and FinTech firms in adopting, customizing, or collaborating on digitalization projects to streamline processes and deepen capabilities.
The DAG scheme consists of two tracks: The Institution Project track and the Industry Pilot track.
The Institution Project track supports the adoption of digital solutions to improve operational resilience, enhance productivity, manage risks more effectively and/or serve customers better. Eligible FIs and FinTechs are entitled to 80% of qualifying expenses up to a cap of S$120,000 per entity over the duration of the scheme.
The Industry Pilot track supports collaborations among at least three smaller Singapore-based FIs to customize digital solutions for implementation within their institutions, by co-funding 80% of qualifying expenses, capped at S$100,000 per participating FI per project.
The MAS’ Covid-19 FinTech Care Package consists of three main components. The DAG scheme falls under “strengthening digitalization and operational resilience.” The other two main components of the MAS support package are:
Supporting workforce training and manpower costs: Under this component of the package, the MAS will launch a new Training Allowance Grant (TAG) to encourage FIs and FinTech firms to train and deepen the capabilities of their employees. Self-sponsored individuals and employees at FIs and FinTechs can apply to receive a training allowance and subsidized course fees, while FIs are also eligible to receive a salary grant under the Finance Associate Management Scheme (FAMS).
Enhancing FinTech firms’ access to digital platforms and tools: Under this component of the package, the MAS will provide all Singapore-based FinTech firms six months’ free access to the API Exchange (APIX), an online global marketplace and sandbox for collaboration and sales. The MAS will also work with the SFA to set up a new digital self-assessment framework for MAS’ Outsourcing and Technology Risk Management (TRM) Guidelines hosted on APIX. Completing the self-assessment will help FinTech firms provide a first-level assurance to FIs about the quality of their solutions.
MAS-SFA-AMTD FinTech Solidarity Grant
In a separate initiative introduced in May, The MAS, SFA, and AMTD established a S$6 million MAS-SFA-AMTD FinTech Solidarity Grant to support Singapore-based FinTech companies amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The grant will help FinTechs manage their cashflow better, support them in generating new businesses, and provide greater support for FinTechs to pursue growth strategies.
The grant is made up for two parts:
The Business Sustenance Grant seeks to tide over Singapore-based FinTechs during this Covid-19 period and save jobs. It offers both wage and rental support.
The Business Growth Grant aims to foster the continued growth of Singapore-based FinTech companies and help these companies offset their POC costs. The grant offers 70% of qualifying costs related to the POC on APIX, as well as 100% internship funding for interns involved in the development and implementation of the POCs.
Consumer internet company Sea is in many ways the ideal candidate for a Singapore digital full bank license. It has a trio of digital services: the gaming arm Garena, the e-commerce platform Shopee and SeaMoney, which focuses on digital financial services. All that's missing is a digital bank license that would allow NYSE-listed Sea to offer full-fledged banking services to the many users it has across those three core businesses.
Internationalization of the yuan began in earnest more than a decade ago, with the goal of eventually establishing it as a global reserve currency. At the time, Chinese policymakers sought a larger role for China's currency on the global stage in line with broader financial reform. Today, Beijing worries about the possibility of a full-blow financial war with the United States. In this case, dependency on the dollar for international payments is a vulnerability that China must address.
South Korea is going cashless. Again. This time it's e-wallets and digital banks driving the trend, not credit cards. South Korea is already one of the world's most credit-card friendly countries. By some estimates, it has the world's highest credit card penetration rate. South Korea also has the world's highest internet connection speeds. These factors are much more integral to South Korea's Cashless 2.0 movement than covid-19, even if the pandemic is pushing more of the economy online.
China's peer-to-peer lending crackdown has been a lesson in risk management with Chinese characteristics. While SOE juggernauts in China may be too big to fail, the P2P lending sector was too big to prevail. Massive scams on the largely unregulated platforms defrauded retail investors of their life savings, threatening social stability. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission reckons that P2P lenders still owe depositors about RMB 800 billion (US$115 billion). There are just 29 P2P lenders left in China today, compared to 6,000 when the crackdown began in 2015.
Indonesia's e-commerce market is surging amid the pandemic, giving a big boost to digital wallets. Transactions at the four largest e-commerce sites in the country will double to US$29 billion from US$14 billion in 2019, according to a study by the Bank of Indonesia published in July. Digital wallets accounted for 90% of cashless payments in the first five months of the year, while bank cards handled the rest.
Amid clouds of a U.S.-China financial war, Hong Kong is fast becoming the default for Chinese fintech IPOs. The former British colony offers liquid capital markets both close to both home and global investors. But there are exceptions. Lufax, one of China's largest online wealth management platforms, is reportedly instead eyeing a New York IPO that could raise up to US$3 billion. If Lufax moves fast, it can list in the U.S. before new rules go into effect that may prevent Chinese firms non-compliant with American accounting standards from listing on U.S. exchanges.
Ride-hailing Grab is pushing deeper into digital banking, launching an auto investment service similar to Ant Group's Yu'e Bao. In Grab's case, the AutoInvest service allows users to invest - the minimum is set at just S$1 - while using the company's ecosystem. Fullerton Fund Management and UOB's fixed income funds are responsible for the investments. They expect annual returns of 1.8%, similar to what banks in Singapore offer. At the same time, Grab plans to offer third-party consumer loans from licensed bank partners, with which the ride-hailing giant will integrate APIs.
While Alipay and WeChat Pay maintain a duopoly over China's mobile payments market, that duopoly does not warrant the antitrust investigation reportedly in the works. To be sure, no competitor has emerged able to pose a credible challenge to the duopoly, but primarily for reasons out of the companies' control. Beijing's market barriers have been key enablers of Alipay and WeChat Pay's ability to dominate mobile payments. Together they control 94% of China's mobile payments market, Alipay 55% and WeChat Pay 39%, according to research firm Analysys.
Hong Kong's eight virtual banks largely represent vested banking and tech interests in the city. Most of the newcomers are actually oldcomers if you stop to think about how well established they are outside of Hong Kong's nascent digital banking segment. WeLab, a Hong Kong-based fintech startup, is the exception. Founded in 2013 by ex-Citibank executive Simon Loong and two other partners, the company has steadily grown over the past seven years, and says it now has 40 million customers and disbursed more than HK$50 billion in loans in Hong Kong, mainland China and Indonesia. WeLab's Hong Kong virtual bank went live in July.
It's good to be Kakao Bank. Kakao was already South Korea's most successful neobank story before it reported record earnings in the second quarter of 26.8 billion won ($22.6 million), a nearly 900% year-on-year increase from 3.0 billion won a year earlier. Kakao's net profit for the first half of the year reached 45.3 billion won, a more than fourfold increase from 9.6 billion in the first half of 2019. That Kakao achieved this exponential growth amid the pandemic and a weak overall South Korean economy is particularly impressive.
According to Kakao, its profits surged on the back of rising net interest income and commissions from the sale of financial products. "We were able to make more profit from increased revenues from lending and fees from partnering with credit card companies and brokerages," the company said in a statement published by South Korean media.
The picture for Kakao Bank's lending business is fairly rosy. Its outstanding loan balance grew to 17.68 trillion won in the second quarter, up from 14.88 trillion won a year earlier. Financial inclusion is one name of the game as well: Kakao said it provided 660 billion won in mid-rate loans to consumers with mid- to low-level credit scores from January to June and plans to disburse a total of 1 trillion won of such loans in 2020.
Like many successful fintechs, Kakao Bank is steadily developing partnerships with key incumbents. It has four local credit card partners in South Korea, including Shinhan Card and Samsung Card. From April to July, Kakao issued 260,000 credit cards, according to The Korea Herald.
Kakao Bank also has a burgeoning equities trading business. As of late June, it had more than 2.18 million such accounts, up from 1.14 million in December 2019. Its partners among incumbents include Korea Investment & Securities, NH Investment Securities and KB Securities.
At the same time, Kakao Bank benefits from the stickiness of the Kakao ecosystem, which is a super app in all but name. Kakao Bank already has 11 million monthly active users, more than half who are under age 50. And there are many more potential customers where those came from: The dominant KakaoTalk messaging app has almost 45 million monthly users, about 87% of South Korea's population.
Thanks to its strong brand name and ecosystem, Kakao Bank managed to reach profitability in just two years from its establishment in 2017. Further buoying its growth was when its parent company Kakao Corp became the virtual bank's majority shareholder, the first instance in Korea of a non-financial firm holding a majority stake in a bank. That change allowed Kakao Bank to issue new shares worth 500 billion won and increase its paid-in capital to 1.8 trillion won.
When it comes to Asian financial centers, Hong Kong and Singapore are no longer the only games in town. Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney have recently signaled intent to bolster their financial sectors and take on a larger regional role. Yet right on Hong Kong's doorstep there is another potential contender: Taiwan. In recent weeks, Taiwan's government has highlighted its plan to develop a more globally oriented financial sector. That will be easier said than done. Taiwan takes a fundamentally conservative approach to finance that will not be easily changed.
Shanghai's STAR board is introducing a more market-driven approach to China's initial public offerings. Listing on the STAR market is more streamlined than the traditional process in China, where new listings are subject to an informal price cap of 23 times earnings and a 44% ceiling for first-day gains. Before the Shanghai STAR Board was launched it July 2019, it could take many years before companies' plans to go public were approved. Now a flurry of tech listings on the Shanghai STAR market are shaking up China's capital markets.
Before covid-19, the sky seemed to be the limit for Australia's virtual banks. They were rapidly accruing users, in some cases surpassing their own forecasts. Venture capital kept flowing into their coffers. The pandemic slammed the brakes on the neobanks' ascendancy. Demand in Australia remains for innovative digital banking services - if the neobanks can survive the downturn. Since the neobanks are startups built for fast growth, rather than steely resilience, they face a long road ahead.