Latest Reports

  • Beyond Swipe and Tap: Rewriting the Rules
    Beyond Swipe and Tap: Rewriting the Rules The roundtable discussion at Japan FinTech Festival brought together leading experts from banking, fintech, technology and regulatory backgrounds to explore the current state and future potential of account-to-account (A2A) payments in Japan. The wide-ranging discussion surfaced several key insights and themes that will shape the trajectory of A2A in the…
  • Breaking Borders
    Breaking Borders Despite progress in payment systems, the absence of a unified, cross-border Real-Time Payments (RTP) network means that intermediaries play a crucial role in facilitating connectivity. This report examines the ongoing complexities, challenges, and initiatives in creating a seamless payment landscape across Asia.
  • Innovate to Elevate
    Innovate to Elevate In the dynamic and diverse financial landscape of the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, banks are at a pivotal juncture, facing the twin imperatives of innovation and resilience to meet evolving consumer expectations and navigate digital disruption.

Events

October 21, 2024 - October 24, 2024
Sibos Beijing
November 06, 2024 - November 08, 2024
Singapore Fintech Festival
Insight - Kapronasia

China’s cashless evolution is a remarkable story, as the country transitioned in less than two decades from a cash-first society to one with an 86% mobile payments penetration rate. The comprehensive ecosystems of Alipay and WeChat Pay have made payments in China among the most convenient and frictionless in the world with one important caveat: One must be within the domestic Chinese payments ecosystems, with a Chinese bank account that can be tied to the payment apps.

With three of Asia’s most successful digital banks, South Korea is now considering adding a fourth. Though the country was well banked before the arrival of the digital challengers, Kakao Bank, K Bank and Toss Bank have all found a way to build market share rapidly without burning an inordinate amount of cash. The former two are profitable, while the latter should reach that milestone soon. Consumer interest in digital banks in Korea is such that the market can very likely support a fourth online lender.

The Philippines is one of Asia’s most promising digital banking markets thanks to a favorable combination of underbanked consumers, island geography that limits the footprint of physical bank branches and incumbents with average digital capabilities. That said, it will take time for online banks to be profitable, and in March, the Philippine central bank (BSP) said that just two of the official digital lenders – which it did not identify – are profitable and it may take five to seven years before the others reach that milestone. Investors, however, appear to be willing to play the long game in this market segment.

Those who do not follow China’s payments sector closely may not have heard of LianLian Digitech, a Hangzhou-based fintech firm that presides over an ascendant cross-border payments network and counts among its strategic partners American Express. LianLian has leaned hard into market segments not dominated by the traditional Chinese payments duopoly of Alipay and Tenpay, whether by partnering with a global card giant like Amex on renminbi clearing in China’s domestic market or by capitalizing on a growing appetite among China’s e-commerce sector to do business overseas.

South Korea’s digital banks have long been outliers, with market leader Kakao Bank one of the most successful online lenders in Asia. Though Kakao Bank’s share price has fallen about 65% since its November 2021 IPO, that reflects macroeconomic conditions and investors adjusting overly high expectations for the company more than any underlying issues with its business model or earnings. To that end, in the March quarter Kakao Bank posted a record profit of 111.2 billion won (US$81.44 million), up 9% year-on-year.

In late 2019 as the 20-year anniversary of Macau’s return to China was celebrated, there was speculation that Beijing sought to elevate the status of the former Portuguese crown colony from a mere gambling hub to an offshore financial center. While there was never an intention to replace Hong Kong, Beijing seemed to be considering transforming Macau into a secondary offshore financial center for China.

Alipay is continuing its cross-border expansion with new partnerships, including one with Mastercard focused on remittances. The company is at the same time steadily developing the Alipay+ platform and has its eye on expanding to Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy and one of the most important in Asia Pacific for fintech. While the various expansion efforts may not seem interconnected at first blush, there is a common theme: Alipay can no longer count on China’s domestic market for high margins and fast growth.

Although the narrative in the financial industry is that digital is better, that is not always the case. Many rural economies across Asia operate on a largely informal and cash basis. A few factors are driving this. Firstly, there is often a lack of infrastructure to support cashless payments, such as limited internet access or banking services. Secondly, the rural populations often have a general distrust or lack of familiarity with digital payment systems. Additionally, the informal nature of many businesses in rural areas lends itself to cash transactions, which are perceived as more straightforward.

South Korea’s digital banks are the exception to a rule in East Asia’s advanced economies: They are extremely successful by multiple metrics instead of redundant. While the relative weak digital offerings of incumbent banks in Korea helps explain the phenomenon, it is not the main reason. We believe that South Korea’s three digital banks – Kakao Bank, K Bank and Toss Bank –  have been able to develop truly competitive products, in contrast to their counterparts in the other Asian tiger economies of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, and gradually have made themselves indispensable to many Korean retail customers.

While the buy now, pay later (BNPL) concept has proven immensely popular with consumers worldwide, developing a sustainable business model as a BNPL focused fintech is a challenging endeavor. For that reason, it is always noteworthy when a BNPL firm reaches the profitability milestone. The Philippines’ Billease, founded in 2017, appears to have done so in 2023.

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