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November 06, 2024 - November 08, 2024
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Greenland Financial Holdings has always been an unusual candidate for operating a digital bank in Singapore. The company is in essence a large state-owned real estate developer based in Shanghai. Compared to tech and telecoms giants that won the other licenses in the city-state, Greenland is less market oriented. It’s more like a real estate arm of the Chinese government. Given the trouble that China’s property sector has been experiencing, as well as a recent bond default, it is worth pondering if Greenland’s digital bank in Singapore could be affected.

This commentary was written in collaboration with Banking Circle

Taiwan’s e-commerce market has been growing steadily in recent years, buoyed by the pandemic-induced boom in online shopping but also due to rising trade ties between Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Per a research report commissioned by Amazon, the B2C segment is forecast estimated to grow 9% annually from 2021 to 2025, reaching NT$683 billion (US$23.2 billion). Companies including Taiwan’s own PChome and Momo as well as Shopee and Rakuten are all keen to tap into related market opportunities.

It’s always good to revisit assumptions, especially when the bank you are analyzing is an offshoot of an incumbent as large as Standard Chartered. When we initially heard that there was a new kid on the block among the digital banks in Singapore – but not altogether “new” – we were skeptical because the value proposition was anchored in, well, groceries. It’s just not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about how to build a successful lender. That said, the ecosystem play by Standard Chartered and Fair Price Group appears to be bearing fruit (no pun intended).

Southeast Asia’s largest platform companies all reported second quarter earnings recently. Some results were better than others, but Sea Group, Grab and GoTo all continue to struggle with the fundamentals. The latter two companies are not profitable, while Sea’s performance underwhelmed investors.

Japan’s megabanks are not the only Japanese financial services companies keen on growing their fintech footprint. The SoftBank spinoff SBI Holdings is a digital focused conglomerate with a securities division, a digital bank that is reportedly Japan’s largest by deposits, an asset management arm, an insurance business and a venture capital arm.

South Korea’s digital banks have been among the most successful online lenders in East Asia, benefiting from the network effect of their respective digital services platforms, relatively weak incumbent digital offerings and strong demand from the country’s retail banking market for new types of products. Yet as they expand into new market segments, in some cases rapidly, regulators are bound to take notice. This holds especially true for the mortgage loan segment.

In a rapidly digitizing world, many Asian countries are going cashless in order to create better, faster, and cheaper payment infrastructure. But should 100% cashless be the goal?

While cashless transactions offer clear benefits, significant barriers exist to achieving a completely cashless society. Infrastructure limitations, inadequate digital literacy, and disparities in access to technology hinder the widespread adoption of digital payments in many Asian countries. In addition, cultural preferences and the role of cash in informal economies are tough to dislodge.

In recent years, Japan’s largest banks have expanded rapidly in emerging Southeast Asia, from Indonesia to Thailand to Vietnam, as well as India. At the same time, they are making strategic investments in advanced economies such as the United States and Israel. With growth prospects at home facing constraints, from the aging population to the fact that the Japanese population is well banked, this search for growth overseas looks set to continue for some time.

Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) is among the most fintech-forward commercial banks in Asia. What makes SCB's digital finance strategy successful is that it leverages all the advantages of incumbency while using technology to develop products for the digital age.

Despite high expectations for China's digital currency, adoption of the e-CNY for retail payments in the country remains modest at best. A key issue, and one we have been discussing for several years now, is interoperability with the existing, very effective digital payments ecosystem. The e-CNY is unlikely to be more than a novelty unless it can be fully interoperable with Alipay and WeChat Pay.

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