Asia Financial Industry Blog

In 2018, Chinese banks lent a record $2.4 trillion in loans. That the credit spigot opened is no surprise: The banks had the full backing of Beijing, who looked on nervously as the Chinese economy limped - by its standards, anyway - to the finish line with just 6.5% annual growth, its worst performance since 1990. It wasn't so long ago that China could expect 9% annual growth.

Mobile payment adoption is accelerating in Thailand as the finance sector moves to digitize. Like its Asean peers, Thailand is keen to use digital finance to boost an underdeveloped banking sector. Without the entrenched incumbents of developed economies, Asean countries tend to view digital finance as a greater opportunity than threat. Even highly advanced Singapore has embraced fintech, with an eye towards becoming Southeast Asia's fintech hub.

Germany is pressing China to follow through on nearly two-decade-old promises to open its financial sector to foreign competition. In a January 18 dialogue in Beijing, the two countries vowed to open their respective markets wider to each other's banks and insurers. Reportedly, Beijing and Berlin signed three agreements: one between the two central banks, one regarding cooperation in securities and futures trading, and one to examine banking regulations together.

The cryptocurrency winter is getting frostier, but a blockchain spring may be around the corner in South Korea. Seoul's prudent approach to distributed ledger technology - less draconian than Beijing's but stricter than Tokyo's - just may represent the happy middle ground. A year ago, Seoul moved to ban anonymous virtual currency trading in a bid to quash crypto related crime, but stopped short of shutting down exchanges as China has done. Meanwhile, although Japan has also banned anonymous trading, it allows crypto to self-regulate, for better or worse.

The United States is not the only major economic power turning cold on Chinese investment. Now the European Union, China's largest trading partner, is having second thoughts of its own about allowing China to buy up its prime manufacturing and high-tech assets. Concern amongst the EU's heavyweights, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom, is significant, analysts say. While weaker states in the EU, notably Greece, continue to welcome Chinese investment, they are increasingly in the minority.

The crypto community is aghast at Beijing's move to regulate blockchain, which will be effective February 15. "Blockchain under threat in China," proclaimed Coingape in January 14. report. The Invest in Blockchain site said that "the Chinese blockchain industry is about to come under heavy scrutiny" in a Jan. 13 article.

In Japan, cash is still king. Indeed, the Japanese have a fondness for physical currency that has ebbed amongst their neighbors. Cash accounts for 80% of transactions in Japan, compared to 40% in China and 10% in South Korea.

With its underdeveloped banking sector, Vietnam is a prime market for digital financial services. Thus far the pace of development has been modest, but analysts expect it will speed up considerably in the next few years. In a November report, ratings agency Moody's said that startups focused on payments were the most prevalent in the nascent Vietnam fintech segment. By some estimates, payments startups account for almost 50% of Vietnam's fintech firms. Vietnam also has about 25 fintech incubators, accelerators and innovation labs.

All things considered, the U.S. and China had amicable trade discussions this week. With the clock ticking on the 90-day trade-war ceasefire, both sides have impetus to resolve the trade tiff. The Chinese economy likely grew at its slowest pace in 30 years - 6.5% - in 2018 as U.S. tariffs battered exports. The U.S. economy remains resilient for now, but U.S. President Donald Trump is watching the mercurial stock market nervously. People close to the administration say that he hopes to reach a trade deal with China to rally investors.

China's major banks are moving to open wealth-management units following a regulatory overhaul designed to strengthen risk management and oversight of fund flows in the Chinese financial system. The new rules allow bank subsidiaries to invest up to 35% of a product's net assets in "non-standard credit assets," i.e.: "off-balance-sheet loans.

At first blush, Didi Chuxing doesn't seem in dire need of a new business model. As China's top ride-hailing app, the Beijing-based firm boasts more than half a billion users and millions of drivers. Granted, it has been burning money for years, but that's par for the course among unicorns - tech startups valued at US$1 billion or more - and some analysts believe Didi could raise up to US$80 billion in an expected 2019 IPO.

Facebook is reportedly developing a cryptocurrency that will be backed by the U.S. dollar for the Indian remittances market. Known as a "stablecoin," the digital currency will allow users of Facebook's WhatsApp messaging app to transfer money. Stablecoins have many applications besides remittance, including peer-to-peer payments, the purchase of goods and services online, and trading of digital currency. Facebook's digital currency is at a nascent stage and won't be released for some time, according to a December Bloomberg report.

Years ago, traditional POS machines only provided basic processing that were more convenient than cash transactions, but provided little help when it came to sales analysis. Smart POS started gaining traction in 2014 and grew rapidly as merchants juggled many different payment channels. A smart POS can process QR code, bank card, Quick Pass, as well as analyze business data, maintain membership details and combine online–offline sales. In December, UnionPay and Alipay both launched new acquiring products.

At the end of 2017, regulations tightened around the cash loan industry in China and locked 36% as the highest APR lenders can collect on any loans. One year later, although many platforms have disappeared, others have transformed and are back at the forefront of lending in China.

The last eighteen months have been a bumpy road for initial coin offerings (ICO’s). Last year we reported that China had banned them completely citing concerns over large scale fraud and regulatory bodies across the world have begun to take a tougher stance on the practice. Yet, despite these setbacks, $5 billion dollars was raised by ICOs in 2017, with that figure being surpassed in the first three months of 2018 alone. Nonetheless, in a response to the negativity around ICO’s, Security Token offering (STO) have emerged as an alternative form of blockchain based funding. We believe that the subtle differences in both offerings may be critical in beginning a new period of reconciliation and agreement between regulators and technology companies seeking finance under the blockchain.

Double 11, the biggest e-commerce shopping festival, had another amazing result in 2018. On November 11th 2018, total online sales in China reached RMB314.2 billion (USD45.2 billion) in one single day.

In an interim report released last month Australia's Banking Royal Commission has highlighted the misconduct, greed, and even criminality involved in the Australian financial services industry. Set up in December 2017, the commission has worked through over 700,000 documents to investigate the dealings of some of Australia’s largest financial companies. The commission has heard from victims and cross-examined some of the key figures in the industry. The results are damning and are likely to spark much greater support for tougher regulation on the banks in the future. However, a battered, bruised, and riskless financial system is no good to anyone and may end up causing further disruption to the economy. It’s important that the government finds the right balance.

China's bank card market is large. Over 9 billion domestic payment cards will be in use by the end of 2018, a nearly 35% increase from the 6.7 billion in 2016. Even though the market is replete with card providers, the clearing business has been always dominated by the only one licensed clearing institution, China UnionPay (CUP), for both domestic and cross-border RMB transactions. That is, until now.

In China, financial cloud has become a key goal for financial institutions in 2016. According to ‘the 13th Five-year Plan’, by the end of 2020, banks’ online business system should all be transferred to cloud and more than 60% of their other business systems should be moved online. With this clear direction, banks are taking actions. The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) found that in 2017, 42% of financial institutions are applying to use cloud, whilst 47% are in the process of planning the transition to cloud as companies seek to establish agile banking infrastructure.

On September 18th 2018 the MAS launched the Singapore Quick Response Code (SGQR). Within the next year, 27 different mobile wallet providers including PayNow, NETS, GrabPay, Liquid Pay, and Singtel Dash will incorporate the new standardised code. The SGQR is the first of its kind globally and represents a significant change to the e-payment landscape. Interoperability is seen as a key infrastructural requirement for mobile payments and will have several impacts on new and incumbent firms in the market. 

At the end of last month, another Chinese fintech company Samoyed Holding filed for $80 million IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. The company provides consumer finance services for the Chinese millennials. Its main business is the credit card balance transfer business, counting for 74.7% of its 2017 turnover.

Financial results from China's banks are improving recently as tight regulation is limiting the expansion of 3rd party competition, while overall bank profitability is increasing.

During the Internet Security Summit in Beijing on August 21st, Ant Financial announced the official upgrade for the security control of its digital payment platform – Alipay. The more secured process is achieved through what is called a 'Delayed Payment' (DP) function.

One morning in July, investors of Niubanjin Finance, a P2P platform with balance of 39 billion RMB at that time, tried to check their balance online, but only saw a system maintenance notification. They started feeling anxious and visited the local office in Hangzhou, only to find that the office had closed, and two policemen there to record their investment information, as proof of victims.

More and more Chinese individuals have accumulated a great amount of wealth thanks to the country’s economy boom in the past decades. As a result, the demand of wealth management is growing. With the help of new technologies, mobile wealth management (MWM) platforms are attracting more and more investors in China recently.

Fortune released the latest Global Top 500 list recently. 120 Chinese companies made the list, while US took the lead with 126 companies. Banking was the leading industry in China as China's banks come to the forefront again.

President Trump’s latest controversial policy of imposing tariffs on the EU, Canada and China has shook global trade. With around $34bn worth of tariffs on Chinese goods (with more tariffs proposed), he aims to reduce the US’s trade deficit with the hope that American consumers will buy less Chinese goods and more American goods, thus increasing net exports and GDP. However, China has retaliated with its own tariffs against the US (worth the same amount). It is clear that neither side wants to back down first so who will win this trade war?

The 20th China-EU high summit was held in Beijing this past week and attracted a lot of attention due to the current global trade tensions. As the speculation on trade war continues, the EU and China decided to stand together against Trump’s attack on the global trade system.

We have talked about the trend before, but starting to see more and more cooperation between fintech companies and banks. China Construction Bank Wenzhou Branch is now in cooperation with Alipay for a hospital payment service channel, ICBC is supporting WeChat’s QR code payment and JD finance and Citic Bank have issued over 2 million co-branded credit cards called the ‘White Card’. We're also starting to better understand the potential business models for both sides.

China's tech giants are increasingly focused on positioning themselves as technology providers rather than financial services providers. A recent 3-second blockchain remittance from Hong Kong to the Philippines, was supported by Alipay HK and Philippine's GCash, cleared by Standard Chartered. Caifu Hao, a wealth management platform launched by Ant Financial, opened their AI-functioned investment tools to fund companies. Tencent recently signed contracts with a few banks to provide a financial cloud structure for acquiring and managing growing clients.

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