Asia Financial Industry Blog

China is currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for nearly 1/3 of the global total. Beijing is well aware of the effect its emissions have on climate change and has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060, with emissions peaking in 2030. As part of its emissions reduction plan, China is introducing more eco-friendly practices in the financial services sector, but there is a steep learning curve.

Australia’s Big Four banks have had their fair share of compliance travails in recent years. That much was made clear in the report produced by The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Since the report was published in 2019, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia have borne the brunt of fines issued for money-laundering violations. However, National Australia Bank (NAB) is now the one in AUSTRAC’s crosshairs.

Earlier this year, it was unclear if peer-to-peer (P2P) lending had a future in South Korea. Legislation passed in August 2020 to curb malfeasance in the industry had made it harder to operate legally. This legislation banned P2P lenders from lending money they borrow from commercial banks and required they have paid-in capital of at least 500 million won (US$440 million) and register with the Financial Services Commission (FSC) within a year. The regulator’s decision to license several prominent P2P lenders signals that the industry has a way forward in South Korea.

In their first year of operation, Hong Kong’s virtual banks all lost money. Ant Bank lost the least at HK$172 million while Standard Chartered-backed Mox Bank lost the most at HK$456 million, according to the banks’ respective annual reports. While it is still early days for Hong Kong’s digital lenders, it appears a few of them are pulling ahead of the pack.

India’s remittances market was supposed to contract 9% in 2020 per a World Bank forecast. It was a reasonable prediction given the turmoil wrought by the coronavirus pandemic on public health and the global economy. Yet the market was much more resilient than expected. Data from the World Bank show that remittances to India fell just 0.2% in 2020 to US$83 billion.

For digital banks, the Philippines is among the most promising markets in Southeast Asia because of its large overall size (population 110 million) and significant unbanked population. About 71% of adults in the Philippines people lack a bank account, but more than 2/3 of the population has a smartphone. Thus far, the BSP has issued three of the five digital bank licenses up for grabs. In April, Overseas Filipino Bank (OF Bank), a subsidiary of government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines, received one. In June, the BSP awarded two more digital banking licenses, one to Tonik and one to UNObank.

Bitcoin mining was one of the last vestiges of China’s experimentation with decentralized virtual currency. Until recently, China was the world’s bitcoin mining center. For the crypto faithful (and the agnostics who profited from mining), it was great while it lasted. But now regulators have decided mining in China should go the way of trading. Several weeks ago Kapronasia wrote that the crackdown was just warming up. Sure enough, provincial authorities are turning up the heat. What began in Inner Mongolia – it shut down 35 mining firms between January and April – has spread to Xinjiang, Qinghai and Yunnan.

Perhaps there was nowhere for Hong Kong’s IPO market to go but down. From January-March, fundraising hit an all-time high of US$13.9 billion while Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) posted a record profit of HK$3.8 billion (US$490 million), up 70% year-on-year. At that point, China’s fintech crackdown, which has widened to target tech giants in general, had yet to impact market sentiment.

Indonesia’s peer-to-peer (P2P) lending sector is growing steadily after a pandemic-induced slowdown in 2020. Regulators, mindful of the sector’s ability to boost financial inclusion but wary of the risks that can build up when oversight is too light, have been gradually issuing licenses to legitimate companies while penalizing bad actors.

It has been an eventful seven months for Ant Group, with more downs than ups. Ever since the suspension of its anticipated blockbuster IPO in November 2020, the fintech giant has been trying to satisfy a long list of regulatory demands to restructure its operations. Regulators have been especially concerned with what they perceive as a highly risky (and previously, lucrative) consumer lending business. With that in mind, Ant gaining approval to operate its new consumer lending unit Chongqing Ant Consumer Finance within six months is an important step in the right direction.

Malaysia’s digital banking race is kicking into high gear as a growing number of firms throw their hats into the ring. There are reportedly 40 firms interested in applying for five digital bank licenses, with the application period closing June 30 and Bank Negara planning to issue the licenses by the first quarter of 2022.

Paytm is the latest SoftBank-backed unicorn to head for the exit ramp. India’s most valuable startup is planning an IPO in the subcontinent later this year that will value the company at US$25 billion to US$30 billion and raise up to US$3 billion, according to Bloomberg. If the deal is successful, it may be the largest in India’s history.

Zip has been one of the biggest Australian buy now pay later (BNPL) success stories, second only to Afterpay. Zip, Afterpay and others have been so successful that other financial firms are hopping on the BNPL bandwagon, from PayPal to incumbent lenders like Commonwealth Bank. As the market grows more crowded and restrictive regulations loom, Zip is looking to expand overseas, including Canada, Europe and Southeast Asia.

In Kapronasia’s 2021 Asia-Pacific Fintech Trends report published in January, we predicted that Singapore would be a fundraising hotspot in the region this year. As it turns out, that might have been something of an understatement, at least based on the first quarter. In the January-March period, Singapore fintechs raised US$496 million, up 355% year-on-year and equivalent to roughly 46% of total funding in 2020, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

South Korea’s digital banks are on a roll, buoyed by robust demand for digital financial services amid the pandemic. South Korea went cashless long ago with credit cards, but since the pandemic hit in early 2020, mobile banking has taken off. As a result, Kakao Bank, K bank and Toss have grown exponentially.  All three of South Korea’s digital banks are on track for IPOs in the next two years, with Kakao likely to go public first.

It was only a matter of time before bitcoin mining landed in China’s crosshairs. Beijing identified decentralized digital currency as a systemic financial risk in 2017 – for its use in skirting capital controls and links to money laundering - and promptly hobbled key parts of the crypto ecosystem, shutting down all exchanges and banning initial coin offerings. Mining does not pose the same immediate risks to the Chinese financial system, but its enormous power usage could crimp Beijing’s efforts to curb its carbon emissions – a major central government policy objective. With that in mind, the prospects for bitcoin miners in China look dim indeed.

The hype about China's digital yuan can obscure the reality, especially in the cross-border space. The most adamant supporters of China’s CBDC argue that it poses a challenge to the US dollar’s role as the world’s dominant international currency because, well, it is digital, has a technological edge and thus will perhaps redefine global payments rails. This argument exaggerates the benefits of digitization while overlooking the fundamentals of the dollar's paramountcy. 

Long lauded for its outstanding pandemic control, and accustomed to no community transmission, Taiwan is now fighting a truculent coronavirus outbreak that is averaging about 300 cases a day. As a result, Taiwan is in a quasi-lockdown state for the first time since the pandemic began. With the government telling people to stay inside and avoid face-to-face contact, this could be a turning point for cashless payments in Taiwan.

U.S.-China financial decoupling is an odd thing. Instead of a linear progression in which Chinese firms gradually eschew going public in the US and delist from its stock exchanges, we see some Chinese companies continuing to seek exits on the Nasdaq or NYSE, while others are seeking secondary listings in Hong Kong as a hedge against forced delisting. Still others are actually being forced to delist like the telecoms giant China Mobile, which is now looking at a new listing on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

It never felt so good to lose US$422 million. Just ask Sea Group. Southeast Asia’s most valuable listed company indeed went deeper into the red in the first quarter, but its revenue also grew 147% year-on-year to US$1.76 billion. Investors like what they see. Sea’s stock price has risen almost threefold to US$246 from roughly US$83 a year ago.

Australian regulators are stepping up the fight against financial crime after issuing a staggering US$921.59 million in fines in 2020. Disciplinary action against Westpac for serious breaches of Australia’s AML/CFT act accounted for US$920.7 million of that total.In the Asia-Pacific region, only Malaysia issued more fines than Australia in 2020, and that was because of the 1MDB scandal.

Singapore’s largest lenders have started the year off on a cracking note. First DBS reported record earnings and now OCBC has done the same. The city-state’s second largest bank posted a net profit of S$1.5 billion in the January to March period, compared to S$698 million during the same period a year earlier and well exceeding Refinitiv’s estimate of S$1.08 billion. 

Taiwan’s two top e-wallets, Jkopay and Line Pay, have grown exponentially in terms of transaction volume in recent years yet have failed to turn a profit. Data compiled by Taiwan’s Chinese-language Business Next show that Jkopay lost about NT$346 million, slightly less than the NT$347 million in losses a year earlier. Line Pay likely lost NT$424 million in 2020, up nearly 70% year-on-year.

Ride-hailing giant Gojek is stepping up its super app play with new fundraising and the purchase of a stake in Indonesian conglomerate Lippo’s retail unit, MPPA. Earlier in May, Indonesian celluar operator Telkomsel, a subsidiary of state-owned communications giant PT Telkom Indonesia, said it would invest an additional US$300 million in Gojek. Shortly thereafter, a filing on the Indonesian Stock Exchange revealed that Gojek paid 144.85 billion rupiah (US$10.2 million) for a 4.76% stake in MPPA.

The United Payments Interface (UPI) has become a kingmaker in India fintech. The real-time payment system owned by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has grown exponentially since its inception in 2016, with varying estimates of its overall share of India’s payments market. PwC reckons that UPI could reach a 59% share of Indian digital payments by 2024-25, while Indian tech media site Inc42 says that UPI already has a 73% share of the market, up from just 9% in 2018.

South Korea only has a handful of prominent fintechs, but they are still managing to give incumbents a bank a run for their money when it comes to online banking services. Chief among them is Kakao Bank, with 14.1 million users (more than ¼ of South Korea’s population) as well as K bank and Viva Republica’s Toss, which will launch a digital bank later this year. With the rising popularity of digital banking, South Korea’s traditional lenders are mulling launching neobanks of their own.

China’s fintech crackdown is hurting some of the country’s largest tech firms, but has yet to dampen investor appetite for Chinese tech listings in Hong Kong. In fact, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) posted a record profit of HK$3.8 billion (US$490 million) in the January-March period, up 70% year-on-year. Driving the boom were listings by Chinese tech firms of various stripes, including video-streaming platform Kuaishou (which raised US$5 billion) as well as secondary listings by search giant Baidu and video-sharing platform Bilibili. The first quarter is normally the slowest for Hong Kong IPOs as it coincides with the Lunar New Year holiday. 

2021 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for DBS. Southeast Asia’s largest bank posted record earnings of US$1.52 billion in the January-March period, up 72% year-on-year. DBS generated record fee income in the first quarter, with especially strong growth in wealth management and transaction services, both of which hit new highs. DBS is not resting on its laurels though and plans to boost both its digital capabilities and international footprint.

Singapore and Thailand have made cross-border payments history with the linkage of their respective real-time retail payment systems, PayNow and PromptPay. The linkage is the first of its kind in not just Asia but the world and comes after several years of close collaboration between the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Bank of Thailand (BoT).

Ride-hailing giant Grab is full of surprises these days. It was not so long ago that the Singaporean decacorn was said to be considering a tie-up with its rival Gojek. Gojek instead is moving to merge with e-commerce giant Tokopedia while Grab is taking the SPAC merger road to an exit. The forthcoming Nasdaq SPAC could value Grab at up to US$40 billion, but it is not the only listing the company is considering. Indeed, Grab is also considering a secondary listing on the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

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