In a year that has seen fintech funding slow in many markets, Indonesia is proving to be something of an outlier. In the first half of 2022, Indonesian fintechs managed to raise US$1.8 billion, exceeding the total of US$1.6 billion raised in 2021.
Southeast Asia’s preeminent platform companies have all bet big on fintech to boost their fortunes and lift them from the red into the black. It is a great idea in theory, but challenging to execute in practice. Competition is intense in the region and the super apps have to compete against pure-play fintechs and others not weighed down by unprofitable units that have nothing or very little to do with financial services. The super app concept only works if there is sufficient synergy among the different services provided by the platform company.
Pakistan continues to be one of Asia’s hottest fintech markets, buoyed by growing investor interest, one of the world’s largest unbanked populations and government support for digital finance-supported financial inclusion. Pakistan represents an exceptionally large opportunity for fintechs: Only 1% of its almost US$4 trillion of payments are made digitally. The past month has seen a number of notable deals that show the market is maintaining solid momentum despite a global economic slowdown and greater investor scrutiny in tech startups.
In Asia and globally fintech funding has been slowing amid economic jitters and rampant inflation. Some cash-burning fintechs are finding that they are running out of cash to burn. Still, there are some exceptions, and India is a notable one. According to a new report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), from January 2017 to July 2022, the Indian fintech market received US$29 billion in funding from 2,084 deals to date, accounting for 14% of global funding and No. 2 in deal volume. Unlike many other countries, India’s fintech funding has not dropped off sharply this year.
Meta, perhaps still better known as Facebook, is one of the biggest of Big Tech players in Asia Pacific, the dominant social media network for countries as diverse as India, Japan and Australia. Yet the ubiquity of the Facebook platform in the region, outside of notable exceptions such as China and North Korea, has not translated into success in Asia Pacific’s booming digital financial services market. Quite the opposite: Facebook is less than a footnote in this story. Meta’s inability – thus far – to tap into any of the region’s fintech markets augurs ill for its ability to grow sustainably in APAC.
SoftBank has not been weathering the downturn in tech stocks and general rising investor skepticism towards growth-first startups especially well. In the second quarter, the company lost a record US$23 billion, prompting CEO Masayoshi Son to engage in some candid self-reflection. He described himself as becoming “somewhat delirious” during the apex of SoftBank’s startup funding binge when the investments were paying off big and says he is now “embarrassed and remorseful.” Nevertheless, some of SoftBank’s Asia fintech investments – which include several big players in the region – could still pay off in the long run.
As fintech startups stare down the barrel of a dot-com-like crash, it is becoming clearer by the day that only the strong will survive. And the strong in this industry, where ironically (given this is financial services) being profitable has not been paramount, tend to have loads of cash to spend. The UK’s Revolut is one of those fintechs who really seems too big to fail, and that is why despite tough macroeconomic conditions the company is pushing full speed ahead into different Asia-Pacific markets including Singapore, Australia and India.
Ride-hailing companies can be profitable, as Uber is proving, and so can fintechs, but can ride-hailing companies become profitable fintechs? Untangling that word salad is something of a heavy lift, much like turning an app-based taxi service into a bank. But there is a clever shortcut that deep-pocketed tech giants like Indonesia’s GoTo can take to bolster their fintech prowess. They can invest in a struggling incumbent bank and make it profitable.
Once upon a time, before China’s tech crackdown began in earnest, Ant Group went on an overseas shopping spree, investing in a wide variety of up-and-coming fintechs. Though the company never stated the idea clearly, many observers assumed Ant was laying the groundwork for some kind of cross-border payments ecosystem in Asia – where it made the bulk of its investments. Things have not turned out that way (at least not yet), but some of Ant’s individual investments are proving to be winners, giving the company a strategic presence in some of the region’s most promising markets for digital financial services. Other investments, however, have not proven so successful.
Despite a slowdown in fintech funding amid a shaky global economy, Indonesian fintech remains a bright spot in the Asia-Pacific region. While the deal flow has tapered off somewhat from late 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, the second quarter still saw a few big-ticket deals.
What happens to airlines that fail to win digital banking licenses? In the case of Capital A, they have to count on a sharp rebound in travel demand to help revive their core business, which could eventually be better bundled with the AirAsia super app and various fintech services. However, Capital A continues to lose money as seen in its mixed first quarter results.
Fintech funding in Asia appears headed for a sharp slowdown amid an uncertain global economic outlook. However, Pakistan remains a bright spot in the region, benefiting from its extremely low baseline compared to the region’s other major emerging markets. Indeed, startup funding in Pakistan reached a record US$350 million in 2021, while in India it reached an all-time high of US$38.5 billion. In 2022, despite the shaky global economy, Pakistan may surpass last year’s record. As of May, Pakistani startups had already raised US$167 million.
The United States’ largest tech companies have a significant presence in most Asian markets, whether Microsoft in software, Google for search, Facebook as a social media platform or Amazon in e-commerce. However, most U.S. tech giants have largely yet to make much of an impact in Asia’s burgeoning fintech scene.
For several years, the Asia-Pacific region has been a hotbed of fintech funding. Despite, or perhaps because of the coronavirus pandemic, fintechs have had very little trouble raising cash. After all, when the whole economy is moving online, banking needs be digital too. However, shaky global economic and geopolitical conditions appear to be finally starting to weigh on Asia fintech funding, with the second quarter seeing a clear drop-off in big-ticket fundraising.