Singapore FinTech Association Enabling the Shift Towards Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia
The Singapore FinTech Association (SFA) was founded in November 2016 by President Chia Hock Lai and a group of industry and community leaders. The association is a cross-industry nonprofit initiative, aiming to facilitate collaboration in the ecosystem between market participants and stakeholders in the FinTech industry. Blockchain.News interviewed Chia Hock Lai to find out more about the leading association in Singapore.
“We were set up to support the growth of the fintech sector in Singapore. As a nonprofit cross-industry organization, we have more than 350 corporate members, and 80% of our members are FinTech and blockchain companies,” stated Chia. The remaining 20% is made up of banks, insurance companies, big four, law firms.
The association held the first-ever Singapore Pavilion at the Singapore Fintech Festival in November, the biggest country pavilion in the biggest fintech festival in the world. The association helped to connect 1500 attendees with different backgrounds and industries such as fintechs, financial institutions, venture capitals, and global networking and fund-raising opportunities. During the festival, the SFA signed 5 new partnerships with different associations, including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce, the Nordic Innovation House, Belt and Road TechFin, CapitaLand, and FinDec, a Swedish Fintech Association.
“The first and most important factor of our partnerships is about sharing experiences, from our respective countries, and connecting our members to the right parties,” said Chia. Fintech companies from other countries can leverage on the SFA’s network for help when they are seeking to move into the Singaporean or the South East Asian market.
“The banks in Singapore were quite early in their digital transformation journey. In Singapore, we have more than 40 innovation labs set up by the banks,” he explained. The SFA mainly focuses on four sectors, providing access to capital, connecting startups and giving them access to markets, advocating for pro-innovation policies, and talent and education.
Providing access to capital
Many of the SFA’s members operate in multiple countries, and capital is needed to be able to grow their business. “We connect them to investors, and we also curate events for them. Recently, we organized what we called a ‘deal day’ for them, as we had a lot of our international partners come over to Singapore,” Chia elaborated.
According to Chia, over 170 SFA members attended the event and had the opportunity to meet around 79 investors. Over 40 meetings were conducted, and a few deals and fundings have been closed through the event.
Connecting to markets and access
The third sector is connecting startups and members to markets and giving them access. “That’s where all the international memorandums of understanding (MoUs) come in handy. When they want to expand overseas, our overseas partners can give them the additional hand-holding,” said Chia.
Advocating for pro-innovation policies
By advocating for pro-innovation policies, Chia further explained, “We help to gather the industry when new regulations are coming, we help to gather feedback and submit them to the regulator, in our case, it’s the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). We also advocate for a more level playing ground between the fintechs and financial institutions.” He concluded that Singapore mostly focuses on collaboration, as 80% of the SFA members are focused on business to business (B2B) offerings.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore
The MAS believes in having regular dialogues with the relevant industry association, who can represent and represent the interests and the concerns of the industry more effectively. “We grew a big international partnership network, which turned out to be very useful because, for a lot of our fintech companies, Singapore is not a market to be competing with the banks, but it’s about having their business around in the region,” explained Chia. “If they are interested in Southeast Asia or Asia, Singapore is always at the top of their minds. We can enhance the perception that there is an active hub that we can render to them. I think we’re one of the most active associations around.”
Innovation in Singapore: It's not just about the technology
In the last ten years, there has been a clear visible shift towards encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore. Chia added, “That could be seen at all various rankings in innovation indexes, but in the financial services sector, especially the banks’ mindset and culture is still the biggest challenge. It’s not just about technology, it’s about the mindset. For them, very often, they focus on balancing on the near-term profit versus investing in the long run because investing in digital innovation doesn’t give an instant return. It’s a challenge for them to manage both.”
Working with the traditional financial sector
According to Chia, a lot of the traditional financial institutions, including local and foreign banks, join the SFA because of its broad member base. With the SFA’s access to overseas fintech companies through its partners, financial institutions can gain access to startups, which also influences the traditional financial sector’s culture. “Very often, when you do this kind of accelerator program, and one of the senior management from a traditional bank becomes the mentor for the startup, you will see the physical change. It has to start within the company.”