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Exploring Thailand's FinTech Landscape – Investment Perspective

Over the next few weeks, MEDICI brings you a series of articles exploring FinTech in the ASEAN region. The articles, each of which will focus on a different ASEAN country, provide comprehensive insights into the FinTech investment landscape in the region.

ASEAN in figures

ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is the third-largest Asian region. It is home to more than 630 million people. One-fourth of the population lives in urban areas. ASEAN has a 4.7% annual growth and USD 119.97 billion in FDIs; it is also one of the fastest-growing regions globally as well as the seventh-largest economy.

Its population is young and educated with a literacy rate of over 80%, phone-savvy with more than 0.5 phones per person, and enjoys a low to mid unemployment rate from 0.5% to 6.9%. ASEAN members also have an average to a high life expectancy of 69–82.7 years, and a gender parity of 49.9% males to 50.1% females.

To begin with, let’s take a look at Thailand in the ASEAN region, and understand the FinTech investment landscape in the country.

Thailand in figures

About 49% of the 69 million Thais live in urban areas. Phone penetration is high with 1.2 phones per person and 39% of the country connected to the internet. Thailand has also one of the highest adult literacy rates and one of the lowest unemployment rates at 0.8%. Life expectancy is relatively high compared to the rest of the region and the country’s growth is over 3% per year.

However, more than 7 million people live below the national poverty line, and foreign ownership is limited to 25% without approval, up to 49% with approval from BoT, and more than 49% with the approval of MoF. The country ranks at number 43 in terms of ease of doing business, thereby placing it among the best players in the ASEAN region. Corporate tax on profits is 20% with a gradual rate for locally incorporated companies.

Macroeconomic overview

The Thai economy faced headwinds in recent years and GDP growth was modest. It reached 2.8% in 2015 after a lackluster 0.9% in 2014 – partly on the basis of government consumption & investment and partly on declining imports – but growth has been picking up in 2016 and 2017.

The economy has benefited from strong growth in government spending (>17% of GDP), private consumption – a key growth driver in recent years, and investments. However, high levels of household debts remain an area of concern. The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) cut its 2016 GDP growth estimate to a range of 2.8% to 3.8% from 3% to 4% underpinned by weaker exports and a depreciating Baht.

Financial sector snapshot

Trends

The net asset value of mutual funds has seen a CAGR of 15% in five years as of December 2016. According to AIMC, mutual funds made up more than 20% of the financial assets in Thai households as of March 2016. This is quite high compared with the ASEAN average of ~10%. Thailand’s self-employed, who account for 30% of the working population, have been incentivized by tax waivers to build up their mutual funds’ investments.

Banks are focusing on the mass affluent segment to grow their wealth management business. Banks see this segment as a stable source of revenue, and they are investing in data analytics and mobile platforms to enable better client experience.

The foreign investment funds (FIF) growth is expected to continue. The NAV of FIFs surpassed that of mutual funds in 2016, up 18% y-o-y, driven in part by recent regulatory reforms encouraging more overseas investments.

Challenges

FinTechs are applying pressure to asset management firms. Asset management companies in Thailand are facing technology and distribution pressures from FinTech competitors that are offering asset management services via their robo-platforms. Therefore it is imperative that firms bolster their FinTech capabilities by applying artificial intelligence and data analytics to improve their clients’ experience and offer better online platforms.

There have been only two Thai funds in ASEAN CIS since its launch in 2014. The low uptake is attributed to a lack of interest among asset managers to access Thai retail markets due to strict currency rules and their inability to access bank-linked distribution.

Low interest-rate environment, geopolitical issues, and the Fed’s rate hikes are also causing concern. Brexit, the Fed’s rate hike cycle, negative rates in Europe and Japan are contributing to sustained uncertainty forcing asset managers and insurers to find ways to address low yields.

Opportunities

According to Accenture, 90% of Thais surveyed said they are open to using robo-advice due to the speed and convenience of access. This bodes well for FinTechs entering the market with robo-advice and is a call to existing fund firms to step up their robo-services to retain their market position.

Thai retail investors may soon have easier access to foreign-domiciled funds. In July 2016, Thailand relaxed rules to permit HNWIs to buy foreign-domiciled mutual funds abroad. There are plans to allow local retail investors to do the same. This change could benefit the industry as it raises the awareness of foreign investments among the mass affluent demographic.

The new mandatory National Pension Fund (NPF) could boost business for asset managers, insurers and brokerage firms. The new fund is set to launch in 2018 and will cover full-time employees of state enterprises as well as private and listed companies.

Regulatory developments

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) plans to drive sales of funds in 2017–18. The SEC announced that plans are underway to facilitate the cross-border sales of real-estate investment trusts (REITs), infrastructure funds, medium-term funds, and stocks among the ASEAN CIS participating countries, which includes Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. Initiatives include fast-tracking the mutual fund registration process and enhancement of corporate governance standards across the three countries.

Regulatory sandbox assists in FinTechs launches. The SEC has permitted FinTechs to use a regulatory sandbox to offer private funds, investment advisory services, and clearing & settlement services in 1H17.

Unrated bonds KYC scrutinized – the SEC has increased KYC monitoring of fund intermediaries to help reduce defaults on unrated bonds sold to accredited investors.

Key themes of the Thai banking sector

The Thai banking sector outlook is stable despite political uncertainty. Thai banks have strong operating fundamentals and capital positions, which shield against volatile external events and defense against a repeat of the Asian financial crisis. The Thai economy is expected to recover in 2016. The NESDB expects the GDP to grow by 2.8%–3.8% in 2016, mainly driven by the stronger global economy and multiple measures taken by the current military-led government.

The banking system is profitable and well-capitalized, though with decelerated profits (ROE of c.12% at 2015). The net interest income increased with NIM increasing from 2.6% in 2013 to 2.7% in March 2016. The Thai banking sector is well-capitalized with an average Tier 1 ratio of 13.8% and a total capital adequacy ratio of 17.1% in the first quarter of 2016.

The asset quality is expected to deteriorate marginally. High debt levels for households and SMEs are expected to result in asset quality deterioration. However, the deterioration is expected to be modest, supported by the low interest rate environment. Banks’ high reserve coverage and capitalization levels provide large buffers to absorb losses as funding and liquidity conditions remain stable.

The banking sector is seeing the growing presence of foreign banks, particularly from the Asia-Pacific, following MUFJ’s takeover of Bank of Ayudhya. Foreign participation in the sector has been limited through a 25% foreign ownership cap. However, the Bank of Thailand relaxed this restriction and has allowed foreign investors to hold 49% stakes, which is subject to authorization on a case by case basis.

FinTech Investors – Thailand

Both FinTech-focused VC funds and sector-agnostic funds investing in FinTech have invested regionally in ASEAN.

However, in Thailand, there is only one FinTech-focused investor among the most active investors in the financial services industry – the Japanese firm SBI Holdings, which is also part of the largest FinTech deal in the country, Omise (USD $30 million). 500 Startups, Golden Gate Ventures, Benchachinda, and Telenor are leading the market in terms of deal values.

Strong local investors

While 500 Startups dominate the market in the number of investments, InVent, DTAC/Telenor, and Benchachinda have a notable presence both across industries and in the FinTech sector. Local investors have been involved in three of the five-largest FinTech fundraisings, but large cross-industry fundraising remains mostly in the hands of large foreign investors.

Accelerators and incubators

  • Bangkok Bank InnoHub: A 12-week program with one of Thailand’s largest commercial banks. The program provides startups with mentoring from Bangkok Bank, Bualuang Ventures, and Neset. Startups are given the opportunity to secure a proof-of-concept with the bank and pitch for investment. The program also gives exposure to the innovation ecosystem in Thailand, and access to customer insights regionally and internationally. It targets Payments, eKYC, and artificial intelligence-enabled applications.

  • Digital Venture DVA: Digital Venture DVA is Siam Commercial Bank’s FinTech initiative. It has $50 million available to invest in the financial technology sector. The program lasts for six months, is tailor-made, provides with BHT 300K for no equity, and gives access to SCB customers, dedicated mentors & an investor network.

  • Krungsri RISE: Similar to DV, RISE aims to expand the know-how and investment opportunity for startups on financial technology innovation or FinTech startups, and unleash growth opportunities & advancement in the financial digital business.

  • True Incube: True Incube is a tech incubator based in Thailand. It is managed by True Corporation and is in a partnership with 500 Startups. Startups obtain USD 18K, mentorship, product & technical support, access to a 26 million customer base, three-month boot camp, three months in co-working space, media exposure, and a trip to the Silicon Valley.

  • dtac Accelerate: dtac Accelerate is Thailand’s number one accelerator hothouse that empowers early-stage startups through mentorship and financial support. It is home to Thai startup entrepreneurs in various fields whose passion is to build something innovative and valuable. Its former four programs have been a great success, and now comes Batch 5 – a four-month boot camp program providing seed funding up to THB 1.5 million, co-working space, network of entrepreneurs, mentoring, memberships to the Thai tech startup association, opportunity to pitch to local & regional VCs, commercialization, and legal support from dtac. The program targets multiple sectors, from financial services and payment to CleanTech, cloud service, entertainment, mobile applications, and e-commerce, or education and gaming.

  • Spark Thailand: This is an eight-week boot camp program which provides one-to-one mentoring, co-working spaces, connections with local startups, technical consulting (law, UX, accounting, software development), roadshow with leading VCs funds/investors, Thai tech startup membership, NIA grant application fast track, full board support, and pitch events. The program covers the following sectors: FinTech, cybersecurity, e-commerce, IoTs, Big Data, and Healthcare.

  • Others: AISTheStartup, Business Incubation, MSeed (gaming accelerator)

Associations and angel networks

  • Bangkok Venture Club: South East Asia’s first Venture Club for aspiring startups and investors. The Bangkok Venture Club (BVC) is a select network of successful entrepreneurs and other business leaders in the Bangkok area who provide investment capital, strategic advice, and mentoring to early-stage companies to help them achieve market leadership. The group’s objective is to identify and support seed and early-stage businesses that can benefit from the experience, contacts, and investment capital of its individual members. Key people: C. Ongmahutmongkol, M. Wolf, R. Lomnitz, S. Promyotin, G. Brain, J. Kuvinichkul, N. Pisalyaput, P. Suthapong, P. Pongvitayapanu, N. Ark, Dr. A. Ploysongsang, A. Udomsin

  • Startup Angels: We’re investors and startup leaders with experience in over 50 countries and counting. We see an unprecedented opportunity to transform startup investing and fuel innovation. We’re building the first platform designed to empower new angel investors and bring investors to new markets, across the US, and around the globe. Key players: Paul, Tom and John Srivorakul (Ensogo), A. Charoenphan (Hubba), T. York (Kaidee.com), M. Natavudh (Ookbee), J. L. Pedersen (Playlab), P. Minsiri (Kapook), T. Kim (Inspire Ventures), A. Vanzyl (Ardent Capital), J. Jootar (The VC Group), P. Pongvitayapanu (tarad.com

  • 1000x Club by Shift Ventures: A new angel investor network 1000x Club, which aims to bring in a group of ‘high potential, value-adding’ investors who are looking to build up or extend their startup investment confidence and portfolios. The network claims to bring in 30 honorary members, with each member committing US$1 million for investment. It aims at strengthening the ecosystem of the local technology startups and small-and-medium-sized enterprises to push them towards the new value-based economy model dubbed Thailand 4.0. Key people: Dr. Kongkiat Opaswongkarn (Asia Plus Group Holdings), Aitthipat Kulapongvanich (Tao Kae Noi), Sura Khanittaweekul (Com 7), Rit Thirakomen (MK Restaurants), and Suvabha Charoenying (Thanachart Securities). Mentors of startups financed by business angels: Shakrit Chanrungsakul (FireOneOne), Sansern Samaisut (Ascend Group), Itthipat Kulapongvanich (Tao Kae Noi), and Patai Padungtin (Builk). Shift Ventures founders: Pinyoyang, Gavin Opaswongkarn, and Wilert Orawanwong.

AngelList’s most active individuals

  • M. Kunitzky (LaunchPad)

  • M. Pui (PwC)

  • P. Santos (Wavemaker)

  • B. Mason (Angel Investor)

  • D. Jones (Global Founders Capital)

  • A. Vanzyl (Ardent/Wavemaker)

  • V. Lauria (Golden Gate Ventures)

  • KY. Lim (Monk’s Hill)

  • R. Wee (Kyosei Ventures)

Top investors in Thailand

  1. 500 Startups: 500 Startups is a Silicon Valley incubator, venture capital firm, and accelerator specialized in seed investments in small-and-medium-sized startups, early-stage, post-seed, pre-Series A, and late stage in FinTech. It prefers to invest between $0.05 million and $1 million for a 5 to 10% equity stake. 500 Startups raised more than half a billion USD from its limited partners (LPs). 500 Startups invests in Thailand through its fund 500 TuksTuks. It has participated in the fundraising of seven FinTechs locally. These startups raised over USD $33 million from their investors. With 7 FinTech investments out of 29 investments in total in Thailand, FinTech is a considerable sector for 500 Startups. The firm has invested in the five largest Thai FinTech fundraisings: Omise (USD $25 million USD), T2P (USD $4 million USD), DeepPocket (USD $4million USD), Finnomena (USD $3 million), and Claim Di (USD $2million). The firm has also been part of one of the largest Thai fundraising across industries, being part of Pomelo’s USD $31.6 million fundraising. With three times more investments than the second-most active investor InVent (a local fund which is not very active in the FinTech sector, however), 500 Startups is leading in terms of investments volume locally both in across industries and financial services sectors.

  2. Golden Gate Ventures: Golden Gate Ventures is a Singapore-headquartered incubator, accelerator, and a venture capital firm that invests between USD $0.25 and $5 million dollars and with a fund size of USD $70 million. The firm is one of the most active investors locally, placing second in terms of the number of FinTech deals, and third across industries. It has participated in four FinTechs fundraising in Thailand, which have raised over USD $28 million from its investors. Half of Golden Gate Ventures’ investments in Thailand have been made in the financial sector. The firm was part of the Omise (USD $25 million) and Claim Di (USD $2 million) fundraisings.

  3. Benchachinda: Benchachinda is a Thai telco company offering broadband services; telecommunication network solutions; personal wireless devices distribution; and content & multimedia services, established in Bangkok in 1990. The firm has participated in three FinTechs fundraising in Thailand, which have raised over USD $11 million: T2P (USD $4.1 million), DeepPocket (USD $4.1 million), and Finnomena (USD $3.2 million). All Benchachinda investments have been made in the FinTech industry.

  4. CyberAgent Ventures: This is the venture capital arm of CyberAgent, Inc., an internet media Japanese company. CyberAgent Ventures has raised more than USD $150 million from its limited partners; it specializes in incubation and investments in startups and early-stage companies. CyberAgent usually invests between 500,000 and USD $10 million. The firm has participated in two FinTechs fundraising in Thailand. The two companies raised over USD $2 million from their investors. Investments in financial services technology account for a fourth of the CyberAgent portfolio allocation in the country. The Venture Capital fund has co-invested along with other investors in one of the largest fundraisings: aCommerce (USD $29million), and FinTech with Claim Di (USD $2 million).

  5. East Ventures: East Ventures is a Singapore-based Venture Capital firm that has invested in more than 150 companies in Asia in the range of USD $0.3 million–$0.5 million and up to $4 million. The fund raised over USD $28 million and has participated in two FinTechs fundraising in Thailand. The two companies raised over USD $25 million from their investors. Investments in financial services technology account for a third of East Ventures’ portfolio allocation in the country. The Venture Capital fund has co-invested in Omise (USD $25 million), the largest financial service fundraising in Thailand.

  6. dtac: dtac is a Thai telco company founded in 1989. The firm has participated in two FinTechs fundraising in Thailand, which totaled at over USD $2 million. dtac invested in two FinTechs out of five investments in total in Thailand, making the sector a key industry of its portfolio allocation. dtac was also part of the Claim Di deal.

  7. SBI Holdings: SBI Holding is a Japanese financial services firm. It operates through its financial services business, asset management business, and biotechnology-related business segments. The financial services business segment provides various financial products and services, including brokerage & investment banking, banking, non-life insurance, and short-term small-amount insurance, and housing loan services; economic & investment information services; and credit card, leasing, remittance, peer-to-peer lending, and other services, as well as foreign-exchange market participant services. SBI has participated in two FinTechs fundraising in Thailand, which amounted to over USD $26 million. All SBI investments in Thailand have been made in the financial technology industry. SBI has also invested in Omise.

Note: The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer or any other professional affiliations.

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