December 19, 2019
A few weeks ago, I wrote about recession in the context of FinTech. Admittedly, Part One was centered on US and European companies, so there was some inevitable feedback as such. Since then, I have had a chance to visit Asia twice and spend time with many different players in the ecosystem there – first during the Singapore FinTech Festival and then over a couple of weeks in India.
This is Part Two of my thoughts on FinTech recession, prepared this time with all Asian spices! Now, if you are a cricket fan, you might be intrigued and perhaps expecting the unexpected as you read the title! For all others, I will save you the trouble of looking up what Doosra means.
So, what did I expect to see and hear? Would I really learn something I didn’t already know? After all, our largest team is based in Bangalore, and our biggest market is South Asia, and I have been visiting the region myself about twice a year, in fact, four times in 2019. Nevertheless, I am always surprised, but this time, I was looking to answer the specific question about a FinTech recession in the Asian context.
Let’s start with Singapore FinTech Festival. For those who attended and have reflected on your observations, there’s the obvious: the sheer number of people in the expo area, including kids in school uniforms; the empty seats in the fancy conference session halls, where sometimes a fireside chat was literally a few people sitting around two people chatting on sofas; the almost impeccable organization and logistics with the exception of transportation (super-long car lines); the star power of royalty and politicians who showed up; and of course, the warmth and hospitality of the hosts and the extended staff who seemed to be doing more than just a job.
Of course, as with any conference that grows to this size, there seemed to be far more sellers than buyers, so nothing surprising there, but what’s interesting about the traditional buyers (banks and insurance companies) is that they were also selling: big booths showcasing their innovation efforts, their startup labs, their incubators/accelerators, etc. Clearly, the intentions are noble, but it seems a tad anachronistic given that our Singaporean bank still requires us to use a hardware token to sign in to online banking! Still, not unexpected; after all, MEDICI is in the business of helping enterprises build innovation programs that actually work, so happy that we have plenty of work to do.
But then, there were clearly some things that stood out, literally a taller and bigger presence in the expo hall for brands like AMTD and Lloyd’s & Partners among the other more familiar names.
AMTD, the Hong Kong-based investment banking and asset management powerhouse, is not just a proud all Chinese company but seems to be thriving with its Asia-centric, or rather Asia-only, approach. Nobody in the West has even heard of them, and they probably don’t care. Their investors, management, and markets are all in the region, and there’s probably no reason for them to look westward in the near future. Can we say this about any American or European companies, though? Can they ignore the eastern markets and the eastern money? The trade wars notwithstanding, in almost every industry from automotive to education to semiconductors and waste management, there’s a potent force in Asia that’s only getting stronger. I see AMTD as an illustration of that unknown-to-the West force that could choose to get out of its comfort zone with slow yet unexpected consequences for the complacent Western markets. Related: have you noticed how many non-Chinese people have now added the ...