What’s your background?
I am probably one of the few people in FinTech that hasn’t worked in banking before. The last 6 years I have been around startups and entrepreneurship, starting in China with a little fashion startup, Cleantech in London and then FinTech. As a true German engineer (Material Science in Aerospace) it is in my DNA to fix problems. Hence, I have been always lucky enough to be surrounded by open minded finance experts that are keen to transform the finance industry together.
— Markus Gnirck (@mgnirck) April 15, 2016
How did you end up doing what you do now?
In 2014 I co-founded Startupbootcamp FinTech in London with Nektarios Liolios, former Innotribe Leader at SWIFT. We had the aim to bring together the financial industry and the entrepreneurial community by running 3 months accelerator programs for selected early stage companies. Startupbootcamp FinTech grew tremendously in the last 2 years and has now programs in London, Singapore and New York. As I expanded the program to Singapore in 2015, I happened to be in the right place in the right time where FinTech just started in Asia. In the last 16 months I truly enjoyed working with hundreds of FinTech entrepreneurs across APAC and help to build sustainable FinTech ecosystems.
At the beginning of 2016 I got together with a great bunch of people to discuss how we can transform financial services in South East Asia in the long run and leverage each others network and skillsets better. In March tryb was born, where Magnus Bocker (ex-CEO of SGX), Nels Friets (ex-Citi MD), Veiverne Yuen (ex-VP GIC) and myself decided to start an investment partnership to deploy and investment in financial technologies in South East Asia.
Why is Singapore a good place for tech?
If you look at what drives tech, it is two fold: 1) right resources and networks to execute fast, 2) customers to buy innovative products. Singapore has managed to excel in 1) and is improving dramatically in 2). Where I was used to a fairly fragmented ecosystem in London, it is possible in Singapore to meet the regulator, investors and banks within 3h, all just across the street from each other. It is a very inclusive place with open networks and a great supportive community. Because private and business life easily merges in Singapore – the real life of an entrepreneur – one is able to get stuff done at anytime. Additionally, it is fair to say that the government support is outstanding if it comes to grants, co-investment schemes and tax reliefs.
Looking in particular at FinTech, you find on the one hand side financial institutions getting ready to test and buy B2B products for developed markets like SG, HK, JP, etc. On the other side it is a great hub to be exposed to the inclusive, more B2C FinTech, that happens in the markets around Singapore, like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.
What trends and companies are you excited by?
We will see a lot of B2B FinTech for developed countries, we like to call it the transformative FinTech where new platforms and technologies will improve processes and cut costs. Areas include Trade Finance, Regulation, Compliance, Security, Capital Markets and Asset Management. We haven’t seen too many companies in this space yet, but to name a few: Smartkarma, Moneythor, Demyst Data (sorry everyone who I didn’t list here).
In the emerging markets it will rather focus on the inclusive FinTech, offering financial products in new distribution channels to the under-/de-/unbanked. That’s where Payments, Lending, Insurance will be exciting to watch and create new revenue streams for incumbents and challengers. A few fast growing companies include, amongst many others, matchmove, Funding Societies, Omise, MomoPay, goSwiff, Ayannah, coins.ph (again, sorry entrepreneur if you are not mentioned).
Where comes disruptive FinTech? Too early to stay.
What tips would you give to a company looking to set up in Singapore?
1) Get in touch with a Government Agency, e.g. the newly established FinTech Office by MAS, to get info on grants and other support schemes
2) Depending on stage of company, get a local investor, a good operating partner or advisor that brings regional expertise and faster growth
3) Don’t assume that South East Asia is one market, there are 10 different countries with different cultures, dynamics and customer behaviors
4) Make friends with all SG FinTech ecosystem players, like NextBank, FinTech Consortium, Startupbootcamp FinTech, etc to find out how they can help and connect you
5) Learn some Singlish, bring an umbrella and flip flops
How are you using tech to transform financial services? / In what ways?
Technology in Finance isn’t anything new. Even Excel and pdfs are FinTech if you like. Now that there is cloud and internet innovation is accelerated dramatically and the barrier of entries are lower. Much focus has been set in the recent FinTech discussions on startups – the ‘disruptors of banks’. Even though they are and will be more and more driving the change in finance, at least in the public perception, we shouldn’t forget that you still have a lot of good existing tech that just got be leverage and deployed the right way.
We at tryb are looking at the entire value and process chain in financial services to understand where we can marry old and new FinTech. This happens with a mix of cutting-edge technology incubation and a ‘build & buy’ private equity approach with the right resources and relationships. In the long run we are looking to build platforms that are enhancing and augmenting infrastructure.
This means to look into gaps in ASEAN financial services and then deploy technology and capital from overseas and/or locally in the right way.
— tryb (@tryb_asia) March 28, 2016
You recently wrote about the difference between European and Asian Fintech. Can you briefly summarise this here?
People assume that FinTech is very similar globally. I learned in the last 2 years that this is not the case in Asia, in particular in South East Asia.
Europe and the US have seen a tremendous growth of the new FinTech in the last 10 years from the bottom up. Entrepreneurs and startups are challenging the incumbents and governments with their new technologies and business models using regulatory grey zones and huge amounts of venture capital to grow fast. The global financial crises in 2008 kept the regulators busy regulating banks, banks had to focus on the increasing cost of capital, and talent left banks to start companies.
This didn’t really happen in South East Asia, therefore FinTech is taking more of a top down approach. Regulators are closely watching the new developments and banks are overcapitalized which doesn’t force them to innovate. Because business in South East Asia is dominated by local and regional (family) conglomerates, innovation can only happen with the right relationships and resources. Many governments have a financial, political and social interest to have incumbents grow and see FinTech rather as a tech supplier than a disruptive challenger.
— unBound Digital (@unboundglobal) April 18, 2016
We have been invited to Innovfest Unbound, why do you think it will be good to attend, and what other things should we look out for in Singapore?
Any kind of conference that brings together various stakeholders, from government to corporates and startups, adds value to its attendees. Singapore is uniquely positioned to be a hub that doesn’t just look at tech in single verticals, but creates synergies across them. FinTech got to be linked to IoT and Security, at the same time as it has big impact on Health Care and Education, and vice versa. Events like Innovfest Unbound create a dialogue and partnership opportunities, especially between corporates and startups.
Other things to look out for is to visit the various co working spaces to get a feel of the buzz, especially around the Ayer Rajah Crescent area and Tanjong Pagar. Also, it is worth jumping on a 1h flight to Indonesia or Malaysia to get a feeling how markets are different there.
— Markus Gnirck (@mgnirck) April 13, 2016
Tell us about SinTechFest in November what will it cover / why will it be awesome?
After Startupbootcamp FinTech’s Demo Day last year with over 650 attendees in Singapore, the FinTech Festival organized by MAS will be the next big FinTech show. It will bring together a lot of different stakeholders from the Singapore ecosystem to focus on developing solutions for the industry.
Even though the word ‘awesome’ isn’t usual to be associated with Finance, I think MAS is trying to give it a new spin and offer an inclusive way for everyone to be part of it. I hope that many FinTech colleagues from the West will make it to be part of the upcoming FinTech in South East Asia.
— Markus Gnirck (@mgnirck) April 19, 2016
What’s next for you?
We are going to focus at tryb on being a sounding board for everyone that is keen to work in FinTech in Asia and needs an operating partner. I will also personally focus on connecting more FinTech ecosystems in South East Asia and help entrepreneurs scale regionally so that we can see more success stories!