Picture from the Women in Tech panel. Left to Right: Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Bloomberg LP Susan Hwee, Head of Group Technology and Operations, UOB Ruth Polachek, CEO and Co-Founder, FinCheck with Moderator Sharanjit Leyl, News Presenter, BBC at the far right end.
For the past 18 months, the tropical isle of Singapore has worked hard to establish itself within the global fintech community. As part of those efforts, November 14 – 18 saw the inaugural Singapore Fintech Festival take place on the island nation. The brainchild of local regulator the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), it hosted participating companies alongside 12,000 attendees from 50 countries, each attracted by the promise of a weeklong event.
Partnered with the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), the week kicked off with an Innovation Lab Crawl showcasing the latest in technology trends. A Global Fintech Hackcelerator had whittled 650 applicants to an elite Demo Day of 19 companies, while the glitzy Fintech Awards gifted S$1.15 million in prizes. Across the week, three separate industry conferences and multiple workshops were filled to capacity, while the nightly networking events kept things going until the wee hours.
The packed calendar attracted a roster of top notch industry speakers including Blythe Masters, CEO Digital Asset Holdings; Eric Jing, President Ant Financial; Bob Lord, Chief Digital Officer IBM; Samuel Tsien, Group CEO OCBC with Ireland represented by Neil Costigan, CEO BehavioSec.
With so many events, there was something of value for all attendees.
For entrepreneurs, there was solid advice in the session on building successful exits. Speakers Dusan Stojanovic from True Global Ventures, Lance Uggla of IHS Markit and Carlo Koelzer from 360T all advocated for greater initial risk-taking from startups, with the advice to raise two to three times more than you think in the early stages.
On the compliance side, the event boasted the first Regtech-focused conference in the region. One frequent topic was cost: panellist Mike Blalock from Intel Corp put the current price tag of compliance at US$230 million, per global systemically important bank. Richard Lowe from UOB counselled turning compliance to cash, generating better returns by leveraging the data horizontally across business units.
Blockchain technology was imagined as a trading platform by Peter Stephens from UBS where the regulator sits as a node, permissioned to see relevant data sets in real time, removing the need for on-going report generation. Also discussed, but held somewhat on the fringe, was the use of quantum computing. One modelled use-case was its ability to swiftly analyse large volumes of information, to detect examples of collusion among sets of trading data.
The conference organisers went out of their way to get conversations flowing. The nifty meetings app allowed attendees to pre-book their diary and connect directly with the people who mattered. Combined with the number of fun networking events, this gave real value particularly to those flying in from overseas.
From the technology perspective, one of the most popular conference stands were the hometown heroes, digital security specialists V-Key. The Singaporean software company works with a variety of global payments, financial institutions and government bodies to protect the personal and financial data of their mobile customers, securing over 30 million mobile wallets internationally. The company also recently announced a collaboration with China giant, Ant Financial.
Israeli-based TravelersBox were a hit with consumers. Its kiosks convert leftover holiday money into usable digital currency, with an Asian rollout previously announced for 2016. The continuous queues to try it out were a litmus test to its potential and popularity.
Nearby were multi award winning regtech company, identitii. Their private distributed ledger allows banks to exchange enriched information over legacy payment networks. For CEO Nick Armstrong the festival was “well-executed” and he was happy to see “regulatory technology viewed as a partner to the financial industry.”
Criticisms? It seems foolish to say but there was a lot going on! Especially when you factor in the nightly social events for us poor souls managing their day jobs. Increased gender diversity on panels will also be a boon, as there were a number of female entrepreneurs and fintech specialists in attendance. Points I’m sure the coordinators will be keeping in mind for the next iteration.
On the plus side, it was the first attempt at a hugely ambitious project and organisers should be applauded for their daring. It was a smoothly run production with high profile speakers and top notch commentary. For those of us in the financial technology community, the Singapore Fintech Festival has now firmly established itself as a global leader in this industry.
— Caroline Bowler (@CaroBowler) November 18, 2016