On Friday, November 11th around 5pm the call to invite SettleMint to join the Singapore FinTech Festival came. The call was brief:
“Can you join the FinTech Festival in Singapore?”
“Well sure, when is it?”
“Starts next Monday.”
“Ok, I’m in.”
and with that, I booked the flight and hotel, jumped on a plane and in less than 36 hours arrived to see first hand how the Monetary Authority of Singapore is embracing FinTech. In short, MAS is embracing FinTech with both arms and a big hug.
The event drew in 11,000+ participants for several events throughout the week including a global hackcelerator, numerous pitch competitions around the city, an Innovation Lab crawl, a two day conference with globally acclaimed panelists and FinTech’s, a FinTech awards ceremony and a lot more. The prizes handed out at the event were in excess of 1,000,000 dollars so, indeed also putting their money where their mouth is. The full agenda is available here.
The hackcelerator demo day was an opportunity for 20 of the most promising FinTechs around the region and the world to showcase their innovations and provide a live demo of the technologies they are working on. The presentation by Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne of the t0.com solution for the issuance, sale, clearing and settlement of the shares of a publicly listed companies provided a look into the future of distributed ledger powered capital markets. Patrick revealed that while there has been a lot of buzz in this space for over a year, the real “Chuck Yeager” moment for distributed ledger technology in capital markets is “just a few weeks away”, referring to the announcement that Overstock.com will become the first publicly listed company ever to issue SEC approved distributed ledger shares via the t0.com platform in December this year.
For the 2-day conference that followed, there were FinTechs of all shapes and sizes from cybersecurity to robo-advising to a few DLT startups. Many large regional banks were present as well showing an array of innovations they are working on and have already launched. The booth of ICICI showcased a number of their innovative solutions and I talked to Naresh Ponanna who filled me in on an exciting Trade Finance pilot they had recently conducted becoming the first bank in India to conduct blockchain based transactions. Very cool stuff and an appreciated progressive approach to new technologies.
Besides checking out the booths and the vibe at the conference, I spent most of my time introducing and demoing the visitors to the booth at the conference to solutions in the areas of document management, capital markets, KYC and voting and found high interest in actual product demo’s. While there has been a lot of talk in the DLT space about the promise of the technology, the guests at the booth appreciated seeing a product really in action rather than reading more white papers, listening to a rehash of sound bites or having a conceptual discussion about the technology. If a picture says a thousand words, a fully functioning demo says it all.
There was also a lot of interest in the platform of t0.com from senior officials in Singapore. At one point (and mid demo) an official from MAS who was introduced as “the Minister” arrived for a personal demo . Mid sentence, the executive from a regional bank I was speaking to looked to me and said “I will come back in 5 minutes” and he promptly disappeared through the ring of photographers who had descended on the t0.com stand. Raj Karkara, COO of t0.com, did the honours for the intro and demo and as quickly as he arrived, “the Minister” moved on and the photographers followed. I am not from the region so I was very curious about the identity and role of “the Minister” so I asked one of the bystanders but unfortunately, she also could not provide more information so his identity shall for the time being remain a mystery.
On the evening of the 16th, I joined the Next Money Pitch Competition Semi Finals organised by Visa at the Visa Innovation Lab. At this meetup, 12 startups pitched with the winning prize going to a startup focusing on domestic payments in the Philippines. There is quite a lot of focus in FinTech on international remittances however, in the Philippines, apparently inefficiencies exist once the funds arrive in the domestic market to get them to their final location. I suppose the concept can be likened to last mile delivery services that have become popular, however in this case for payment flows. The win in Singapore will see Ayannah moving onto the finals in Hong Kong on January 17–18.
Nice to also meet fellow Canadian, Arvin Singh, who was one of the judges at the event from Visa.
So unequivocally, it was a great week in Singapore and I was truly impressed by the embrace of FinTech by the regulator, the excitement of the startups invited to the event and the approach of the global and regional banks active in Singapore who it seems are all focused on making Singapore a regional FinTech powerhouse. Can’t wait till next years event. Game on!