However, smart contracts are not the only area that financial institutions and governments have in mind when they pilot and adopt Blockchain – and there are several recent instances.
Many central banks have started identifying potential use cases for digital representation of fiat money that offers them unique advantages at various levels. According to Bank of International Settlements (BIS), 80% of the world’s central banks had already started to conceptualise and research the potential for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), 40% are working on proofs-of-concept (POCs) and 10% are deploying pilot projects. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) announced last month that it has processed more than three million digital yuan transactions since it began piloting its CBDC late last year. Transactions include bill payments, bar code scans, tap and go payments, and payments for transport and government services.
Singapore’s Project Ubin has successfully completed its fifth and final stage and is a step closer to greater adoption and live deployments of blockchain technology. The commercial applications of the payments network prototype include cross-border payments in multiple currencies, foreign currency exchange, settlement of foreign currency-denominated securities, as well as integration with other blockchain-based platforms to enable end-to-end digitalisation across many industries and use cases.
Crypto Exchange Ecosystems
A crypto exchange or digital currency exchange (DCE) makes it easier for buyers and sellers to securely store, buy, sell, or exchange crypto currencies. Various players across the financial industry have developed tools connecting the transactions, flow of funds, and financial instruments through crypto exchanges – including banks, digital payments and other FinTech providers.
In an effort to expand its retail presence, FTX acquired crypto app Blockfolio for USD 150 million in August 2020. Recently, FTX announced the launch of trade in the stocks of some of the largest global companies – Tesla, Apple, Amazon – by tokens against bitcoins, stablecoin and more.
In order to empower the emerging initiatives in the decentralised finance (DeFi) space, the world’s largest crypto exchange platform Binance announced the creation of a seed fund in September. Their USD 100 million accelerator fund added five new Blockchain projects – Bounce, DeFiStation, Gitcoin, JustLiquity and PARSIQ that will receive financial support from the fund.
PayPal has announced crypto buying and selling services through Paypal accounts. Paypal’s crypto service in partnership with Paxos is being rolled out in phases across the US. Outlining their plans for 2021, Paypal announced new crypto payments features including enhanced direct deposit, check cash, budgeting tools, bill pay, crypto support, subscription management, buy now/pay later functionalities and more with the integration of the capabilities offered by Honey – an internet browser extension and mobile app which PayPal bought for USD 4 billion in 2019.
It is expected that banks will join in as well – it has been reported that DBS Bank in Singapore is planning to launch a digital asset exchange platform to enable institutional and retail customers to trade cryptocurrencies.
Blockchain Enhancing Banking Features and Services
We are also witnessing several pilots and initiatives in banking industry functionalities such as settlements, identity management, security, transparency, and data management.
In theory, the bank reconciliation is simple, however, in practical aspects things may not work out so easily. The funding, lending, transfer, and transactions reconciliations is a complicated and time-consuming effort. in March 2020 the Spunta Banca DLT system promoted by the Italian Banking Association (ABI) and coordinated by ABI Lab was implemented across the Italian banking sector. Powered by R3’s Corda Enterprise blockchain, the solution streamlines and automates the reconciliation of transactions, provides real-time reconciliation process, handles technical elements with automated feedback and results in more transparent processes. Spunta has attracted broad interest from the Italian banking sector and since October, around 100 banks have been operating on Spunta to manage the interbank process and automate reconciliation of transactions.
Recently, in Spain, ten leading banks including Banco Santander, Bankia, BME, CaixaBank, Inetum, Liberbank, Línea Directa Aseguradora, Mapfre, Naturgy and Repsol, and the Alastria consortium have come together to build a self-managed digital identity (ID) solution dubbed as Dalion built on Blockchain technology. The project based on Alastria digital identity model (Alastria ID) aims to provide users with secure control on their digital information and personal data, making it easier for them to manage their digital identity. The project that was initiated in October 2019, has successfully completed the concept testing phase and is in its second phase, with the final solution expected to roll-out in mid-2021.
Grayscale, is the first digital currency investment vehicle to attain the status of a Securities and Exchange Commission reporting company. The digital assets management company is aggressively buying bitcoins and manages a total of USD 8.2 billion of cryptocurrency. Earlier this year, Singapore’s Matrixport, a financial services firm partnered with Simplex, an EU-licensed payments processing firm to enable buying of cryptocurrencies via VISA or Mastercard credit and debit cards with more than 20 supported fiat currencies.
As Blockchain matures we will see more large-scale adoption bringing collaborators together to form ecosystems that will give them a competitive edge. Solve some of their core challenges and empower their customers.
Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit
Get more insights into the evolution of blockchain and its applications at the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit. The world’s largest fintech event will explore different uses of blockchain technology,trials being conducted, and the vast opportunities in the financial services industries
Let us focus on the use of NLP, specifically on how it has been used by banking authorities for policy decision making during the COVID-19 crisis. AI has the potential to read and comprehend significant details from text. NLP, which is an important subset of AI, can be seen to have supported operations to stay updated with the compliance and regulatory policy shifts during this challenging period.
Use of NLP in Policy Making During COVID-19
The Financial Stability Board (FSB) coordinates at the international level, the work of national financial authorities and international standard-setting bodies in order to develop and promote the implementation of effective regulatory, supervisory and other financial sector policies. A recent FSB report delivered to G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors for their virtual meeting in October 2020 highlighted a number of AI use cases in national institutions.
We illustrate several use cases from their October report to show how NLP has been deployed specifically for the COVID-19 situation. These cases demonstrate AI aiding supervisory team in banks and in automating information extraction from regulatory documents using NLP.
De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB)
The DNB is developing an interactive reporting dashboard to provide insight for supervisors on COVID-19 related risks. The dashboard that is in development, enables supervisors to have different data views as needed (e.g. over time, by bank). Planned SupTech improvements include incorporating public COVID-19 information and/or analysing comment fields with text analysis.
Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)
MAS deployed automation tools using NLP to gather international news and stay abreast of COVID-19 related developments. MAS also used NLP to analyse consumer feedback on COVID-19 issues, and monitor vulnerabilities in the different customer and product segments. MAS also collected weekly data from regulated institutions to track the take-up of credit relief measures as the pandemic unfolded. Data aggregation and transformation were automated and visualised for monitoring.
US Federal Reserve Bank Board of Governors
One of the Federal Reserve Banks in the US is currently working on a project to develop an NLP tool used to analyse public websites of supervised regulated institutions to identify information on “work with your customer” programs, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Bank of England
The Bank developed a Policy Response Tracker using web scraping (targeted at the English versions of each authority/government website) and NLP for the extraction of key words, topics and actions taken in each jurisdiction. The tracker pulls information daily from the official COVID-19 response pages then runs it through specific criteria (e.g. user-defined keywords, metrics and risks) to sift and present a summary of the information to supervisors.
Even with its enhanced efficiencies, NLP in SupTech is still an aid to decision making and cannot replace the need for human judgement. NLP in policy decision is performing clearly defined information gathering tasks with greater efficiency and speed. But NLP cannot change the quality of the data provided, so data selection and choice are still critical to effective policy making.
For authorities, the use of SupTech could improve oversight, surveillance, and analytical capabilities. These efficiency gains and possible improvement in quality arising from automation of previously manual processes could be consideration for adoption.
Attention will be paid in 2021 to focusing on automation of processes using AI (Figure 2).
Based on a survey done by the FSB of its members (Figure 3), the majority of their respondents had a SupTech innovation or data strategy in place, with the use of such strategies growing significantly since 2016.
For more mainstream adoption, data standards and use of effective governance frameworks will be important. As seen from the FSB survey, SupTech applications are now used in reporting, data management and virtual assistance. But institutions still send the transaction data history in different reporting formats which results in a slower process of data analysing and data gathering. AI, using NLP, can help with this by streamlining data collection and data analytics. While time and cost savings are obvious benefits, the ability to identify key information (the proverbial needle in the haystack) can be a significant efficiency advantage.
Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit
For more insights, attend the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit which will cover topics tied to creating infrastructure for a digital economy; and RegTech and SupTechpolicies to drive innovation and efficiencies in a co-Covid-19 world.
Major Australian banks – ANZ Bank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) and Westpac – have joined hands with property management firm Scentre Group and IBM for the expansion and commercial launch of a Blockchain technology platform Lygon that manages end-to-end bank guarantees on retail property leases.
Financial guarantee is an essential part of retail property leases and involves a lot of paperwork such as payment assurances, financial guarantee, bank bonds, credit letters and other legal documents. Bank guarantees have primarily been issued through paper-based processes – digitalising the entire route will reduce the risks, manual errors and significantly speed up the complete procedure. The use of blockchain provides a trusted system of record for digitised documents, removes the risk of document loss and allows secure sharing of data. It also has a strong cryptography security aimed at eliminating fraud and enabling the sharing of key information across organisational boundaries.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Phil Hassey says, “This joint venture shows the value of applying new technology to bring legacy and overlooked business processes into the digital age. The ability to reduce the bank guarantee process time frame from one month to one hour, alongside a 15-minute onboarding highlights the speed and scale that can be gained from the technology.”
“It helps the landlord, retailer and bank alike. One of the key benefits for the retail tenant is that they can concentrate on running a business rather than the back-end administration required for the new lease. Furthermore, the blockchain technology will enable heightened security capabilities and reduce the risk to all parties of fraud and data loss.”
From this month, early adopters will be able to join the platform. The intention is to expand the services into New Zealand, with the view to creating a true cross-border solution. The platform will be open to the general public, along with new features, in early 2021.
A Successful Pilot
The platform was piloted in July 2019 and was proved successful later in the year. The outcomes reported to have been achieved include reduction of time to issue a bank guarantee from one month to one day; onboarding new applicants to the platform in less than 15 minutes; and supporting other common bank guarantee processes including amendments and cancellations. The pilot used live data and legal transactions from about 20 Australian businesses, with an aim to improve customer experience and process automation.
IBM, one of the 5 shareholders and the technology provider for the platform, is responsible for developing, operating, and maintaining the platform. The initial proof of concept (POC) was developed within the IBM Research division. The platform also runs on the IBM Blockchain Platform and IBM provides services such as the security.
Hassey says, “This initiative highlights that in a digital world – regardless of the platform – joint ventures can readily provide benefits to all stakeholders if digital enablement and technology is at the core of the execution.”
Australia introduced an open banking initiative, monitored by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). From July, Australia’s banking customers can share their financial and banking data with accredited businesses under Consumer Data Right Act to access a better suite of financial applications.
There is global expansion as well. Railsbank, a global open banking platform with a presence in Southeast Asia introduced their services in the US market. The company will offer Banking-as-a Service, Cards-as-a Service and Credit Card-as-a-Service in the US market. Khaleeji Commercial Bank (KHCB), an Islamic bank in Bahrain, launched their open banking service enabling a customer to link their bank accounts with other banks and manage through the ‘Khaleeji 360’ platform. The portal allows clients to view all their bank accounts, automate operations and conduct banking through a unified platform.
Financial Institutions Increasing Partnerships with Fintech
Financial institutions no longer look at Fintech as competition. They appreciate that customers are at the centre of their entire operation – and Fintech services can and will provide them with the solutions they need. As financial institutions re-think their transformation journeys and face increasingly stringent regulations, they no longer have the option of ignoring Fintechs.
American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Discover came together to roll out a global standard. The big four’s advanced digital checkout solution Click to Pay is an online checkout system based on EMV Secure Remote Commerce (SRC) to make online payments across websites, mobile applications and connected devices, frictionless.
With an aim to unify payment solutions, a group of 16 major European banks launched the European Payment Initiative (EPI) to create a unified pan-European payment solution leveraging Instant Payments/SEPA Instant Credit Transfer (SCT Inst), including a card, e-wallet and P2P payments.
We also saw financial institutions strengthen their cross-border payment services in July. Deutsche Bank partnered with Airwallex to offer virtual account collections and API-enabled foreign exchange services in Japan and Hong Kong. The service will enable merchants and traders to transact through virtual accounts and APIs without opening bank accounts in foreign markets. Mastercard and Bank of China partnered to enhance cross-border business payments into China. This will enable global businesses to send payments to China while accessing real-time exchange rates, reduce the need for unnecessary documentation between merchants, and reduce transaction hassles and costs.
Fintechs Facilitating Cross-border Trade
Seamless cross-border financial transactions will be key to economic recovery, whether easy remittance or the ability to reach a larger market and be able to trade beyond borders.
July saw the formalisation of the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) between New Zealand, Chile and Singapore, to facilitate end-to-end digital trade, which includes establishing digital identities, paperless trade and the development of Fintech solutions to support it. The initiative also intends to allow cross-border data flow and give access to necessary government data to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) enabling them to be digital-ready to explore newer markets.
Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) signed an MoU with Jiaozi Fintech Dreamworks based in China opening new opportunities for innovation and trade. The agreement will enable Fintech companies based in both cities to access each other’s markets. Primarily established to facilitate the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, it is a critical component of the DIFC’s 2024 strategy to strengthen relationships with the international financial community and increase access to the South-South corridor. Over the last few years, DIFC has been associated with over 200 Fintech organisations, and last month invested in four Fintech startups through their accelerator program. The agreement with Jiaozi will look at collaboration opportunities in Blockchain, AI and Cloud and will facilitate cross-border workshops and training programs.
Continuing Interests in Emerging Economies
Fintechs have been a means to bring about financial inclusion and are increasingly being used to target the unbanked and underbanked. Emerging economies continue to be attractive for Fintech organisations and global financial institutions.
With much of Malaysia’s economy dependent on foreign workers, Instapay, regulated by the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), announced a collaboration with Mastercard, to provide e-wallet accounts to the migrant workers. The widespread use of e-wallets by the migrant worker community will bring benefits to both workers, as well as their employers. Interestingly, Fintech providers in emerging economies are also looking to expand into other emerging markets. Malaysia’s GHL Group received approval from Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission to operate a lending business through their new unit, GHL Philippines Financing Services. GHL has been diversifying its business and has been operating its lending business in Malaysia and Thailand since 2019.
Crown Agent Bank, a wholesale foreign exchange and cross-border payment services based in the UK, partnered with South Africa’s biometric-based payment company, Paycode. Together the companies are aiming to reach 100 million unbanked customers where Crown Agents Bank will use their FX and payment services to bolster Paycode’s product offering and support financial inclusion across Sub-Saharan Africa.
India and Indonesia in the Asia Pacific continue to be popular markets because of the huge proportion of the unbanked population. Rapyd, a UK based global B2B Fintech-as-as-service provider partnered with major Indian e-payment providers – including Paytm, PhonePe, PayU, Citibank, DBS Bank, HDFC Bank, BharatPay, and Unimoni to launch an all-in-one payments solution that spans credit and debit cards, UPI, wallets, and cash. New registrations for digital banking in Indonesia are on the rise and Fintech startup Akulaku is capitalising on the potential digital banking overhaul to offer affordable and comprehensive financial services to consumers.
Fintechs benefiting other industries
The Fintech revolution has shown the path to several other industries – Healthcare and Agriculture are some of the industries that are hoping to benefit from Fintech organisations and their innovations. The MoU between Alibaba Cloud, Pfizer and Singapore’s Fintech Academy announced earlier in July, promises to give early and necessary guidance to Healthtech start-ups, and shows the deep connection between Healthtech and Fintech. In the Philippines, in an effort to improve financial services for farmers, AgriNurture acquired Fintech firm Pay8. By leveraging Pay8 e-wallet services, farmers will be able to access online payment services. This will enable the largely unbanked farmer community to become an active part of the economy.
The technology that these industries are looking to benefit from is Blockchain. South Korea brought Blockchain to their healthcare industry for better data management and storage. The 3 major telecommunications providers in the country – KT, SK Telecom and mobile carrier LG U+ – have also collaborated with KB Insurance to launch the blockchain-based mobile notification service (MNS) by matching customer data to their mobile subscription information. Oxfam Ireland – a charity organisation based in Ireland, received a sum of USD 1.18 million from the European Commission for a Blockchain-based pilot. The company is working on a project -The UnBlocked Cash – to help disaster-affected communities receive cash-based entitlements with more efficiency and traceability.
Fintech will continue to be a cornerstone of economic and social recovery in the future, and the financial industry will see more collaborations between Fintech organisations, financial institutions and governments. Other industries will continue to take learnings from Fintech.
Continuing the conversation around Fintech, we discussed the FinTech ecosystems building in Singapore and New Zealand.
This virtual event was a part of Techweek NZ, and in partnership with the Singapore FinTech Festival. 👇
This follows the announcement that was made last year by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA); of the successful completion of phase 1 of the proof-of-concept (POC) for its Business sans Borders (BSB). BSB is meant to be a “meta-hub” connecting several SME-centric platforms (starting within the Philippines, India and Singapore) giving SMEs seamless access to a larger ecosystem of buyers, sellers, logistics service providers, financing, and digital solution providers; and allowing them to be part of the larger global marketplace. The PoC involved a collaboration with private sector partners such as GlobalLinker, Mastercard, PwC, SAP and Yellow Pages.
AMTD Aligns with the BSB Objective
Hongkong-based investment banking firm AMTD Group leads a consortium that includes Xiaomi Finance, Singapore’s SP Group, and Funding Societies, that is a contender for one of Singapore’s digital wholesale banking licenses. While announcing their bid, they had clearly stated that they aimed to focus on SMEs in the region and globally. They continue to focus on SMEs by strengthening their partner ecosystem.
Last week AMTD announced a partnership with GlobalLinker making them the preferred financial services partner on the GlobalLinker’s SME-focused platform. AMTD intends to make available their entire ecosystem to SMEs including their virtual bank in Hong Kong, Airstar and their potential digital wholesale bank consortium in Singapore (which is to be called Singa Bank). In line with Singapore’s BSB objective, the partnership will see GlobalLinker join AMTD’s network which includes Fintech companies, regional banks and enterprises – SpiderNet. SpiderNet is a cross-sector ecosystem which is continuously expanding to connect and collaborate with shareholders, government bodies, industry associations, and clients. GlobalLinker’s AI-powered SME networking platform fosters SME digitalisation and helps members and customers connect with each other and use digital solutions. AMTD will be part of this network and bring the breadth of their partner ecosystem onto GlobalLinker’s platform.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Dheeraj Chowdhry says, “This marks the deepening of the trend of convergence between the established industry players and the Fintechs. The inefficiency of the obsession to ‘build’ and the associated resource and cost effort has perhaps been recognised on both sides and hence the path of coexistence and synergy seems more pragmatic. Fintechs are not competing but, in fact, complementing industry players by accelerating customer adoption of new digital formats for the entire landscape.”
Such partnerships by AMTD provides a glimpse of the group’s strong focus on Singapore. In April this year, AFIN and AMTD partnered to establish the USD 36 million AMTD ASEAN-Solidarity Fund. In May, AMTD, MAS, and Singapore FinTech Association (SFA) announced the launch of a USD 4.3 million MAS-SFA-AMTD FinTech Solidarity Grant to support Singapore-based FinTech firms.
AMTD remains committed to evolving their capabilities and ecosystem to empower the SME market in Singapore and the region. AMTD Digital announced their intention of acquiring a controlling stake in PolicyPal, Singapore’s InsureTech pioneer, and CapBridge Financial, a leading private capital platform for investing in growth companies globally. They have also expressed their intentions to acquire a controlling stake in FOMO Pay, a Singapore-based QR code and digital payment solution provider.
“AMTD’s early cognizance of the need for a strong ecosystem has led the organisation to their foray into partnerships and stakes in PolicyPal, FOMO Pay and now GlobalLinker. This strengthens AMTD’s commitment to the Fintech space including stakes in AirStar Digital Bank in Hong Kong and the Digital Bank application in Singapore,” says Chowdhry. “The Fintechs in AMTD’s stable will be part of the ‘AMTD web’ associated companies cutting across geographies and accelerate the ‘Business sans Borders’ objective of MAS and IMDA.”
As a part of Techweek NZ, and working once again with the Singapore FinTech Festival, Ecosystm is delighted to launch the “Re-Imagine the Digital Economy” webinar series. For more information please visit the link 👇
5/5 (1) In the blog, The Top 5 Fintech Trends for 2020, we had spoken about the impact of Fintech on financial inclusion. “Fintech will have a much greater impact than we realise, and we will continue to see it drive the induction of the unbanked into the mainstream economy. The growth in mobile phone penetration, however, continues to grow at a faster pace than banking accessibility across emerging economies. We will continue to see Fintech play a significant role in driving greater inclusion, especially to bring in the underserved in the emerging economies and reducing the gender gap when it comes to adoption of financial services – creating greater inclusion overall.”
Fintech Driving Financial Inclusion in Malaysia
Much of Malaysia’s economy is dependent on foreign workers with an estimate of 3-4 million migrants that roughly contribute to about 30% of the country’s labour force. Instapay, regulated by the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), caters to the underbanked community of foreign migrant workers, and recently announced a collaboration with Mastercard, to provide e-wallet accounts to Malaysian migrant workers. The app supports 9 languages and aims to have 100,000 users in the first year.
The widespread use of e-wallets by the migrant worker community is meant to bring benefits to both them, as well as their employers. It enables employers to use digital technologies for payroll management, reducing their dependence on cash handling, reducing costs and eliminating downtime as their employees no longer need to queue up on paydays.
The Instapay e-wallet also gives a largely underbanked segment of the society access to affordable financial products and services. The partnership with Mastercard gives Instapay’s customers access to the global network of merchants and ATMs, allowing easier access to financial services.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Dheeraj Chowdhry says, “Instapay’s foray into e-wallets furthers and supports the country’s objective of democratising banking and moving to a cashless economy. Collaboration with an international player like Mastercard helps a domestic Fintech to deliver a product that is country agnostic. The migrant worker can not only use the Instapay wallet within Malaysia but also in their home country.”
Malaysia’s Focus on Fintech
The Malaysia Government aims to create a cashless society, lower transaction costs and provide access to the underserved customers. There are two kinds of financial inclusion – for the lower income group as well as for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – and Malaysia is committed to both. Digital payments and e-wallets aimed at the lower income group receives an estimated 36% of Fintech funding. The stumbling block is that about a third of the country’s population does not have smartphones, so funds transfer using mobile phone messages is still relevant in the country. Development of the SME sector and eCommerce are twin focus areas for the Digital Economy vision. This provides a ready market for digital payments. Also, while the SME community will still have access to traditional funding, there is expected to be a greater push towards crowdfunding and peer-to-peer financing. It is expected that the share of Fintech funding for alternative funding will grow beyond the estimated 6% that it receives now.
According to a Mastercard Impact Study 2020, Malaysia has the highest e-wallet usage in Southeast Asia. As the country moves towards creating a cashless society, the Government is hoping e-wallet adoption increases. Several initiatives and schemes have been rolled out to promote e-wallets adoption. Last month, Malaysia announced the intention to spend an estimated USD 176 million in 2020 to encourage e-wallet adoption. Earlier this year, the Government announced the e-Tunai Rakyat program to boost the adoption of e-wallets, supported by Grab, Boost and Touch ‘n Go. Chowdhry says, “Instapay e-wallet is yet another manifestation of the amplified focus on e-wallets in Malaysia. BNM has set aside an estimated USD 108 million and has introduced a scheme to give USD $7.25 in credit for every adoption of any of the top 3 e-wallets. This scheme has accelerated e-wallets in the country that has set an adoption target of 15 million i.e. half of its population.”
“This push is backed by a structured approach of increasing the number of small merchants accepting card payments. With BNM’s focus, there are as many as half a million POS terminals out there for both credit cards and QR codes.”
“Malaysia’s regulators have to be applauded for having a well-coordinated, holistic and converging strategy on creating a cashless economy. The issuance, acceptance and regulatory policies have been completely synergised to deliver.”
In the report, Ecosystm Principal Analyst, Sash Mukherjee said, “Fintech plays a significant role in driving greater inclusion, especially to drive the induction of the unbanked into the mainstream economy, give the underbanked more options to leverage the broader financial services available, and reduce disparity in the adoption of financial services by bridging the gender gap and differences based on ethnicity and socio-economic status. It is not hard to imagine a similar fate for Healthtech. As the industry focuses on value-based outcomes, governments put in more regulations around accountability and transparency in the industry, and people expect the customer experience that they get out of their retail interactions, Healthtech start-ups will become as mainstream as Fintech start-ups.”
However, Mukherjee notes that there might be some pitfalls in this journey, especially when organisations focus more on the technology and less on the actual application and benefits of the technology. “Innovators and start-ups need to align themselves early, with corporates and technology providers to gain a better understanding of the market and regulatory landscape.”
Singapore bringing key industry stakeholders together
The MoU between Alibaba Cloud, Pfizer and Singapore’s Fintech Academy announced yesterday, is a move in the right direction that promises to give early and necessary guidance to Healthtech start-ups. Under the newly formed Healthcare Fintech Alliance (HFA), Alibaba will provide infrastructural support and technological mentorship to the Healthtech and Fintech start-ups to help them leverage cloud, AI and other technologies for their future requirements. The Fintech Academy will guide these start-ups through talent management and venture building programs. Pfizer will provide thought leadership through its network of healthcare experts and opinion leaders, including guidance on commercialisation of the products and services. The Healthcare Fintech Alliance initiative will begin with a pilot in Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam before expanding to other regions – Malaysia and the Philippines.
Mukherjee says, “The healthcare industry, for all the cutting-edge research, that it represents, has been remarkably slow to transform. But the COVID-19 crisis has forced the industry to transform, without the luxury or time to think about it. While the implications on the life sciences and provider organisations is clearer, there has simultaneously emerged a need for transformation in the healthcare payer industry. There will be greater demand from consumers for micro-financing to tide over sudden healthcare crises and greater transparency in how these funds are managed. Again, there is an immense potential here for the industry to learn from Fintech.”
Healthcare Fintech Alliance Focus Areas
The focus areas for Healthcare Fintech Alliance shows the deep connection between Healthtech and Fintech.
Healthcare Affordability. Micro-financing and other financial models involving patients, family members, payers, and other healthcare stakeholders
Value Based Healthcare. Linking payment schemes to a drug’s effectiveness, health outcomes or utilisation
Outcome Monitoring. Tracking and reporting of outcomes derived from patients, wearables, healthcare providers, R&D databases and real-world evidence.
Personalised Healthcare. Using digital technology to tailor healthcare to individual needs
Innovative Healthtech Devices. Driving adoption in digital tools, such as diagnostic tools linked to medicine access and reimbursement
Population Health Management. Leveraging patient and associated data in a compliant way to better understand population health characteristics, for effective wellness programs, treatment protocols and cost management.
“Alliances such as these have potential benefits for the industry stakeholders such as Alibaba and Pfizer. Alibaba has been focusing on the Southeast Asia market – earlier in the month the Alibaba Cloud Philippines Ecosystem Alliance was formed to support digital transformation in start-ups and small and medium enterprises. Initiatives such as this is an effective way to associate themselves with the evolving start-up community in the region,” says Mukherjee. “Life sciences companies operate in an extremely competitive global market where they have to work on new products against a backdrop of competition from generics and global concern over rising healthcare expenditure. Against that backdrop, this alliance is the right go-to-market messaging for Pfizer as well.”
“However, the deepest positive impact of alliances such as these will be on the Healthcare industry as a whole. It makes concepts such as value-based healthcare, remote care and personalised healthcare achievable in the near future.”
The pandemic has fast demonstrated the power of being aligned to the digital economy. Ecosystm CEO Amit Gupta says, “Organisations that were digital-ready were able to manage their business continuity almost immediately in enabling a remote workforce. The transfer was almost seamless for such businesses as the teams had already imbibed the principles of remote collaboration and were already familiar with tools that enable collaboration and communication. For many of these organisations, it was almost a matter of employees packing up their work-issued laptop and heading home.”
“In addition, those that were fully digitalised were better prepared to continue not only interacting with their clients remotely but also in many cases were able to deliver their offerings to their customers through their website or mobile apps.”
Gupta also notes that Ecosystm research shows that before the COVID-19 outbreak only about 35% of SMEs considered themselves ready for the digital economy, compared to half of the large enterprises. “This needs to change – and change fast!”
Singapore’s Digital Government Blueprint
In Singapore’s Digital Government Blueprint that supports its Smart Nation vision, digitalisation is positioned as a key pillar for public service transformation. The focus for business stakeholders in this journey includes co-creating and facilitating the adoption of technologies (Figure 1).
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often struggle with going digital because of lack of resources – both financial and skills – and vision. In a country such as Singapore, where SMEs are estimated to account for 99% of all enterprises and 77% of employment, it is imperative that the Digital Economy vision includes a special focus on them.
Gupta says, “Despite significant incentives, there has been resistance from SMEs to go digital as it still involves time and monetary investment from them. The need to retrain and upskill their teams is also a perceived roadblock to the uptake.”
Singapore Empowering SMEs to go Digital
As the Government looks to open the economy up in a phased manner, it sees this as the right opportunity to make SMEs digital-ready. It is “seizing the moment” and has established the SG Digital Office (SDO) in an effort to enable every individual, worker and business to go digital. Initiatives include the recruitment and deployment of 1,000 Digital Ambassadors by end June to provide personalised as well as small group support to seniors and owners of local eateries, who require additional assistance to adopt digital solutions and technology.
In 2018, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had launched SGQR to unify the fragmented e-payment landscape in the country, making it compatible with 27 payment schemes. The SDO aims to drive SMEs (especially in the F&B sector) to adopt SGQR codes for e-payments. The goal is to engage 18,000 stallholders of local eateries (hawker centres, wet markets, coffee shops and industrial canteens) to have the unified e-payment solution by June 2021. Further, multiple government agencies – IMDA, National Environment Agency (NEA), Jurong Town Corporation, Housing Development Board (HDB) and Enterprise Singapore – come together to offer a bonus of SGD 300 per month over five months to encourage more F&B SMEs to adopt e-payments.
“Financial Inclusion is one of the mainstays of a progressive economy. Given the significant investment that has gone into the e-payments infrastructure by government agencies led by MAS, we are placed well compared to other nations,” says Gupta. “However, there is work to be done in certain demographics and sectors. The drive to support F&B outlets and local eateries to get on the bandwagon will be an exceptional step and will be well received by consumers.”
“There are only a handful of governments that can compare with what the Singapore Government has put in place when it comes to initiatives to drive the uptake of technology by SMEs. This current crisis may well become the catalyst for SMEs to recognise the urgency of getting digital-ready and they should use this as an opportunity to leverage the government support around technology adoption and emerge as digital-savvy organisations.”
Making its largest foray into the Indian market yet, last week Facebook announced that it is investing US$5.7 billion in Jio Platforms – India’s largest telecom operator – for a 9.9% minority stake. Facebook makes its intentions very clear and is targeting the 60 million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who can be the backbone of India’s growing digital economy. This includes a rather unorganised retail sector, which has had to adopt digital at breakneck speed following the Government’s earlier financial reforms, which impacted the smaller retailers, dependent primarily on cash transactions. Facebook is by no means the only global giant with an interest in India’s retail business – with Amazon and Walmart leading the way.
The JioMart and WhatsApp Pilot
Just days after the announcement, JioMart – an eCommerce venture also a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries, like Jio Platforms – has launched a pilot in Mumbai which allows users to order groceries through WhatsApp. Customers can now place grocery orders through WhatsApp Business with JioMart reaching out to small-scale retailers and brick and mortar stores – or “Kirana stores” as they are referred to in India – to fulfil the order. More than 1,200 local stores have been engaged for this pilot. It currently does not include a digital payment option and invoices and alerts are sent through WhatsApp. Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and MD of Reliance Industries, says that the JioMart and WhatsApp collaboration has the potential to make it possible for around 30 million neighbourhood stores to transact digitally.
India Emerging as the New Battlefield
India is an important eCommerce market for global giants such as Facebook and Amazon, who have struggled with establishing a presence in China. Walmart has also set it its sights on India, with its recent acquisition of Flipkart. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says. “India represents the final frontier, where the battle lines are being drawn, and the three are heading towards a collision path. Facebook’s recent move has just upped the game for Amazon and Walmart, as well as for the eCommerce and Fintech start-ups who have been eyeing this market.”
Amazon has been the early mover, establishing its eCommerce presence in India way back in 2013. Ghatak says, “From its initial marketplace approach of curating suppliers to start selling on its platform, Amazon graduated to offering its own delivery and fulfilment services, by establishing dozens of warehouses across India. This was to ensure the quality and timeliness of deliveries, upholding its ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’ (FBA) brand promise. There was a considerable cost though, in terms of time to ramp up and investments – with the associated asset risks. Also, reaching out to the diffused retail sector, with their non-existent or very low level of digitalisation, has been difficult for all the major eCommerce players such as Amazon and Flipkart. Jeff Bezos’ announcement of an additional investment of $ 1 billion, earlier this year, to digitise SMEs, allowing them to sell and operate online, is a step to extend its reach into this diffused retail market.”
JioMart’s model, according to Ghatak is in stark contrast to Amazon’s. “JioMart’s currently ongoing pilot in Mumbai is a classic B2C marketplace model, with little or no asset risk. The orders placed by the customers are routed to the nearest Kirana store based on stock availability, with the customers going to pick up the ordered items themselves at times.”
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee says, “Jio has unparalleled market access in India with reports showing north of 370 million subscribers. Even at a $1.7 per month revenue from such a huge number, one can get to a $7.5 billion-dollar annual business. But even this is dwarfed by what that subscriber base itself is worth – through the data it provides, the products that can be sold and so on. Similarly, WhatsApp will prove to be more important than Facebook in India, with more than 400 million users. Using WhatsApp to get Kirana stores to do delivery can be a true game-changer.”
Talking about how this competes with Amazon, Mukherjee says, “This can eat into the business of an Amazon and my guess is, it will be far more efficient. The proximity to the customer will allow multiple deliveries per day at short notice, and fresh produce guarantees – maybe even door returns if not satisfied – that would be hard to match. Given the traffic situation in large Indian cities, delivery logistics from a more distant source will always struggle to compete. This is one tip of a multi-pronged spear – there are obviously other products that can be contemplated, leading to additional revenues.”
The Possibilities Ahead
Mukherjee explains why he thinks Facebook invested in Jio Platforms, rather than just forging a collaboration model. “Clearly both parties want to tie the other down and make sure that this alliance is long term. And this possibly means revenue will be shared instead of the usual commission model. Also, the go-to-market implications can run to more than just the Indian market. WeChat Pay is huge in China but not really elsewhere. If this works, there could be a potential “WhatsApp Pay” in the rest of the world. For Jio who already dominates the telecom landscape in India, this deal is a step towards taking their earnings to a new level, above the top end of the telecom category – they can access profit pools available to hardly any telecom provider worldwide.”
At a time when a market entry for foreign players in India is getting tougher with increasing regulatory pressures, a tie-up with the biggest player in India is indeed a very promising step – for both Facebook and Reliance. “For Facebook, this is a great opportunity to take its dependence away from a primarily ad-driven revenue model. The digitalisation of the diffused retail sector in India will open up new revenue opportunities from its WhatsApp Business App, WhatsApp Business API, and WhatsApp Pay-UPI gateway (pending regulatory approval). There is a potential of revenues from a variety of marketing services, membership fees, customer management services, product sales, commissions on transactions, and software service fees,” says Ghatak.
Talking about the potential for Reliance Industries, Ghatak says, “The technology horsepower of Facebook will help propel them ahead of Fintech and eCommerce companies in India – challenging already established players such as Amazon and Flipkart, and the newbie start-ups. Ability to drive transactions and digital payments in the diffused retail sector will open up huge revenue opportunities that were largely untapped until now, with low asset risks. Also, this sector has traditionally operated on a cash-based model and the recent COVID-19 crisis has exposed how vulnerable the sector is with a limited view of the supply chain, and limited funding for working capital. Developing relationships with the millions of Kirana stores spread across India also gives the opportunity of revenue generation through supply chain financing – a largely ignored sub-sector until now.”
Mukherjee thinks that this alliance will challenge players such as Amazon and Amazon Pay, Google Pay and PayTM. Ghatak also thinks that eventually, Jio Platform will have to either choose between or integrate the best features of WhatsApp Pay and the Jio Money Merchant payment gateways.
However, Ghatak offers a word of caution on the downside risks as well. “Partnering with Facebook is a hugely ambitious game plan for Reliance Industries. The success of its plans will also depend on how well it is able to curate the suppliers who are responsible for the actual delivery. In a consumer-driven business model, trust and customer experience cannot be compromised. The low asset, high leverage and high reach model can unravel itself if the customer gets the short end of the stick, in this rush for eCommerce domination.”