Fintech start-up scene thriving

CEO of Korvac Holdings Jeremy Tan pictured on March 16, 2016.
CEO of Korvac Holdings Jeremy Tan pictured on March 16, 2016. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

An app supported by a team of 10 in Bishan proved a hit with commodity speculators the world over when oil prices went haywire in January.

Traders, including 20,000 in the Middle East, were using the app to get live alerts every time the price of crude hit a new level.

The app was launched in 2014 by Call Levels, one of Singapore's fastest-growing fintech start-ups.

Fintech - which involves using technology to devise new financial services and products - is still at an early stage in Singapore but activity is increasing fast. New start-ups frequently announce beta versions and pilot tests for new mobile wallets or robo-advisers to help people with investment decisions.

But for entrepreneurs whose products have kicked off, their reach is global. Call Levels co-founder Daniel Chia, said: "We have more than 70,000 users and we've raised US$500,000 (S$691,000)."

There is no official data on the size of the fintech cluster here but consultancy Accenture estimated last year that fintech investments in Asia-Pacific hit almost US$3.5 billion in the first nine months of 2015, up from about US$880 million in all of 2014.

Mr Jeremy Tan, chief executive of payments solutions firm Korvac, said: "There is probably a little bit of exuberance, but there are some good companies that we think will make it huge. We will have people standing when the tide goes out."

The local fintech cluster is growing so fast that the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation is pulling together 30 members to form a new fintech industry group, said Mr Tan, who is also the federation's treasurer.

How the Monetary Authority of Singapore will regulate new innovations like equity crowdfunding or digital remittances is still not clear, and Mr Tan hopes the fintech alliance can consolidate views and offer suggestions to "speed them along".

The Government has also had a hand in grooming local fintechs. Infocomm Investments, the venture arm of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, is a backer of Startupbootcamp FinTech Singapore, a specialised accelerator programme for fintech firms in the region. The programme unveiled its second cohort of 10 start-ups, including Singapore digital insurance manager Policy Pal, this week.

But the fintech ecosystem is not airtight. Capital market support for local start-ups needs to be stronger to encourage fintechs to list here, many entrepreneurs said. "The Singapore Exchange is not known for supporting innovation and start-up companies. It's known for dividend-based companies and seafood restaurants," said Mr Tan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Fintech start-up scene thriving'. Print Edition | Subscribe