Rivalry thwarting Asia's fintech competitiveness: Report

The Hong Kong skyline.
The Hong Kong skyline.PHOTO: AFP

Fragmented regulatory landscape makes it hard for firms to scale up

HONG KONG • Asia's competitiveness in fintech is being undermined by the rivalry among the region's financial centres that has created regulatory complexity and uncertainty, a financial lobby group has warned.

Governments across Asia - most notably Hong Kong and Singapore - have launched a raft of initiatives to grab a slice of the US$100 billion (S$139 billion) invested in fintech globally, but the regulatory hotchpotch is making it tough for firms to scale up, the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (Asifma) said in a report yesterday.

"The regulatory landscape is very fragmented and a lot of the initiatives, though well-intentioned, are not necessarily well thought through," said Mr Mark Austen, chief executive of Asifma.

The lobby group, which represents global banks and asset managers such as Goldman Sachs, has called on Asian regulators to coordinate better and to adopt a consistent set of best practices for fostering fintech in the region.

"By not cooperating on fintech, Asian financial centres are putting themselves at a real disadvantage relative to the rest of the world: that traditional competitive dynamic and rivalry between the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore may actually in this case be a disadvantage," said Ms Hannah Cassidy, a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Investors poured US$19 billion worldwide into fintech - including P2P lenders, distributed ledger technology and crowdfunding platforms - last year alone, and thousands of fintech start-ups continue to proliferate, according to a February report by global regulatory body the International Organisation of Securities Commissions (Iosco).

Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia have launched a range of special programmes to attract and foster fintech ventures, from incubators and grants, to temporary licence waiver schemes, with competition fiercest between rivals Hong Kong and Singapore.

While all these markets operate well-defined licensing and supervisory regimes for traditional financial firms, including banks, brokers, insurance companies and funds, regulators are still struggling to establish clear and consistent regimes for fintech firms because they often operate innovative business models.

The lack of regulatory clarity has meant that some aspiring fintech firms have struggled to gain licences in markets such as Hong Kong.

"We are open to cooperation with regional and global regulators on fintech," the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) said in a statement, adding that it would be entering into new regulatory cooperations shortly, without elaborating.

The SFC added it has taken a leading role in discussions about fintech within Iosco and conducts dialogues with other watchdogs through a dedicated fintech liaison officer.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Rivalry thwarting Asia's fintech competitiveness: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe