5 key takeaways / Blockchain and banking at Singapore’s fintech festival

By: Robin Spiess - Posted on: November 17, 2018 | Business

The largest event of its kind in the world, the festival welcomed more than 40,000 participants and 250 speakers

The festival is organised by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and provides a platform for collaborations, connections and co-creations within the FinTech ecosystem

Global finance and technology companies converged on Singapore this past week for the third annual Singapore Fintech Festival.

Speakers focussed on several main themes in the fintech world, including artificial intelligence in finance, cyber-security, the future of money and banking and fintech opportunities for the region.

Here is a breakdown of some of the highlights:

Modi talks up fintech potential

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the keynote speech at the festival on Wednesday, opening with a hopeful message for fintech’s capabilities to improve the lives of the world’s marginalised people before announcing the launch of a new online marketplace.

“Technology is defining competitiveness and power in the world and it is creating boundless opportunities to transform lives,” Modi said. “We must … ensure that the pace and the push of fintech works to the advantage of the people, not to their disadvantage… That technology in finance ensures improvement of the human condition through direct contact with the most marginalised.”

Modi then proceeded to announce the formal launch of a new online marketplace called the API exchange, or APIX. The project, which was initially announced in September of this year and is sponsored by the Indian and Singaporean governments, will connect technology start-ups with financial institutions in the region and beyond. Its main goal will be to encourage financial inclusion in Asean countries, and to allow for further collaboration among fintech companies and funders to explore new technologies.

Bitcoin for banks?

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), urged central banks to consider launching digital currencies as she outlined the findings of the international organisation’s new report.

She said that her agency’s latest report, available on the IMF website, outlines the pros and cons of central banks developing digital currency, and added that she was in favour of the decision to do so.

“I believe we should consider the possibility to issue digital currency,” she said. “This currency could satisfy public policy goals, such as financial inclusion, and security and consumer protection – and could provide what the private sector cannot: privacy in payments.”

Match making

A new platform, called “Meet Asean’s Talents and Champions” (or MATCH), was launched in advance of the festival which – much like a virtual shopping centre – allowed potential investors to enroll and browse Asean’s fintech enterprises.

According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) – the city state’s central bank and financial regulatory authority – more than 380 investors indicated intentions to invest up to $6.2 billion in Asean enterprises in the coming year, with an additional $6 billion earmarked for the subsequent two years.

Participating investors showed the most interest in start-ups and growth-stage enterprises.

International cooperation

The MAS joined with the Banks of Canada and England to release a report examining the challenges and possible alternate models for cross-border payments.

The proposed models, as presented in the report, have the potential to improve access, speed and transparency of cross-border payments, though further development is required before their implementation.

“There is significant room for improvement in the cross-border payments space,” said Scott Hendry, Bank of Canada senior special director. “Major changes are being proposed by current service providers as well as start-ups that regulators need to research to better understand. This project was a major step forward in international cooperation and in our understanding of the possible alternatives.”

Best of the rest

The conclusion of the Fintech Festival was aligned with that of the Asian Summit, which saw global political leaders descend on Singapore to discuss policy affecting the region. As a result of fintech-related discussions held during the summit, Singapore has signed several deals to further the development of regional technologies.

Singapore’s MAS signed agreements with two Chinese financial agencies to further pave the way for joint research, fintech cooperation and innovation projects in the application of key technologies including digital payments. The city state also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bahrain to help support fintech innovation between the two countries, and agreed to join hands with the US in conducting cybersecurity training workshops around the region.

Singapore’s digital government agency, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), also announced Friday that it has partnered with sustainable urban development firm Ascendas-Singbridge Group to invest $10 million in trials of smart city technologies within the country.