When it comes to the financial services sector, FinTech is the new frontier, and Singapore is eager for a piece of the pie. Under the Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has committed S$225 million over a five-year period to develop an ecosystem to allow FinTech to thrive in the city-state.
The government has also set up bilateral ties aligning their own regulators and those in selected countries - so that financial products built in Singapore can be used and implemented elsewhere.
One such example is the agreement inked with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission, which will reduce both regulatory uncertainty and time to market for FinTech companies in both countries.
According to Sopnendu Mohanty, MAS' Chief FinTech Officer, Singapore is particularly well-placed to nurture emerging FinTech innovation.
“There are three things we're good at: we have a large financial sector hub, a good talent pool of financial services experts, and a strong regulator with strong credentials. People respect its ability to regulate and keep the sector safe," he said.
“We are taking advantage of that and adding three more strengths: nurturing new ideas, allowing new ideas to become products and go to the market, and providing, through our ecosystem, capital for start-ups."
As part of this push, in August 2016, MAS launched its own innovation lab – Looking Glass @ MAS – to allow for experimentation and consultation with start-ups, financial institutions and technology vendors.
MAS has also proposed setting up “regulatory sandboxes" to let FinTech businesses and developers to experiment and test their ideas in a safe, controlled environment.
“It allows people to start putting things in production," said Mohanty. “It allows them to not worry about failure, it allows people to think, 'Yes, we can take bold ideas and move to our clients and consumers and do it safely and securely.'"
This is a forward push that ANZ is happy to be part of.
The evidence is the ANZ BlueSpace, an open, bright and airy section of its Singapore office, decorated in ANZ's blue-and-white. And in mid-November this year, bottles of water, pastries, branded marshmallows and candy were artfully arranged on the counter, ready and waiting for guests eager for the official launch of the bank's dedicated FinTech innovation lab.
This lab is more than just a pretty space; the ANZ BlueSpace is a place for innovators to get to work, to get creative about design and to incubate promising ideas.
“We've been in Singapore for more than 40 years, supporting the banking requirements of institutional and corporate customers who use Singapore as a base to do business in and around the ASEAN region," said David Green, ANZ's Chief Executive of Singapore and Head of Southeast Asia and India.
“The relationships and connections we have grown, both in Singapore and Australia with customers, government and regulators and other stakeholders, and our own desire to partner to drive innovation, puts us in a position to connect the dots for businesses keen to explore and capture the developing opportunities in the FinTech space."
This is not the first time ANZ has been involved in innovation in financial services in this country.
In September this year, ANZ collaborated with the National University of Singapore (NUS) on the ANZ-NUS Financial Services Innovation Challenge, which brought students in contact with industry experts and professionals to work on solutions for the financial services sector.
“Learning about the real problems in the industry; that's the key thing. First, education on the real problems; what are the real issues? What are the real challenges? Second, the instruments: tools, models, blockchain. Third is the hands-on part, the actual creation," said Professor Jorge Sanz, Director of the NUS Business Analytics Centre.
"All that was surrounded by a collaborative, open-minded, bottom-up creativity and support. The value for the students is to be able to go through this in concert with mentorship, support, collaboration and networking."
When talking about innovation, Mohanty observed that one needs both “the mindset and a handset", where there is not just the intention and desire to try new things, but also the infrastructure and tools.
The ANZ BlueSpace seeks to extend the ethos of creativity and collaboration present at the innovation challenge to do just that, and not a moment too soon.
“To stay relevant to the needs and expectations of our customers we will need to keep adapting and looking for new and better ways to service them," Green said.
“Collaborating with the developing financial technology ecosystem in Singapore will help us to do by solving problems and developing capability faster, combining our industry experience and understanding with the different perspectives and expertise, skills and talents of people across academia, industry and government."
It's a promising start, but Professor Sanz still thinks that there is a long way to go as the FinTech ecosystem develops in Singapore.
“FinTech so far has a lot of tech and very little 'fin'," he said. “We need a debate about a programme that is not going to be led either by traditional views from the computing or financial industries."
It's not easy to nurture a talent who isn't just a computer scientist or a financial expert, but there's plenty of demand and space for someone with such a skillset.
The NUS Business Analytics Centre graduates about 100 students a year, and according to Professor Sanz, all are employed, whether in Singapore or abroad.
“We give you professional education, we give you good contacts, we expose you to the best things happening in Asia, which happens in good part to be in Singapore… now, the journey is yours," he said.
Moving ahead, Professor Sanz believes that collaboration between students, universities and banks like ANZ aren't just desirable, but essential. “The education that is needed should be set by the industry and identify what is needed on the ground," he said. “It isn't about top-down planning and imagining something; this is a conversation."