Why Singapore Is APAC’s Fintech Crown Jewel

    Insights » APAC » Why Singapore Is APAC’s Fintech Crown Jewel

    Analyzing the driving factors behind the fintech flowering of Singapore—and the opportunities you can leverage here

    Singapore Fintech Market Research
    Ignacio Carballo

    Ignacio E. Carballo

    Director – Financial Inclusion and Alternative Finance Lead – APAC and LATAM

    Contact the author

    In a previous blog post, we explored why the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region may be where the future of fintech is being shaped. That piece focused on demonstrating how, over the next decade, APAC will have the greatest potential for growth and development — and in fact become the global leader of the fintech industry[1].

    While APAC features a slew of expanding economies that are driving this fintech florescence, Singapore’s may be the most powerful. Officially called the Republic of Singapore, it’s made up of sixty-three islands and governed as a parliamentary republic. Its territory is divided into five community development councils. With its 5.6 million inhabitants and a US$447 billion-dollar GDP (US$82,800 GDP per capita)[2], Singapore bridges high-income and emerging economies in APAC.

    In this piece, we’ll focus on the factors that have made Singapore a fintech hub and why this country may be the ideal gateway for companies looking to expand their footprints in the rapidly growing APAC payments market.

    Financial Fundamentals

    Even before Singapore developed a powerful fintech sector, it was already a financial force for various reasons:

    FINANCIAL HUB

    Singapore is the home of numerous international and regional banks, financial institutions, and asset management firms. Its well-developed financial infrastructure, stable political environment, and strong regulatory framework have contributed to this status.

    TRADE AND COMMERCE

    Singapore’s strategic location as a maritime and air transportation hub makes it a crucial player in regional and global trade. It has one of the busiest ports in the world and is a key center for international trade and logistics.

    HEAVY INVESTMENT FLOW

    Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into Singapore are substantial, as multinational corporations often choose it as their regional headquarters for their APAC operations. The country’s business-friendly policies and tax incentives make it an attractive destination for investors.

    WEALTH MANAGEMENT

    Singapore is a major hub for private banking and wealth management services. High-net-worth individuals and families from across the APAC region often choose Singapore as their preferred destination for wealth preservation and management.

    Features that Favor Fintech in Singapore

    REGULATORY SANDBOX
     The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has established a regulatory sandbox that allows fintech companies to test their solutions in a controlled environment. This encourages experimentation and innovation in financial services.

    FINTECH FESTIVAL
    The annual Singapore FinTech Festival is an annual flagship event organized by MAS for the fintech community, it is one of the world’s largest fintech events, attracting participants from around the globe. It serves as a platform for networking, knowledge sharing, and investment opportunities in the fintech sector.

    PAYMENTS AND DIGITAL BANKING
    Singapore has witnessed significant growth in digital payments, with various mobile payment solutions gaining popularity. It also granted digital banking licenses, leading to the emergence of digital-only banks in the market. Singapore’s top funded fintech sectors were payments (US$120 million across eight deals) and crypto (US$235 million across 36 deals) in the first half of 2023. In the payment space, Singapore-based Thunes raised the largest round in the APAC region, amounting to US$60 million[3].

    BLOCKCHAIN AND CRYPTOCURRENCY
    Singapore has been proactive in embracing blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. It has attracted blockchain startups and cryptocurrency exchanges, contributing to the development of the blockchain ecosystem in the region.

    FINTECH COLLABORATION
    Singapore actively encourages collaboration between fintech startups and traditional financial institutions. This collaboration has led to the development of innovative financial products and services.

    REGIONAL EXPANSION
    Fintech companies based in Singapore often use the city-state as a launchpad to expand into other APAC markets. Its proximity to various emerging markets in the region makes it an ideal base for expansion.

    A Fintech-Friendly Regulator

    Of course, even with favorable underlying conditions, fintech also needs regulatory support and clarity to scale in a market. Fortunately for Singapore’s fintech sector, it has this crucial support. In fact, the financial regulator in Singapore — the Monetary Authority of Singapore or MAS — responded early to the development of fintech, actively seeking to frame the appropriate regulatory approach to both support and supervise it.

    Among this regulator’s crucial initiatives:

    2015: MAS created the Fintech and Innovation Group (FTIG)[4], which oversees regulatory policies as well as technology and innovation development initiatives to control risks, improve efficiency, and boost competitiveness in the financial sector.

    2016: MAS established an International Technology Advisory Panel (ITAP)[5] to seek expert advice on the international developments in fintech and how Singapore can harness new technologies worldwide to enhance the provision of financial services. That same year, MAS and the National Research Foundation (NRF) in the Prime Minister Office’s Singapore (PMO) jointly established a Fintech Office to serve as a one-stop virtual entity for all fintech matters and to promote Singapore as a fintech hub. Recognizing that failure is often a feature of fintech, MAS also launched a “Regulatory Sandbox” in November 2016 to provide appropriate safeguards to contain the consequences or cost of failure for customers and the market, rather than to prevent failure altogether.

    2017: MAS released the industry transformation map for financial services, which outlined growth strategies by business lines, programs for upgrading skills, and an agenda for continuous innovation and technology adoption.

    2018: MAS, the World Bank Group’s International Financial Corporation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) Bankers Association launched API Exchange (APIX)[6], a nonprofit initiative to help market players connect with one another, design experiments collaboratively and deploy new digital solutions..

    2019: MAS introduced the Sandbox Express to enable insurance brokers and market operators a faster option to bring innovative financial services and products to the market for testing in pre-defined environments, which was then followed by the Sandbox Plus in November 2021, comprising three enhancements to its existing Fintech Regulatory Sandbox framework.

    2020: MAS announced a S$125 million support package for the financial and fintech sectors to deal with the immediate challenges from COVID-19 and position strongly for the recovery and future growth.

    2022: Lawrence Wong — Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman for MAS — launched the refreshed Financial Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) 2025. Part of the plan involves enhancing asset class strengths, including anchoring promising fintech start-ups in areas such as Web 3.0, AI, and green FinTech.

    A Quick Market Snapshot

    Given MAS’s strong support of the industry, it’s no surprise that fintech has flourished in Singapore and in fact, today there are more than 1,000 fintech companies in the country. Here’s a concise look at some of the key players, starting with fintech organizations:

    Profiles of Top Fintech Companies in Singapore

    Profiles of Top Fintech Companies in Singapore

    3 Important Trends in Singapore’s Fintech Sector

    Singapore is also an international banking hub. As such, beyond the local operators, you’ll also find an array of global firms that span both Asian/Middle East markets (China, India, Israel, etc.) and large Western markets (US, UK, Switzerland, etc.). For instance, Revolut, Wise, Grab, Airwallex, Blockchain.com, Nium, among others.

    Even as Singapore’s fintech market rapidly evolves — seemingly by the day — it is possible to highlight key trends in 2023 that should also resonate in 2024. Below we offer a look at some of the most important ones, as indicated by the Singapore Fintech Association[7]:

    • The rise of artificial intelligence: The widespread adoption of AI is rapidly transforming all industries, with good adoption rate of AI in the RegTech sector. In H1’23, local generative AI applications, especially in cybersecurity, insurtech, and wealthtech, attracted US$129 million across six deals, indicating nascent growth. Investors are also closely watching AI-linked payment and crypto applications, expecting them to address issues and yield strong returns.

    • The focus on sustainability: As the green economy gains momentum, there is ongoing pressure for businesses in Asia to adopt greener practices. Fintech unlocks green opportunities, accelerating the transition to sustainability.

    • Renewed focus on digital trust and stability: One of the top goals of 2022 highlighted by executives is to increase the prevention of successful cybersecurity attacks. Aside from cybersecurity, transparency of fintech services is another important pillar of digital trust.

    Reaching the Rest of APAC

    Another aspect of Singapore’s fintech flourish extends beyond the country itself. Many companies are using Singapore as a gateway to other Southeast Asian markets, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This is a sound strategy: according to World Economic Forum, the Southeast Asia market is on the way to becoming the fourth-largest economy by 2030, behind the European Union, the United States, and China[8]. Myriad factors are driving this growth, including a majority young and tech-savvy populace, the rapid urbanization of rural areas and burgeoning household incomes that are fueling spikes in consumption. Added to these fundamentals is the fact that Southeast Asia is overflowing with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that remain underserved by traditional finance ─ which offers massive opportunities for fintech innovations.

    The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is set to surpass 50% of the global digital payments volume, with an anticipated accelerated 20% CAGR between 2022 and 2027[9]. In light of this trend, Singapore plays a pivotal role in fostering both bilateral and multilateral payments infrastructure collaborations. Notably, in 2021, Singapore established a real-time payment link between Thailand’s PromptPay and Singapore’s PayNow systems[10]. Additionally, Singapore extended its real-time payments infrastructure to include Malaysia’s DuitNow in the same year[11]. Singapore and India are actively working towards connecting their respective real-time payments infrastructures. It is noteworthy that Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand have all unveiled plans to integrate regional QR payment systems.

    Singapore can serve as an excellent bridge for companies to reach these neighboring countries. Besides its obvious physical proximity, this city-nation-state has an extensive network of around 27 implemented free trade agreements.

    Next Steps

    Contact us if your company would like to benchmark its opportunities in Singapore, understand the competitive landscape, find the right local partners, learn more about its regulatory environment or develop a strategy for leveraging Singapore to reach other Southeast Asia markets. PCMI’s local, on-the-ground team members can design a market study to deliver insights into Singapore’s payments/fintech markets and advance your strategic goals.


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    Sources

    [1] See “Understanding Asia-Pacific: Where the Future of Fintech is Shaped” Access here.

    [2] In current U$D. World Bank Data. Access here.

    [3] See KPMG “Pulse of Fintech H1’23”. Access here.

    [4] See MAS “Fintech and Innovation Group”. Access here.

    [5] See MAS “International Technology Advisory Panel” Access here.

    [6] See APIX web. Access here.

    [7] See “FinTech innovation in Singapore”, July 2023. Access here.

    [8] See “ASEAN is poised for post-pandemic inclusive growth and prosperity – here’s why” Access here.

    [9] See Capgemini “World Payments Report 2023”. Access here.

    [10] See MAS “Singapore and Thailand Launch World’s First Linkage of Real-time Payment Systems”. Access here.

    [11] See Bangkok Post “PromptPay now linked to DuitNow”. Access here.

    Ignacio Carballo
    Ignacio E. Carballo
    ignacio@paymentscmi.com

    Ignacio leads the area of Alternative Finance at PCMI. Economist with a broad academic foundation in research, he has worked in Alternative Finance and Financial Technology (Fintech) for Development for over fifteen years.