FINANCIAL SERVICES | Contributed Content, Singapore
Carl Freer

Banking on FinTech: How Singapore banks are embracing FinTech today


It wasn’t too long ago when there was a rallying cry of how banks were not doing enough to try and beat smaller FinTech start-ups. Turns out that the banks were right. There’s no point in trying to “beat” them because financial institutions are bigger and have more resources at their disposal. So instead of going on the defensive, banks have now approached a more adoptive nature towards technology. Below is a look at how some big local banks are embracing FinTech within their organisations, from implementing bots to iBanking and other best practices.

POSB digibank Virtual Assistant
With over 280 branches across 18 markets, DBS has won several accolades, from Asia’s Best Bank to World’s Best Digital Bank. It’s no mean feat for a bank born and bred in Asia. Today, what drives the bank forward is its motto to help people “Live more, Bank Less,” which speaks to the Millennial generation that has different ideas about banking.

As FinTech goes more “mainstream” thanks to Millennials, DBS is clearly on the money from its support for Startup Bootcamp to more recently, its new chatbot. Called "POSB digibank Virtual Assistant," it allows customers to do transactions online via Facebook Messenger. Developed with United States-based Kasisto – a spin-off from the brains behind Apple's voice assistant Siri – customers can check balances, ask for current foreign rates and even pay bills online simply by “chatting.” This makes DBS one of the first financial institutions in APAC to adopt a chatbot that offers functions beyond just customer service.

The FinLab
Hot on the heels of DBS is yet another bank headquartered in Singapore. Don’t be fooled by UOB’s seemingly old fashioned tenets of “United for Growth and “Doing Right by You.” Under its digital hood is The FinLab, a joint venture between the bank and SGInnovate (SGI), and Singapore's first corporate FinTech accelerator.

In keeping with its “United” theme, UOB’s approach to FinTech is via collaboration. Aside from The FinLab, UOB has also teamed up with:
Equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd to provide innovative businesses access to alternative funding options.

Temasek Holdings to set up InnoVen Capital, a dedicated platform providing venture debt for up to high-growth early-stage companies throughout Asia
Cloud-based integrated business solution BizSmart that’s composed of five integrated applications aimed at helping small businesses improve their productivity. As the first of its kind in Singapore, and is expected to reduce time spent on business processes by 40 per cent.

The Open Vault 
Not be left behind of course is OCBC. The bank led the way back in 2011 by introducing FRANK, “The Coolest Bank Gen-Y have ever seen.” Fast forward 6 years and OCBC is taking on money launderers and terrorists with the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology.

The move is a collaboration with BlackSwan Technologies and Silent Eight, which were discovered under OCBC’s Fintech Accelerator Programme run by the bank’s Fintech unit, The Open Vault.

By harnessing the power of AI for suspicious transaction monitoring, the bank hopes to automate the process of investigative research; it cuts down time that typically takes several analysts 2 to 3 days to do, to just an hour a two, making it a much more timely and effective.

But despite these advances, Singapore is still reported to lag behind others globally when it comes to FinTech. However, it doesn’t mean that Singaporeans are not open to FinTech innovation.

Given the above, it’s clear to see that FinTech can take many forms, with organizations having their own interpretations and approaches to adopting innovative ways to change traditional forms of banking. The emergence of the blockchain, AI, robo-advisors, payment and loan services, and many other examples of technological progress, means there are many ideas to keep track of all at once.

One thing is for sure – while there is no one surefire path that every bank can take in tech advancement for speedy growth, those that lack the foresight to implement FinTech now will be disappointed and left behind in a few years.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Carl Freer

Carl Freer

Carl Freer is a Swedish technology entrepreneur. Carl has created and invested in multiple ventures including American company Tiger Telematics which created the handheld game console Gizmondo. Carl was also founder of Singapore-based medical-device company, Aluminaid, which makes patented metal-based bandages to relieve pain from first- and second-degree burns. Carl is also holder of several patents on various technologies.

He is currently working on an Artificial Intelligence platform, developing neural networks for a variety of industries including FINTECH and O&G.

During his tenure at Tiger, Freer broke ground for Augmented Reality on handheld devices by creating several AR games. He also co-created games that went on to become major franchises. Freer also founded a crowd sourcing network for filmmakers, financiers and actors called FilmFunds.

He is the Chairman of the Family Tree Foundation.

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