NASDAQ acquires UK-based Sybenetix

Nasdaq is to acquire Sybenetix, a UK-based startup that applies behavioural analysis and cognitive computing to sniff our suspicious trading activity at asset management firms.

Nasdaq says it will acquire Sybenetix for an undisclosed amount and intends to fund the purchase price with cash on hand. It will join Nasdaq's Smarts and TradeGuard surveillance suite, which accounted for 12% of the exchange operator's revenue in Q1. 

Sybenetix runs a benchmark profile of trading activity within an organisation and then uses algorithms to look for suspicous behaviour. Unusual trading patterns are reported to the compliance team for further investigation. 

Adena Friedman, president and CEO of Nasdaq, says: "We believe behavioral science, cognitive computing and machine intelligence are essential to a successful, holistic surveillance offering and critical to efficient and effective organisational compliance with an increasingly intricate global regulatory environment. This acquisition accelerates our offering to the buy-side and advances our ambitions to expand market integrity controls into all segments of the capital markets.

Sybenetix runs a benchmark profile of trading activity within an organisation and then uses algorithms to look for suspicous behaviour. Unusual trading patterns are reported to the compliance team for further investigation.
Thai Bank in Blockchain First

Kasikornbank (KBank) has developed its Letter of Guarantee (LG) service in the market with the introduction of the world’s first blockchain-based LG's.

Four state enterprises and private businesses have participated in the development of the innovation, which is aimed at an increase in LG issuance via electronic channels to 35 percent at the end of next year.

KBank is upbeat that its «Enterprise Letter of Guarantee on Blockchain,» the first of its kind in the world, will be upgraded into a new international standard, given that blockchain is useful for all parties in the connection system.

Fintech Growth

Last year The Bank of Thailand announced that it would open the way for financial-technology product experimentation under its regulatory «sandbox».

finews.asia also reported recently that Thailand's Bangkok Bank has partnered with corporate innovation partner Nest to kick-start its international fintech startup program.

Lombard Odier A Partner

KBank has also been upping its wealth management profile and wants to add 300 new customers to its private banking business this year. Its total private banking customer base last year was 10,000.

The bank has also been working closely with Switzerland's Lombard Odier, the two have jointly developed financial products to serve Kasikornbank clients

Bangkok based Kasikornbank has introduced the world’s first blockchain-based letter of guarantee service
Fintech non-profit launches database for financial technology startups in Singapore

The SFA, a non-profit organization that aims to be a connector between various players in Singapore’s fintech ecosystem, created the database to help startups with funding and recruiting.

The SFA aims to be a connector between various players in Singapore’s fintech ecosystem.

“Singapore has been ranked as one of the top fintech ecosystems in the world,” says SFA president Chia Hock Lai in a statement. “The SFA believes this directory will be a boon to the investor community worldwide, looking to identify and navigate possible opportunities here in Asia.”

Currently listing around 300 startups, the database is free to use and data is maintained by the companies themselves. The directory looks similar to Crunchbase and Tech in Asia’s own startup database, but it’s exclusive to fintech.

The SFA built the directory in collaboration with US data company Let’s Talk Payments and its Medici platform, which provides information and resources about the fintech industry.

Singapore has been pushing to be an international hub for fintech in the past couple of years, building on its cemented financial services status. It has paid off so far – global consultancy Deloitte considers the city-state a fintech hub on a par with London in a recent report (PDF link).

The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank, actively supports the local fintech ecosystem through a regulatory sandbox and an innovation lab, as well as an annual fintech festival that demonstrates the Lion City’s commitment to financial technology

The Singapore Fintech Association (SFA) announced today it has created an online directory for fintech companies based in the city-state. The database contains a short description of each company and information about its founding team, funding status, and business model
AirAsia plans to launch fintech products

DAVAO, Philippines -- AirAsia said Friday it plans to launch mobile payment services and other businesses, taking advantage of its growing brand recognition as it expands its footprint in the region.

The Malaysian budget carrier said the plans are part of "vertical integration" moves now that it has established a firm footing in Southeast Asia. The group is the largest discount player in the region by fleet size.

"My goal is to take what we have succeeded with in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and extend our products," AirAsia's group chief executive Tony Fernandes told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview here.

The company is waiting for Malaysia's central bank to approve a financial technology platform enabling in-flight purchases for the nearly 60 million passengers it carries annually.

"I would like to use our data to create some fintech services, such as a payment system like (Chinese online payment platform) Alipay and by creating an online service for travelers, like our version of (U.S. travel website company) TripAdvisor," said Fernandes, adding that the company could also offer cargo-delivery services using its passenger flights.

The remarks came after a launch event for the group's latest route, linking Kuala Lumpur and the southern Philippine city of Davao. It will be the carrier's fourth direct connection to the country after Manila, Cebu and Kalibo. The new service, which offers four flights a week, will commence on Dec. 21. It comes as the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte is trying to boost investment in the southern part of the country.

Duterte was born in Davao, and his daughter Sara is the mayor. The president sees economic development as a key to rooting out Islamic extremists in the region.

Malaysian budget carrier wants its own version of AliPay and TripAdvisor
Fintech: Regulatory sandbox allows players to innovate and compete

Four fintech firms have been approved by the regulator — insurance aggregators GoBear Ltd and GetCover Sdn Bhd and remittance service providers MoneyMatch Sdn Bhd and WorldRemit Ltd.

Iskandar Ezzahuddin, country director of GoBear Malaysia, says the regulatory sandbox has allowed it to operate more seamlessly, on top of giving the company more credibility. “The criteria to be an eligible player approved for the sandbox include having a solution that is genuinely innovative and realistic. Additionally, assessments must have been conducted to demonstrate its functionality.

“Being one of the approved players means that we have fulfilled these criteria, thus giving us greater credibility. As an online insurance aggregator, it has become a lot easier discussing [future collaborations] with insurers and banks after being approved.”

MoneyMatch CEO Adrian Yap says the regulatory sandbox has allowed it to realise its business model, which is the first of its kind in Malaysia. “While there are a few money exchange companies in the country, none has tried to bring peer-to-peer (P2P) remittance services and its accompanying solution, electronic Know Your Customer (KYC). Upon finalising our idea and model, we spoke to Bank Negara about 15 months ago.

“We were officially approved to operate on May 25. As a small player, we feel very privileged to be in the sandbox because this has given us the validation that we are able to fill a gap in the Malaysian financial services industry.”

The regulatory sandbox allows financial institutions and fintech players to experiment with their solutions in a live controlled environment, with the appropriate safeguards. In June last year, Bank Negara established the Financial Technology Enabler Group (FTEG), a unit responsible for formulating and enhancing regulatory policies to facilitate the adoption of technological innovations in the Malaysian financial services industry.

GetCover will operate a mobile application that allows users to buy motor insurance directly from insurers. The platform will offer automated on-boarding, motor and road tax renewal and underwriting process to reduce the overall operating cost of insurance providers, allowing them to offer better rewards to their customers.

Enabling innovation

While Malaysia was one of the earliest in the region to come out with a fintech regulatory sandbox framework, other countries have since followed suit. Singapore released its framework on Nov 16 last year, with one approved participant, insurance broker PolicyPal. Countries in the region that have released similar guidelines include Hong Kong and Thailand, although the details of their regulatory frameworks vary.

In Malaysia, GoBear was the first to be approved for the regulatory sandbox on Jan 13 while the other three players were approved on May 25. According to Iskandar, the company had engaged with Bank Negara since January 2015 to discuss the launch of its operations in Malaysia. GoBear was launched in Singapore in February 2015 before it set up operations in Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam.

“When we started in May last year, we had three products on our platform — personal loans, credit cards and travel insurance. However, three months later, we were informed that we should not offer travel insurance as it is a regulated product,” says Iskandar.

“According to the Financial Services Act 2013 (FSA), if you do anything in relation to insurance products, you need to be a licensed financial adviser. Of course, we do not see ourselves as advisers. Our role is compiling information for users to compare and choose the one that suits their needs.

“While some products may be arranged at the top and others at the bottom, that is purely based on the algorithm. There is no human intervention in the process. At the time, we had to discuss with Bank Negara how we could continue offering our services.”

After GoBear was approved for the regulatory sandbox, it could resume offering its insurance product as it is now regulated. “As a transparent platform that promotes consumer empowerment, we believe that being in the sandbox will do us and Malaysia’s fintech industry as a whole a lot of good,” says Iskandar.

While GoBear had been up and running in Malaysia for some time before being approved for the sandbox, MoneyMatch has yet to launch its services. But everything is in place for its launch in the next few weeks. The company aims to be a fully digital and mobile one-stop shop for currency transactions with three products — money exchange, remittance services and electronic KYC (also known as e-KYC) solutions.

“With e-KYC, we can board 

clients without a physical branch as they can undertake the process at home. Bank Negara has given us the approval to test a video conferencing model, where users can simply log on to the app, upload their identity card and set a time slot for a video conferencing verification process. After their accounts have been verified, they are free to perform transactions,” says Yap.

For remittance transactions, MoneyMatch will use a P2P model similar to those used by international players such as UK-based TransferWise and Taiwan-based CherryPay. This model allows such transactions to be done faster and cheaper than those offered by traditional financial institutions.

“For example, if you want to transfer money to your sister in Singapore, we could match this transaction with another person who wishes to send money to Malaysia. This exchange of transactions will effectively shorten the waiting time and cost since the money does not cross borders. Of course, if the wait time is too long, users are free to cancel their request and do a direct transfer instead, which will be pricier but still cheaper than what the incumbents charge,” says Yap.

To get the cross-border model working seamlessly, MoneyMatch is planning a request to be regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and other bodies in the near future.

Track record and beyond the sandbox

The fintech regulatory sandbox framework includes guidelines to ensure the preservation of sound financial and business practices consistent with monetary and financial stability, fair treatment of consumers, prevention of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing activities and having secure payment systems and instruments.

The participants of the sandbox are given a testing period of 12 months. This is longer than the six months given to players in the UK and Australia. During this period, Bank Negara will oversee the development of the players and make sure they meet the predetermined goals.

“We have been given key performance indicators to achieve. They are based on a few things — making sure that we drive sufficient amount of traffic to the partnering insurers and bankers, and launching as many products as possible. This is a total shift for us as we did not have this luxury before,” says Iskandar.

“By certain metrics, we have overachieved in bringing traffic to the insurers and banks and we are in line with our product launch road map. In the next 12 months, we will introduce health, life and motor insurance as well as bank deposits.

“Most of the products are easy for us to introduce as we can just replicate what we are offering in other countries. But motor insurance is quite complex as it is very market-specific. However, we managed to and it is going to be introduced in the coming months.”

According to the framework, upon completion of the 12-month period, the central bank will decide whether to allow the product, service or solution to be introduced to the market on a wider scale. Should this be the case, the companies will be assessed based on the applicable licensing, approval and registration criteria under the FSA, Islamic Financial Services Act 2013 and Money Services Business Act 2011.

Yap says no matter the result, the company is grateful for the opportunity to operate its business model and observe how it can impact Malaysian users. “If we fail to meet their expectations, then we would just thank Bank Negara for the experience and think of another innovation that can be applied in Malaysia. But if we do have a true value proposition, we look forward to seeing how our business model can be accommodated in the future.”

As a member of the Fintech Association of Malaysia, GoBear is involved in a lot of discussions about the sandbox and its implications for the local fintech players. Iskandar is optimistic that the sandbox will lead to a more robust environment for all financial service players to operate in.

“Some players wish they could operate in a free environment — they never want to be regulated — especially the smaller players, as being in the sandbox for 12 months means they will have to invest heavily to make sure that their systems are fully developed and ready to be tested,” says Iskandar.

“But in the finance world, this is quite impossible. When you are dealing with people’s money and are responsible for the security of the monies, regulation is important. Therefore, we have to embrace the regulatory sandbox and its outcome for the betterment of the industry.”

The financial technology (fintech) regulatory sandbox framework introduced by Bank Negara Malaysia last October has been well received. Players say it gives them the credibility to operate their business models, the opportunity to compete with more established players and the space to push the boundaries of their offerings
Alibaba and Tencent are carving up Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem

Rather than Google, Facebook or Microsoft, increasingly Chinese duo Alibaba and Tencent are the driving forces behind the importing of large sums of capital and vast business experience into Southeast Asia’s most promising startups.

Both companies, sworn enemies in China, appear to have realized the potential in the region and are now acting on it. That means battles, drama and probably more — welcome to Southeast Asia’s tech Game Of Thrones.

A market with promise

Southeast Asia has long been an area of interest for business for its neighbors. Tech aside, Southeast Asia is home to more than 600 million consumers, with six primary markets — Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines — standing out for growing economies and rising middle-classes of consumers.

In today’s digital era, smartphones have been a key catalyst. Like India, Southeast Asia’s internet users are primarily on mobile, with most having skipped the PC altogether and jumping straight to phones and tablets.

A much-cited report co-authored by Google last year showed that Southeast Asia has 260 million internet users with 3.8 million more going online per month. That’s tipped to grow the internet population to 480 million people by 2020. Sure, that isn’t China level yet — the country has 731 million internet users, half of which are mobile — but it does mean that, alongside India, Southeast Asia is a region of serious tech development potential.

That same Google report forecasted that the region’s ‘internet economy’ — i.e. all business generated from the web — will be worth $200 billion by 2025. That’s up from 6.5-fold from 2015, when it was estimated to be worth $31 billion. E-commerce alone is tipped to rise from $5.5 billion in 2015 to $88 billion in 2025, of which half will originate from Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country, according to the report.



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Key slides from the Google-Temasek report on Southeast Asia’s digital economy

From interested to invested

Over the past year, it seems that Chinese companies have gone from scouting the region to actively owning chunks of it.

The first step was Alibaba’s $1 billion investment in Lazada, an Amazon-like e-commerce company serving six countries in Southeast Asia, in April 2016. The deal represented the first major investment into the region from a Chinese company.

Alibaba has since firmed up its shareholding, paying another $1 billion in June to take its ownership to 83 percent, while, under its tutelage, Lazada expanded its business into groceries with the acquisition of Singapore-based Redmart while it launched an Amazon Prime-style offering in partnership with Netflix and Uber. Amazon is expected to enter Southeast Asia this year, with sources telling TechCrunch an original goal of launching Q1 proved to be too ambitious.

Lazada CEO Max Bittner told TechCrunch last month that his company plans to extend both services, which are currently only available in Singapore, to different markets. Arguably, this is where Alibaba’s capital and experience is really coming into play for Lazada.

“We’re found the right balance between us having the freedom [for our business] and falling back on Alibaba as our big brother willing to help us when we need it,” Bittner said of the relationship in an interview.

Alibaba hasn’t stood still there, however. It has embarked on a series of fintech investments in Southeast Asia through Ant Financial, its financial services affiliate.


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Ant Financial’s global investment spree has included a $1.2 billion deal for U.S.-headquartered Moneygram and Korea’s Kakao Pay, but in Southeast Asia it has done deals with Thailand-based Ascend Money, Mynt in the Philippines, Emtek in Indonesia, and Singapore’s M-Daq.

Then, earlier this month, Alibaba itself opened the coffers again to invest in a $50 million round for online insurance site Compare Asia Group.

Tencent, meanwhile, has a long-standing investment in Thailand-based media company Sanook, while it invested $19 million in a joint media venture with Ookbee, another Thai company. On the product-side, it has aggressively pushedits free-to-play music service Joox in Southeast Asia as a rival to Spotify, while it recently invested in U.S. karaoke app Smule which has strong traction in the region and plans to expand in Asia.

“Through their investments and acquisitions, it’s very clear that Alibaba and Tencent are interested in Southeast Asia. They share our vision, that this region is ripe for opportunities in the e-commerce, payments, and marketplaces space,” Vinnie Lauria, founding partner at Singapore-based VC firm Golden Gate Ventures, told TechCrunch in a statement.

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Alibaba chairman Jack Ma has led his company to expand into India and Southeast Asia for growth opportunities

Pick a side

That collection of deals is just those that have been reported or made official. There are plenty more either lurking in a press pipeline waiting to be announced, or subject to negotiations.

Through discussions with founders, TechCrunch understands that Tencent and Alibaba have held discussions with at least a dozen startups that operate in Southeast Asia’s e-commerce or fintech space. In almost every instance, it seemed that both Chinese giants had been in touch with a near-identical set of companies to make investment offers, or to register interest for when the startup in question is ready to raise new funds.

To borrow a phrase from a prominent tech investor, who spoke to TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity to avoid offending either company, Tencent and Alibaba are “carving up” Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem.

The dogfight has spilled into the ride-sharing space, for one.

Alibaba is expected to be part of a group of investors behind a new funding round for Uber rival Grab which could reach $2 billion and is expected to close soon, a source told TechCrunch. But Alibaba is also rumored to have held talks with Go-Jek, a rival to Grab and Uber which is widely acknowledged as the market leader in Indonesia. However, in a twist, Go-Jek ended up agreeing to take investment from Tencent as part of an as-yet-unannounced $1.2 billion round that would value the company at $3 billion, as we reported in May.

In e-commerce, Tencent’s strategic ally JD.com — which includes Tencent among its investor base — has been strongly linked with an investment in Indonesia-based company Tokopedia, which previously raised money from SoftBank. However, a source told TechCrunch that Alibaba is also talking to the company with a view to making an investment. Alibaba’s long-standing relationship with SoftBank, which included an early investment in Alibaba, could prove to be a clincher in this case.

The decision of Alibaba or Tencent is tough one because essentially companies are being asked to join one of two rival sides.


It’s akin to a Game Of Thrones-style allegiance. There are few examples in China of companies that share both Tencent and Alibaba as investors — both firms own stock in Didi by virtue of a merger between their respective investees, Didi Kuaidi and Didi Dache — so the decision of which to go with has real long-term implications on future relationships and investors.

“They are clearly drawing lines in the sand with their checkbooks, and we can see a war of these two titans playing out across Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand,” Lauria, whose firm invested in Redmart, said.

First of many movers

While Alibaba and Tencent are among the first (and heaviest) movers, many are predicting that others from China and beyond will follow the same steps if they haven’t already.

“Singapore, serving as the hub for the Southeast Asia ecosystem, continues to attract major investment interest from Chinese companies and Chinese VCs,” Michael Smith, an operating partner with early-stage VC firm SeedPlus, told TechCrunch.

“Obviously Tencent and Alibaba are some of the biggest companies looking for growth in areas like e-commerce, fintech and logistics but JD.com is also investing and looking for further opportunities in the region,” he said.

Smith also pointed out that bike-sharing companies Mobike and Ofo both selected Singapore for their first overseas expansion, while, outside of the startup space, China-backed consortium Nesta is bidding to buy Singapore’s Global Logistic Properties for around $11 billion.

“We continue to believe that Singapore and the companies created here will rise in their attraction to not only Chinese but European and American companies looking for Asian expansion,” Smith said.

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Uber rival Grab is close to taking investment from Alibaba, according to sources.

U.S. tech firms have increased their presence in Southeast Asia, with Google and Facebook in particular operating local offices in multiple countries, but their presence has centered around product localization, sales and marketing rather than investments.

Google acquired a chat messenger app to staff its ‘Next Billion’ team tasked with tweaking existing services and creating new ones for emerging markets like India, Southeast Asia and Africa. (It recently did the same in India, too.)

Facebook and Twitter are among those that have long conducted deep market research projects to learn more about how users in frontier markets use the internet. Facebook even trialled a social payment feature in Thailand to explore the potential of social media commerce.

The results of these exercises have helped shape products like Facebook Lite, the social network’s fastest-growing app, and Twitter’s new mobile web app, but for now none of the Western tech giants have dived into the ecosystem with quite the impact of their peers from China — and we’re just getting started.

Two global tech forces are putting their mark — and money — into Southeast Asia’s nascent startup ecosystem, but they may not be the Western names that you expect.

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