With a population of over 105.7 million, yet only 31% of that population owning a bank account, and only 4% of transactions happening online, The Philippines is a Southeast Asian region with Fintech potentials to financial empower and include this collection of islands. Singapore and Hong Kong are often most recognized within the Fintech sphere, with the rise of unicorns in Indonesia making major developments in the ASEAN region.
‘Financial inclusion’ is a phrase which is often misunderstood or misused in Fintech, yet the Philippines population demonstrates a perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators to aid individuals and businesses financially. As a new report from the Milken Institute has highlighted, 77% of the adult population did not have a formal financial account of any kind in 2017. They have attributed such a lack of financial availability to the geographical terrain of over 7000 islands, and historically financial poverty and reliance on physical cash.
Further, the Philippines hosts a growing youth population. Such a population, which is the 13th largest in the world, hosts a median age of 25 years old, compared to the East Asian regional median of 30. Nearly a third of the population is less than 15 years old. Further, such a youthful population is increasingly using mobile phones, with the number of hand-held device users predicted to reach to 75.6 billion users in 2020.
The potential for Fintech is summed up by Jack Ma, who has hailed the possibilities for the Philippines to create an innovative Fintech market:
‘You have so many mobile phones. You have 7,000 islands. It’s impossible for banks to have offices on 7,000 islands, covering everywhere. But mobile phones cover everywhere.’
Smart money, is one of the top payment and e-wallet platforms which is linked to Mastercard and to the users SIM. Not only can users transfer money, but also top-up phone credit and pay bills. Coins.ph is another wallet which allows users to send money, pay bills, send remittances, buy game credits and even buy and sell cryptocurrencies. Users can also pay with bitcoin with zero percent fees.
With the increasing number of smartphone holders in recent years, payment Fintechs take up a third of the Fintech sphere in the country. Ayannah is one of the top mobile commerce payment services, targeting the ‘unbanked’ population.
Traditional lending in the Philippines can be long and tedious for the regular individual and SMEs to obtain. SMEs are essential to the local economy, yet obtaining loans can take as long as three visits to the bank and layers of forms and bureaucracy. Yet all of that is changing with the increasing variety of lenders in the region. First Circle offers loans to SMEs without having to come into the office and can offer such a loan within 5 days. Esquire also compete in the region. Esquire recognize the importance of SMEs as the Philippines engine of growth, yet recognize the shortcomings of the traditional system for budding entrepreneurs. Esquire tailors loans to each client, altering the financing options based on each client whilst also consulting SMEs to grow. Other players such as Lendr, FundKo and UpLoan are also aiding both individuals and businesses.
2019 also saw the first stablecoin pegged to the Philippine Peso for money transfers, created by Bitspark. The stablecoin has been created with the aim to improve money transfer. Bitspark, who enable cryptocurrencies across Africa and Asia hail Blockchain technology at the centre of such a creation.
In the Spotlight
Funding the latest ventures and generation of Fintech firms, Ayala Corp has launched a venture capital fund which will be the largest in the country. The Ayala Corporation Technology Innovation Venture (ACTIVE) Fund is intended to invest in early-stage startups that can be disruptive. The 150 million fund is a vast development in the Philippines, shaking up the traditional investment by family-owned funds investing in traditional industries such as banking and property.
The investments, in the hands of Kickstart Inc., will be targeted towards Series A to Series C funding, pushing startups in the Philippines forward as the South East Asian Fintech scene continues to grow. Such a fund reflects the promising growth of Fintech in the Philippines.
The 2018 EY Fintech report in ASEAN showed the increasing support for innovators looking to create in the Fintech realm. The key enablers, largely supported by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), entail the QBO Innovation Hub by Department of Trade and Industry and IdeaSpace, as well as its division helping with Regtech to develop cutting-edge digital supervision tools and techniques.
Beyond its borders, the BSP has established a formal strategic partnership with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). The two regulators signed a Fintech co-operation agreement in November 2017 which was designed to encourage collaboration on developing and supervising Fintech developments. Since then, the BSP created a Fintech Supervisory Sandbox and a special economic zone, making the Philippines even more attractive for prospective innovators and investors. The special economic zone, dubbed ‘Fintech City’, is located in Cagayan Province in Northern Luzon, hosting incubators, a cryptocurrency mining farm, a cryptocurrency exchange and a blockchain ventures.
Having gained experience in the UK Houses of Parliament, International Development and Chinese Think Tanks, Ellen has developed a passion for global affairs. She has undertaken her studies in the UK and has lived and worked in multiple countries including India, Switzerland, Spain and Hong Kong. She currently undertakes her studies at the University of Warwick, studying International Relations and Politics with a focus on Business. Ellen translates her passion for politics to the world of financial technology where she demonstrates a particular interest in developments in Asia.