Digital financial services to generate $38b in southeast Asia, study finds

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Digital financial services from lending to asset management are expected to generate at least $38 billion of annual revenue across Southeast Asia by 2025, more than tripling from $11 billion in 2019, according to a new study by Bain & Co., Google and Temasek Holdings Pte.

Online lending will comprise about half that total for the region, which houses some of the world’s fastest-evolving internet and mobile industries. Growing smartphone penetration promises to unlock internet-based services such as insurance to more than 70% of an adult population neglected by traditional banks, according to the report.

The region has seen a rapid adoption of digital finance since Southeast Asian ride-hailing giants Grab Holdings Inc. and Gojek funneled some of the billions they raised into in-app payments and financial services. Other segments like lending and insurance remain in their nascent stages, said Aadarsh Baijal, leader of Bain’s digital practice in Southeast Asia.

“As payments grow like WeChat, we see other services following quite quickly,” he told reporters in Singapore on Wednesday, referring to Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s signature messaging product. “The payments adoption is becoming the gateway to the growth of other financial services.”

Even Uber Technologies Inc. is moving into financial services by launching a new division, Uber Money. The San Francisco-based company is taking its cue from Gojek and Grab, which have successfully developed new revenue streams by branching out. “There are definitely encouraging signs that Southeast Asia would be a hub of innovation, with Uber’s new payments play learning from companies from this side of the world,” Baijal said.

There are no clear winners yet in Southeast Asia’s fragmented digital financial services market. But traditional banks will play an important role because of their access to capital, said Rohit Sipahimalani, joint head of the investment group at Temasek. Lenders like DBS Group Holdings Ltd. and United Overseas Bank Ltd. have teamed up with Gojek and Grab, respectively. Thailand’s Kasikornbank has partnered with Shopee, one of the biggest e-commerce platforms, to provide digital loans to sellers.

“Fintech companies will need to partner with banks to be able to have access to balance sheet,” he said. “And banks will need to partner with consumer fintech companies because they don’t have reach to tap into the under-banked population.”

Indonesia and Vietnam are projected to grow fastest in terms of digital financial services revenue, according to the report by the three companies, their first on the region’s digital financial services industry. Their expansion already underpins a $100 billion Southeast Asian internet economy, the firms said in a broader survey published earlier this month.

Southeast Asia, a region that houses more than 600 million people, is rapidly warming to online finance as governments craft investor-friendly policies to encourage everything from blockchain startups to digital banking. Investors poured a record $735 million into fintech ventures in Singapore alone in the first nine months of this year, according to research from Accenture Plc.

Liberalization is key to the region’s rapid adoption of online financial services. Singapore and Thailand have instituted so-called sandboxes, or systems that let companies experiment under regulatory supervision. Both countries have also established standardized QR codes for mobile wallets. Digital payments in the region are projected to exceed $1 trillion by 2025, from $600 million in 2019.

Depending on how the region’s governments approach fintech regulation, digital financial services revenue could conceivably reach $60 billion by 2025, well above the $38 billion estimate, the study’s authors added.