Andrew Raymond, CEO

Singapore Fintech Festival was a real showcase for Singapore and really points to Singapore as the place Fintechs go to define the future of financial technology.

Combined with Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology, it attracted over 70,000 people including the who’s who of global banking and digital innovation.  I take my hat off to the organisers at the Monetary Authority of Singapore for pulling it all together and making it run so smoothly.

I was invited to take part in two panels, the first of which was on Digital Trade Finance and Opportunities in Asia. It drew a big audience and was moderated by Samuel Mathew who is Standard Chartered’s Managing Director and Global Head, Documentary Trade. Also attending were key people from fintech organisations that Bolero has collaborated with – Carl Wegner, CEO Designate of Project Voltron, Tawfique Hamid, Head of Sales for TradeIX (MarcoPolo) and Henry Roxas, Global Head of Trade Finance at R3.

Two points emerged very strongly from our discussion. The first was the continued existence of barriers to digitisation and the second was the need for fintech collaboration if we are going to share the benefits of digitisation as widely and as quickly as possible.

The barriers to the elimination of paper in trade were commonly agreed to be lack of data standards, the absence of interoperability between platforms and lingering concerns about the legal status of digital documents and instruments.  We discussed how fintechs may have to compete, collaborate and innovate in new ways in order to advance digitisation and bring the benefits to everyone. It will require a strong, stable balance between the three activities.

The second panel, entitled Global Trade and Investment – Public and Private Perspective, was more concerned with the challenges of logistics from data privacy and jurisdictional supervision.  Experts sharing the rostrum included Sharon Yang, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Financial Markets at the US Treasury, and Ahmed Saeed, Vice-President for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific at the Asian Development Bank. The panel was chaired by Adam Cotter of the OMFIF and a key discussion point focused on data and where it is located.   We all agreed that the move by nations in the Far East and South East Asia to put walls up and to sequester data behind national boundaries will obstruct the development of digitised trading systems especially when it comes to International Trade.  This does need to be balanced with the needs for privacy, security and access to data by government organisations.

This is a question that will need to be resolved if the region is to seize opportunities to fully participate in the global supply chain. Countries will have to be more relaxed about the physical location of servers holding data. A trade portal may be located in one country but for digitised trade to work, the goods need to take their data with them.

Any block on this free flow of data will perpetuate a barrier contributing to the trade finance gap. Digitisation lowers costs, enabling banks to serve the mid-market and smaller exporters, who currently miss out. If national sovereignty is extended to trade data, then countries in Asia could be left behind in global initiatives such as smart ports and the development of artificial intelligence to optimise shipping. On the other hand, the progress in Singapore on the National Trade Platform and IMDA logistics industry plan is a very welcome sign of a more promising, open approach.

Overall, I left Singapore feeling energetic and enthusiastic for the potential for trade digitisation.  We see great potential working with our fintech partners and with the Singapore government to make progress in 2020!