Some wise soul recently remarked that FinTech sounded a lot like an electronic rave genre from Finland — had I known about it when I hit the Singapore shores in 2010, I would have agreed. Turns out, that’s not the only identity crisis financial technology as a startup vertical had to go through. Following the footsteps of big names in the Valley, Asian FinTechs had to learn the hard way that it’s harder to circumvent banks in this part of the world. Getting the kind of funding one might secure in the US is still quite a challenge for startups here, as is navigating the complex and in some markets obscure financial regulatory landscape.
Fortunately, Asia’s banks and legislators have started orchestrating a serious response — from FinTech teams, to sandboxes, labs and other facilities designed to plug in to a major trend in the financial sector. This may not have yet given rise to coveted unicorns, but it has validated the opportunity and the threat digital challengers pose to the traditional financial system. At the heart of transforming finance lies trust — the arrival of highly successful sharing economy models such as Carousell show that decentralised marketplaces work just as nicely outside the US or Europe, in fact have value anywhere in the world. In order for any marketplace to carry value, it must facilitate a trusted relationship between the parties to a transaction.
The same applies to any digital business model. You may not think about it much, but you trust your ride hailing service to allocate you a driver that gets you from A to B safely, and the social networks you use to be a safe platform for sharing personal content. In fact, most of today’s valuable tech start-up have created digital trusted intermediaries for the accumulation and exchange of tangible (services, money) or intangible value (content, networks). This coincides with a dramatic change in how and what we trust — it used to be things like financial strength, length of company history, advertising and other static metrics. Nowadays, information is much more transparent and accessible, so we put our trust in reviews, demonstrated company vision, culture, network and engaged user base. Inevitably, this means we trust things and people we would have never been able to in the past. Understanding this shift in society may make it seem less of a surprise that thousands of people would put their hard-earned savings in the hands of a Roboadvisory service that has barely been incorporated for a couple years (before I ramble on here, you might as well check out my book on how trust is shaping our future.)
With all this happening in Asia and across the globe, it’s high time to think about the future of banks altogether. Bill Gates wisely remarked several decades ago that people need banking, not banks. A long while later, the rise of Fintech banks in Europe and other parts of the world finally seems to make good on that prophecy. Back in 2015, I met the founder of N26 at St. Gallen Symposium. Both of us had followed an invite to join the event as a global delegation of young changemakers. I listened carefully as he explained his decentralised model of a digital bank, and took my inspiration back to Singapore. It wasn’t until a year later that I met Kristjan, now Change CEO, who was eager to make a mark of his own in the FinTech scene.
Over the coming months, we put our minds together to discuss, validate and create the vision for Change, with him on the execution side and myself as sounding board. If a decentralised FinTech bank can work in Europe, then why not Asia? Over time, that proposition evolved further. With Singapore evolving into a global hub for crypto, it seemed foolish to ignore the vast possibilities of alternative currency in building the future of banking. What ensued was a supercharged vision of a FinTech bank that would unify convenient mobile-first banking with the muscle of focused FinTech businesses. The name Change, then, seemed right on – a business that embodied progress required a brand and culture that would constantly evolve and challenge itself, just as much as it challenged the status quo.
What Change has become until this day is a product of Kristjan’s dedication and his team’s relentless efforts to look beyond the low-hanging fruit many FinTechs are eagerly catering to. It is testimony to a fervent belief that banking as we know it must transform and that Change is not a luxury, but a necessity.
Philipp Kristian Diekhöner is an Asia-based Fortune 500 finance innovation leader, author and early evangelist of Change.