We are in the era of digital globalisation.

Since 2008, we’ve moved from flattened goods trade figures and declining cross capital flows to digital disruptions in financial services traditionally done with banks, like remittance, and soaring sale numbers in e-commerce spendings.

To qualify what I mean by ‘soaring’, what we’re looking is a 19.9% CAGR in the last 5 years to around $700 Billion in Asia Pacific sales today.

That’s about 700 more than the zero billions I have in my bank account today.

Speaking of bank accounts, even scarier is when you consider this: according to KPMG, this comes from just 27% of the region’s population — specifically, those with bank accounts.

The Unbanked

When the unbanked are the majority in our part of the world, I’ve been thinking about where the next billion dollar idea could come from (and also why I’m betting the irrecoverable prime years of my life on a FinTech company).

FinTech (financial technology) saw the greatest number of investment deals in the same region, driven largely by seed and angel stage investments in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Digital technology that promotes financial inclusion can increase GDP by as much as 6% for economies in Southeast Asia.

To some, what all this really means we’re moving towards is some kind of inescapable shift in the way financial services are acquired or used.

The world is more connected than ever, but the nature of its connections has changed in very fundamental ways. Likewise, our expectations of consumer financial products have been similarly adjusted too.

One onerously used sentiment is that a new approach of banking is needed. In Europe and South America, we’re seeing the rise of well-funded challenger banks like NuBank, N26 and Monzo.

But what about Asia?

The Age of The Customer

To quote Christiaan Kaptein — Regulatory change, a deep customer mistrust and a seriously out of tune with reality technology stack and physical infrastructure all contribute to the opportunity to build exciting new companies in Financial Services.

What this spells out is clear. We can shift the existing banking relationships beyond transaction services to the very center of our customer’s daily living experience.

Even more remarkable is this opportunity to access emerging markets especially when the solutions to everyday problems can be extended at scale quite easily — that is, through a mobile phone.

Mobile phones are the game changer that can make all this possible. Almost 90 percent of people in emerging economies have access to a network.

Right now we have the chance to start enabling people, and accelerate inclusive growth without the need for major investment in costly infrastructure.

Here Is How We Will Start

To capture this opportunity, we have to first align ourselves with what people now expect.

Customers expect:

  1. To be excited — when smart recommendation services present unexpected offers at perfectly-timely moments. Like a great FX exchange rate that’s locked-in before they travel.
  2. To be protected — not sucked dry with hidden costs (cross-border fees, I’m looking at you). An open, transparent relationship between what they’re paying for. Security and privacy too, in particular, have become increasingly important. A kind of trust that their information and wallets are safe with you.
  3. To be understood — smart learning systems based on their personal financial context, transactional data, location, demographics and social data. A farmer looking for a loan to purchase his next slew of vegetable crops has, I assure you, absolutely zero interest in cashbacks on romantic dining experiences.

What will you do?

The economic potential of FinTech ideas vary significantly. But you already know that. In Southeast Asia where I now live, I’m putting all my chips into consumer financial products through technology.

When widely used, digital finance has the power to transform the lives, and economics prospects of millions of people. That’s exciting.

So perhaps that’s where the next billion dollar company can arise from. And if that fails, I think I can make peace with the fact that the mission I’m on, and the company I work for, will have at least tried.