Finnovasia, the pioneering events organizer behind Hong Kong Fintech Week, is rebranding as Finoverse – and taking the party beyond Hong Kong’s shores.
Antony Sar, the co-founder of Finnovasia, says the new name reflects both the ambition to be a global company as well as a focus on Web3 and digital assets, as he describes it in his founder letter. The two drivers are connected.
“Web3 is borderless,” he said. “Yes, there are local regulations everywhere, but the people operating Web3 businesses are scattered everywhere, many working remotely. We want to bring more connectivity.”
Sar says changing the company’s name is also positioning it for the next phase in fintech’s development. The first wave of fintech has led to the emergence of giant companies such as Stripe and Square in the US, as well as Asian leaders such as Alipay, Paytm and Grab. The early generation sought initially displace traditional banking, epitomized by the launch of challenger banks.
However, incumbent banks have proven capable of catching up, and countering with their own digital solutions, apps, and services.
“This is good for users,” Sar said. “It doesn’t matter whether innovation comes from a startup or from a bank. But Web3 represents the next cycle of change., and it will affect all the major financial verticals, from insurance to regtech.”
Finoverse’s next big event – the first outside of Hong Kong – will be in the Bahamas – the location where FTX, the crypto exchange founded in Hong Kong, now calls home. The authorities are building a regulatory framework for digital assets and issuing licenses to serious players.
D3 Bahamas – disruptive, decentralized, and digital – will take place in late January, following the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with the backing of Bahamian regulators. “The leadership of the traditional world will meet at Davos,” Sar said, “and then the leadership of the new digital world will meet in the Bahamas.”
More than 3,000 Web3 and fintech leaders will participate. Many will be based in North America, but Sar intends to give the event a Hong Kong flavor, bringing some select speakers from the city and the region.
The event is also a way to help Hong Kong-based fintechs that are ready to scale into the Americas network with potential partners. Finoverse has launched a global Web3 startup competition with the finalists going to D3 Bahamas for the ultimate round.
A third event is planned for the Middle East, but Finoverse is still in discussions with governments to decide the best location. Finoverse’s partners also include AMTD, Citi, Crypto.com, HSBC, Meta, OKX and Standard Chartered.
Hong Kong Fintech Week
Sar and co-founder Vila Wong launched Finnovasia in 2015, making it an early player in the nascent fintech phenomenon: “Fintech was new, but Hong Kong had a strong position in finance. There were enthusiasts, but also a lot of skeptics. Fintech’s mission was to bring competition to the incumbent banks, so we wanted to give startups and outsiders a voice – not to be anti-banks, but to bring fintechs and banks together, along with regulators and investors.”
Finnovasia’s first events were held at Cyberport, the Hong Kong government’s startup incubator. The first year attracted fewer than 500 people but this was already considered a success – and it won the attention of the government.
With the backing from InvestHK, which provided a venue, Finnovasia was able to create even bigger events. In 2017 it took over Hong Kong Fintech Week, an event originally launched by the people who would set up the Hong Kong Fintech Association that year.
By 2019, Hong Kong Fintech Week had become an important part of the global scene, attracting delegates from over 80 countries. Half of its attendees were from overseas. It also had a unique combination of programming across the border in Shenzhen, adding mainland China tech to the equation.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a standstill, although Hong Kong Fintech Week pivoted to an all-digital event, one noted for its strong content and seamless visitor experience. Sar says he made the decision early into the COVID period to retain the entire team – a bold move for a business dependent on managing events.
Metaverse on the beach
This was also the time when he began rethinking the meaning of the event, and of his company. “I’ve been in touch with the Bahama authorities for three years to make this pivot,” Sar said, “but I had to wait for COVID restrictions to end.”
Recent events reinforce his belief that crypto is now maturing – and needs an event that includes regulators and banks, and isn’t just a “degen crypto event”, as he put it. “If crypto is going to scale, it needs to win society’s trust, which means accepting regulation,” Sar said. “And regulators now realize that crypto is not going away, and banks realize there is demand for digital assets. There’s convergence.”
And he wants Finoverse to be at the heart of it, first in Hong Kong (which will remain Finoverse’s headquarters and home to its more than 40 employees), soon in the Middle East – but this January, in North America.
Preferably close to the beach, he said: “Where else do you want to ride out the ‘crypto winter’ than in the Bahamas?”