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Musheer Ahmed, steppin’ out

The co-founder of the H.K. Fintech Association has a startup, FinStep, to bring Indian companies to East Asia.

Musheer Ahmed, FinStep

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Syed Musheer Ahmed has launched a startup based in Hong Kong that aims to bring Indian fintech talent to East Asia.

The first general manager of the Hong Kong Fintech Association (and one of its co-founders) says his new venture, FinStep Asia, will support Indian companies scale regionally by helping them with marketing, partnerships, and strategy.

The business also supports fintechs from the rest of the world to do business in India. Ahmed plans to later add a fund to invest directly in Indian startups.

But for now the biggest challenge he’s taking on is helping Indian entrepreneurs translate domestic success to winning deals abroad – which requires a cultural and mindset change, most of all, Ahmed says.

“Indian firms want deals signed ASAP, and don’t understand the need to build relationships and build trust,” he said. That means something as simple (but expensive) as having a presence in B2B centers such as Hong Kong and Singapore, or onshore in the rest of Southeast Asia.

Similarly, Ahmed says he’s witnessed plenty of Chinese firms struggle to find the right partners in Southeast Asia. In select cases, an Indian firm might be a good choice. FinStep would also like to help Chinese fintech find partners in India.

Beyond the India Stack

The Indian-founded tech industry is already thriving in Singapore. Singapore also has longstanding tax and other treaties with India. But more can be done to bring actual Indian companies (as opposed to expats) to the Lion City.

“Most Indian companies come here [to Singapore] to raise capital,” Ahmed said. Going after business in East Asia is often secondary.

But most Indian companies are keen to expand abroad: often that capital-raising is to support the business in new markets.

Indian firms want deals signed ASAP

Musheer Ahmed, FinStep

Many Indian fintech entrepreneurs have reached scale and are hungry to go abroad.

A lot of this is thanks to the “India Stack”, the government’s digital infrastructure for identity and payments, which has enabled companies to scale among a huge population lacking paper-based documents or banking services.

Although such services could fit into Southeast Asia, Indian companies need to get used to operating without “the Stack”, which means a higher cost base. They also need to learn how to navigate local cultures.

“Almost all Indian fintechs want to be global, but they lack the means or the tools,” Ahmed said.

The Indian government is also keen to export its Stack to emerging markets; if this effort succeeds, it may also open doors to more Indian fintechs.

FinStep is setting up a mentoring program called Slingshot for B2B fintechs to enter Southeast Asia and the Greater Bay Area. It will launch with eight early- or growth-stage companies, with the support of Hong Kong-based accelerator WHub and Medici, a U.S.-based but India-founded media and consultancy firm.

WHub will support Slingshot in Hong Kong while Medici will help source startups from around the world that could find projects with India-based financial institutions.

The most promising verticals for Indian fintechs in East Asia are virtual or digital banking; compliance; insurance; wealth management; and trade finance.

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Musheer Ahmed, steppin’ out