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Seven fintech startups from Money20/20 Asia

Plus: bank tie-ups and J.P. Morgan digs programmable payments.



This week saw Money20/20 return to Asia as a large-scale fintech and payments event.

The organizers showcased seven fintech startups from around Asia Pacific. In alphabetical order:


This Thai digital-asset trading platform has experienced 2 million downloads of its app and is building a domestic ecosystem for regulated crypto. After launching five years ago with just $1 million in seed money, the business has been able to operate on recurring revenues. It is now seeking digital-asset licenses in other Asian markets.


This Filipino startup aims to help the country’s migrant workers with basic aspects of finance. As of 2023 there are 2.4 million Filipinos who work abroad, and their remittances added up to $37 billion, or 8.5 percent of Philippine GDP. Cepat launched in 2019 with a web-based app to provide financing, and is now working on a mobile version. It has grown its loan book to $12 million and is now lending $2 million a month, with a non-performing loan ration below 2 percent.


This Indonesian company is providing small businesses loans to support their inventory. It does so by partnering with multinationals such as Danone, Nestle and Unilever, who provide the customer base through their supply chains. Fairbanc offers inventory on credit via a buy-now pay-later facility. Last year it financed $273 million worth of small loans. Singapore’s Vertex is a strategic VC backer. Because the fintech reaches these small business via big companies, it has no merchant acquisition cost, which makes it easier to scale the business. The company will turn profitable this year.

This Singapore-based startup is aggregating rewards from miles, rides, and merchants in the travel industry. It is live in Singapore and Australia, and aims to expand to other regional markets where travel volumes are rising. It has a n open loyalty system across various tech, travel, and banking platforms that operates an internal token system that serves as a ‘loyalty currency’. Users can redeem these currencies for the value of a flight each year, says the company; it also says it has aggregated rewards in 2023 that correlate to $500 million of gross merchandise value.


Although a Thai company, Mula-X was founded by a Malaysian, and Mula means booth ‘money’ in English (moolah) and ‘to begin’ in Malay. The company is a financial-inclusion play that seeks to connect blue-collar workers to financial services through their employers: companies put the workers’ wages into Mula-X’s app, where they can save, borrow, and invest. Employers are willing to support this because it keeps their workers from falling into the clutches of loan sharks. Mula-X spent three years building the platform, funded by friends and family, and is now deploying, with 30,000 employees signed up.


This New Zealand-based startup is introducing a new payment category called Buy Together, to complement up-front payments and buy-now pay-later models. Groups of individuals can share in the purchasing of gifts, trips, and events. The service is pitched to Gen-Z folk who are used to splitting bills and using digital tools. There’s no consumer app, rather it’s a point-of-sale service; upon checkout, one person invites their friends via the merchant terminal, and once all the money’s in the till, the purchase is finalized. Merchants like this because they can reach multiple customers with a single sale. The paysquad team is now looking to expand beyond New Zealand and Australia into Southeast Asia.


The name is Indonesian for ‘opportunity’, which must have rung a bell because in 2021 – the height of the VC and fintech boom – Accel Growth Fund cut this startup a $55 million check. Pluang aims to be an everything-in-one investment app that allows Indonesians to trade gold, mutual funds, crypto, and now US equities. Its customer base now comprises 4 million funded accounts.


Other highlights from Money 20/20 include a slew of banks announcing partnerships:

KASIKORNBANK is launching Project Carina to integrate its proprietary blockchain, Quarix, with the Onyx platform at J.P. Morgan. To bring crossborder payments down to five minutes, slash costs, increase transparency and boost productivity.

Sony Bank is doing a proof of concept with SettleMint and Polygon Labs on a stablecoin for the bank’s Web3 ambitions (think gamers and Sony entertainment).

HSBC is partnering with the Thai Fintech Association to support local entrepreneurs.

Bank Aladin Syariah is working with cloud core banking provider Mambu to grow digital Islamic banking capabilities.

Standard Chartered has launched Open Banking Marketplace so corporate clients and fintechs in emerging markets can access its services via API.

Programmable payments

The buzzword at the event was ‘programmable payments’, which is the new terminology for tokenized deposits. Akshika Gupta of J.P. Morgan provided some use cases:

Corporate treasuries and FIs could code in at what FX rate to transact.

Instead of pre-funding trades, treasurers or investors can automatically debit accounts on trade day.

Automations can pull funds from locations with excess liquidity to meet overnight obligations, and move funds to where yields are highest.

These functions are coming, but they are going to impact the traditional financial-services world. DigFin notes that today banks rely on cheap funding from vast deposits on which the pay negligible interest.

If huge amounts of customer deposits are automatically transferred to money-market funds paying a real rate of return, what happens to the cost of funding for bank lending? Consider the way surprises such as the draining of Silicon Valley Bank’s deposit base happened at stunning speed.

This doesn’t mean programmable money or blockchain-based rails and AI are dangerous, but it does mean that net-interest margins and other business models within commercial banking must be reconsidered. Changing the basic product – the deposit account – is just the tip of the iceberg.

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