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Can South Asia be a fintech leader?

The region is near perfect for such an accolade, so why the digital dawdling?


South Asia has been a fintech laggard, but it is now back on track

South Asia has nearly everything an ambitious financial technology company wants. It is populous, economically dynamic, overwhelmingly young and brimming with ambition. Soaring smartphone and tablet sales are spurring digital take-up.

Even some of its negative attributes are desirable: physical infrastructure is patchy at best, making this an ideal playground for ride-sharing and food-delivery apps. The World Bank reckons 560 million people, including 180 million in Pakistan and Bangladesh, are detached from the financial system. Perfect, you would think, for nimble mobile money services or challenger banks.

But you would be wrong. Indeed, it is hard to think of a regional fintech star or breakout disruptor that has grabbed the banking industry by the throat and shaken it up. 

There are some perfectly good operators, mostly Indian, from ride-sharing service Ola to mobile payments firm Paytm. But they are small fry compared to their big Asian peers. Ola is a fraction of the size of Singapore’s Grab. Paytm is dwarfed by the Chinese pair of WeChat Pay and Alipay.

Big fish

To add insult to injury, the big fish from Shenzhen and Singapore are found splashing happily and profitably in local waters, having bought chunky stakes in local minnows.

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