Fintech is a new financial industry that applies technology to improve financial activities, with key areas being the automation of insurance, trading and risk management. Between 2005 and 2015, global investment in fintech increased by more than 2200%, from $930m to some $22bn.

Fintech’s potential remains big. From the demand side across much of south-east Asia, the unmet need for basic banking services is significant. KPMG reports that only 27% of the region’s 600 million inhabitants had a bank account in 2016.

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From the supply side, a new wave of start-ups is increasingly ‘disaggregating’ global banks. Milken Institute's Centre for Financial Markets reports that much of the venture capital in Asia has flowed into China, particularly among a handful of large tech companies. Yet other countries also are seeking to position themselves as fintech hubs.

The Straits Times reported that multimillion-dollar investments were reported in 2017 in Hong Kong (in digital wallet operator TNG FinTech Group), in India (in online lending platform Capital Float) and in South Korea's second largest cryptocurrency exchange, Korbit.

In Indonesia, motorbike delivery and ride-sharing app Go-Jek’s acquisition of payment portals Kartuku and Midtrans, and savings and lending network Mapan, leaves the company poised to become a digital payments leader. In Singapore, so-called digital disruptors Blocko, Spark Systems, AGDelta, Flywire and six other companies have won awards for implementing innovative fintech solutions.

PwC and Startupbootcamp reported 2017’s top Asia fintech trends were: financial inclusion (institutions facilitating microfinance in Asia will continue to play a critical role in improving access to finance for the underbanked); wealth management (tech-savvy wealth managers are adopting more emerging technologies such as chatbots, robo-advisers and the Internet of Things); regtech (expect a rise in both government regulatory and non-governmental compliance initiatives to automate low-risk background checks); and insuretech (more internet-first insurers and digital insurance companies using sophisticated data models and analytics for risk and claims management, and customer onboarding).

Challenges include the aggressive enforcement of the Bank Secrecy Act and money transmission regulations representing an ongoing threat to fintech companies. Customers’ expectations are also increasing significantly to now expect the same level of service and access from companies of all sizes and a seamless mobile experience from their financial services providers, as well as the ability to pay by credit card at all shops and by mobile phone anywhere.

Asian businesses that do not adopt the latest technologies risk losing their customers.

Lawrence Yeo is founder and principal consultant of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based management consulting firm providing Asia market research, business strategy development and export/FDI promotion services.