Q&A: Syed Musheer Ahmed, Founder and Managing Director of FinStep Asia

By Staff Writer

FinStep Asia is building Asia’s next generation of Businesses and providing advisory on Fintech & Digital ecosystems in Asia. FinStep Asia is running a series of initiatives to enable fintechs to scale and expand across Asia, from East Asia to MENA. Musheer is the cofounder and board member of Fintech Association of Hong Kong and has an extensive background in financial services and technology, having been a global markets trader for a decade, and a management consultant following his MBA. Following is our latest interview with him on all aspects of blockchain and his new firm.

Q: How has the fintech sector evolved over the months? Which are the hottest sectors?

Covid-19 has had a two-sided impact on Fintech. On one side, it has propelled more use of online financial services, especially online banking services, while on the other side it had dampened performance of credit and lending firms. For payments, it is a mixed situation. While more people have started using digital payments due to the lockdown, on the other hand, discretionary spend and repeat transactions are down significantly. This would impact overall volumes as well as value of total transactions taking place.

Some of the sectors that have done well would be wealthtech, with roboadvisors globally having a large growth in users, regtech- with need for more digital onboarding and uptick in use of digital services, and lastly insurtech, with a surge in need of and purchase of insurance products owing to the pandemic. Investments for early stage startups has been hit, however, there has been a larger uptick in acquisitions as well as followup investments by VCs in their existing portfolio companies.

Q: You have launched a new firm, Finstep Asia? Please tell us more about it and how are you adding value to your clients?

FinStep Asia is an innovation and growth advisory firm based in Hong Kong. We are a venture builder powering Asia’s next generation of businesses and providing advisory on Fintech & Digital ecosystems in Asia. We work with Corporates, Startups, Government and Investors from across Asia and have a variety of partners globally. Our aim is to fuel cross border growth of startups across APAC.

Our services include (a) growth advisory, including market expansion strategy for startups, (b) innovation advisory for corporates to engage with startup ecosystems, (c) venture capital as a service (VCAAS) where we assist corporate venture arms run their operations end to end. Our clients include Unicorns, large listed firms, top VCs in the region and government/policy institutions

Q: What are the kind of initiatives Finstep Asia engaged in?

We run a variety of initiatives to empower startups and corporates to engage in the ecosystem. At the turn of the year, we launched FT Slingshot, the first of its kind cross border accelerator for B2B Fintechs in India to enter into SE Asia and Hong Kong. We are also working on building the Islamic Fintech ecosystem between Middle East and South-East Asia. Lastly, we are organizing Asia’s premier Virtual Fintech event, Virtual Fintech Fair, a 2-day conference and exhibition in August to enable fintech related firms across APAC and beyond showcase their products and innovation. We already have delegates from over 50 countries and many decision makers registered.

Q: What will be the defining models in Fintech in the coming years?

With the evolution of virtual banking/insurance coupled with open banking frameworks across the region, we are seeing a seismic shift in how financial services is delivered driven by a mobile first approach. Many of the tech giants, such as Alibaba, Tencent, Google, Amazon, Facebook and now Reliance Jio in India are actively engaged in offering a variety of financial services. With their acutely data driven insights coupled with deployment of newer technologies, the TechFins have used the ‘SuperApp’ and platform approach to fintech. This has had a significant impact on the incumbents and compelled them to respond.  In many cases, this has led to a significant reduction in fees to the customers, while vastly improving the customer experience.

Though most of the incumbents were late in responding to the fintech revolution, many are now investing large sums into digital transformation. Having said that, with the rapid development of technology, and the increasing reach of mobile phones globally, incumbents will need to significantly evolve their models and work in-tandem with fintech firms to compete with the TechFins.

Q: What do you think blockchain can help Covid 19? Have you seen any use cases?

When it comes to COVID-19, there are a variety of different spaces where technology can have a significant impact. When it comes to Blockchain, there are some specific areas where the decentralized nature of blockchain coupled with immutability that can have the most impact. Blockchain technology can be very useful for contact tracing of infected person, very much in line with how blockchain has been used to determine source of diamonds and a range of food products successfully.

As an extension, it also allows for authorities to track where a person has been and what their status is viz having been in contact with an infected person or coming from a hot spot. This will have a significant application for travelers globally, both locally and internationally. Secondly, once vaccines have been developed and start being deployed, blockchain can be used to record and accurately monitor the vaccinated persons and their health.


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