The Next Big Thing

Financial tech start-ups help burnish Hong Kong's innovation credentials

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 July, 2015, 9:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 July, 2015, 9:26am

Financial technology innovation in Hong Kong could be poised for a big leap as seven start-ups introduce cybersecurity, behavioural analytics, “blockchain” technology and other services under the latest accelerator programme of management consulting giant Accenture.

“These entrepreneurs, like Accenture, envisage a future where technology solutions not only arm financial institutions with far-more-sophisticated, fine-tuned data but also make everyday transactions simpler for consumers,” Jon Allaway, Accenture’s senior managing director for financial services, said on Thursday.

The new edition of FinTech Innovation Lab Asia-Pacific, which Accenture established in Hong Kong in June last year, represents a competitive search for early-stage companies from around the world that are developing new technologies for financial services in the region.

Accenture is collaborating with a dozen major financial institutions in this programme. These include Bank of America Merrill Lynch, China Construction Bank (Asia), China Citic Bank International, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, Maybank, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered and UBS.

The Lab is supported by the Hong Kong government-backed Cyberport, which provides workspace for the start-ups during the programme.

Those selected to participate in the Lab will be mentored for 12 weeks, starting next month, by leading executives from financial services firms through a series of panel discussions, workshops, one-to-one coaching and networking opportunities. At the end of the programme, the entrepreneurs will present their concepts to potential investors and financial industry executives.

With increasing pressure to boost growth and cut costs, many large financial institutions are seeking to engage with promising ventures that offer technologies designed to improve efficiency in their industry.

Accenture has estimated that global investments in financial technology ventures tripled to US$12.2 billion last year, from US$4.05 billion in 2013. Investments in Asia-Pacific financial technology ventures have also grown to US$767 million last year, from US$245 million in 2013.

“We’re extremely impressed with the energy and enthusiasm the start-ups have demonstrated for creating solutions that are intuitive for customers, secure for financial institutions and cost-effective for everyone,” Allaway said.

Hong Kong-based Bitspark is introducing a remittance platform that uses digital currency Bitcoin and blockchain technology to send and receive payments in developing countries.

Blockchain represents the public ledger of all bitcoin transactions that have been executed. Each node, or computer connected to the Bitcoin network for validating and relaying transactions, receives an automatic downloaded copy of the blockchain and its information.

Bitspark connects offline businesses, such as corner-store remittance shops, and online businesses to unbanked customers through its network providers. Its integrated online platform enables money-transfer operators and financial institutions to manage payment information, customer due diligence and real-time business analytics.

Founded by two biomedical engineers in Hong Kong, Ironfly Technologies offers a service geared to professionals working in constantly changing environments like capital markets. It provides instant insight into real-time data, applying the latest research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology to make data fast, intuitive and visual for users.

Digital security company Uniken, which has its research and development in India, has developed a patented on-demand platform called REL-ID that protects a company’s digital interactions and data from unauthorised access. Companies can use the platform to create their own private digital network of things — called REL-ID Dome — where digital assets are visible only to authorised users, apps and devices.

Israeli start-up BondIT is offering an intuitive software-as-a-service platform for financial institutions to use on investment portfolio construction, optimisation and monitoring. This system uses advanced machine-learning algorithms to easily construct yield and risk portfolios that match a client’s profile and can be managed by factors such as ratings, duration, yield, country, bond type and seniority-level.

Australian firm Moroku has developed a mobile app for gathering, connecting and engaging people so banks can provide their customers with timely, sensible solutions. Moroku’s app is designed to help banks develop rapid prototyping and deployment of digital banking experiences that are wired directly into their transaction systems.

Sparro, another Australian start-up, is introducing an online payments network that can be quickly deployed to support low-value, high-volume cross-border transactions, while reducing a bank’s processing costs.

British firm Sybenetix provides an enterprise behavioural analytics solution that it claims can help hedge funds, asset managers and banks systematically improve investment performance and conduct management at the individual, team and company level.

Accenture’s Hong Kong-based start-up accelerator programme was modelled on a similar initiative it co-founded with civic group the Partnership Fund for New York City in 2010.

The New York Lab’s 24 alumni companies have raised more than US$160 million in venture financing after participating in the programme. One participant, InkTank, was acquired for US$175 million by software company Red Hat.

Participants in the Asia-Pacific Lab have raised more than US$26.5 million in financing to date.