While much of the payments and financial world was in Las Vegas at Money20/20 last week, about 250 researchers, business people and policymakers met in Singapore to have a frank conversation about the Asian financial hub’s role in the cryptoeconomy.
The Sim Kee Boon Institute for Financial Economics at Singapore Management University hosted the two-day conference on November 4 and 5 in cooperation with the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst Association in an effort to bring together diverse opinions and viewpoints on whether Singapore could become an epicenter for cryptocurrency businesses and innovation.
The conference brought nearly two dozen panelists from around the world to discuss
the innovation of cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based finance,
mobile payment systems,
accountancy issues with cryptocurrencies,
the technology’s role in FinTech going forward,
and whether Singapore can become the technology’s Silicon Valley.
That last question begs some exploration, as it suggests a great deal of opportunity, about which conference organizers and panelists spoke with me.
The city-state is already well-known for being a business-friendly jurisdiction and panelist Scott Robinson, Director of FinTech and Marketing at Plug and Play Tech Center, touched on that point.
“Plug and Play sees the Singapore ecosystem as conducive to an ideal FinTech market for innovation,” Robinson said. “For starters, Singapore includes an agile regulatory environment and forward-thinking corporations opening up to support innovation.”
Mikkel Larsen — who moderated the accountancy panel discussion and is both Managing Director at Singaporean bank DBS and member of Tembusu Terminals’ advisory board — elaborated on Robinson’s point.
Larsen said that in addition to Singapore’s ease of doing business and the government’s swift moves to adopt clear cryptocurrency regulations, the fact that the country has few natural resources means it must embrace scholarship and innovation to remain competitive globally.
“The technological awareness and skills level of Singaporeans is high and combined with widespread use of smart-phones, wide internet access and a general aptitude for adoption of new technologies would make Singapore conducive to the new technologies.”
Furthermore, Larsen pointed out that Singapore is well-positioned to address what he called “native needs” in Asia.
Though itself a developed economy, Singapore is surrounded by emerging economies with big, young, tech-savvy populations. As Larsen pointed out to me, mobile penetration in the Philippines, for example, is just at more than 100%, and smart-phone penetration is on pace to triple in 2015. And cryptocurrencies are mobile-native technologies.
With cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies, Larsen said, consumers in developing economies who have traditionally lacked access to financial services would be able to send money across borders, make deals via smart contracts, register property rights on a cryptographic ledger and develop community lending programs.
Those needs aren’t unique to Southeast Asia, of course, but Singapore would be geographically well-positioned to connect the hundreds of millions living around the South China Sea who will soon be demanding access to those services.
Conference organizers, in a post-conference draft summary, suggested that Singapore must first consider all of the variables necessary to become a cryptocurrency hub; fortunately, it already has more than a generation of experience in building a FinTech hub.
“What is required is a holistic, ecosystem-based approach that involves and engages every segment of society,” organizers said in a statement. “Neither a purely top-down nor bottom-up approach will be able to fully maximise the potential that this industry and its technologies are capable of.”
The Conference as Representative of This Holistic Approach
Conference panelists seemed to both agree with and themselves represent the need to engage participants from all across the potential cryptoeconomy. As SKBI research fellow Dr. Ernie Teo pointed out, participants included government members, regulators, law enforcers, auditors, bank representatives and fund managers.
Conference participants praised that diversity and the conversations it facilitated.
"The Singapore conference was unique in that it provided a well-balanced cross-section of academics, business professionals, decision-makers at governmental organizations and entrepreneurs within the industry,” said Tim Swanson, Head of Business Development at digital asset exchange Melotic and conference panelist. He added:
“As a result, the sobering conversations that took place focused more around actual opportunities and challenges in the community today rather than the typical sci-fi cheerleading that is divorced from the reality that companies in this space face."
“We are living and working at a formidable point in history, one in which the changing nature of money and the ideas for currency affect people and communities in profound and very complex ways,” Sonnenfeld said.
“Required are new explorations of socioeconomic systems, to include our uses of data, our understandings of privacy, and our appetites for effective and equitable governance. This conference was a great first step in catalyzing that effort."
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