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OCBC, UOB unveil graduating fintech startups in Demo Days

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Jacqueline Loh, Deputy MD of MAS (5th from right) and Samuel Tsien, Group CEO of OCBC Bank (6th from left), pose with the graduating cohort of The Open Vault at OCBC FinTech Accelerator programme.
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UOB Group deputy chairman and CEO Wee Ee Cheong (center) and board member Lim Hwee Hua, pose with graduating cohort of The FinLab Accelerator Programme.

Singapore

IT was a week of heavy-duty, innovative financial technology, with local banks OCBC and UOB headlining the parties (or Demo Days) where each unveiled eight graduating fintech startups from their inaugural accelerator programmes.

A Demo Day - the culmination of a typically 12-week-long accelerator programme which entails intensive mentorship and business development - is where the programme's graduating cohort of entrepreneurs present their fine-tuned business plans to investors and industry players.

Both the banks' Demo Days were held in style: the Open Vault at OCBC FinTech Accelerator celebrated at the Capitol Theatre on Thursday; and UOB's The FinLab at the National Gallery Singapore on Wednesday.

OCBC announced at its Demo Day that it was ready to launch three out of eight ideas. It would pilot three solutions in wealth management and artificial intelligence with its customers, starting in the fourth quarter.

The startups behind these ideas are portfolio management platforms Fincast and BondIt, as well as virtual assistant platform CogniCor, which can understand customer queries and provide personalised responses in real time.

Should the pilots make the grade, OCBC will look at commercialisation and partnership opportunities with the startups. Collaborations with the five other startups are also being explored.

Asked if the startups' new technologies are disruptive to the bank, OCBC chief executive Samuel Tsien said: "We do not view them as disruptive, but transformational and complementary. They are directly applicable to what (the bank) is doing."

Integration of the new technologies with the bank's systems will be "quite feasible", and will render the bank more customer-oriented, he added.

The Open Vault at OCBC FinTech Accelerator programme received over 200 applications from 28 countries for its maiden run. It is a 12-week programme powered by Hong Kong-based startup accelerator Nest.

Meanwhile, The FinLab - a 100-day accelerator programme jointly launched by UOB and Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL) - received 216 applications from 21 countries for its first run.

Among its graduating startups is Card- Up, which UOB has "acquired as a merchant". The bank said that this enables the startup to test its model in the real world; over 700 users have signed up for CardUp's service in less than a week. CardUp allows consumers to make payments by credit card whether or not the recipient accepts the plastic.

Nickel - a cross-border money transfer platform that had started out helping SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) in Asia facilitate foreign exchange payments and at competitive rates - has expanded its business model to also serve multinational companies. This is after tapping UOB's network reach, professional expertise and market insights, the bank said.

Janet Young, UOB head of group channels and digitalisation, told The Business Times that The FinLab has engendered an innovative and collaborative culture in the bank, functional teams of which traditionally worked in silos and tended not to think out of the box.

Asked about the increase in fintech accelerator programmes and their fight for the same talent, she said: "There is some degree of competition, but also still so much growth opportunity and innovation possible. Fintech is still in the early stage - we want to continually go from here."

The Republic's third bank DBS runs DBS HotSpot Pre-Accelerator - a programme for very-early-stage startups in financial technology, social enterprise, and technology - with programme partner ALPHA Camp.

On Monday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Association of Banks in Singapore jointly called for entries for the inaugural FinTech Awards. Submissions will be accepted until Aug 31.

Entries, which must be of projects implemented by Singapore companies or financial institutions before June 30, will be evaluated based on impact, practicality, interoperability and uniqueness or creativity.

Alex Lin, head of Infocomm Investments Pte Ltd (IIPL), observed that fintechs in Singapore are a good mix of startups in the B2C (business to consumer), B2B (business to business) and B2B2C (business to business to consumer) spaces.

"There are also startups that stretch the definition of fintech. But there's definitely a trend of products and services with a heavier focus on the customers instead of users - and that's because a focus on the customer will inherently mean business with and through the bank."

This is a sign of a maturing innovative startup ecosystem, he added.