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AMTD sees S'pore as regional gateway

Hong Kong and Singapore can benefit from each other in their race for dominance as Asia's financial hub.

AMTD chairman Calvin Choi in a panel discussion moderated by CNN journalist Manisha Tank at the Singapore Fintech Festival 2017.

IN the long-standing rivalry between Singapore and Hong Kong for dominance as Asia's financial hub, not everyone sees a need to pick a side.

Hong Kong-based financial services firm AMTD Group is hoping to enjoy the best of both worlds by leveraging its role as a grand sponsor of the Singapore FinTech Festival to connect with players in the country and the region around it.

"We see Singapore as a very international spot for us to invest in and to use as a hub to attract talent, build up our business and then expand into the broader-based Asean market," AMTD chairman and president Calvin Choi told The Business Times.

"Our clients expect us to provide more than a Hong Kong solution for them - it must be an Asian or global solution, and we need an entry point into the Asean market."

In return, AMTD wants to help Singaporean and Asean companies tap opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, which is the Chinese government's plan to promote economic integration among Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in the Guangdong province.

Economic cooperation

"I would love to stay actively involved and contribute to closer economic cooperation between Hong Kong or the Greater Bay Area and the Asean market," said Mr Choi.

"Singapore and Hong Kong have lots of collaborative areas, especially for companies like us, to participate in and synergise between our setups in the two different areas.

"For example, an AMTD setup in Singapore can facilitate our connectivity with Singapore and Asean, which helps us to expand into new business areas, but at the same time, the Singapore setup can benefit from the Hong Kong setup to attract business flow or investment power from China."

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has several initiatives that will pave the way for AMTD to establish a presence here, including a 2017 agreement between MAS and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to strengthen cooperation on fintech.

In 2015, MAS launched the Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme, which included efforts to attract global financial institutions to set up innovation labs in Singapore to create a vibrant fintech ecosystem for innovation. AMTD will be taking up the offer and intends to roll out plans for such a lab in Singapore within this year, Mr Choi said.

AMTD was a grand sponsor of the Singapore FinTech Festival for the first time in 2017, and recently committed to sponsoring the festival for the next five years.

Mr Choi said he was impressed by the organisation and overall connectivity to the global tech and innovation community at the last event, and wanted to continue contributing to grow it further.

"I felt the depth of momentum and interest that people are paying to fintech in Singapore and other countries overall, and I think the wide diversity of participating groups and persons made the event a very successful one," he said.

"I always believe that in order to make something successful, it requires a lot of commitment and persistence.

"I believe in consistency, that's why we talked with the regulator and others in the Singaporean community, and announced that we will support this Singapore FinTech Festival for the next five years."

Founded in 2003 by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing's Cheung Kong Holdings, AMTD started out as a primarily consumer-oriented wealth management platform for Cheung Kong's local clientèle.

When Mr Choi took over as CEO in 2016, he incorporated his investment banking experience into the company and expanded it to serve institutional clients as well.

Today, AMTD boasts four primary business arms in investment banking, asset management, insurance brokerage, and tech and innovation investment, with the group set up in a way that allows the different business areas to synergise among themselves.

"For example, there is a bank in China that we helped to IPO, and post-IPO, we helped them to asset manage," said Mr Choi.

"Then when it set up its Hong Kong branch, we helped it to source the insurance it needed. And finally when it created certain funds to invest into new economy plays, we partnered or co-invested with it as well.

"That creates an overall AMTD ecosystem through our four key business lines."

Through its investment banking arm, AMTD has conducted numerous initial public offerings (IPOs) in the Hong Kong market in the past three years.

In 2018 alone, it has served as joint bookrunner on the first two dual class share scheme listings in Hong Kong, for Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi and Chinese restaurant review and delivery company Meituan Dianping.

AMTD has also served as the lead bank and joint global coordinator on the IPOs of several Chinese banks, including Jiangxi Bank, which was the second-largest IPO in Hong Kong for the first half of 2018, and Guangzhou Rural Commercial Bank, the second-largest IPO in the first half of 2017.

When considering fintech projects for the group's tech and innovation investment arm, the company embraces the whole value chain, including talent cultivation and incubation, said Mr Choi.

In April, AMTD and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University launched the AMTD FinTech Centre of PolyU Faculty of Business to develop and cultivate fintech talent in the Greater Bay Area.

Fintech incubator

AMTD has also incubated fintech companies like FinEX Asia, a global fintech marketplace that connects Asian investment funds through a roboadvisory service and analytics to the US consumer market.

"By our licences, the way we service our clients and the way we are being regulated in the Hong Kong market, we are obviously a traditional financial service play," said Mr Choi.

"But in this digital world, we see it as very important to embrace digitalisation and get ourselves ready for the next stage."

AMTD's investments are not limited to the fintech sphere - it has made early-stage investments in several of China's unicorn startups in other industries, including ride-hailing companies Didi Chuxing and UCAR, and flexible display manufacturer Royole.

Mr Choi looks forward to working with MAS and Singapore FinTech Festival over the next five years, saying: "Singapore has been working on tech and innovation in a very advanced manner, and this fintech festival is well-organised as the world's largest."

He hopes to increase participation from companies in a broader base of Asian countries, especially Chinese companies, to bring more exciting ideas and participants to the event. The Chinese companies can also benefit from better connections in Singapore, Mr Choi noted.

"In terms of market size, Singapore by itself obviously is still small compared to Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area, but we never see Singapore as just Singapore," he said.

"It is the most international hub in the overall Asean market, while Hong Kong is the most international hub in overall China.

"I want to set forth driving forces to bring more Chinese companies to the festival. I believe it will be a great place to connect and identify partnerships or collaboration opportunities between Asean market players and world players."

About AMTD

AMTD is a diversified financial services group headquartered in Hong Kong, with service coverage and business focuses across Asia.

Its core business lines include investment banking, asset management, insurance brokerage, and tech and innovative investment. It is also an active debt capital markets bank, and has completed close to 100 bond deals since 2016.

Notable investments

China Didi Chuxing, ride-sharing firm; UCAR, ride-sharing firm; Royole, flexible electronics manufacturer; WeDoctor, online healthcare platform; and Dianrong, online financing platform.

Hong Kong FinEX Asia, global fintech marketplace incubated in partnership with Dianrong; and DayDayCook, cooking video content platform.

Taiwan Appier, AI business solutions platform.

US Credible, student loan marketplace; andPeachjar, digital flyer management system.

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