Fintech’s influence is growing around the globe. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, fintech startups attracted more than $40 billion in investments during the past four years, and legacy institutions are warming up to partnerships with agile, digital-first companies. The Asia-Pacific region saw nearly $15 billion in fintech investments between January 2016 and February 2017 alone. Needless to say, the opportunity in fintech is real–and Vietnam is getting in on it.
Sky’s the limit
According to a report on Forbes, Vietnam’s fintech market hit $4.4 billion in 2017, and it will reach $7.8 billion by 2020 , according to research from Solidiance, an APAC-focused consulting firm. In a recently published report, “Unlocking Vietnam’s Fintech Growth Potential,” Solidiance attributes the uptick to several factors, including high internet and smartphone penetration rates in urban centers, increased popularity of e-wallets, rising income and consumption, and a growing e-commerce sector.
The company also credits the Vietnamese government with creating an “increasingly supportive regulatory framework” via the creation of the Fintech Steering Committee and other measures. If the government is successful in its plan to reach 70% banking penetration within the next two years, that could further accelerate the fintech market, where startups are already creating solutions such as lifestyle banking services and a range of mobile wallet and digital payments solutions.
Michael Sieburg, associate partner at Solidiance, says that much will depend on the state’s movements in the next few years. “It’s important to acknowledge the development of the Fintech Steering Committee by the State Bank of Vietnam. This is an important move and illustrates the government’s serious approach to developing a framework that can guide the industry forward,” he says. “But one key issue to address will be the speed at which new products and services can receive legal guidance so they can operate with predictability and decrease compliance risk.”
He notes that lengthy approval times for licenses can hinder innovation and impede Vietnam’s emergence as a fintech leader. “Finding that balance between encouraging innovation while protecting the public interest will be key,” Sieburg says.
Push for digital
Currently, digital payment solutions comprise 89% of the fintech market here, according to Solidiance. But the company predicts that the personal and corporate finance sectors will grow by 31.2% and 35.9%, respectively, by 2025. That growth will be driven in part by the government’s push to move away from cash-based transactions. Last year, the state announced a plan to reduce cash transactions in shopping malls, grocery stores, and distributors to less than 10% by 2020.
Before that can happen, Vietnam’s financial inclusion stats will need to increase. As of 2014, only 31% of adults held formal transaction accounts, according to the World Bank. There are several reasons for this, including high costs, prohibitive documentation requirements, a lack of financial services in close proximity to consumers, and skepticism of the financial sector.
Mobile a catalyst
Sieburg says the financial inclusion process will be helped along by the country’s high smartphone penetration rate. As of 2017, 84% of mobile phone users are on smartphones. Digital payment apps can help draw in consumers who traditionally lacked access to formal banking systems, paving the way toward a cashless–or less cash-dependent–society. ” Digital payments could transform not only the retail market and bill payment but also payment for public services as well government-to-people payments , currently a challenge in some rural areas where banking sector penetration is less developed,” Sieburg says.
There’s a great deal of work to be done if Vietnam is to fulfill its fintech ambitions, but Sieburg predicts big things in the country’s future. ” In the next decade, Vietnam will emerge as a regional leader in developing innovative fintech solutions ,” he says. “There is so much energy here. …With a population eager to adopt technology and a vibrant, young, tech-smart population propelling innovation, I’m excited about what lies ahead here.”
From the hustling startup community to innovation initiatives within traditional organizations, Sieburg sees signs of real growth. Coupled with an increasingly supportive regulatory ecosystem, there’s good reason to think Vietnam’s fintech sector is one to watch.
By Casey Hynes