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The Finlab’s successes and challenges: key learnings from the oldest of Singapore’s Fintech corporate accelerators

Almost every bank in Singapore has its own acceleration programme today. UOB (United Overseas Bank) was the first bank to launch a full-fledged accelerator programme in November 2015: The FinLab. To know more about the objective, challenges and results of the program, we’ve interviewed Felix Tan, Managing Director of The FinLab. He also shares his views on what makes Singapore stand out as a place for Fintech innovation.

The FinLab’s Objective: Catalysing Proof of Concepts

Startups often fail due to a lack of business or inaccurate product-market fit. Hence, The FinLab’s main objective is to help selected startups from around the world get business and conclude Proof of Concepts (PoCs). PoCs are key as they validate the startup’s ideas and test the applicability of their solution for corporate clients. The FinLab sees itself as a facilitator in the space, helping its startups through the accelerator’s two shareholders UOB and SGInnovate as well as via their own networks to provide opportunities which expose startups to business leaders. According to Felix Tan, “the more such interactions take place, the greater the possibility of having PoCs / contracts concluded”. Through success in Singapore, startups are better placed to then springboard into the larger regional markets like Indonesia,Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

Helping Startups Improve: Selecting & Growing Startup Potential

To select startups for their programme, The FinLab requires that all applications must come complete with slide-decks and a filled-in questionnaire addressing key questions such as the startup’s value proposition, addressable market size and the expertise of the team. Shortlisted candidates are then interviewed via face-to-face or Skype meetings. Once satisfied, The FinLab’s mentors score the shortlisted startups, and the top 30 are then invited to come for Selection Days in Singapore – an intensive 3-day session culminating in a 20-minute presentation-cum-question-and-answer session with The FinLab Selection Committee. The ones that impressed the Selection Committee the most are then offered a place in the programme, with typically 8 to 10 companies per run. During the three month programme, companies are mentored by domain experts in technology, venture capital, soft skills like sales and presentation, as well as senior bankers from UOB. “Thankfully, the teams that have participated in both our programmes so far have been very receptive to the feedback they received. Where necessary, they have pivoted or strengthened their offerings, including how they communicate their value propositions more impactfully,” explains Felix Tan.

Challenges Faced: Managing Risk and Alignment of Objectives

“(However) the bigger challenges (for The FinLab) lie in how the objectives of both the Financial Institutions and that of the fintech businesses can be better aligned since they may be at odds. For example, in terms of support, should financial institutions stick to the “safe, tested and true” by giving contracts to the major tech companies, or work with startups with really innovative solutions and risk blow-ups that can affect their reputation?”

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Success Stories : Blockchain Diplomas and Messaging App Fund Transfers

Felix Tan also highlighted two success stories from their efforts at The FinLab. “We (have) helped Attores – through our involvement in the PolyFintech 100 programme, a programme geared at nurturing a pool of skilled manpower to develop Singapore as a Smart Financial Centre, secure a PoC with Ngee Ann Polytechnic”. Ngee Ann Polytechnic, one of Singapore’s tertiary polytechnic schools, is now piloting a programme to issue diplomas via the blockchain. Their PoC with Singaporean digital certificate startup Attores uses a private Ethereum Blockchain software to support the certifications in order to protect student data and speed up the process of employers verifying the degrees of potential hires. “Another example is PayKey which partnered with UOB to enable funds transfer via social messaging apps; the first in Southeast Asia.” In July, the bank introduced UOB MyKey, a mobile keyboard for Android smartphones, for customers to pay – and be paid – on social messaging apps. The system is also compatible with popular peer to peer e-commerce apps like Carousell, making it a lot easier for Singaporeans to pay for items on these marketplaces.


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