Omise, a payment management platform founded by Jun Hasegawa and Ezra Don Harinsut, is Thai fintech’s greatest success story to date. In 2016, it raised a $17.5 million Series B round and currently operates in Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. It’s an aspirational story that is indicative of the possibilities for other fintech startups in Thailand, given the right conditions.
“Fintech startups have the potential [to] stimulate innovation across not just the Thai financial services industry, but across other adjacent industries such as commerce, healthcare, and even education," said Paul Ark, managing director at VC firm Digital Ventures and a Seedstars ambassador. Ark said that increased adoption of blockchain technologies, Big Data and artificial intelligence would enable Thai fintechs not only to enhance the products and services available to existing customers, but to serve the country’s under- and unbanked consumers as well.
Akaradej Disyadej, managing director of the Thai Fintech Association, said he believes the Thai fintech sector is strong, and that it’s capable of competing with its ASEAN neighbors and other markets. “We believe that all of these people are very smart,” Disyadej said. “We aim to engage them and [help] them do fintech business in Thailand, and we also want to promote them out. We want to help them into the global market.” But the association aims to provide assistance to businesses at all levels. “We believe that if we would be able to incubate or groom just one fintech company, it will help the economy by producing revenue for that SME,” Disyadej said.
From Thailand to ASEAN -- and the world
The Thai Fintech Association formed in 2016 as a networking club that would facilitate connections among fintech startups, big banks and investors, according to Disyadej. But the organization filed as an association with the Ministry of the Interior this year so it could take a more hands-on role in the industry’s development. Disyadej said the Thai Fintech Association is working to establish a national fintech sandbox for startups, through which they can conduct product testing, meet with potential partners and obtain funding. He added that the organization is hoping to secure a government grant worth 29 million baht (approximately $850,000 USD) to use toward these efforts.
The theme of regional expansion and viability comes up often in conversations about Thailand’s fintech opportunities. TechGrind, an organization striving to create the next Silicon Valley in Southeast Asia, sees Thailand as an advantageous hub for its companies. Although TechGrind operates in six countries in the region, it has relocated several of its startups to Bangkok so they can make use of TechGrind’s network and resources there. But TechGrind approaches opportunities in fintech -- and in all startup sectors -- from a cross-border perspective.
When people think of Thailand, they associate the Kingdom with a lot of things: Beaches, backpackers, temples, elephants, enlightenment. In short, all of the elements that draw millions of tourists to the Southeast Asian nation each year. But members of Thailand’s fintech community see the country as a place ripe with opportunity for making its mark on the regional--and global--startup scenes as well.