Forget mines and farms – financial technology (fintech) is where the future lies for Australia, and the government is stumping up funds to accelerate Australian firms’ progress in Asia.
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Treasurer Scott Morrison described fintech as “one of the biggest opportunities to drive productivity in the Australian economy based on the competition that it can unleash in almost every sector, if not every sector of our economy”.
Financial services are already the largest single sector of the Australian economy and the government wants to ensure fintech underpins future growth and fends off international disruptors.
At the same time, it wants to establish Australia as a regional fintech hub – in fact, this has been an ambition of Australian governments for more than two decades.
During a recent visit to Shanghai to attend the G20 finance leaders’ meeting, Morrison announced that the Australian federal government would support Sydney-based fintech hub Stone & Chalk to the tune of $150,000 for its fintech Asia initiative. The intention is to promote Australia as a regional fintech hub to attract more inbound investment and ideas.
Sydney has been a magnet for most of Australia’s fintech innovation. At time of writing, Stone & Chalk has 56 startup businesses working out of the hub, and the Tyro fintech hub is also based in the city.
Companies such as crowdfunder VentureCrowd and peer-to-peer lending business Society One also call Sydney home, as do two of the nation’s four big banks, Commonwealth and Westpac, which are represented on a new fintech expert advisory group set up by the government.
After launching the $1.1bn Innovation and Science Agenda last December, the government held its first cabinet-level committee meeting about the programme in February, reinforcing the fact that this is an initiative championed by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The agenda included discussions about tax incentives to encourage angel investors to support innovative startups and changes planned for the entrepreneur class of visa.
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The new fintech expert advisory group, chaired by Craig Dunn, chairman of Stone & Chalk and a director of Westpac, aims to provide ministers with insight around emerging financial services, including crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, mobile payments, digital currencies and artificial intelligence.
Separately, the government also announced that Shanghai is the preferred site for Australia’s latest “landing pad” – a physical location where Australian entrepreneurs can go to get advice about the local market, start networking with other companies and prospective partners, and get a toehold in an international market.
Tel Aviv and San Francisco were the other two locations announced, with two more to come.
According to the Australian government, the prize in China is a market of 618 million internet users and 300 million online shoppers.
But Matthew McDougall, CEO of Digital Jungle, which works with organisations keen to sell either into the Chinese market or to the Chinese diaspora, warned that this is not a homogeneous market and that new entrants need to be aware that marketing in Shanghai often requires a radically different approach to marketing to potential users in Beijing, for example.
“Most western companies think of China as one size fits all,” said McDougall. But instead, the country has 56 quite different provinces and traditional western marketing channels, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are blocked, he added.
Also, companies need to take a mobile-first approach to development because 86% of all internet access in China originates on mobile devices – and not necessarily the same as those used widely in the west, said McDougall.
Fintechs will also have to fight off entrenched technologies, he said, pointing out that 91% of the 600 million users of the China-only social network WeChat already have credit card details attached to their accounts to make payments.