Gina Heng, co-founder of Lattice80, a not-for-profit fintech hub, shares how when you combine giving and innovation, the results can be magical.
Giving back to your community is important. Giving back, in general, is something we all ought to think a lot harder about. Innovation, too, is important, especially in areas like finance. When you combine giving and innovation, the results can be magical. Winston Churchill famously said that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
Allow me to set the scene: in the wider region of Southeast Asia that surrounds Singapore, where Lattice80, our not-for-profit fintech hub that we launched last year is based, there is a huge unbanked population. KPMG estimates put the number at about 438 million. In poor countries like Cambodia, the population with a bank account falls to just 5 percent.
McKinsey did a similar study in 2010 on the world’s 2.5 billion unbanked. Asia’s emerging markets were identified as a hotbed of unbanked. The same study suggests that reaching the unbanked population in ASEAN could increase the economic contribution of the region from US$17 billion to US$52 billion by 2030.
Here’s where innovation in finance is vital. Called fintech (financial technology), this new wave of innovation in the traditional financial services sector is ushering in a new age of accessibility and affordability to the underserved and underbanked. Usually, these new fintech services are being delivered through a mixture of online (Internet-connected smartphones) and offline (high street stores) points that is changing the lives of many millions for the better.
While the 85 fintech startups we have sitting at Lattice80 aren’t exclusively working on solutions for the unbanked in Southeast Asia’s emerging markets, the fact that we have committed to running our 30,000-square-foot hub in Singapore’s CBD on a not-for-profit basis is significant. It allows these startups (often with little or no funding) to focus on building out their products and services, without having to worry about extortionate rental costs that might otherwise bury them.
I’m proud to say that in the nine months since we launched, the fintech startups at Lattice80 are really making a difference to the community. Several have received additional rounds funding, while some others have made or are in talks to make exits. Yet others have grown too big and moved out, but without our support they may have struggled. Soon, they too will be in a position to give back to the community.
Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam got behind our launch last year, attending our opening ceremony as the guest of honour, because he and the Singapore government saw value in what we are trying to do, helping the community in an area where it’s needed most: financial innovation. And precisely because we are a not-for-profit that straddles the public-private sector divide, we are seen as a neutral agent here to help.
Since our launch, we’ve had governments and ministers from around the world visit us, including British Minister Mark Field last month, who generously said we are “perfectly placed” to strengthen UK-Singapore fintech ties. As we look to expand to London, the British government (via its Financial Conduct Authority) is cheerleading us because of our track record in Singapore. They see the positive impact we’re having on the community here, and want to replicate that in London — especially at a time when Brexit is seeing many other firms leave the great city.
I’m working on other projects too. Apart from running Lattice80 and Marvelstone Group, our private investment firm that is sponsoring the fintech hub, with my husband Joe, I’m also building Miss Kaya, a wealth management platform for women. Because of the great environment here at Lattice80, I’m able to work with great partners and engage in a rich community that will hopefully be a factor in Miss Kaya’s long-term success. I hope the result will be a new generation of women in Asia and abroad who start to take back from control over the financial lives.
Giving is important, but it’s also important to identify an area where you can give most effectively. For us, that has been in fintech due to our backgrounds in the traditional finance and technology industries. Before doing this, we were running a hedge fund on a full-time basis, and Joe has been skilled at programming since a young age. While we are still involved in the traditional finance worlds, we are taking much more time to give back through initiatives like Lattice80. I hope you will think about giving back, too, in whatever area you can make the greatest contribution.
Gina Heng is the co-founder and CEO of Marvelstone Group, a private investment group that develops and invests in growing businesses. With finance as its core strength, it also makes diversified investments in technology, real estate, infrastructure, energy and media. Headquartered in Singapore, the Group believes in the growth of Asia and seeks to be a cornerstone investor to bring forth positive development and social impact to local communities. Heng is also co-founder of Lattice80. An entrepreneur at heart, she launched MissKaya.com — a women-focused financial services platform.