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SFF kicked off with a bang this year that I thought was audibly louder since combining forces with SWITCH.

There was much energy and excitement, especially on the exhibition floor where there were 1,000 exhibitors and 41 international pavilions, and a constant stream of talks and panels from more than 400 speakers across nine stages. It was a packed agenda that spoiled attendees for choice.

Here are my takeaways and highlights from SFF:

AI is just a means to an end

In a bid to become a “global AI powerhouse” Singapore launched a National AI Strategy with the goal to deploy technology on a national scale by 2030 starting with five projects. These projects will be in healthcare, transport and logistics, smart cities and estates, education, as well as safety and security. In an interview with CNA, Oracle said that for AI to really take off beyond the proof-of-concept stage in banking, a sound data strategy with a clear view on target outcomes is critical.

Collectives are the spirit of the ecosystem

No one can go it alone, much less in an industry that is with goals like driving financial inclusion and improving people’s lives. The importance of collaboration among regulators, private sector, industry associations and academia repeatedly came up in the panels.

A lot of lip service has been paid to collaboration, but the proof is in demonstration. The API Exchange (APIX) by ASEAN Financial Innovation Network (AFIN) announced that it built a digital bank in just five days by bringing together 10 fintech APIs on its platform. Clearly much is achievable when industry participants come together.

Crowdsourcing platforms like IMDA’s open innovation platform (OIP) seek to involve players across whole industry sectors, so to that end, it is exciting that the Investment Management Association of Singapore’s (IMAS) digital accelerator programme (DAP) is participating in the OIP as the sector lead trade association for asset management. Together with Allianz Global Investors, Aberdeen Standard Investments, DWS Investments, Eastspring Investments, Nikko Asset Management, UOB Asset Management, Schroder Investment Management and FIL Investment Management, IMAS will champion 10 problem statements through the DAP. With up to $50,000 per problem statement to be won, it’s a great time to be a fintech with a cutting-edge solution to showcase.  

Compliance is a state of mind

With new frontiers come greater risk exposure. While financial crime isn’t new, financial bad-faith actors are increasingly sophisticated in their exploitation of technology to facilitate money laundering.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that every year, US$2.4 trillion from activities such as forced prostitution, terrorism, and drug trafficking, are laundered through the world’s financial markets and banking systems.

Financial institutions and fintechs can’t confidently focus on scaling and growing the business if they don’t have the right solutions in place to combat fraud-fighting.

Technology alone will not solve regulatory compliance challenges. At an event targeted at startups, Accuity reminded founders to take a more proactive stance on compliance by having risk principles woven into the fabric of the organisation.

Festival = fun

It was easy to spot crowd favourites on the exhibition floor. Razer definitely raised the bar – I think this was the first time I saw a queue for a booth at an industry conference. Companies have an opportunity to deliver a unique conference experience for their audience.

SFF sprawled across six large halls (I racked up 34,000 steps during my three days there), and even though the conference organizers did a great job of mapping out amenities, I noticed that booth exhibitors who adopted a hospitality approach attracted more visitors. Coffee machines and snacks lent a nice touch and demonstrated customer-centricity.

Singapore is now positioned as the global leader in fintech and is actively addressing the myriad issues that swirl around the developments. No doubt 2020 will see an even better – and if physically possible – even bigger festival. I for one will be tracking the industry through the year with and for our clients and will be searching for a pair of the world’s best long-distance walking shoes along the way.

Yasmin Ramle is the head of Cognito's Singapore office