Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Be wary of hype on fintech: Ravi Menon

‘RECKONING’:The Singaporean central bank head identified peer-to-peer lending as an area of concern, saying such platforms’ lending decisions could be unsound

Bloomberg

Be selective.

That is the message Monetary Authority of Singapore Managing Director Ravi Menon has for pundits and investors trying to navigate the wave of technology euphoria sweeping the financial services industry.

While technological innovations such as blockchain and the area of big data analytics can result in powerful applications, people should be wary of some peer-to-peer lending platforms and the rapidly rising values of cryptocurrencies, Menon said in an interview with Bloomberg News late last month.

“I do see some collapse of the bubble in the fintech space,” Menon said.

“Some business models, some applications of technology are clearly overstretched,” he said, citing some similarities with the dotcom boom at the turn of the century.

That bubble popped in the early 2000s, erasing billions of US dollars in market value from technology stocks.

“At some point in the current euphoria about fintech, there will be some reckoning of that sort, but I do hope that it does not sweep away everything as it did in 2001, sweep away the good as well as the hype,” Menon said.

Menon spoke from a unique vantage point, as head of a central bank that has positioned itself as a champion of fintech, to help bolster Singapore’s status as a global financial hub.

The regulator organizes the city’s FinTech Festival, a glitzy networking event that next week will link banking executives with start-ups and feature speeches from Menon and former Citigroup Inc CEO Vikram Pandit.

Last year’s conference drew more than 13,000 attendants.

One potential area of concern for Menon is some examples of peer-to-peer lending, in which platforms connect investors with borrowers, and make money from charging both parties a fee.

Such platforms have mushroomed from Asia to the Americas in recent years, and have been hailed for enabling those with poor access to bank loans to get financing from willing investors.

Still, high-profile cases of malfeasance, such as Ezubo (e-租寶) — dubbed China’s biggest Ponzi scheme — have brought to light instances of how they can be used to defraud investors.

In China, almost 4,000 peer-to-peer lending platforms have closed or run into difficulties since 2011, according to Yingcan Group (盈燦), which tracks the data.

Some platforms use “really deep technology, solid analytics,” whereas others “find simple correlations that seem robust and they make lending decisions based on them,” Menon said. “So far it has been good, but when the credit cycle turns, will those lending decisions remain sound? We don’t know.”

Another area of concern is in the use of big data, where increasing use of mobile phones, social media and the Internet has given companies unprecedented access to customer data.

“It can be misused, and there could be failures arising out of such misuse,” Menon said, without citing any specific examples. “But it is also being used for a lot of very powerful applications, such as to get consumer insights or to get better risk surveillance for instance.”

While voicing some caution on the skyrocketing value of bitcoin, Menon is a proponent of the cryptocurrency’s underlying distributed ledger technology, which is protected by “powerful” encryption and could have some “transformational” real-world applications, he said.

The central bank has set aside about US$165 million for a five-year plan to nurture fintech and is spearheading Project Ubin, a blockchain-based project to facilitate cross-border payments.

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