Travel Notes – SG & HK May-June 2015

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I visit Singapore (SG) and Hong Kong (HK) 4 times per year. South East Asia (SEA) and China are so vibrant with opportunities in the fintech space these days it is a mistake eluding the region entirely. SG and HK are drastically different from one another.  Here are some preliminary thoughts after my last visit to both cities.

– The Switzerland of SEA. An apt description given the city experiences only two seasons year round, hot & humid and hotter & more humid.
– Super efficient city state where the government, government entities, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) approach all endeavors with care and long term planning.
– Major wealth center – private banking center of Asia, many ultra high net worth individuals, family offices…
– Recent push to become a leading global smart city. This means SG wants to become a leading fintech hub amongst many other things.
– Whereas SG is not known historically for its entrepreneurial culture, many initiatives underway are about to change this paradigm in a major way: Accelerators, incubators, partnerships with the likes of Google, growth of the startup scene across several verticals amongst which Fintech.
– Potential to be the gateway for SEA – a major selling point in my opinion.
– Many Western technology companies establishing themselves in SG.
– Potential to be a leading center for such important themes as financial inclusion, crypto, entrepreneurship, insurance.
– Very internationally minded community.
– Food obsessed culture.
– Clean air, clean urban planning, clean streets, clean cabs.
– Talking about cabs, all speak perfect english, are very well educated, will regale you with their views on the economy, SG’s standing in the world, how younger generations are not as hard working as older generations, what it will take to remain successful as a city state, will gladly take MasterCard cards but not accept Visa (for some obscure commercial dispute with local banks)
– Soon to become a country where the need for cash will be eliminated
– A growing French community. By some counts over 25,000 French citizens live in SG. Could not resist sharing this factoid.

– The New York on 100x steroids of Northern Asia. Milder climate than SG but still hot and humid prevail
– Industrious and sometimes wild west energy about a city that is all angles. The local government seems to have a more laissez-faire attitude to planning – at least when compared with SG. The Chinese government views on where HK will go is probably more important and as expected rather inscrutable.
– Major wealth center with a multitude of family offices and family conglomerates.
– Recent push to become a leading fintech hub.
– Definitely an entrepreneurial city
– Many Western enterprises choose HK as their Asian HQ.
– Used to be the gateway to China, but will this status last and will HK retain its special standing remains to be seen. Anyone that can read the tea leaves with the central govt in China please contact me! Maybe HK will turn into one of the leading cities within its region in China?
– Potential to remain a leading center for international investors and China focused companies to meet and cooperate?
– Very internationally minded community. Yet, mainland China demographic pressure is clearly pushing HK not being more and more a Chinese city.
– Food obsessed culture
– Not such clean air, crazy skyscraper-ish super-urban sprawl. Gritty streets, gritty cabs.
– Talking about cabs, very few speak english, most cab trips will end up into a deaf mute match between cabbie and customer (at least my experience) unless said customer speaks Chinese I guess. No cab accepts credit cards, only cash.
– Cash seems so central to many small transactions I have a hard time seeing it eliminated anytime soon. Maybe I am wrong?
– A growing French community. By some accounts over 30,000 French citizens live in HK.

I like the urban feel HK delivers, its wild energy.
I like the clarity of mind SG brings.
I am fascinated by the separate paths each city has taken towards their shared goals of being a dominant fintech hub.

Will both be successful? Will one take ascendence over the other? Share your thoughts please.


Pascal Bouvier

Life and work experiences have given Pascal an unmatched vantage point, seeing things as both venture capitalist and aspiring entrepreneur. He currently is a Venture Partner with Santander Innoventures – Santander Group’s Global Fintech fund.

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