Global Opportunities

Fintech in Japan: a Booming Market for Exporters

The Japanese Fintech sector is positioning itself as one the most attractive export market in the world. While Japan is a late comer to this industry, all main domestic actors recognize its potential for fomenting innovation and growth at all levels of the economy and society.

Growing Fintech sector in Japan opens doors for Swiss SMEs
Growing Fintech sector in Japan opens doors for Swiss SMEs

The goal is to tackle the severe need for new tech solutions in key areas in the banking and insurance systems that are now outdated and non-competitive. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are a significant incentive to inject momentum. 

Several regulatory leaps were implemented in the past years to ease access of startups to funding, allowing Japan to catch up and to become a driving force behind global Fintech investment. Inside Japan, Fintech venture has spiked, reaching CHF 154 million in 2016, from an almost non-existent CHF 0.65 million in 2012, and revenues are expected to reach CHF 743 million by 2021.

Swiss Fintech Solutions: A Great Match for the Market Needs

Most importantly for Swiss companies, collaboration with innovative foreign companies is officially encouraged, and startups from all over the world are now targeting this market. They are either partnering up with tech companies active in this sector directly or via their subsidiaries (e.g. SoftBank Inc., Rakuten Inc., NEC, etc.) or providing directly services and products to large financial groups (e.g. MUFG, Mizuho Financial group, etc.) as well as other kinds of institutions that look for new technologies where incumbents are inefficient, costly or outdated.

Swiss exporters can rely on an excellent image thanks to the international reputation and know-how of the Swiss financial, insurance and banking systems, notably in terms of data security. Investing and asset management apps, personal financial management apps and online accounting services, crypto and IT security, data-driven insights, insurance, payment solutions, crowdfunding: those areas of strengths of Swiss Fintech exporters are a perfect match for the main sectors of need of the Japanese market.

Some of them can be qualified as dire. The entire financial sector must compensate the impact of a lagging ICT infrastructure that generate extra costs and curb efficiency. Banking institutions invested heavily at the end of the 1990s, right before the boom of the Internet, and have not done any significant updates ever since. The lack of IT literacy among upper management, and a shortage in qualified human resources, contribute to this state of affairs.

A Need to Convince and Educate Consumers

One of the main challenges faced by domestic and foreign Fintech companies alike is that the push for new technologies is not driven by the customers, but rather by the government and large financial actors. Whether for household keeping, personal investment and portfolio, transactions, and other aspects of the financial market, Japan stands out as a risk-averse, cash-heavy, bank-trusting culture. There is little obvious incentive for individuals and companies alike to embrace change on their own.

On the one hand, Japanese customers express consistently a high level of satisfaction with their banking institutions. On the other hand, they are concerned with information and data security, and lack the IT and financial literacy to understand what is missing and how much they could benefit from Fintech solutions (security, efficiency, cost reduction, easy-of-use, etc.). Such a 'cultural dampener', combined with a real need of educating individuals and corporations alike, is maybe the biggest challenge to a swift, vertical and horizontal adoption of Fintech solutions.

Exporters should factor in the fact that working with a local partner is a must to leverage local knowledge and insights, but also to be able to open doors. Language and business culture differences should not be underestimated. Partnerships with incumbents must be considered, not only in corporate circles, but also metropolitan, regional and prefectural governments. For Swiss exporters, it will be important to identify a handful of first clients willing to try a new technology, and then build a marketing campaign showcasing those case studies. This will demonstrate how useful and fitting the product is for the local market and actors.

For more information, please take a look at an overview on Japanese Fintech opportunities compiled by Swiss Business Hub Japan for Swiss companies:

Would you like to learn more?

Swiss Business Hub Japan and its Fintech experts will gladly assist you in opening doors. Sign-up for an individual and closed meeting with a SBH Japan trade officer during the next country consultation days or contact Jacqueline Tschumi, our consultant for Japan, to arrange a free consultation meeting. Contact her now

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