Alisher Tashpulatov, what was the reason to choose Singapore for the regional headquarters and primary point of expansion in the Asia Pacific region?
Singapore is a wonderful place. The country has been a key business hub in the region for decades, emerging as a powerhouse economy under the wise leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. While other hubs in the region have seen a longer period of economic growth, Singapore’s per-capita GDP has emerged as one of the region’s leaders driven by its openness to international business and support for various forms of innovation.
I believe that the Singaporean and Swiss business environment and orientation share many characteristics, including a respect of diverse cultures and a work ethic that values merit, excellence, self-reliance, and hard work.
The two countries share a great rapport, and it is almost intuitive for us as a Swiss business to establish ourselves in a like-minded and innovative country like Singapore.
Having spent years conquering new frontiers and climbing new peaks within the Swiss market, I am now happy to make a transition into a new, yet familiar, land.
What other jurisdictions in the region are of interest in the near term? Are there plans to open additional offices in Asia?
I think that the region as a whole carries a lot of potential. Our current activities in Singapore are focussed on the areas of our business that do not require regulatory supervision, and we plan to launch best-fit models of our offering in other Asian business hubs in the near future.
Our research in various markets for receptiveness to blockchain technology and digital assets, as well as their status as financial services hubs that house banks, asset managers, family offices, and other professional investment services, identified Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan as jurisdictions that we will focus on in the short and mid-term.
While we have had the good fortune to participate in fintech events across Asia, including as a Swiss Venture Leader winner during the Hong Kong FinTech Week, our experience in Asia over the last couple of years has been supported very well by the activities in Singapore for fintech. MAS, with the Singapore FinTech Festival, and Switzerland Global Enterprise, who host a Swiss Pavilion there each November, provide this qualitative, consistent platform of excellence.
The opportunity to meet fintech participants from all over Asia there has helped us grow our contacts in the region.
Are there differences between the blockchain and digital assets sector in Europe and Asia?
Although we live in a more globalised world than ever before, and the proliferation of technology and innovation in blockchain and digital assets seems to traverse cultural barriers more seamlessly than most other sectors. That said, I still see a handful of differences between the ways our space is developing in Europe versus how it is developing in Asia. These differences arise because of Asia’s pole position with regards to emerging technologies, and the differences across Asian markets in regulatory oversight and acceptance of digital assets. Unlike Europe, where businesses focus on integrating blockchain and digital assets as investment tools, the level of innovation and hands-on applications in Asia are nonpareil on a global level.
Culturally, I think the ease of conducting international business in Asia is greater than ever before. I find conversations among people in this region that are interested in learning about digital assets are just as constructive as they are back home. I also believe that a new market entrant has a duty to adapt to and respect cultural values in the region, and I have thus made it my aim to hire colleagues that embody the multitude of cultures and nationalities that call Asia home. I for one have also been working on my Singlish and am planning to experience more of the beautiful sights and experiences this region has to offer as soon as the opportunity permits.
As with any business, new realities have come about due to COVID-19. How has your approach changed due to the pandemic, and what do you see in the present and future that may affect businesses like yours?
As we were making plans for our expansion earlier this year, we made an allowance for force-majeure scenarios. As I watched the pandemic unfold from an early stage, and in close geographical proximity to its origin, I was aware of the risks it may pose to conducting business in the near term. Nonetheless, I was not deterred by the outbreak, and I put my trust in Singapore to take effective measures for the people and businesses in this country. It would have been naïve to assume that this cataclysm would not have an impact on how we move ahead with our business, but I was pleased to see that the country’s services remained operational and we were able to register our business and proceed largely according to plan, even while most of this work was done from home.
Today, I am pleased to say that my colleagues and I are able to come to the office on a daily basis, and the adjustment to the new normal has been seamless. As we continue to emerge from this situation as a society, I look forward to conducting more in-person meetings and attending industry events again, but the advantage of working in a technologically focused industry is that all of our work in Asia could be done online starting from day one.
What key developments do you see in the blockchain and digital asset space in Asia over the coming years?
I think the region provides advantages due to its high degree of technological expertise and adoption of solutions and products that utilise blockchain and digital assets more efficiently than elsewhere.
With the topic of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) present in several major jurisdictions, and a sophisticated financial technology infrastructure throughout the region, I believe that the first true CBDC to be adopted by a user base of over 100 million people take place in an Asian market.
Additionally, current estimates place over half of the traded crypto asset volumes in Asia, and I do not see this trend slowing down. While adoption increases globally, I see that this rate of crypto asset volumes traded in Asia positions this region to eclipse the global average, and with countries like India moving ahead with more favourable regulation of crypto asset trading, I believe that this metric will continue to improve.
From an institutional standpoint, I monitor developments in digital assets made by large financial services players, and the adoption of digital assets and blockchain technology among financial institutions in the region is progressing at a steady pace. It is important to note that besides traditional institutions, a multitude of challenger banks are emerging in jurisdictions like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand, with blockchain-related offerings that are growing in appeal among a young, tech-oriented customer base.
This interview was conducted by Yara Ainsworth, Head of Marketing and Communications at Crypto Finance AG, and was first published on the website of Crypto Finance AG.