By Narendra Aggarwal
THE inaugural Point Zero Forum – an innovative joint Swiss-Singapore initiative, held in Zurich in June drew over 1,000 senior global players from the exciting new world of fintech for in-person-only sessions spread over 3 days.
Organised by the Swiss Secretariat for International Finance (SIF) and Elevandi – a non-profit organisation set up by Singapore’s central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) – the forum drew, among others, numerous founders, investors and policymakers, as well as featured more than 200 speakers from Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the United States, and the Middle East and North African region (MENA).
The Point Zero Forum aims to provide an annual platform for global leaders across the public and private sectors to drive the meaningful exchange of ideas and knowledge to advance fintech and Web3 in the digital economy, according to the 2 organisers.
Global financial centres like Singapore and Switzerland need to work together to break new ground in innovation and drive sustainable financial technology amid the partnering of industry players and regulators to use fintech to improve lives, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a video recording aired at the Forum.
Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, warned that the global fintech community faces many headwinds, including tougher access to funding, rising interest rates and falling valuation.
Still, the potential of fintech remains tremendous. The sector’s growth has remained strong despite the Covid pandemic with more than US$210 billion invested in it last year, said Heng.
He had tested positive for Covid-19 a few days earlier while in Germany during his European engagements and was thus unable to attend the inaugural financial technology conference Point Zero Forum.
In the forum held from Jun 21 to 23, there were impactful discussions among senior leaders from governments and businesses across 31 plenary sessions, 9 regulatory roundtables, and 13 workshops and think-tank discussions.
Opportunities and challenges
Nine innovation tours were also held across Zug and Zurich to showcase the latest developments in Web3 and sustainable finance. In addition, the Forum facilitated more than 300 meetings between the high profile audience, say SIF and Elevandi.
Elevandi’s chairman Sopnendu Mohanty – who is MAS’ chief fintech officer, says: “The inaugural Point Zero Forum coincided with the current crypto meltdown and the climate imperative. Industry leaders representing all parts of the ecosystem, from entrepreneurs, policymakers to investors, reflected on the urgent need to rethink the path forward and openly discussed opportunities and challenges.”
“This ranged from compliance to regulation and a greater focus on real economy issues and sustainable innovation. We look forward to bringing back the Forum with an even more significant impact next year,” he adds.
State Secretary, Switzerland’s State Secretariat for International Finance, Daniela Stoffel says, “The conference allowed for an enriching personal exchange with entrepreneurs and authorities in a very short time and in an uncomplicated manner. I am impressed by the innovative power and the vibrancy of the fintech industry and its drivers.”
The Point Zero Forum started with an Investor Summit by Elevandi Connects, which was a closed door briefing for investors on Jun 21. The opening remarks were made by Singapore’s Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and a Board member of MAS, Alvin Tan.
It was followed by an Investor Roundtable on the Future of the Token Economy and Sustainable Finance. Attendees also had the opportunity to attend various innovation tours which were scheduled throughout the day to uncover the latest developments in Web 3.0, embedded finance, and sustainable finance. These tours were curated by research centres, incubators and accelerators around Zug and Zurich.
On the second day of the forum the spotlight was on the future of financial services. There were 4 special sessions under the leadership series starting with Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat’s talk on Driving FinTech Through Three Double Helixes.
In the second session, general manager, Bank for International Settlements; , Agustín Carstens, managing director, Monetary Authority of Singapore; Ravi Menon and chairman of the Governing Board, Swiss National Bank, Thomas J Jordan came together to discuss the Future of Financial Services from the Policy Makers’ Perspective.
Senior vice-president for Global Strategic Partnerships and Investments, Ant Group; Douglas Lehman Feagin , group chief information and digital officer, Zurich Insurance Company; Ericson Chan, chairwoman, Fnality International; Olga Zoutendijk and group chief executive officer, UBS Group AG, Ralph AJG Hamers shared insights in the third session at a Board Room Talk on The Future of Financial Services.
The day’s activities closed with a talk by Switzerland’s Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer, the Swiss Finance Minister, on Where FinTech Meets Impact: Tokenisation and Sustainable Finance.
Six plenary sessions focused on the tokenisation market opportunity, covering topics from Crypto: Current and Future Economy to the Building Blocks for the Token Economy and What’s Next for Stablecoins. Leading experts from the public and private sectors shared their insights on crypto regulations, digital assets, decentralised finance and central bank digital currency in a series of closed-door roundtables.
On the third day, there were 7 plenary sessions focusing on the sustainable finance opportunity, covering topics such as The ESG Market Opportunity: Accessing Credible Data, Board Room Talk: The Climate Imperative and Innovative Finance for Conservation. At closed-door roundtables participants from the public and private sectors came together for dialogues in Shared Responsibility: The Future of Green Financing and Unlocking ESG Data: The Role of Public-Private Digital Partnership.
The key takeaways from the Point Zero Forum were in the areas of Web3/tokenisation and sustainable finance. With regard to Web3/tokenisation, the organisers of the meeting say that the current market conditions, combined with likely increased regulation, create increasingly challenging times for Web3 players. However, this also represents an opportunity to build innovative companies that focus on utility in the real economy, and not speculation, they add.
“As a function of transitory and persistent shocks, there is significant inflationary pressure and central banks are taking forceful actions to prevent the price/wage spiral. Despite tightening monetary policy, inflation is not expected to come down to levels we have seen in the past. However, technology can be used to increase efficiencies and reduce costs,” say the forum’s organisers.
As trust as a key theme came up frequently – besides compliance basics (know your customer and anti-money laundering), there is a need for crypto players to create and sustain trust across all participants – users, regulators, policymakers and traditional players, they add.
Elevandi and SIF say that decentralised finance (DeFi) use cases span from custody to tokenisation of securities, and it is a space where traditional financial institutions are actively taking part, working with regulators to make the activities safer.
“Innovation and use cases will continue, but we will also see checks and balances created to ensure safety similar to traditional finance (eg, regulatory capital/liquidity requirements),” they add.
The space is fast maturing as Web3 operators are accepting regulatory oversight particularly when it comes to retail and institutional client protection. DeFi trading infrastructure proved its robustness during the bear market and is providing features similar to traditional trading. As the market matures, traditional and Web3 investors are both actively looking at investing in the opportunity – both central and peripheral.
In the area of sustainable finance, reversing the impact of fossil fuel usage over the past years requires concerted actions by the public and private sectors. Private sector capital is essential to finance the transition to net zero; however, asset managers (with typically the highest assets under management) have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to appropriately manage risk and returns, say the forum organisers.
Therefore, current climate investment opportunities need to be materially de-risked for the private sector investors to play a substantial role in the transition.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is top in the minds of corporate leaders, regulators, policymakers and activists. However, global alignment is required on (a) what data to focus on, (b) how to access the data, and (c) how to incorporate the data in decision making. Having data that is transparent, accessible and credible is essential in ensuring that ESG goals are accurately assessed and met, say SIF and Elevandi.
There is a clear trend of using finance and technology (including Web3) to meet sustainability goals, particularly in conservation finance. Activists are working in close concert with investors, financiers and technologists to scale existing and new tools and technologies to address climate change, they add.
The organisers say that the following announcements around technology and innovation were made at the forum:
- Global financial innovator, Partior, accelerates international growth with full leadership team and new India R&D centre;
- Special chapter of Bank for International Settlements annual economic report;
- Crypto.com receives in-principle approval from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Elevandi says that to continue the progress made at the Forum, it will shortly publish statistics that frame market opportunities across Web3 and sustainable finance and the key outcomes to be achieved by the forum’s attendees. These insights will be supplemented by independent expert opinions from senior thought leaders who attended the forum.
The forum’s Swiss partner, the State Secretariat for International Finance represents Switzerland’s interests in financial, monetary and tax matters not only vis-a-vis partner countries, but also in the competent international bodies.
It says that it is committed to good framework conditions to ensure that Switzerland can have an innovative, interconnected and sustainable financial centre and business location that is among the world leaders.
The State Secretariat is responsible for implementing the financial market policy of the Swiss Government.
Organiser Elevandi is set up by MAS to foster an open dialogue between the public and private sectors to advance fintech in the digital economy.
It works closely with governments, founders, investors and corporate leaders to drive collaboration, education and new sources of value at the industry and national levels.
It says that its initiatives have brought together over 300,000 people since 2016 to drive the growth of fintech through events, closed door roundtables, investor programmes, educational initiatives and research.
Its flagship product is the Singapore FinTech Festival, alongside fast rising platforms, including the World FinTech Festival and the Point Zero Forum.