Participants at the recent Asia Finance Forum learned how digital technologies could bring new opportunities to provide financial services to vast underserved populations in Asia and the Pacific.
According to a recent press release, the Forum explained that people need to be well-prepared for this wave of emerging technologies.
At the same time, governments should also ensure appropriate policy efforts to counter potential risks.
Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Mr Bambang Susantono, said, “Technologies applied in the context of regulatory sandboxes for testing financial innovations, distributed ledger technology such as blockchain, establishing digital IDs through the use of biometrics, and so on have the potential to efficiently address long-standing obstacles and make real progress in expanding financial access.”
The Problem of Financial Exclusion
Around 1.7 billion people worldwide have no access to the formal banking and financial system, with around half of them in Asia and the Pacific.
This financial exclusion has a variety of causes that include the following:
- People living in remote locations
- Lack of required identification or collateral
- High fees
- Services that do not match banking needs
While financial technology (fintech) can provide solutions to such challenges, it also brings some risks.
Asian financial markets are increasingly interconnected both regionally and globally. Fast digital technologies could accelerate the contagion from a negative event in a single country.
As such, regulators and other financial authorities in Asia and the Pacific should cooperate and coordinate their oversight of fintech.
There is a need to proactively search for ways to ensure the new technologies are financially inclusive as well as ensure that information security, data, consumer protection, and financial stability are at the centre of preparation for digital financial services.
Support for Fintech Innovation
The Bank has been supporting innovations in fintech in Asia and the Pacific.
For instance, the Bank has helped roll out a cloud-based banking pilot in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines.
Furthermore, ADB is working on a digital access tool through the use of a biometric ID system in Papua New Guinea in order to provide access to financial services for people without formal documentation.
The Bank has also implemented a weather index-based crop insurance pilot project using mobile banking services for over 9,500 small rice farmers in Bangladesh.
500 participants from fintech innovators, technology companies, banks, regulators, as well as other experts gathered at the forum to share their expertise and lessons.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.
In 2018, it made commitments of new loans and grants amounting to US$ 21.6 billion. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members, 49 of which are from the region.
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) recently launched an e-Office application in over 500 CGST and customs offices across the country.
It will improve governance by automating the internal processes of handling files and decision-making within the government.
The e-Office application’s main module, eFile, enables on-line file related work, starting from receiving and marking dak, operating a file, preparing a draft letter, its approval/signature, and dispatching the signed letter.
Over 50,000 officers and staff are expected to use the application, making CBIC one of the largest government departments to automate its internal office procedures, a press release has stated.
The e-Office application was launched by the CBIC Chairman in the presence of over 800 senior officers of the agency and officials from the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
The launch of the e-Office marks a fundamental change in internal office procedures which, until now, has been based on the manual handling of files and paper movement, a press release stated.
It will complement its many other IT-led reforms that aim to enhance the ease of doing business for trade and industry.
With the development of the e-Office, CBIC hopes to leverage technology to provide ‘faceless, contactless, and paperless’ indirect tax administration.
NIC developed the application, which is supported by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG).
The use of e-Office by the rank and file of the CGST and Customs officers will lead to transparency, accountability, and a positive impact on the environment by cutting down the use of paper and printing.
It is of relevance amid the COVID-19 pandemic as it will help avoid contact with physical files, preventing the possible transmission of any virus.
Also, the e-Office ensures enhanced security as no file or document can be altered, destroyed, or backdated. An in-built monitoring mechanism would identify where the files are held up enabling quick disposal and faster decision-making.
The e-Office is a mission mode project (MMP) under the National e-Governance of India.
The CBIC has also been conducting pilot runs in five cities for a pan-India faceless tax assessment by the end of the year, for transparency and to curb corruption.
As per a media report, the programme was initiated as one of the tax reforms announced last year to limit ‘tax terrorism’ and harassment by tax officials.
The process is virtual and automated, the assessing office does not know or physically meet the person.
The system will be rolled out in a phase-wise manner; the first stage started at the beginning of the month.
The new faceless process will be applicable for primarily machines and electrical equipment imports.
The system will be expanded to include GST assessment and dispute resolutions. Faceless assessment enables an assessing officer, who is physically located in a particular jurisdiction, to assess a bill of entry made at a different customs station, the report explained.
Once implemented, CBIC will establish the National Assessment Commissionerates (NAC) to examine assessment practices for imported articles across customs stations.
As the digital drive gains steam during the pandemic, Thailand must capitalise by turning into a global tech hub, the President of the Digital Council of Thailand (DCT) stated.
Another expert stated that the world is likely to recover fast after the outbreak subsides, due to globalisation and the push for technological and digital development.
A new economy will emerge as people’s behaviour changes.
Thailand needs to prepare for transformation to the new economy, the expert, who is also Board Chairman of telecom operator True Corporation, stated.
Thailand must dare to change with the target of bringing the country to serve as the new technology hub of the world.
The DCT aims to push towards a new economy through five approaches.
First, new indicators for the country’s development must be sought. For example, the country’s digital infrastructure must not be gauged by the ratio of computers or mobile phones to the population.
There should be indicators of people’s capability in technological and digital access, such as English and Chinese proficiency, as new knowledge mostly comes from countries that use these languages.
Second, cooperation between state, private, academic and civic sectors must be created with a clear goal of pushing the country out of the middle-income trap.
In the past, they worked separately with different objectives.
Third, efforts must be made to create digital manpower through upskilling or reskilling of new graduates, currently numbering 500,000.
They must have new skills consistent with global demand.
Fourth, digitalisation must be underscored. Industries and start-ups must be alerted and prepared for fast change, particularly the adoption of digital technology within organisations.
Fifth, efforts must be made to turn Thailand into a trade and investment hub, drawing talent to the country from around the world.
A strategy must be laid out to enable Thailand to serve as the regional hub for investment.
To reach the goal, Thailand must have an ecosystem conducive to trade and investment, supported by technology and digital advancement.
And while talent from outside the country is needed, Thai universities should be encouraged to produce more technologically proficient graduates.
In October 2019, The Digital Council of Thailand (DCT) announced that it is working with the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) to turn the country into a digital innovation hub in ASEAN through the development of data centres and artificial intelligence (AI) capability.
The two organisations plan to drive digital transformation as well as reskill and upskill the digital workforce to be ready to cope with digital disruption and upcoming 5G adoption.
DCT’s vision is to improve the digital industry to be at the forefront of the digital economy and social development in the world.
To become a digital innovation hub, the country first needs to have a carrier-neutral data centre, Mr Suphachai said. It must include data residency for AI analytics capability.
Thailand aims to be an early adopter of 5G in Asia.
The upcoming 5G adoption will make more bandwidth available and accelerate the use of the Internet of Things and data analytics.
The Thai Chamber of Commerce, DCT and FTI have agreed to establish a data centre. The Thai Bankers’ Association will be invited to help create one for the benefit of the country.
There needs to be cooperation between the public and private sectors. For example, the government must provide incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to enhance their digital capability.
Despite wreaking havoc around the globe, COVID-19 has become a key accelerator for digital transformation among organisations who must ensure their work continues during this difficult time.
The Executive Director of a tech training and research organisation stated that this outbreak, unlike others in the past, has affected many countries at once and is expected to carry on for a long period. This will broaden digital adoption and accelerate digital transformation.
Soon it will become more natural for businesses and individuals to embrace digital technology, such as mobile payment, e-wallets, video conferencing and collaboration tools, he said. Many will also pivot towards 5G, high-speed networks, remote working and e-learning.
During the crisis, the biggest lesson in Thailand is “communication in crisis”, which needs to be faster and accurate, he said. The government’s message needs to be simple and reach as many citizens as possible, which helps ward off public confusion over disinformation shared online.
New technology continues to be developed to fight the spread of the coronavirus. In Thailand, it is in the early stages of developing apps that locate risky areas for Covid-19 and places where masks are sold.
The Founder and Chief Executive of an e-commerce platform stated that he launched the Thailand Covid-19 Digital Group (TCDG) as a social media community page for tech fellows willing to collaborate to combat the outbreak using technology.
There are nine subset groups under the TCDG to ensure work is executed speedily.
Many are working on a platform to track infected people or those requested to self-quarantine to allow health authorities easier monitoring.
Others are handling chatbots for Covid-19 consultation with the public, technology that can identify the location of drugstores, a tool that can gauge the volume of available masks and alcohol-based gel, as well as communication channels for ways to combat the disease, promoted by influencers.
The TCDG also recently developed a site, which shows the updated status of infections in Thailand and at-risk locations.
The Executive Director of the National Innovation Agency (NIA) stated that state agencies have worked together on a new app called DDC-Care that helps people self-assess whether they have contracted Covid-19 and tracks people who travelled from at-risk countries that require self-quarantine for 14 days.
The app was jointly developed by the NIA, the National Science and Technology Development Agency, the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, the Digital Government Agency, Thammasat University and the Digital Economy Promotion Agency.
The Department of Disease Control (DDC) can access the data and provide recommendations for at-risk people, including those who develop Covid-19 symptoms. The app can also show travel journeys for those determined to be infected.
Moreover, people who have close contact with people suspected of contracting the coronavirus can also download the app to self-report their health conditions over 14 days.
Telemedicine in motion
Yothi Medical Innovation District (YMID) under the NIA and the Technology and Innovation-Based Enterprise Development Fund have fostered a channel where tech start-ups can help patients avoid the hospital, talking to doctors online to help reduce the chance of contracting the coronavirus.
The service should help reduce the workload for physicians and nurses and make hospitals less crowded.
The YMID has a collection of 22 health tech start-ups that separately play a role in screening patients, giving basic medical advice, teleconsulting, conducting diagnoses, providing patient-care systems and arranging medical logistics.
For example, patients suffering from non-communicable diseases can seek teleconsultation with health experts, practice telemedicine in which medical practitioners can conduct remote diagnoses and use external laboratory tests for their health conditions.
AI can be used for diagnosis, while robots can be deployed to take care of patients in negative pressure rooms to ward off the chance of infection among medical personnel.
Meanwhile, more than 30 start-ups are working on technology that supports social distancing, such as video conferencing, data gathering and online learning.
A wake-up call
One expert stated that the outbreak is hampering traditional methods of operation, making digital approaches more important.
This is a wake-up call to organisations that focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience.
In businesses where remote working capabilities have not yet been established, they need to work out interim solutions such as instant messaging for general communication, file sharing/meeting solutions, and access to enterprise applications such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management, while reviewing all security arrangements to ensure secure access to applications and data.
Organisations also need to deal with staffing shortages to maintain basic operations. They need to conduct workforce planning to assess risks and address staffing gaps, such as identifying mission-critical service areas.
Businesses can explore how digital technologies can be used for work, such as AI technology for automating tasks, providing customer service and dealing with candidate screening.
Many organisations have already engaged with their customers via digital platforms, such as branded sites and apps, online marketplaces and social media, though offline face-to-face engagement still plays a vital role.
Enterprises should also enable customers to use self-service via online, mobile, social, kiosk and interactive voice response channels.
A Hong Kong-based insurance technology startup launched its first product recently, a line of medical plans for pets called Pawfect Care.
The company will introduce other products, including cyber insurance and medical coverage for humans, all available completely online, over the next 12 months.
The firm’s Co-Founder and CEO stated that it took the company two years to launch Pawfect Care because of the stringent regulatory approval process required to get an insurance license in Hong Kong.
The first two virtual insurance licenses issued by Hong Kong’s Insurance Authority went to companies owned by existing insurance providers, to encourage more legacy players to go digital.
The company was the first independent insurance company to start online to be granted a license. It will gradually launch cyber and human medical insurance plans over the next year.
The CEO stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a “paradigm shift,” because face-to-face activities have declined dramatically, and the Insurance Authority is now issuing new virtual insurance licenses and allowing more products to be sold online.
The company decided to start with pet insurance because the company estimates that even though there are about half a million pet dogs and cats in Hong Kong, only about 3% of them have medical insurance despite the high cost of veterinary care.
The firm lets customers buy and manage policies and file claims through a mobile app. It says that about 90% of approved claims will be paid within two working days.
In response to the pandemic, Pawfect Care’s pet insurance includes coverage of medical costs related to COVID-19. The company emphasizes that there have only been a few known cases of pets testing positive for the virus so far and no evidence of them acting as carriers so far, but added the coverage for customers’ peace of mind.
According to another article, there many opportunities for insurers to grow their business by embracing insurtech and extending coverage to the Greater Bay Area (GBA), according to leading industry players, experts and regulators at the Asian Insurance Forum hosted by the Insurance Authority (IA) on 10 December 2019.
In her opening keynote address, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, and the forum’s officiating guest, said GBA development and the Belt and Road Initiative present huge potential to the insurance sector.
Since the announcement of the Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (ODP) in February 2019 and the third plenary meeting of the Leading Group for the Development of GBA on November, 16 new policy measures to strength Hong Kong’s status as a global risk management centre have been formulated
Among other things, Hong Kong can become the risk management centre for state-owned enterprises investing in major Belt and Road projects and looking to expand their market presence.
The CE also noted that fintech is rapidly changing the landscape of the insurance industry; and assured Hong Kong is on its way to realising the vast opportunities presented by fintech.
As a regulator, Hong Kong does see insurtech as a positive disruption to the market and acknowledges its role in fostering its adoption to enhance policyholder protection, and to bring insurance to under-served segments of the population, the Chairman of the IA stated.
As part of the government-led drive to foster fintech development, the IA has so far issued virtual insurer licenses under the Fast Track scheme to one life insurer and one general insurer, both of which are now operational. The Insurtech Sandbox provides a controlled environment for insurers to test innovative solutions using real market data, he said, adding that four out of the six approved applications had been rolled out.
Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society and one of China’s biggest technology giant recently announced plans to provide Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions and 5G technology to Siriraj Public Hospital in the fight against COVID-19.
The AI technology can help doctors analyse computed tomography (CT) quantification results of infection cases with high accuracy, according to the Dean at the Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital from Mahidol University.
It can greatly help reduce the workload of Thai medical personnel working with patients contracted with COVID-19.
The 5G network can assist COVID-19 treatment hospitals to relieve network congestion and guarantee the quality of medical care service, the CEO of the tech firm’s Thailand stated.
The AI-assisted solution, based on the firm’s cloud technology, was co-developed by the firm and HY Medical, a Chinese enterprise that focuses on AI medical industry, using medical imaging through artificial intelligence.
The AI technology leverages the computer vision and medical image analysis to segment multiple pulmonary ground-glass opacities (GGOs) and lung consolidation and makes quantitative evaluations through CTs of patients’ lungs.
At least 20 hospitals in China have adopted the technology to handle COVID-19 cases.
Thailand’s Digital Economy and Society stated at a press conference that the Thai government have always attached great importance in enhancing the performance of Thai medical staff by implementing integrated digital technologies using 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and cloud computing.
Thailand has so far reported 30 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number to 2,643 with two new deaths, bringing the death toll to 43.
Tech deployed to help fight COVID-19
OpenGov Asia earlier reported that Mor Chana, a mobile app, has been launched in Thailand. The mobile app is the outcome of the collaboration between multiple private and state organisations.
It serves as a tool to help people assess their coronavirus infection risk, assist health authorities in tracking users in close contact with infected people and prevent transmission among healthcare workers.
Anuchit Anuchitanukul, from the app development team, said, “It took two weeks to develop the app with collaboration from volunteers, citizens and the private and public sectors, all who wish to support physicians and medical teams who serve as the front-line warriors in the fight against COVID-19.”
The app aids in identifying individuals who could have been exposed to virus patients using GPS and Bluetooth technology to track their location.
With the app, health authorities would be able to identify individuals who have been in close contact with infected people.
This could also help prevent medical practitioners from contracting the disease.
The Department of Disease Control (DDC) will use artificial intelligence (AI) systems to analyse data collected from the app to aid in epidemiological studies.
Data from the app will be processed by the DDC iLAB analytic platform, which combines epidemiology analysis and AI technology to identify users who may be in proximity to infected people, said Sutthipong Phanthanalai, who developed DDC iLAB.
The app is also useful to the population large. General app users who are not medical professionals can use the app to locate the risk areas and adjust their travel plans accordingly.
“This contact tracing approach will play a significant role in containing the spread of COVID-19,” Digital Economy and Society Minister, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, said. “It needs citizens to contribute to society by downloading it to help stop the viral spread and mitigate wider social and economic impacts.”
With the largest particle accelerator in the southern hemisphere, Australia could hold the key to fast-tracking the development of a vaccine for coronavirus.
Called Synchrotron, the particle accelerator allows researchers to see the structure of key proteins in a virus and how they interact with other molecules. This ability will be extremely advantageous in the development of a vaccine or treatment regimen.
I get a sound understanding of the positions of critical components of these proteins, companies can develop drugs that bind to these proteins and potentially prevent or treat disease.
“You need to know what the protein looks like so you can design a drug to attach to it,” Synchrotron director Professor Andrew Peele said. “It’s like designing a key for a lock, you need to know the dimensions of the keyhole.”
While many proteins in the virus have already been mapped, researchers from Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation are constructing molecular structures of COVID-19 proteins. Once established, the clear 3D image will be made available to other coronavirus researchers.
In the meantime, the British Government aims to have millions of rapid detection coronavirus tests available in pharmacies and online stores. These tests can detect coronavirus antibodies from a self-administered finger prick.
Researchers at a leading university are completing work on a new test that can detect whether someone has already beaten the virus.
While the test does not detect whether someone is currently infected with the virus, it can determine if a person has already had the virus and recovered.
Initially, the tests will be reserved for hospital patients, health care staff and other essential workers, but will eventually be available for the general public to test themselves.
The tests are aimed at detecting which people have already had coronavirus and recovered from it so that they can return to work and go back to living their lives.
Japan is also driving efforts to find drugs that could cure COVID-19 patients from unlikely players.
Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, had enlisted Fujifilm, a camera and imaging company, to help fight COVID-19.
Kato hopes to use an existing drug could be used to treat patients. One candidate was an anti-influenza drug, which had been developed decades earlier by the Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical.
Working incessantly, the team drew up contingency plans for ramping up production of the drug, coordinated with clinical researchers throughout Japan and aided in getting the drug to hospitals where its use had been approved by the government as an emergency measure to treat dozens of COVID-19 patients.
While there is not yet any detailed data supporting the drug’s effectiveness as a COVID-19 treatment, there are some reasons for optimism. At least one of the clinical trials will conclude at the end of June and will provide much-needed data.
While most countries have imposed versions of a lockdown, they are also exploring every avenue that could lead to a diagnostic, treatment and/or vaccine.
Countries across the world are working overtime to get solutions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic deploying technology and tool as best they can.
The government of Singapore has awarded $10.8 million to managing a legal technology research programme, which aims to digitise various laws, rules and agreements in the country.
The grant was awarded to the Singapore Management University’s (SMU’s) School of Law. It will be used to establish a Centre for Computational Law (CCL). The grant has been provided by the National Research Foundation Singapore, a government department which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office.
Research Programme to Develop Smart Contract Programming Language
The SMU stated that it’s a five-year research program, which will aim to create “smart” contracts and “smart” statutes. The initiative will begin with the design and development of a domain-specific, high-level computer programming language that will be used to code laws, rules and contracts.
The research programme will start with the design and implementation of a domain-specific programming language (DSL) that allows for laws, rules and agreements to be expressed in code.
The announcement of the initiative has come following the launch of The Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & The Law by the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law).
Steps towards the Digitalisation of the Legal Industry
Mr George Loh, Director (Services and Digital Economy), National Research Foundation Singapore, said, “Digitalisation is disrupting and transforming business models and functions across all industries. We are confident that the successful applications of digital technology such as Artificial Intelligence in other business sectors can be replicated in the legal profession to transform the work of paralegals, lawyers, litigators and legal researchers.”
Mr George Loh added that “This new research programme on computational law allows Singapore to build thought leadership and digital expertise in this nascent field, and bring law firms along in the digitalisation journey to incorporate legal technology into their operations.”
The CCL will be led by Dr. Lim How Khang, who is the SMU Assistant Professor of Law and Information Systems (Practice). Dr. Khang will work cooperatively with the SMU School of Information Systems. Alexis Chun and Wong Meng Weng, who are the co-founders of Legalese, a local legaltech firm, have joined the university and program as principal research fellow and industry director, respectively.
CCLAW will be operational from April 2020. Besides focusing on computational law research, it will also conduct research on the application of cutting-edge computational technology to legal, regulatory, compliance and governance problems. In doing so, the Centre will collaborate with research centres and institutional partners, as well as the technology industry and legal professions around the world.
Research will support Singapore’s goal to become a key player in the global legaltech industry
Assistant Professor Lim How Khang said, “This is definitely an exciting time to be researching legal and regulatory-compliance technology. The true potential for such technologies, and for understanding how they integrate practically with ongoing developments in AI and blockchain, is enormous.”
“The legal sector is beginning to accelerate its push into digital transformation, and is now in a position to benefit from the development of technologies adapted for legal services” added Assistant Professor Lim How Khang.