Big Banks learn to pivot like startups at Citi Mobile Challenge

citi bank final
Kevin McSpadden

Silicon Valley startup motionQR received a positive response as it used the event to research a potential Asian deployment

As we have written before, fintech startups are forcing banks to adapt to a rapidly-changing technological reality. Whether it is mobile payments, a plucky company with a fantastic security product, or a quality wealth management API, startups are far more nimble than big banks. But they lack the scale of an institution like Citi Bank.

Which is why 15 of the top 70 finalists from a pool of 1,900 companies and 376 cities pitched today in Singapore at the APAC Citi Mobile Challenge. This event came after a similar one on Tuesday in Bengaluru (India), and it will now go to Hong Kong and Sydney.

The overall winner will be announced after the final stop in Hong Kong.

“It’s really a pivot that banks need to go through quickly to transform the experiences. It requires internal disruption as much as external disruption. We are seeing organisations really need to find ways to increase agility,” said Andrew Taggart, Partner at PwC, a sponsor of the event.

The companies attending the event were quality startups, but also relatively well-known within the fintech world. The list of companies pitched at the event included Cellum, Funding Societies, Dream Catcher (working for BridgeAsia Group), Moneythor, Koolla, savinsure, QR*cool (part of Qrinno), Xfers, LiquidPay, CashTrack, CitiPays, Project K, OnePay, motionQR and Yodlee.

“[Citi] has done a good job in picking the best [companies] but there is not much coming up in stealth mode,” Markus Gnirck, Co-founder of Startupbootcamp FinTech, told e27.

“The big question is, does the winner actually get a contract? Being close is good, but the true value is revenue.” He added, “I think the biggest benefit of today was having the local Citi employees in attendance to learn about fintech.”

Also Read: Meet the 4 new fintech startups joining PayPal India’s incubator

One of more well-received companies was Silicon Valley-based motionQR, which develops motion-based QR codes to offer a highly-secure identification verification service.

“We came here because [our product] has a huge potential to be deployed in this region…we are in the starting phase, having been up and running for a year. We are pitching to banks or even governments — places that can benefit from secure ID, venue access and ticketing,” Dániel Kaderják, Business Development Director of motionQR, told e27.

Kaderják explained the company filed a small description and video. The process then continued with questions about preparations and the company profile.

Big Banks and the eye towards fintech

Major financial institutions, DBS being Singapore’s most obvious case, are putting a lot of energy, marketing and resources into developing closer ties with fintech startups.

“Bringing Citi Mobile Challenge to the Asia Pacific and holding a Demo Day event in Singapore cements our ambition to push the boundaries of fintech so as to pioneer banking solution,” said Michael Zink, Head of ASEAN and Citi Country Officer for Singapore, in an official statement.

Also Read: Fintech players should anticipate these three trends

One of the keynote speakers, Ashish Sinha, CTO (Operations) at Mastercard, said the credit card giant’s role is to promote and accelerate the fintech industry.

“We believe that the biggest way in which innovation can come into the space quickly (is) by outreaching to the developers and entrepreneurs throughout the world, and by offering [them] our services and platforms,” he said.

But, as Gnirck astutely pointed out, there was nary a mention of a crucial player in fintech.

“The Mastercard presentation mentioned API and Big Data but not even a mention of Blockchain and Bitcoin,” he said.

The event, generally, covered a wide range of fintech sectors; insurance, p2p lending, security, and Algorithmic-based wealth management were all topics pitched.

The first Citi Mobile Challenge began in Latin America in 2014 and the APAC version was the fourth iteration.

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