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Southeast Asia

Is it Asean’s time to shine? Private bankers think so

Southeast Asia has been overlooked by private bankers chasing big wins in China. But bankers say the scales are starting to tip in favour of the Asean region.

When reports on the global wealth management industry are written and surveys published, southeast Asia is often overlooked.

For years, the focus has been on China. This is understandable: the People’s Republic continues to churn out freshly minted billionaires at twice the annual rate of any other country.

Many of China’s tycoons are at the cutting edge of e-commerce and digital payments. In its World Wealth Report 2020, Knight Frank put the number of Chinese ‘unicorns’ – privately-held start-ups valued at more than $1 billion – at 187, second only to the United States.

Speak to the big commercial lenders and private banks and ask them to identify the key wealth opportunity of the next 30 years. The answer is uniform: China.

But is southeast Asia becoming almost as compelling? The average age of people living in Asean’s five biggest markets – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand – is around 29, against 38 in the US and China, 43 in Europe, and 47 in Japan. In terms of sheer numbers, southeast Asia (670 million) cannot rival China (1.4 billion), but a large populace can be a curse and a blessing.

The Asean region also benefits from its patchy banking infrastructure. It has emerged as a genuine hot-bed of financial innovation, home to a growing number of unicorns, including Singapore-based Grab and Indonesia’s Go-Jek.

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