New Zealand’s financial technology (fintech) boom has been a long time in the making. NZ was among the first countries to introduce Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale (EFTPOS) in the 80s and was an early adopter of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs).
Almost four decades later, FinTech is the fastest-growing component of NZ’s technology sector, according to a New Zealand Financial Innovation and Technology Association (FinTechNZ) report.[i]
Some of these NZ fintechs are listed on ASX. The best known of them is accounting- software star Xero (ASX: XRO), which is sole-listed on ASX. Laybuy Group Holdings (ASX: LBY) is also sole-listed on ASX.
Roberts expects more NZ fintech companies will list on ASX (as a sole- or dual-listing) in the next five years. “ASX has become an important part of the funding and growth journey for NZ FinTech companies. It is a larger capital market for emerging fintech companies.”
As NZ’s fintech sector rapidly expands, so does FinTechNZ’s membership. Since its 2017 launch, the not-for-profit industry association has attracted 180 members across the fintech sector. Roberts expects FinTechNZ’s membership to expand significantly this decade as more NZ fintechs emerge.
He says Australian FinTech companies are joining FinTechNZ. “There’s rising interest from both sides of the Tasman. Increasingly, Australian fintech companies see NZ as an important market for their products and services. And NZ fintechs can see opportunities in Australia. There are lots of synergies.”
Roberts’ fintech history goes beyond his own career. His father was one of the architects of EFTPOS in NZ in the ‘80s. “I recall my father saying back then that NZ’s size and regulatory environment made it an excellent market to develop and test new technologies. That’s still true today and we’re seeing that in fintech’s growth in NZ.”
ASX On the Board asked Roberts about the current and future growth of the NZ FinTech sector and what that means for exchange listings. Here is his response:
Jason Roberts: The NZ fintech sector has been growing strongly for some time. Covid boosted that growth by quickening digital transformation across the finance sector. More consumers embraced fintech solutions during the pandemic. This change was always likely to happen; Covid sped everything up by several years.
Changing expectations are another factor behind fintech’s growth in NZ. Consumers expect to access a wider range of financial products and services online, when and where they want. This expectation – evident in retail banking for many years – is morphing into other areas of finance, such as investing and insurance. That’s creating opportunities for NZ fintech companies in areas well beyond banking.
Capital availability is also supporting growth in NZ fintech. NZ has a vibrant ecosystem of private capital for promising fintech companies. There is good appetite among NZ investors for the fintech sector. As a result, there is an expanding group of privately-owned NZ fintechs raising larger amounts of capital.
NZ’s regulatory bodies are another important factor. The NZ fintech sector has benefited from tremendous buy-in and support from regulatory groups, such as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and industries bodies, such as the Financial Services Council of New Zealand. Our regulators want to learn about fintech, listen to key stakeholders, and help the sector grow. NZ has a good record of proactive and supportive regulation, rather than punitory regulation. The result is a regulatory environment for the NZ fintech sector that is measured, innovation-friendly and agile.
JR: Wealth tech is a standout. Several NZ start-ups that combined wealth management and technology have become much larger companies. Examples include Sharesies, Hatch, and Kernel Wealth. These and other NZ wealth tech companies offer online investment platforms that are simple and have low transaction costs.
By identifying customers online, the wealth tech platforms have transformed the customer ‘onboarding’ process. They’ve made it much easier for people to start buying and selling shares and other investments through an engaging, personalised digital experience that is very different from traditional investment platforms.
Sharesies, for example, now has over 500,000 users,[i] and it’s growing quickly. For context, at least 10-15% of NZ’s adults are running their own investment platform through a wealth tech App created by an NZ fintech. It’s a remarkable change in how people in NZ are investing.
Insure tech is another emerging highlight in the NZ FinTech sector. Insurance companies were relatively slower in adopting consumer technology than other aspects of fintech. That is changing as we see an uptake in interest in pay-as-you-go insurance and as insurance generally becomes more embedded in the consumer fintech landscape.
JR: Absolutely. Five years ago, it was considered impressive if an NZ fintech start-up raised half a million dollars. Usually, that capital came from the founder’s networks. Today, NZ fintechs are raising much larger amounts and there is a more developed ecosystem for capital. The fund-raising journey from being a start-up to listing on an exchange has become smoother and more connected. That bodes well for future exchange listings as NZ fintechs mature and seek larger amounts of capital.
JR: It depends on the company. For fintechs that have a well-known brand in NZ, it could make sense to dual-list on NZX and ASX. For some NZ fintechs with a larger global ambition, the challenge could be a US listing, but this can be a challenge with brands that get lost among larger markets. For brands that are not well known, a more localised market (listing) makes sense.
That said, Australia is a natural part of the long-term funding journey for NZ fintechs. Australia offers a bigger runway for NZ FinTechs with global ambition due to the size of its capital markets and superannuation pool. ASX has done a good job in recent years in building a larger ecosystem of tech companies, including fintech, on its exchange.
JR: We’re seeing that now. I’ve been surprised at just how many Australian fintechs are putting boots on the ground in NZ. Clearly, they see our market as important and attractive for them. In the past 12 months, there’s been a noticeable increase in Australian companies becoming members of FinTechNZ. We expect that trend to continue in 2022 and beyond.
Longer-term, I expect to see more offshore fintechs establish operations here. NZ has a reputation as a valuable ‘test bed’ for new technologies and other products, in part because we are a smaller market with a favourable regulatory environment. This is both a threat and an opportunity to our home-grown market.
JR: Fintech will become a much more dominant force with complete cross-market engagement in the finance sector. As in other developed markets, NZ consumers will implicitly turn to technology when seeking financial products and services. Finrech will become so embedded in banking, wealth management, insurance, and other areas that consumers won’t even notice it. Tech usually works best when it feels invisible to the consumer, and that will be true of fintech this decade.
I expect to see regulators being a lot more involved in NZ fintech while retaining their supportive focus. Digital currencies, crypto assets, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will drive a huge amount of innovation in the NZ fintech sector over the coming decade.
To learn more about FinTechNZ, visit www.FinTechnz.org.nz
[i] FinTechNZ, “FinTech Future: Trade Opportunities for New Zealand and the United Kingdom). June 2020. https://FinTechnz.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2020/06/FINAL-downsized-NZ-and-UK-FinTech-Opportunities-v1.pdf Report references data from New Zealand Ministry of Business and Innovation.
[ii] Global FinTech Index 2021, findexable. https://findexable.com/
[iv] Brunskill, D (Jan 2022), “Sharesies adds 500,000th users as share boom continues,” Business Desk. https://businessdesk.co.nz/article/markets/sharesies-adds-500000th-user-as-retail-boom-continues?utm_source=Digest&utm_medium=email