India prime minister launches online platform to connect global technology startups

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday formally launched an online marketplace that will connect technology startups and financial institutions in Asia and beyond.

“History has shown that finance is often the first to embrace new technology and connectivity,” Modi said at the Singapore FinTech Festival. He is in Singapore for the East Asian Summit and to meet with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“We are in an age of a historic transition brought about by technology: From desktop to cloud, from internet to social media, from IT services to internet of things, we have come a long way in a short period of time,” the prime minister said.

The initiative was first announced in September by the ASEAN Financial Innovation Network, a body which supports financial innovation and inclusion in less developed markets. It is led by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the ASEAN Bankers Association and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.

Modi said technology is defining competitiveness and power in the new world, creating new opportunities to transform lives and making economic access more democratic.

Indeed, India has enacted several policies and initiatives to promote digital technologies.

One example is Aadhar — a biometric digital identity program rolled out throughout the country, which the prime minister claimed on Wednesday had a database of more than a billion people. Many government programs require the biometric identity number to distribute welfare benefits to Indians. The program was launched in 2009, five years before Modi came to power.

Modi also said that financial technology should not merely be a “mechanism” but rather it should be a movement. That meant stakeholders should be prepared to answer questions on topics including data ownership, privacy, law and ethics, he said.

“Be prepared to back an idea and invest for the long term,” Modi said.

On Monday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore Managing Director Ravi Menon told an audience that many people today still do not have access to bank accounts, secure and efficient means of payments and insurance protection. Many of them are in growing major economies like China, India and Indonesia.

Menon said the problem was two-fold: Banks face high costs to reach customers in remote areas while technology startups lack resources to expand into new markets.

The online marketplace will be developed and operated by a global consortium led by technology company Virtusa.

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