The sun rises in the east: Philippines’ startup breakout moment
2021 was another breakout year for venture in Southeast Asia with over $25 billion in funding deployed. The region is now well established as a startup destination, with Indonesia its crown. Whilst it is right to celebrate Indonesia’s startup success, 2021 has also been the break-out year for another lesser known market to step up onto the mainstage and that is the Philippines.
Whilst there is a lot happening across consumer, logistics, and commerce, we dig deeper into financial services in this edition. A next edition will cover insurance and digital health. We are big believers in the opportunity in the Philippines, and have exposure across various companies such as Brankas, Sprout.ph, Advance.ph, and XLD.finance (and looking for more).
For a more general overview of the Philippines early-stage ecosystem, take a look at this recent study by BCG and Foxmont, available for download here.
Fintech Philippines: acceleration to lift-off
Whilst the world was in lockdown, the puzzle pieces locked into place in the Philippines.
First, the Philippines’ central bank, BSP, is making good on putting in place frameworks to achieve its strategic plans for 2023, which include 1) digital payment penetration of 50% and 2) bank account penetration of 70%. Several key initiatives will support this growth; 6 digital banks were approved to launch. The central bank also launched a pilot framework for open finance, working towards generally accepted standards for consent driven data portability. Relating to digital asset trading, BSP issued a new circular setting out clear guidelines to the operations and reporting obligations of virtual asset service providers. Finally, the Philippines will also launch a pilot implementation of a central bank digital currency (“CBDC”).
Second, digital adoption increased dramatically. For example, GCash closed 2021 with 55 million registered users, 4.5 million merchants, and gross transaction volume of $72 billion. That’s a 4x growth in GTV from 2020, and widely observed not just at GCash, but generally across the entire market. For example, UBX, UnionBank of the Philippines’ fintech arm, saw payment processing volume increase 33x in 2021. Metamask, the crypto wallet available as a browser plug-in, saw monthly active users grow to 30 million this month. Its biggest user base globally is in the Philippines.
Third, break-out investments were made, attracting local, regional, and global attention. PDAX, the centralised crypto exchange, raised $50 million from Tiger Global. Tonik, a digital bank, raised $131 million from Mizuho and others to build out its consumer bank. Brankas, the open finance enabler whom we have supported since its Pre-Series A days, raised a $20 million Series B financing round from Insignia and Visa (For more information on open finance, check out the whitepaper we wrote together with Brankas last year here). KKR led Growsari’s most recent round with a $45 million check to digitise Sari Sari stores. GCash counts Insight Partners and Warburg Pincus as investors, raising $300m in November 2021 at a $2B+ valuation. Payment platform PayMongo recently raised a $31 million Series B financing round.
Fourth, the local seed funding ecosystem has evolved and is now maturing. Many of the companies mentioned above were seeded by local investors. Early movers like UBX, Kickstart, and Foxmont, are now joined by prolific early-stage investors like Gentree, Kaya, and others. We expect this to continue to grow significantly again this year.
Finally, the Philippines has become a hub for Web3 innovation and investment. a16z invested in YGG, the leading enabler to getting more people involved in play-to-earn games. It also invested in BreederDAO, which facilitates and optimises in-game NFT creation. Union Digital, UnionBank of the Philippines’ soon to launch digital bank, inked a strategic partnership with YGG as it plans to offer seamless banking across both fiat and digital assets. XLD.finance builds bridges between defi and tradfi, allowing people to use digital assets to fund day-to-day expenses, such as buying telco credit. As mentioned before, Tiger Global placed its bet that PDAX would be the leading centralised exchange for local on- and off-ramp and regulated trading. Many Web3 founders and teams have set up temporarily or permanently in La Union, with probably the highest concentration of digital asset teams in all of Southeast Asia based in a 40,000 population surf-town. It’s the closest thing we have seen to a hub in Balaji Srinivasan’s idea of a network state, with Joncy Sumulong’s unassuming but fantastic Flotsam and Jetsam at its heart.
So what is next?
There is a lot still to come. On the Web3 side, we will see the build out of remittance, lending, trading, earn propositions, and local currency stablecoins. Growsari has competition from interesting new players like Peddlr and Lista. We have yet to see retail investment / savings / trading apps, like Ajaib and Pluang in Indonesia (please reach out if you are building in this space!). Employer-led benefit solutions are now seeing a lot of interest, ranging from HR SaaS companies like Sprout.ph and earned wage access companies like Advance.ph. Insurance more broadly is still relatively untouched, with no one breaking through in this space yet.
Related to that there is health, which is a separate topic we will address alongside insurance in a future update. For now, we expect more and larger funding rounds in the Philippines for Fintech, and a further acceleration of growth in the sector.
Written by Christiaan Kaptein, Partner at Integra Partners. Illustrated by Theodore Ng, Analyst at Integra Partners.