The Innovators 2021: Asia Pacific

New digital infrastructures kept trade flowing, even during the pandemic’s first year.

As the world’s factory, the Asia Pacific region is in a fierce race to digitalize as much as possible so supply chains and money can keep moving, even in a crisis.

One bank that has championed the digital cause and continues to innovate in trade and cash management is Singapore-headquartered DBS Bank, this year’s Outstanding Financial Innovator Bank for Asia Pacific.

As an early adopter of application programming interfaces (APIs), blockchain and artificial intelligence technologies across trade and cash management, DBS used its blockchain expertise to solve transparency of ownership and traceability for the burgeoning digital-asset economy.

“The thoughtful use of blockchain technologies can overcome existing frictions and inefficiencies in private capital fundraising,” says Jimmy Ng, group chief information officer and head of group technology and operations at DBS. “With such innovations, large corporations and small enterprises can now leverage asset tokenization through platforms such as the DBS Digital Exchange to tap alternative capital pools.”

DBS is also streamlining payment and credit flows to shipping companies using analytics-based lending, APIs and online foreign exchange remittances. The bank partnered with the likes of AntChain, a Chinese blockchain platform from Ant Group—née Ant Financial—to offer trade financing to small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) via Ant’s Trusple trade and financial services platform.

“By leveraging emerging technologies such as blockchain, DBS is lowering the barriers for SMEs to participate in Asia’s post-pandemic economic revival,” says Joyce Tee, group head of SME banking at DBS.

Meanwhile, China’s LexinFintech homed in on a new era of domestic consumption by introducing the first “buy now, pay later” platform in the Chinese market. Its Maiya service, rolled out at the start of 2021, levies a 3% to 6% fee upon merchants rather than by maximizing customer interest payments, as most platforms do. It’s a “win-win,” giving consumers an interest-free installment option while providing merchants new customers, larger orders and higher conversion rates.

With the global buy now, pay later market expected to reach $650 billion to $1 trillion annually by 2025, according to Bank of America research, LexinFintech officials estimate that China’s share of that market will likely be the largest in the world. The Shenzhen-based fintech believes Maiya has the potential to replicate the success of buy now, pay later apps such as the US’ Affirm and Australia’s Afterpay offerings in the next three to five years.

With the Covid-19 pandemic highlighting vulnerabilities across the lending ecosystem due to the lack of digital infrastructure and capabilities, Paisabazaar Stack, is this year’s Outstanding Crisis Finance Innovation for Asia Pacific. The firm designed the platform to reduce India’s overreliance on offline processes and in-person interactions for lending, which had brought the industry to a standstill during the countrywide lockdown.

Launched on July 31, 2020, the Digital Stack facilitates end-to-end digital solutions for loans and credit cards and features deep integrations with partner banks, which can use the stack and lending algorithms to disburse loans within 24 hours. The offering uses video and biometric checks, the presentation of digital documents, and optical character recognition to meet know-your-customer requirements.

Naveen Kukreja, CEO and co-founder of, says it was uniquely placed, as a market leader with broad and deep partnerships across the lending spectrum, to add real value by building the capabilities enabling end-to-end digital processes for lending.

“Paisabazaar’s Digital Stack is an industry-first innovation that has not just helped our consumers access credit easily and conveniently in these difficult times through easy digital processes, but has also added to the efficiency of our partners,” Kukreja explains. “The Digital Stack was a step towards digitization of lending, which will be critical in the expansion of formal credit in India.”