Top 5 Asia-Pacific Countries with Greatest Opportunities for Female FinTech Professionals

In a male-dominated industry, there are still plenty of opportunities for women to flourish.

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Fintech is a rapidly growing industry in Asia, but it isn’t always accessible to females seeking professional advancement. ValueChampion has analysed markets across Asia-Pacific to identify which provide the greatest opportunity for women.

While working in fintech can seem attractive, it’s a difficult market for women to break into.

Financial technology – or fintech – is one of the most rapidly growing industries in both Asia-Pacific and the world. With the goal of making financial activities more accessible and consumer-friendly, it’s overturning traditional methods and institutions, reshaping how people interact with their money. While working in fintech can seem attractive, it’s a difficult market for women to break into. In fact, according to research by Ernst & Young, 86 per cent of fintechs in ASEAN have all-male founders. As a result, we’ve analysed publicly available data on twelve major countries in Asia-Pacific to determine which provide the best environment for women seeking advancement in fintech. The top countries in our ranking system have both strong fintech markets and hospitable conditions for professional women.

Best Countries for Women in Fintech – Overall Rankings

ValueChampion Best Countries for Women in Fintech – Overall Rankings

1. Australia

… Australia stands out as one of the top performers in all categories, from the strength of its fintech industry to women’s advancement and quality of life.

Of the twelve countries we analysed in the Asia-Pacific, Australia stands out as one of the top performers in all categories, from the strength of its fintech industry to women’s advancement and quality of life. The nation not only has the second-highest number of fintech startups when controlled per capita, but it’s also ranked first in a global three-way tie for technological readiness. Australia’s fintech industry also benefits from a “regulatory sandbox,” which promotes experimentation by loosening restrictions, and is further boosted by innovation sharing agreements with the UK, Singapore, Canada and Kenya.

While several Asia-Pacific countries have booming fintech markets, Australia is one of the few that also provides excellent opportunities for women. According to the World Economic Forum, it ranks third amongst the surveyed nations in terms of achieving overall gender parity, with scoring based on economic participation, remuneration, career advancement and more. An impressive 54 per cent of Australia’s professional and technical workers are women, and the country is also remarkably safe for females, as identified in previous ValueChampion research.

Finally, Australia stands out for offering a high quality of life, earning top scores from multiple market indices based on a wide variety of factors. While the cost of living is high, so too is local purchasing power, and individuals in common fintech roles (financial and data analysts, computer programmers and more) can expect to earn salaries notably higher than counterparts in other nations. Overall, women have both economic opportunity and access to a robust fintech market in Australia, driving it to first place.

2. Singapore

Not only does [Singapore] have the highest number of fintech startups per capita, it also received US$453 million in fintech investments in just the first half of this year alone.

Singapore is well-known as a hotbed for fintech innovation. In fact, it holds the region’s highest ranking in this respect overall. Not only does it have the highest number of fintech startups per capita, but it also received US$453 million in fintech investments in just the first half of this year alone. The government strongly supports development, providing a Financial Sector Technology & Innovation (FSTI) scheme that funds fintechs up to S$200,000, tax breaks for startups, and a regulatory sandbox for experimentation. Singapore also ranks second regionally for ease of doing business, based on the World Bank Group’s most recent report.

Singapore also offers a rather positive environment for women. It’s already been identified as the safest country for women in the Asia Pacific. Additionally, the gender gap has decreased in the past few years, reflected in the unopposed election of the nation’s first female president – Halimah Yacob – in 2017. Nonetheless, Singapore’s gender wage gap increased substantially in 2018, with the widest disparity in the financial and insurance industries. The remarkably high cost of living may compound this difference, making Singapore slightly less attractive to females seeking lucrative roles in fintech.

3. New Zealand

… New Zealand’s strength lies in gender equality and opportunities for female advancement.

While Singapore stands out as a fintech powerhouse in the Asia-Pacific, New Zealand’s strength lies in gender equality and opportunities for female advancement. The nation not only scores highest for gender equality in the region, but it also ranks seventh in the entire world. According to the World Economic Forum, New Zealand has closed more than 80 per cent of its overall gender gap since 2006. Women benefit from non-discriminatory hiring laws, and now make up 55.5 per cent of professional and technical workers. Furthermore, New Zealand is currently led by Jacinda Ardern, the youngest female prime minister in the world – another indicator of women’s potential for power.

New Zealand’s fintech market is smaller but still substantial. While there’s no official regulatory sandbox, the government actually funds fintechs through multiple channels, including Callaghan Innovation grants, the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, and “The Icehouse,” which partially draws funds from an angel investor network. According to Tracxn Technologies, New Zealand currently has 228 fintech startups and is home to a three-month growth program called Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator. Finally, the country ranks first worldwide for Ease of Doing Business according to the World Bank Group, making it an especially attractive choice for those seeking a career in fintech.

4. Malaysia

Malaysia has a moderately strong fintech market and provides some opportunities for female advancement, all in an especially affordable setting.

Malaysia has a moderately strong fintech market and provides some opportunities for female advancement, all in an especially affordable setting. The country has a mid-range number of fintechs per capita and a regulatory sandbox to promote experimentation. Recent innovations have disrupted Malaysia’s typical financial markets. In 2017, the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) initiative was launched to grow the nation’s internet economy and facilitate cross-border eCommerce, with the goal of increasing its GDP contribution to US$47.68 billion by 2020. Another disruptor, DuitNow (launched by the fintech PayNet), transfers money from a consumer’s bank account to an intended recipient by way of phone number or NRIC number. Many banks have already adopted the service, changing how Malaysians can make daily payments.

The nation also offers a reasonably supportive environment for women looking to succeed in their careers. The World Economic Forum states that its gender gap rating has improved over the past year and that 68 per cent of the overall gap has been closed. A Gender Diversity Report by Hays found that 49 per cent of Malaysian women felt satisfied with their current level of seniority (10 per cent higher than their male counterparts) and 25 per cent felt their current role provided an opportunity to promote themselves and communicate their ambition (equal to males’ response).

Finally, a World Bank report on Women on Boards in Malaysia found that typical firms within the country have a higher proportion of women on their boards than the average rate for Asia-Pacific. It’s worth pointing out that this percentage is still just 13.5%, which isn’t quite a marker of equality. Nonetheless, Malaysia’s workforce is still more hospitable to women than most other nations in the region.

5. Japan

… while [Japan] has a relatively strong fintech market, it’s also home to one of the largest gender gaps in the region.

The fact that Japan ranks 5th in this analysis may seem a bit misleading; while the nation has a relatively strong fintech market, it’s also home to one of the largest gender gaps in the region. Japan is actually still catching up in terms of regional fintech innovations. Privately-held banks tightly control the financial market, and the adoption of mobile banking has been slow compared to other nations. Nonetheless, Japan has seen remarkable growth over the past few years. The number of fintech deals this year has increased by 33 per cent from 2018, and Deloitte has designated Tokyo as a new global hub for fintech growth. Japan offers a regulatory sandbox, has two global information-sharing agreements, and hosts a wide variety of fintech accelerator programs such as Fujitsu, Softbank, MUFG Fintech and more.

While Japan does have an increasingly powerful fintech market, it doesn’t provide an especially promising environment for women. According to the World Economic Forum, the nation is ranked 110th in the world, or 11th out of 12 countries in our analysis, in terms of gender equality. Rather tellingly, women make up only 3.5 per cent of boards of Japanese firms (compared to 13.5 per cent in Malaysia). Nonetheless, there has been a movement towards improvement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched an initiative in 2014 to increase gender diversity in the workplace and boost the percentage of women in leadership positions to 30 per cent by 2020. There are non-discriminatory hiring practices in place, which also opens doors to a degree.

It’s worth mentioning that these economic participation metrics are primarily reflective of more conventional workplaces. Fintech startups are typically borne out of entrepreneurship and take time to grow beyond a small team. In this case, motivated women may still be able to capitalise on Japan’s strong fintech market while avoiding some of the barriers found within a more tenured office.

Why Hong Kong is Excluded From this Study

Unfortunately, not enough data is available on women’s marketplace potential and the gender gap to accurately rank Hong Kong against the other researched areas.

Hong Kong is a global leader in the fintech space. It rivals Singapore in terms of the number of startups per capita, supports innovation through flexible regulatory measures, and recently launched an Open Application Programming Interface (API) Framework and approved some of its first virtual bank licenses. Unfortunately, not enough data is available on women’s marketplace potential and the gender gap to accurately rank Hong Kong against the other researched areas. It is, however, possible to make broader comparisons for reference. According to 2019 census statistics provided by the Hong Kong SAR government, the female labour participation rate is stable at 55 per cent, which is actually quite low – nearly all other regional competitors, including Japan, have rates of 60-75 per cent.

Nonetheless, the wage gap is not nearly as dramatic as in neighbouring countries. Women earn 32.5 per cent less than men, which is a larger gap than in Singapore (where women earn 29.8 per cent less) but a smaller gap than in nations such as Australia and New Zealand. Hong Kong may also provide an environment complementary to female advancement; the 2019 Hays Asia Salary Guide found that women make up 33 per cent of management positions, higher than in Singapore (29 per cent) and Japan (19 per cent). These factors all promote Hong Kong as a favourable place for women in fintech, though high living expenses and some quality of life issues (crowding, pollution and more) would impact the region’s final standing if ranked.

Methodology & Discussion of Categories

In order to accurately determine which Asia-Pacific nations are best for women in fintech, data was collected across three categories –Strength of Fintech, Women’s Success Potential, and Lifestyle & Expense – with further divisions to provide added detail and address specific questions.

Category: Strength of Fintech

To determine fintech market strength, we first wanted to understand the concentration of startups in each country, as well as the regulatory landscape. We divided the number of fintechs per nation by the national population to create a controlled per capita measure, reconciling differences in country size. As for regulation, we identified if the country currently had an official “sandbox” or had proposed one, and how many information-sharing fintech agreements they held. Government support and regulatory flexibility are considered key determinants in a fintech market’s ability to grow, evolve and succeed. The concentration of fintechs represents progress as well as industry maturity. We converted our data findings into a proportionate scale and aggregated to find a final score for fintech strength, against which we drew a subcategory ranking.

Subcategory: Current Fintech Market

ValueChampion Subcategory Current Fintech Market

We also wanted to explore larger industry factors that would impact fintech success. First, we identified each of the 12 countries’ Technological Readiness Ranking scores as per The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 report, which provides global rankings based on access to the internet, digital economic infrastructure, and openness to innovation. We next considered each country’s scores for Ease of Doing Business, according to the 2019 World Bank Group report, which addresses start-up business and management challenges across ten metrics. We viewed the data in the scope of the Asia-Pacific and aggregated scores across both sources to determine a cumulative ranking.

With ranks on current fintech market status and the receptiveness of the business environment, we were able to form a final ranking across all Asia-Pacific countries representing the strength of the fintech market.

Subcategory: Business Climate

ValueChampion Subcategory Business Climate

Category: Women’s Success

Just because a nation’s fintech market is strong doesn’t mean it’s accessible to both genders. For this reason, we carefully considered the global gender gap scores published in the World Economic Forum’s 2019 report. The scores cover a variety of factors, ranging from educational attainment to political empowerment, with a strong focus on the economic opportunity (gaps in participation, remuneration, and advancement). We viewed these nation scores in the scope of the Asia-Pacific to rank them accordingly. Additionally, we drew ranks on the safest countries for women in Asia-Pacific from our previous research study, which measured this metric using the Global Peace Index, Female Human Development Index, Gender Development Index, female homicide rates, and research into legal protections against crimes commonly committed against women. With the data aggregated, the final ranking for this category indicated the ability to provide a supportive environment for women seeking career advancement.

Subcategories: Gender Gap & Women’s Safety

ValueChampion Subcategories Gender Gap & Women's Safety

Category: Lifestyle & Expense

The previous rankings cover the power of fintech and potential for women’s success, but we found it important to integrate lifestyle factors such as salary, cost of living, local purchasing power and quality of life. As a proxy for an average fintech salary, to compare compensation for like roles in different nations, we drew USD-standardised annual wage information on five roles that are commonly associated with fintech: financial analyst, data analyst, data scientist, computer programmer, and software developer. We then averaged the reported compensations to come up with a benchmark value for cross-country comparison. By keeping our data source and selected roles constant, we were able to gain insight into which countries tended to offer more for the same position than other countries, and ranked the twelve surveyed nations accordingly.

Subcategory: Fintech Salary Proxy in USD, Average for Key Roles

ValueChampion Subcategory Fintech Salary Proxy in USD Average for Key Roles

However, salary on its own is not enough of a metric to provide added value; we drew data from Numbeo to rank each of the nations by the cost of living and local purchasing power as well. In aggregating ranking scores, we also factored in the intensity of difference to parse out ties. The rankings ultimately put salary size, expenses, and purchasing power into a shared comparative context, indicating which combination best supports an average consumer – especially one in fintech.

Subcategory: Living Expenses

ValueChampion Subcategory Living Expenses

Finally, we chose to measure the quality of life by aggregating scores from four of the top indices on the market: Mercer (city scores averaged per nation), Numbeo, US News & World Report, and CEOWorld. These indices measure the quality of life according to a variety of features, including recreation, natural environment, socio-cultural environment, school and education, public services & transport, consumer goods availability and more. By framing scores in an Asia-Pacific scope and then averaging the resulting ranks across the indices, we arrived at a final ranking on quality of life.

Subcategory: Quality of Life, Aggregated Across 4 Indices

The ranks for each of these subcategories–proxy salary, living expenses, and quality of life–were then averaged to arrive at a final category ranking.

Bringing the Data Together

Based on study intent, we weighted the scores for each main category in arriving at our final ranking. Women’s Success counted most towards the final rank (45 per cent), followed by Strength of Fintech (35 per cent) and then Lifestyle & Expense (20 per cent). This prevents very fintech-strong nations with little-to-no opportunities for women from eclipsing more moderate markets that have strong opportunities for advancement.

Research Limitations

This research is based on the most up-to-date information available from highly credible sources, such as the World Economic Forum, World Bank Group, The Economist Intelligence Unit and more. Sources are left constant across all countries whenever possible to improve consistency and prevent variation in data. Nonetheless, fintech in Asia is both relatively new and rapidly evolving. Information isn’t always available (such as total investments or VC deals), and the status quo can quickly shift (new sandboxes, new startups, added agreements). For this reason, we’ve taken care to supplement our analysis with an in-depth review of fintech trends across the last decade.

It’s also worth pointing out that understanding the role of women within fintech is notoriously challenging. There is limited data available on the per cent of women working in the fintech, and little-to-no information on their employment earnings in the industry. Additionally, fintechs tend to begin as startups with smaller teams, which can make it harder to track the impact of women. As a result, we’ve focused on the climate of opportunity for women’s advancement, prioritising nations who have strong fintech markets but are also closer to gender equality.

This post first appeared on ValueChampions.

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