Siam Commercial Bank will steer more funds to startups

Digital Ventures, the venture capital unit of Siam Commercial Bank, will steer more investment towards financial and non-financial technology startups, its managing director said last week during a trip to Israel, as Advanced Info Service, the country’s largest telecoms provider, said it would help develop the startup ecosystem beyond Bangkok to the provinces.

Polapat Arkkrapridi, Digital Venture’s managing director for corporate venture capital, said his firm would invest in financial technology, or fintech, startups both in Thailand and abroad. Fintech would be the firm’s initial target as it serves the needs of Siam Commercial Bank’s customers, but investments would also begin to branch out to other types of technologies.

Tel Aviv, where Polapat was visiting to learn about Israel’s startup ecosystem, has over 8,000 technology startups. Polapat was exploring engagement with Israeli startups for possible investments.

But Polapat said that Digital Ventures is committed to helping Thailand’s startup ecosystem grow, so that homegrown talent and innovations will receive support.

The moves by Siam Commercial Bank and other large Thai banks to invest in fintech startups reflect their desire to increase the competitiveness of their institutions and the Thai banking sector. Bangkok Bank and Kasikorn Bank are also funding fintech startups and accelerator programs.

They are particularly interested in blockchain technology, which is essentially a worldwide online spreadsheet that records all financial transactions. Digital Ventures has invested in Ripple, a Canadian startup that has developed a blockchain financial settlements program. Siam Commercial Bank is considering adopting Ripple’s program for its international settlements.

Digital Ventures was founded in 2016 with $50 million in funds to invest. Aside from investing directly in fintech startups, it has also invested in three startup funds: Golden Gate, Nyca Fund II and Dymon Asia.

The telecoms sector is also deeply involved in the startup scene. In fact, Advanced Info Service, or AIS, the country’s largest telecoms company helped birth Thailand’s first startup community, AIS The StartUp, in 2011.

Thailand’s startup ecosystem, however, is very much based in Bangkok, and AIS executives have said they want to support extending the ecosystem to other areas of the Kingdom.

“It means we have enormous potential to expand and improve our start-up ecosystem across the country,’’ wrote SrihathaiPrammanee, the head of AIS the StartUp, in a column in The Nation newspaper.

“Building a successful local ecosystem nationwide depends on creating digital solutions to answer the needs or solve social problems of each local area. Crucial to this effort is understanding the differences in each location, including consumer behavior and culture,’’ Srihathai wrote.