If tech consumers had their own Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, internet access would form the bottom rung, and financial-technology would be the one above it.

You need to be able to connect to the world wide web and leverage this access to store value. The next natural progression once these basic needs are met is investment technology: Once you have extended financial inclusion, you don’t want it just sitting there idly, losing value against your country’s monetary inflation. You want it to grow, which is why the next generation of investment technology platforms is so crucial to the future of economic enablement in Southeast Asia.

Investment tech in Southeast Asia can grow by taking a page book from Fintech, which grew heavily in the region due to heavy localisation. Mobile money provider Coins.ph, for example, made it easy for consumers to “top up” their digital wallets by integrating with the terminals widely available at 7-11 convenience stores in the country.

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By making the cash-in process hyper-local and at a staple of fast, Filipino life, Coins.ph made mobile money easy for the average Filipino.

In the same way that mobile money providers like Coins.ph have simplified digital payments through aggressive localisation, so, too, should investment tech.

Unlike mobile money which is simplified through convenience and ease of use, investment tech is simplified through education. Investment solutions, in short, must reduce the cognitive load it takes to make smart financial investments. The days of having to master complex trading philosophies, pour over endless charts, and dig into obscure analysis should be over.

Investment must go local. It must go mainstream.

The rise of investment-tech in Southeast Asia

There are industry-specific platforms in Southeast Asia that are making it easier for formerly non-investors to invest.

One example is i-Grow from Indonesia, which is designed to bridge the gap between farmers and investors. Interested individuals can invest in select farmers via i-Grow and net a return as high as 9 to 13 per cent in as little as half a year. Investors can then view the progress of crops via the company’s mobile app.

It’s the cliche win-win business made true through platform thinking: Farmers get the capital they need to grow their business, and investors on the other end get an easy way to invest money.

Even international platforms are getting in on the action. Social trading platform eToro is now active in Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines, where it recently had two major events for local investors. Founded in the Europe in 2007 around the start of Web 2.0, eToro is arguably built from the ground up with non-investors in mind.

Apart from bringing a social element to trading — allowing new and veteran traders alike to learn from one another through sharing strategies and investment picks — the platform also boasts of a trademarked Copytrader feature.

eToro’s Copytrader feature seems tailor-made for the Philippines, which features a rising middle class with significant disposable income but little idea on how to invest it wisely. Users can evaluate investors according to their risk score, track record, portfolio composition, and other key factors.

If a user finds an investor that he likes, he can then “copy” his account, and his portfolio will mirror that person’s future investments. The feature, in other words, reduces the often prohibitively difficult task of investing down to intelligent emulation that any proactive new investor can do.

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Platforms like i-Grow and eToro are the future of Southeast Asia. They move people in the region beyond just mobile money and propels them toward smart money, where their capital works on their behalf and empowers wealth creation.

Adoption of these platforms, then, does not matter only for the company’s founders, employees, and other stakeholders, but to Southeast Asia as a whole. We can even refer to their popularity as a kind of measuring stick for the region’s economic success.

The “investment” in investment-tech may very well refer to both those made by individual users, but also to the investment we collectively make into overall wealth creation for Southeast Asia.

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