25 years of Asia Risk

As the region continues to undergo major changes, we look to what the future may hold

Putting together an anniversary issue of Asia Risk is always a fascinating experience: the opportunity to peer through the annals of history and reflect on how what happened in the past got us to where we are today.

But an anniversary issue shouldn’t be just about dwelling on the past. It’s also about looking ahead. There are some exciting developments taking place across the region that offer some clues as to what shape the future might take. These developments are reflected in the crop of stories and profiles we have selected for this quarter-centennial issue.

The rise of China’s economy over the past 25 years has been meteoric, with its GDP multiplying from just $730 billion in 1995 to more than $13 trillion today, but the growth of its derivatives market has not kept pace. With low interest rates elsewhere, capital flows into the country have remained buoyant this year. But for this to continue, investors need to be given the hedging tools they need. That is the next thing regulators must address.

Conduct risk has also come on a long way from the hedonistic days of the 1990s, when the likes of Nick Leeson, a Singapore-based derivatives trader, could single-handedly rack up losses of $1.4 billion over a three-year period without anyone batting an eyelid. But there is still much to be done. A record amount of fines in Asia recently has helped focus minds, but a cultural shift in attitudes has been too slow in coming. Regulators and industry need to focus on bringing one about.

The other big story of the epoch is the discontinuation of Libor and the transition to alternative risk-free rates. Libor has been so deeply embedded in the global financial system over the past three decades that changing it was never going to be easy. Asia’s problem is the lack of homogeneity in the region, meaning that progress across markets has been uneven. In Japan, the picture is further complicated by the coexistence of the Japanese yen overnight rate with the Libor-like Tokyo Interbank Offered Rate. Even now, dealers remain unsure which benchmarks will be used for different types of rates products once Libor publication comes to an end.

And then, of course, there is technology, which has changed the world of finance in Asia beyond all recognition – from the electronification of trading to the introduction of artificial intelligence and data modelling algorithms. But perhaps one of the biggest changes over the past 25 years is still playing out: the rise of big-tech disruptors. Responding to this will require further clever thinking by those traditional bankers that made the financial world what it is today.

The trade war with the US has, perhaps a little paradoxically, helped: forcing China to become more self-sufficient and compelling it to forge closer ties with the rest of Asia

While interviewing people for this anniversary issue, one of the favourite questions we put to people was: so what will the next 25 years look like?

Two main themes emerged.

One was the continued rise of Asia as a power in the world – with an increasingly dominant China at the helm.

As China continues to reform its markets push out into the wider world, it will take the rest of Asia along with it. The trade war with the US has, perhaps a little paradoxically, helped: forcing China to become more self-sufficient and compelling it to forge closer ties with the rest of Asia. Whether the same tension will continue under the new Joe Biden administration remains to be seen, but the trajectory may have already been set: China signed a landmark trade agreement with 17 other Asian nations on November 15.

The other main theme was the continued rise of technology within the financial sector, especially the increased sophistication of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. Spending on technology within banks has been rising steadily over the years, and probably will continue to do so, as traditional financial institutions seek to stay one step ahead of the big-tech disruptors that are chasing them.

But predictions can be dangerous things and the future is never set in stone. Anything could yet happen in the years and decades ahead. After all, few foresaw the devastation that the 2008 global crisis would cause around the world – or that this year the world would be turned upside-down by a global health crisis.

Perhaps, within the Asia Risk editorial team, we could venture our own prediction for the next 25 years. Risk will continue to remain a crucial component of the financial world. It may be in a very different guise to the risk of 25 years ago, or even of today – but it will still be there. As will Asia Risk.

Many thanks for all your support over the years and, though the future may be uncertain, we hopefully can all make it a positive one.

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