Establishing a fintech business in Thailand.
The global business landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation due to rapid advancements in financial technology (fintech). This evolution has fundamentally reshaped the way businesses operate on a worldwide scale. Among the regions leading this transformative journey is Southeast Asia, which is pioneering new trends and taking the lead in embracing fintech innovations.
As multinational corporations strategise to establish a foothold in SE Asian markets, one notable focal point is Thailand, which has become a hub for fintech expansion. The digital marketplace in Thailand is experiencing an impressive surge in growth, bolstered by well-designed regulatory frameworks and government incentives that actively support the development of fintech initiatives. Thailand also boasts a tech-savvy talent pool.
All this creates an environment that is exceptionally conducive to nurturing the expansion of fintech. However, it is crucial to recognise that venturing into this market presents challenges alongside the opportunities, not the least of which being how to establish operations. There are several routes; this article looks at incorporating through Thailand’s Board of Investment (BOI).
Establishing fintech operations through Thailand’s Board of Investment (BOI)
Among the various avenues to enter the Thai market, the BOI application stands out as the best for fintech firms. This article explores the significant benefits of the BOI application, focusing on tax incentives, promoted industries, business categories within fintech, regulatory hurdles, and the application process. By thoroughly understanding the advantages and considerations of the BOI route, fintech companies can strategically navigate the landscape of Thailand’s burgeoning digital market.
Overview of Thailand’s fintech landscape
Thailand’s fintech sector has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, fuelled by a blend of supportive governmental policies, a tech-savvy and adventurous population, and a flourishing startup ecosystem. Currently ranking fifth in fintech funding among Southeast Asian countries, Thailand has set its sights on solidifying its digital monetary systems, with active participation from commercial banks and the central bank.
In the last three years, the country has witnessed a surge in digital transactions. E-wallets and mobile payment platforms have gained widespread popularity, while peer-to-peer lending networks have emerged as a credible alternative to conventional bank loans, simplifying credit accessibility.
The Thai government’s proactive support, through funding avenues, mentorship initiatives, and startup incubation programs, has further propelled the sector’s expansion and achievements. In line with this commitment, the government has introduced the Thailand 4.0 initiative, designed to elevate the nation’s financial infrastructure and nurture the growth of fintech enterprises. To facilitate the execution of Thailand 4.0, a range of measures and incentives have been introduced, enticing investments in specific sectors and promoting innovation. These measures encompass tax benefits, funding for research and development, startup backing, and the establishment of special economic zones aimed at fostering economic progress in designated areas.
Looking forward, the central bank is actively enhancing its infrastructure to accommodate the advancements in electronic banking and fintech. A significant stride in this direction involves the adoption of the ISO 20022 financial transaction reporting standard. Embracing this modern standard not only simplifies e-invoicing and e-factoring but also empowers businesses to effectively utilise their customers’ financial transaction data.
In accordance with its dedication to drive financial innovation, the Bank of Thailand has recently unveiled the Consultation Paper on Virtual Bank Licensing Framework. This framework lays the groundwork for introducing virtual banks as new financial service providers. Staffed with experts in service technology, digital services, and data analysis, virtual banks deliver new financial solutions through digital channels at a reduced cost while addressing customers’ precise and comprehensive requirements. The Bank of Thailand intends to finalise the licensing regulations and initiate the application process in 2023, unveiling the list of approved applicants in 2024. Initially, a maximum of three licences will be granted, highlighting a measured and controlled approach to this innovative venture.
Recognising the immense potential of the Thai market, multinational companies are eager to seize opportunities within the fintech landscape. To do so strategically, many leverage the advantages offered by the aforementioned BOI application for fintech, allowing them to tap into this thriving market with greater ease and efficiency.
What is Thailand’s Board of Investment (BOI)?
The BOI is a governmental agency responsible for promoting and facilitating foreign direct investment. Its primary objective is attracting high-value investments that contribute to the country’s economic development and technological advancement. The BOI offers a range of incentives and privileges to eligible businesses, including those in the fintech sector, to encourage investment and growth in strategic industries.
Benefits of BOI certification for the fintech sector
The BOI certification offers a range of advantages that position it as a favourable choice for multinational fintech companies seeking entry into the Thai market. These benefits encompass both tax and non-tax incentives, creating an appealing environment for business expansion and growth.
BOI tax incentives
Corporate income tax exemption: One of the most significant advantages of obtaining BOI certification is the attractive tax incentives. While many BOI initiatives target the manufacturing and industrial sectors, BOI-certified fintech companies can benefit from tax exemptions or reductions for up to eight years, depending on the level of investment and the business activities.
Relevant tax incentives include:
- Exemption from corporate income taxes for a period ranging from three to eight years
- Exemption from taxes on dividends originating from promoted projects during the corporate income tax holiday
- Permission to carry forward losses as deductible expenses for up to five years
It is important to note that the specifics of BOI tax incentives can vary based on the particular product or service associated with the promoted project. In addition, since one of the BOI’s mandates is reducing regional disparity within Thailand, the geographic location of the project can impact the level of benefits.
BOI non-tax incentives
Foreign ownership permission: Certain categories of BOI-certified fintech companies may bypass standard restrictions and enjoy the privilege of full foreign ownership. This allowance holds potential benefits for international investors seeking to establish a presence in the Thai market.
Streamlined expat work permit and visa processes: BOI-certified companies receive streamlined processes for obtaining work permits and visas for foreign executives, professionals, and skilled workers. This facilitates the recruitment and retention of international talent, contributing to a diversified and skilled workforce.
Support and facilitation: Certified fintech entities receive support and facilitation services from the BOI. These services aid companies in effectively navigating regulatory requirements, acquiring necessary licences, and establishing connections with relevant government agencies.
Land ownership rights: Unlike non-BOI applicants, companies holding BOI certification are granted the authority to own land in Thailand for their business operations.
Repatriation of profits: BOI-certified entities are permitted to freely repatriate profits and funds associated with their investment.
Foreign currency remittance: BOI certification allows for the remittance of money in foreign currencies, contributing to smoother financial operations for international businesses.
Protection from business nationalisation: BOI-certified companies benefit from protection against the nationalisation of their business, providing a safeguard for their investments and operations.
BOI promotion schemes for the tech industry in Thailand
The BOI offers promotion schemes for various tech sectors falling under Category 5 of BOI-promoted activities. Some of the popular tech industries within this category are:
- Category 5.7: Under this category, two distinct types of software industries are eligible for BOI promotion: a. Embedded or High Value-Added Software b. Enterprise Software and/or Digital Content
- Category 5.8: E-Commerce
- Category 5.9: Digital Services (Including fintech). Digital services encompass a wide range of offerings, including software platforms, managed services, digital architecture design, and various industry-specific fintech services like insurtech, regtech, medtech, agritech, etc.
For a digital services company to qualify for BOI promotion, certain conditions must be met:
- Approval from Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society is required before applying for BOI investment promotion.
- The project must hire digital specialists and have a capital investment (excluding land and working capital costs) of at least 1 million baht (approx. USD 28,000).
- Projects should incorporate digital services as part of their offerings.
- Projects with investments of 10 million baht or above (excluding land and working capital expenses) are required to obtain ISO2000 certification or other quality standards approved by Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology within two years from the date of commencing full operations.
- Revenue generated from sales or services directly related to the promoted digital services business will be considered as revenue for the promoted business.
Promoted business categories within the fintech sector in Thailand
The BOI actively fosters and supports investments in specific segments of the fintech sector, recognising their significant strategic importance and their potential to drive robust economic growth in the country. Some of the promoted business categories within the fintech sector are:
- Digital payments and e-wallets: One of the categories within the fintech sector that receives special attention from the BOI is the realm of digital payments and e-wallets. Companies that specialise in offering secure and efficient digital payment solutions are particularly incentivised by the BOI’s framework. This encouragement not only spurs innovation in payment technologies but also helps enhance the convenience and accessibility of digital financial services for the Thai population.
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms: The BOI’s support extends to fintech firms that are engaged in facilitating P2P lending activities. This category holds considerable potential in democratising access to finance, enabling individuals and small businesses to secure loans or investments from a network of peers. As mentioned, the BOI is tasked with reducing regional disparity, so promoting investments in P2P lending platforms contributes to the diversification of Thailand’s financial landscape and enables greater financial inclusion. These platforms receive regulatory guidance, support for scaling their operations, and recognition of their role in promoting alternative lending solutions.
- Blockchain technology: Another area that the BOI actively encourages within the fintech sector is the adoption and utilisation of blockchain technology. Companies that leverage blockchain for various applications, such as supply chain management, smart contracts, and identity verification, are given a boost by the BOI’s promotional efforts. Blockchain’s inherent transparency, security, and efficiency hold the potential to revolutionise multiple industries beyond finance. By supporting blockchain-focused businesses, the BOI is fostering innovation and contributing to the advancement of Thailand’s technological capabilities.
- Insurtech: The BOI also recognises the transformative potential of technology within the insurance sector, leading to the promotion of investments in insurtech startups. These startups focus on developing and offering innovative insurance products and services that leverage cutting-edge technologies. The support from the BOI can encompass a range of advantages, including regulatory guidance tailored to the unique challenges of insurtech, access to funding and partnerships, and the opportunity to collaborate with established players in the insurance industry. This not only drives innovation within insurance but also enhances the overall resilience and effectiveness of Thailand’s financial services sector.
How to apply for BOI Thailand
Step 1: Application submission
Companies are required to submit application forms that correspond to their business category. These forms can be obtained in person at the BOI headquarters in Bangkok or through the BOI’s e-investment portal.
The essential information requested by the BOI includes the following:
- The total registered capital and how the company plans to utilise the investment in its business
- Details about the company’s project
- Employee information, including the anticipated number of foreign and Thai hires
- Information about the skills and experience of the management team
- Estimated earnings and expenses for the company’s first three years of operation
Step 2: Project evaluation
After submitting all relevant forms, business owners must contact BOI officials within ten working days to schedule an interview. Usually, this interview will be conducted with the BOI officer responsible for overseeing the company’s account. In some cases, companies may need to attend a second interview (depending on their business category) with other relevant government entities.
Following the interview(s), the BOI will carefully assess the application and evaluate the business project. The company’s forms will be reviewed, and its investment capital will be taken into consideration. On occasion, the BOI may request additional information from the applying company.
Step 3: Approval/rejection
The BOI will inform the company of the approval or rejection of their application within 40-90 days. The specific time frame for approval is determined by the investment value as follows:
- Investment valuing less than 200 million THB: Promotion received within 40 working days after application acceptance.
- For investments ranging from 200 million to 2 billion THB, the sub-committee will review the submission of necessary documents within 60 working days.
- Investments exceeding 2 billion THB will undergo evaluation by the sub-committee and subsequent approval by the BOI board within 90 working days from the submission of the application.
Step 4: Company registration
Once the application is approved, the applying business must establish a Thai company within six months. Various documents, including the BOI promotion certification application form, company registration certificate, memorandum of association, list of shareholders, investment certificate, technology transfer contract, and form outlining human resource requirements, must be submitted to the Office of the BOI.
Step 5: BOI certificate
Upon the company’s submission of all required documents and successful registration in Thailand, the BOI will provide the investment promotion certificate within ten working days. This certificate will detail the specific obligations that the company is required to follow.
Step 6: Visas and work permits
Following the acquisition of the BOI promotion certificate, the company must register the business in the BOI’s e-expert system before hiring any foreign employees. Once approved, foreign applicants can apply for a work permit and visa through the BOI’s ‘One-Step’ help desk in central Bangkok.
Step 7: BOI progress report and compliance
Upon receiving the BOI promotion certificate, the company is responsible for ensuring full compliance with all BOI regulations. This includes timely reporting to the BOI of all activities leading up to the commencement of operations. BOI-promoted companies must also adhere to Thai regulations concerning accounting and reporting. This involves meeting reporting requirements for the Thai social security fund, withholding taxes, value added taxes, and undergoing yearly auditing.
The procedure for applying for the BOI certification is complex and requires a significant investment of time and effort. Obtaining approvals for business operations and staffing can pose challenges, and even after establishment, adhering to the BOI’s operational requisites often prove demanding. Typical hurdles in achieving and maintaining compliance encompass:
- Crafting and delivering a compelling feasibility study for the approval process
- Substantiating the significance of specific expat managerial and staff roles
- Furnishing convincing proof of foreign employees’ competencies and track records
- Precisely adhering to Thai accounting and financial reporting stipulations
In the dynamic landscape of Southeast Asia’s fintech evolution, Thailand has emerged as a prime destination for businesses seeking to leverage its tech-savvy workforce, supportive policies, and enticing government incentives. By far the most flexible and advantageous route for establishing fintech operations in the county is via Thailand’s Board of Investment. However, achieving accreditation from the BOI presents its own set of challenges and underscores the importance of strategic partnerships when navigating Thai officialdom.
How Acclime can help
Amidst these complexities, Acclime, Asia’s leading business service provider, stands out as a highly experienced partner for facilitating BOI certification in Thailand. The comprehensive support provided by the Acclime Thailand team ensures that businesses can seamlessly navigate the BOI application process, including submitting the necessary documentation, engaging in pivotal interviews, and adhering to compliance obligations. With Acclime as a strategic partner, fintech companies can overcome common regulatory hurdles, such as crafting compelling feasibility studies, substantiating key roles, and meeting stringent accounting requirements.
Contact Acclime Thailand today and embark on a journey of growth, innovation, and triumph in Thailand’s dynamic fintech ecosystem. Your success starts with Acclime.