Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank launches $30M ‘Beacon’ fund for fintech

Roll up, roll up, there’s a new fintech VC fund in Southeast Asia town. Today, Thailand-based Kasikorn Bank announced its inaugural tech fund which is 1 billion THB, just shy of $30 million, in size.

Kasikorn, which was founded in 1945 and is one of Thailand’s major banks, is calling the fund Beacon — think lights on top of lighthouses — and it is aimed at giving the firm first-mover advantage on global tech through startups based in Thailand and overseas. Thanapong Na Ranong, formerly with InVent, a VC affiliated with mobile operator AIS, will lead Beacon VC.

The investment thesis is “to learn from startups and improve our go-to market strategy,” Na Ranong said in an interview, adding that the bank would not put shackles on its portfolio companies.

The capital, which is 100 percent from the bank, will go towards direct investments in startups and also contributions into VC funds as an LP. Kasikorn said today that it has already backed Dymon Asia, a fintech fund headquartered in Singapore that is targeting a $50 million final close, and put money into Bangkok-based FlowAccount, its first direct investment in a startup.

Going forward, it is targeting three to five deals per year ranging from seed-plus to Series A stage with a target across all aspects of fintech. The firm aims to lead or co-lead investments with a typical check size of $500,000 to $3 million. It did not disclose what portion of the fund is reserved for follow-on deals, but the capital itself is anticipated to last between four and six years.

“The primary markets for our focus are in Southeast Asia, but we are also opportunistic in Europe and China,” senior investment manager Photchara Sripincha told TechCrunch. The U.S. market, he added, is not a primary target at this point.

Beacon plans to invest in two more funds beyond Dymon, and they are likely to be its vehicle for entering and understanding new regions.

“First we need to expand our horizon and learn about new ecosystems” before making direct investments outside of Southeast Asia, Sripincha added.

Beyond offering capital, Kasikorn aims to woo startups and funds with its technology play. The bank operates a tech arm — Kasikorn Bank Technology Group, or KBTG — which offers a different partnership angle beyond working with the bank directly for access to its customer base, including over five million mobile banking customers.

“A lot of collaboration comes from our tech company, it is agile and doesn’t operate like a bank. We have that customer base — including 35 percent SME marketshare, 40 percent mobile marketshare — and a strong tech team that can provide more of those services. If a tech company wanted to come here to Thailand, we believe we are the perfect partner,” Sripincha explained.

Kasikorn cites Beacon Interface, a startup offering bank services to visually impaired customers, as one of its KBTG success stories. It span out of the bank last year and works closely with Beacon/Kasikorn’s ‘business incubation’ team.

Kasikorn is one of a number of banks in Thailand to have taken an active interest in tech startups.

Bangkok Bank partnered with Hong Kong-based Nest to offer an accelerator program, while Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) launched its Digital Ventures arm which covers startup/fund investments and an accelerator program. Digital Ventures is also a backer of the Dymon Asia fund, and its other investments include Singapore-based VC fund Golden Gate Ventures and Ripple, a blockchain startup based in San Francisco.