7 Korea’s Most Promising Fintech Startups That Should Be on Your Watchlist

7 Korea’s Most Promising Fintech Startups That Should Be on Your Watchlist

by June 11, 2024

South Korea’s fintech industry has grown remarkable in recent years, driven by several factors. For one, South Korea boasts a highly developed technological infrastructure with widespread high-speed internet and a high rate of smartphone penetration. This provides a strong foundation for fintech services, allowing for seamless digital transactions and innovation within the financial sector.

Additionally, the government is proactively fostering the fintech industry through initiatives such as its regulatory sandbox, which allows fintech companies to test new products in a controlled environment, as well as open finance and open data policies. These initiatives are contributing to industry growth by encouraging competition and innovation.

At the same time, growing demand among South Korean consumers for convenient, fast, and secure financial services is leading to a surge in the number of fintech startups, with estimates suggesting there are now over 800 such companies in South Korea. These companies are serving a young and digitally-savvy market, which reportedly boasts an impressive 70% adoption rate for fintech services.

Within South Korea’s burgeoning fintech landscape, several ventures have emerged as category leaders, recording substantial growth and garnering investor attention. Today, we look at some of South Korea’s most successful and fastest-growing fintech startups in 2024, highlighting their value propositions and recent achievements.

Viva Republica

Viva Republica

Founded in 2013, Viva Republica is the operator of mobile financial platform Toss Pay, Internet-based lender Toss Bank, brokerage arm Toss Securities, and insurer arbitrage Toss Insurance.

Initially launched in 2015 as a peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfer service, Toss Pay now offers over 40 financial services, including money transfers, loans, stock trading, credit score viewing, and investments. With 22 million registered users and over 15 million monthly active users, Toss Pay has grown to become one of the largest digital wallets in South Korea.

In 2021, Viva Republica introduced Toss Bank, a neobank that quickly gained popularity, boasting over 10 million customers. The bank has launched 35 services, including loans, credit cards, savings accounts, transfers, deposits, investments, and foreign exchange (FX). Notably, in January 2024, Toss Bank launched the first foreign currency account in the country to offer zero fees for buying and selling foreign currency.

Finally, Toss Securities, the brokerage arm of Viva Republica, focuses on mobile-based trading services, particularly in overseas equity trading. Established in 2021, Toss Securities offers a range of products, including US corporate bonds and foreign derivatives, with lower minimum transaction volumes compared to other brokers. It became the first local broker to provide real-time fractional trading of US shares in 2022. As of March 2024, Toss Securities had over 5.8 million registered users.

Viva Republica is currently preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) expected later this year or in early 2025. Securities firms estimate that the company’s valuation could reach up to KRW 20 trillion (US$15.1 billion).

Though Viva Republica never recorded a net profit since its inception, the firm has seen increasing annual revenues. Its Toss Bank and Toss Securities subsidiaries, however, posted annual net profits in 2023. Viva Republica plans to list its subsidiaries Toss Bank, Toss Pay, and Toss Securities following its own listing.

Naver Financial

Naver Financial

Founded in 2019, Naver Financial is the fintech arm of Naver Corporation, a leading South Korean Internet company best known for its search engine and various digital services. Naver Financial was established to expand Naver’s footprint in the fintech sector, leveraging the firm’s extensive user base and technological expertise to offer innovative financial services.

Naver Financial’s flagship service, Naver Pay, is a popular digital wallet that allows users to make online and offline payments, transfer money, and manage their finances via smartphones. Naver Pay is seamlessly integrated into Naver’s ecosystem, providing convenience for users who already engage with other Naver services.

The company also offers a range of other financial products, including loans, insurance, and investment services. These products are designed to be user-friendly and accessible, often utilizing advanced algorithms and big data analytics to provide personalized financial solutions.

With Naver’s extensive user base, Naver Financial has swiftly become a major player in South Korea’s fintech landscape, boasting around 31 million registered users in April 2022, according to Statista. The company posted revenues of approximately KRW 1.5 trillion (US$1 billion) in 2023, an increase from about KRW 1.3 trillion (US$940 million) in 2022.

Last year, Naver Financial expanded its payment services internationally, launching in more than 60 countries and regions through a partnership with UnionPay.

Dunamu

Dunamu

Dunamu, a leading fintech company in South Korea, is known for operating Upbit, the country’s largest cryptocurrency exchange and the first licensed crypto exchange in the country. Established in October 2017, Upbit is said to handle over 80% of crypto trading volumes in the country and account for nearly 5% of the global trading volume, according to Bloomberg.

Dunamu also launched Stockplus in February 2014, a comprehensive investment platform designed to assist private investors in making rational investment decisions. Stockplus offers real-time information on listed and unlisted securities and digital assets, enabling users to manage and trade across aggregated accounts from 11 securities firms.

It also operates Stockplus Unlisted, a leading domestic unlisted stock trading platform launched in 2019; Maplus, an investment management platform introduced in 2016; and 2ndblock, a metaverse platform launched in 2021.

In 2023, Dunamu operated a total of 14 subsidiaries. During the pandemic bull run, Dunamu became one of South Korea’s highest-valued startups with a peak valuation of US$15.7 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Bithumb

Bithumb

Founded in 2014, Bithumb is South Korea’s second-largest crypto exchange, with over eight million registered users, one million mobile app users and a current cumulative transaction volume exceeding US$1 trillion. The company claims it has facilitated 59.19% of the entire South Korean bitcoin transaction volume and accounts for approximately 15% of the global market. Its highest daily transaction volume exchange currently stands at more than US$7 billion.

Bithumb has been aggressively expanding across South Korea and aims for a debut on the Kosdaq, South Korea’s equivalent of the Nasdaq in the US, in the latter half of 2025. The company had faced some setback after former chairman Lee Jeong-hoon’s role in the company came under scrutiny, suggesting internal issues within the company, Decenter reported in March 2024.

Carrot

Carrot

Established in 2019 through a joint venture partnership involving prominent investors such as Hanwha, SK Telecom, Hyundai Motor Group, Altos Ventures, and STIC Investments, Carrot operates as a fully-licensed 100% digital insurance carrier, aiming to disrupt the market with easy and accessible insurance, transparent premiums, artificial intelligence (AI)-automated accident registration, and prompt dispatch of help services, all facilitated by proprietary technology.

Carrot provides Pay-Per-Mile auto insurance, which bills premiums on a monthly basis based on measured driving distance using its proprietary IT device, as well as the Members-Auto service, which uses advanced analytics to assess a driver’s habits and reward points based on safe driving scores.

The company also collaborates with industry stakeholders to co-develop innovative insurance solutions. This innovation strategy has led to over 100 national and international partnerships, including collaboration with the South Korean government unit overseeing national highways and traffic controls.

As of February 2024, Carrot’s flagship data-driven auto insurance cover had achieved distribution of over 1.8 million policies. In March, it announced a partnership with Lippo General Insurance Indonesia to develop a behavior-based insurance solution for the Southeast Asian market, marking a significant milestone and acknowledging Carrot’s technological expertise and data capabilities in international markets.

Carrot has secured at least two rounds of funding, closing a KRW 175 billion (US$145 million) Series A in 2022, and a KRW 130 billion (US$108 million) round in 2023.

Qraft Technologies

Qraft Technologies

Founded in 2016, Qraft Technologies is a fintech company aiming to drive growth in the asset management industry through its innovations in AI and investing. Qraft Technologies offers a variety of AI-powered investment solutions, including a security selection engine, asset allocation engine, robo-advisory solution and an AI order-execution system. From data processing to alpha research and portfolio execution, Qraft Technologies has an established track record in developing cutting-edge AI solutions that have been adopted by over 25 financial institutions worldwide.

Since 2019, Qraft Technologies’ AI models have been particularly successful in powering Hana Life’s variable insurance products, effectively managing market risks and enhancing returns. The core element of these models lies in proactive risk detection, analyzing vast amounts of data to identify market changes. This success has led to the launch of 23 AI-powered variable annuity products by eight life insurance companies in South Korea.

Additionally, Qraft Technologies builds multi-asset portfolios that do not rely solely on conventional correlation assumptions between asset classes. Instead, its AI models leverage predictive power to enhance risk management, offering investors better risk-adjusted returns.

Qraft Technologies received a US$146 million investment from SoftBank Group in 2022, entering into a strategic partnership to accelerate AI in the asset management industry.

Wadiz

Wadiz

Launched in 2012, Wadiz is a popular South Korean crowdfunding platform that connects entrepreneurs, startups, and creatives with small-scale investors. Using an all-or-nothing funding model, Wadiz enables projects to move into production once they surpass their funding goals. The platform supports a wide range of projects, including technology, creative works, and social initiatives, and offers services such as marketing, product development, and investor relations.

Wadiz has become a critical intermediary for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups lacking sufficient funds. By facilitating crowdfunding campaigns, the company helps bring innovative products to market. It also provides an online sales platform called Wadiz Store, which allows businesses that have succeeded in funding to continue sales at all times. Wadiz Store has seen substantial growth, with over 1,500 brands joining within two years of its launch.

Wadiz has also expanding its presence through offline channels, announcing earlier this year the launch of the Wadiz Flagship Store Seongsu, in Seongsu-dong in Seoul, where it showcases crowdfunding success products and popular Wadiz Store brands.

Wadiz is now reportedly preparing for an IPO in 2024 after strong performances in 2023. The startup has raised a cumulative investment of KRW 147.5 billion (US$106.6 million) from investors such as Lotte Holdings, Shinhan Venture Investment, Smilegate Investment, Korea Investment and Securities, Korea Investment Partners, and Dt& Investment.

 

Featured image credit: edited from freepik