License To Disrupt: Digital Banks To Shake Up Singapore

Asia continues to lead the way when it comes to fintech.

Technology-obsessed Singapore is embracing digital banking. At this summer’s annual dinner of the Association of Banks, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, chair of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, announced that the regulator is ready to issue up to five new digital banking licenses to qualified applicants.

“The banking sector is on the cusp of transformation,” Tharman said, “with the far-reaching effects of digitalization stimulating a fundamental rethink of the role of banks in advanced financial centers.”

Among those expected to apply are Razer, a gaming hardware manufacturer; Grab, which began life as a taxi-hailing app; InstaREM, a funds-transfer portal; and Singtel, the big mobile network operator.

“Ride-hailing companies can now give banks and financial institutions the sort of granular data that previously was only available to organizations such as telcos,” says Hugh Mason, chief of corporate accelerator JFDI.Asia.

Entry by Grab, which is backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group, would mark the biggest shake-up in years for Singapore banking. Grab’s 3.7 million users already maintain monetary balances in digital wallets. If the MAS permits, Grab could offer competitive interest rates on these accounts, and effectively attract balances from traditional banks.