Singapore Awards First Digital Banking Licenses to Sea Group and Grab

December 5, 2020 4:11 am

Beijing (PingWest)—Singapore awards first digital banking licenses on Friday. Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm Grab’s venture with Singtel and internet platform company Sea Group have each won licenses to run the state-country’s first digital banks.

Singapore’s criteria, which included local control and S$1.5 billion ($1.13 billion) in paid-up capital for full digital banking, was stricter than its main financial rival Hong Kong, which has issued eight digital licences, Reuters said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) expects the digital banks to start operating from early 2022 after meeting the necessary pre-conditions of Singapore, one of the world’s top financial centres, and Southeast’s main hub.

“We expect them to thrive alongside the incumbent banks and raise the industry’s bar in delivering quality financial services, particularly for currently underserved businesses and individuals,” said Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

MAS, the central bank, had previously shortlisted 14 of 21 applications received by Dec. 31 last year.

Grab, Southeast Asia’s most valued startup at over $15 billion which is backed by Softbank, will hold 60% in its venture with Singtel. Grab has evolved from a food delivery app operator into a one-stop shop for ride-hailing, food delivery, payments and insurance. Recently, the startup, which runs popular e-wallet GrabPay in multiple southeast asian countries, is in advanced merger talk with its rival Gojek.

Li, Sea’s chairman and group CEO said the license gave the firm a chance to address the “underserved” financial needs of young consumers and small and medium businesses in Singapore. The Nasdaq-listed Singaporean tech giant has a trio of digital services: the gaming arm Garena, the e-commerce platform Shopee and SeaMoney, which focuses on digital financial services.

On Friday, Sea Group's stock price once rose to more than 9%, reaching $203 per share. Founded in 2009 by Chinese-born entrepreneur Forrest Li, who became a Singapore citizen, Sea boasts a market capitalization of $90 billion.

Alibaba Group affiliate Ant Group and a consortium comprising China’s Greenland Financial Holding Group also won the licenses.