“We will avoid conflicts and trade blockades”

We publish here excerpts from speeches by Dr. Ng Eng Hen, Singapore's Minister of Defense, at the Shangri-La Dialogue

We must and can avoid a physical conflict in Asia. Nor could we in the world endure another geopolitical shock after the war in Ukraine and what is happening in the Middle East. And I feel I can say that one of the prevailing moods among ministers and officials attending this year's Dialogue, compared to last year's Dialogue, is that what happened in Europe and the Middle East “must not happen in Asia.” We are learning important lessons to do or not to do by observing what is happening. (...) I would say that there is a strengthened determination that conflict should not happen in Asia. The United States and China are predominant players and their relationship will influence the future of the Asia-Pacific. Since the Shangri-La Dialogue last year, there have been positive signs. Joe Biden and Lloyd Austin have made it clear that the U.S. wants competition but not conflict. And these days the Secretary of Defense has stressed that a war is neither imminent nor inevitable. Xi Jinping has assured that he does not want to challenge the U.S. role and that he does not want a new cold war. (...) But in this stream of events that also sees signs of trade clashes, it is important to increase dialogue at the highest level. Trade and security are two sides of the same coin. The regional security architecture leaves countries believing that they need new deterrence initiatives, but we must not forget about the crucial role of reassurance. Despite their strategic rivalry, both the United States and China are critical to the global economy, on which they all depend. (...) Washington and Beijing do not need a third party to mediate between them, and I also doubt that a third party can help them. They must and can deal with this issue on their own. We, understood as Singapore and as ASEAN, can foster increased cooperation among the various regional and international actors. We are like the hobbits in “Lord of the Rings”: ASEAN should keep the ring because the great powers covet it too much. We are devoted to neutrality and prosperity. Even if we occasionally have disputes among ourselves, we resolve them peacefully. Look at the agreements between Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam over the South China Sea. (...) Our approach is to convince the powers, be they large, medium or other, that it is in their collective interest to have a system that protects the rights of both large and small powers. An inclusive system to avoid military alliances and trade blocs.

Hong Kong and Singapore: patterns of development and economic competition

The Singaporean economic model is more resilient and complicated to replicate because it is based on unique characteristics

By Francesca Leva

The competition between Hong Kong and Singapore is not just a regional phenomenon but a global one. These two cities, both international finance and trade centers, are not just rivals but also mirrors reflecting the economic prowess of the Asian and Southeast Asian region. They boast some of the best transportation systems worldwide, house the most prestigious universities, and attract tourists from all corners of the globe. In terms of business climate, both Singapore and Hong Kong offer streamlined regulations and competitive tax systems, numerous investment opportunities, and dynamic sectors, making the competition even more intense. Historically, Hong Kong and Singapore have been fierce competitors, each with its unique features. However, the outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent measures taken by both governments have sparked a debate on whether Hong Kong's golden age is waning in favor of Singapore’s ascent.

 Hong Kong is renowned for being a free-market economy driven by international trade and finance, where governmental laissez-faire and low taxation have been favorably conducive to businesses. In Hong Kong, only income earned within the city is taxable, the maximum corporate tax is 16.5%, and legal compliance is much less rigid. On the other hand, Singapore was classified as the easiest place to do business, as well as a corruption-free country. Although the corporate tax is slightly higher – 17% - Singapore can count on its robust legal framework and extremely efficient workforce. In terms of investments, Hong Kong pivots on one of the largest stock markets, and it has become, in fact, an IPO hub. Considering its close ties with China Mainland, the city has also become the largest offshore RMB hub worldwide, originating and intermediating 2/3 of China’s FDI and Outward Direct Investments. On the other hand, Singapore is famous for its generous grants, loans, and tax incentives, which attract numerous startups, angel investors, and venture capitalists.

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Source: CBRE.

Immagine che contiene testo, schermata, Carattere, diagrammaDescrizione generata automaticamente

Source: CBRE.

Recent developments in Hong Kong have injected a new dimension into the competition, sparking a debate about the city’s life quality. First, Hong Kong is dominated by oligopolies and cartels, especially in the construction, power, and supermarket sectors, while Singapore is seen as more innovative and diversified. Moreover, the pandemic measures – which burnt most fiscal reserves - and a critical job market situation led to around 200.000 ex-pats leaving Hong Kong, while Singapore saw a 16% increase in foreign professionals. It is, however, worth mentioning that while foreign companies decreased by 5% in Hong Kong, mainland companies relocating to the island during this period increased by 18%, perhaps paving the way for a new phenomenon. As a consequence of this economic divergence, as of 2022 Singapore’s GDP was 1.7 times higher than Hong Kong’s.

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Source: World Bank.

Singapore also displays some critical issues, such as the increasing use of capital punishment, an inactive civil society, as well as prohibitive housing prices. The ongoing competition between the two centers has also started to involve cultural and social life: online, it is easy to find debates about which city has the best food, which one has the best nightlife, or where the most scenic views can be found.

What is interesting from this competition, however, is not whose GPD is higher or who displays greater FDI flow figures. It is rather a matter of developmental and economic models, which then influence the way these places are subject to and react to the changing patterns of globalization. Hong Kong policies have increasingly focused on making the island a gateway to Beijing by integrating it deeper into its economy. It is worth mentioning that 77% of listed companies in Hong Kong are from China Mainland. Hong Kong has developed as a knowledge-intensive economy with a strong focus on its leading sectors: business and financial services, which make it highly dependent on capital flows. On the other hand, Singapore has invested massively in R&D, human capital, as well as industry diversification. There, MNCs play a great role in local development, attracting talent and broadening the range of opportunities: the local economy is more diversified, encompassing the manufacturing sector, financial services, as well as information, tech, and communication services. Finally, as opposed to Hong Kong, Singapore acts as a gateway to Southeast Asia – being one of the founding members of ASEAN – benefitting from lowered trade barriers and distancing itself from the China-US competition.

Immagine che contiene testo, schermata, diagramma, lineaDescrizione generata automaticamente

Source: CBRE.

Immagine che contiene testo, schermata, linea, CarattereDescrizione generata automaticamente

Source: CBRE.

Overall, Hong Kong's focus on its competitive advantage exposes it more to global trade flows and globalization trajectories, as its features can be replicated in other places at lower costs, such as China Mainland. In contrast, the Singaporean economic model is much more resilient to replication, as it is built on unique features, domestic strengths, and stratified R&D progress, making the city more resistant to disruptive economic events.

Singapore, the best is yet to come

We publish here an excerpt from the inauguration speech of Lawrence Wong, the new prime minister of the city-state

Today marks a significant milestone: a passing of the baton, not only between leadership groups, but also between different generations. I am the first Prime Minister of Singapore to be born after independence. Almost all of my team colleagues were also born after 1965. The story of my generation is the story of independent Singapore. Our lives bear witness to the values that have forged our nation: Incorruptibility, meritocracy, multiracialism, justice and equality. These principles are deeply rooted in all of us. We understand the vital importance of good leadership, political stability and long-term planning. We ourselves are the beneficiaries of the imaginative policies of our founding fathers, pursued with determination and patience for decades. Shaped by these experiences, our leadership style will be different from that of previous generations. We will lead in our own way. We will continue to think boldly and think far ahead. We know there is still much to be done as the history of our island-nation continues to unfold. There are still many pages to be written. And the most beautiful chapters of our Singapore history await us. (...) Singapore's position is strong. But the world around us is constantly changing. For 30 years, since the end of the Cold War, we have enjoyed unprecedented peace and stability in the Asia Pacific. Unfortunately, that era is over. Great powers are competing to shape a new, as yet undefined global order. We need to prepare for these new realities and adapt to a more messy, riskier world. (...) Today Singapore is at a high economic level compared to most other countries. By international standards, we have built excellent systems of education, housing, health care and transportation. But circumstances are changing, technology is advancing and the population is aging rapidly. Therefore, we cannot afford to muddle along. We must continue to do our best to improve, upgrade and transform Singapore. I am convinced that we can and must do better. As Singaporeans, we all know what it means to exceed expectations, to go beyond what others think we can do, or even what we ourselves thought we could do. When the going gets tough, we don't collapse. We move forward, with confidence in our fellow citizens and in Singapore's future.

Full speech here

Who is Lawrence Wong, new Premier of Singapore

After 20 years Singapore is changing Premier. And for the first time, it is not a member of the Lee family

By Francesco Mattogno

On May 15, Singapore will have a new prime minister, the fourth in its history. As has always been the case since the city-state's independence (1965) to the present, the handover will not be due to the result of an election, or a vote of no confidence in parliament. For the third time since it has been in power, that is, since forever, the People's Action Party (PAP) has carefully planned well in advance the leadership change, which will pass into the hands of the “fourth generation” (4G) of party leaders.

Last April 15, the current premier Lee Hsien Loong, who has been in office since 2004, announced that he will leave his post to Wong Shyun Tsai, known to all as Lawrence Wong. Underscoring how everything has been organized down to the last detail, a month in advance we already know the time when the swearing-in ceremony will be held in the presidential palace in Singapore, namely 8 p.m. on May 15, precisely. Wong will thus become the fourth prime minister in the country's history, the second not to be a member of the Lee family.

Lee Hsien Loong is in fact the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, who came to power in 1959 and the first premier in the independent history of the Republic of Singapore, which became an autonomous state in 1965 following its split from Malaysia. The PAP has ruled continuously ever since, legitimized by the enormous economic growth of the city-state, which it has transformed over the decades into one of the world's leading financial centers. Singapore holds regular elections, which the PAP has always overwhelmingly won, monopolizing parliament. The next ones are scheduled by November 2025, but could be brought forward.

The change of leadership comes at perhaps the most sensitive time in the PAP's history. Meanwhile, in contrast to what happened during the 1990 handover between Lee Kuan Yew and his successor, Goh Chok Tong, the Lee family's historic hold on the party seems likely to fade in the near future. At that time Goh immediately appointed Lee Hsien Loong as his deputy, making it already clear how he would be the future leader of the PAP and premier of the country, more than a decade in advance.

Today, however, there do not seem to be any Lee heirs on the horizon ready to keep the PAP a family-owned asset for decades to come. This will make Wong the first premier to have no explicit connections to the Lees, although it is likely that, at least for the next few years, Lee Hsien Loong will continue to exert his influence over the PAP and thus the country.

Also complicit in this situation, the party has begun to show signs of fragility. Wong was not the first choice for the leadership change. Before him in 2018 was designated Heng Swee Keat, who was supposed to take Lee's place as early as a few years ago. The outbreak of the Covid pandemic led the PAP to postpone the transition, whose stability was then challenged by the 2020 elections, in which the party won “only” 83 of the 93 elective seats, one of the worst results in its history. The relatively modest outcome of the vote convinced Heng to step aside.

Instead, the pandemic proved to be an opportunity, for Wong. A former finance minister and deputy prime minister, Wong was noted for the good work he did as co-chair of the task force set up by the government to handle the emergency caused by Covid. In 2022, the PAP leadership then appointed him leader of 4G and de facto successor to Lee, but not unanimously (15 in favor out of 19), denoting at least a slight internal fragmentation. To this must be added the scandals that in recent months have technically led to the resignation, in practice the removal, of parliament speaker Tan Chuan-Jin (over an extramarital affair with a female MP) and Transport Minister Subramaniam Iswaran, who was accused of corruption (we reported on them here).

The two affairs caused a stir, undermining the image of integrity and fairness that the PAP has built up over the decades and contributing to the strengthening of the opposition, led by the Workers' Party (WP). The party's 4G members thus do not enjoy the same level of adulation shown by Singaporeans toward previous leaders (there is already no shortage of nostalgics and hagiographies of Lee Hsien Loong).

Wong will have to deal with this and a domestic situation that is not the best. Although Singapore's per-capita income remains among the highest in the world ($80,000 in 2022), income inequality between the upper and lower segments of the population is increasing, as is the cost of living. This is leading Singaporeans to have fewer and fewer children or leave the city-state, while the country's perception as a stable financial center is being eroded by increasing corruption and “dirty” money laundering. The various international crises are also challenging the international order that has allowed Singapore to thrive in recent decades.

Italian Startups in Singapore

With a growing innovation ecosystem and a key role in global trade, Singapore offers unparalleled opportunities for Italian companies

Italian innovation puts one foot in Asia. By way of Singapore. Nov. 7 marked the return of the Global Startup Program to the city-state, which aims to be a catalyst for innovation and collaboration between Italy and the Southeast Asian region across ASEAN countries. Organized by the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the program is an opportunity for eight Italian startups from various areas, including fintech, healthtech, blockchain, health & fitness, sustainability and hrtech. The event, hosted by Accelerator Tenity Singapore, offers startups the chance to strengthen their technical, organizational and financial capabilities during the incubation process. The eight Italian innovative startups, including Brain & Fitness Italy, Carchain, Coffeefrom, Fairtile, Hacking Talents SRL SB, iWise, Sensosan Sell and Wibiocard. Dante Brandi, Italy's ambassador to Singapore and Brunei, stressed the importance of this participation, describing the program as a catalyst for innovation and collaboration and the strengthening of ties between Italy and Singapore. Brandi highlighted Singapore's key role in Italy's global trade strategies in the ASEAN region, with significant Italian export and investment figures. Singapore, chosen as an ideal location, represents a crucial springboard for Italian startups. With a growing innovative ecosystem and a key role in global trade, Singapore offers unparalleled opportunities for Italian companies. Ilaria Piccinni, deputy trade commissioner for Singapore and the Philippines at the Italian Trade Agency, emphasized the synergy and energy in Singapore's startup ecosystem, highlighting the potential for Italian startups to thrive and make a significant impact. With a wide range of activities planned through Dec. 1, 2023, the program aims to further consolidate the presence and influence of Italian startups in the global innovation landscape. Singapore and ASEAN represent a pivotal hub to achieve the goal.

More and more wealth in Singapore

 The number of family offices - companies that manage the lives and assets of the wealthiest clans - rose to 1,100 at the end of last year, from just 400 in 2020

Article by Tommaso Magrini

Singapore is getting richer. The assets managed by the city-state asset management industry have doubled in just six years, reaching about 4,000 billion dollars and about 80% of these assets are foreign. Blackrock Inc. is expanding into Singapore, as is the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. Swiss banks are also expanding: UBS Group AG’s offices dominate an entire block in a prominent shopping district, with a staff of 3,000, a private gym and a cappuccino bar. The rapid rise of money management is the result of a very specific project. In 2020 the government introduced a new type of legal structure, called a variable capital company, which provides tax and legal incentives to hedge fund, venture capital and private equity companies that settle in Singapore, similar to offshore hub programs. Since last October, more than 600 companies have benefited from the new program. Some of the world’s largest money managers have settled in Singapore, including Marshall Wace, Citadel Enterprise Americas of Griffin and D.E. Shaw. Billionaire Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management has expanded its Singapore team by over 50%, reaching 100 people. Overall, hedge fund assets grew by 30% in 2021, reaching $191 billion. The number of family offices - companies that manage the lives and assets of the richest clans - rose to 1,100 at the end of last year, from just 400 in 2020. Among the incentives to have contributed are the 2019 tax changes and a program that provides a fast track to residence for the ultra wealthy. Singapore is also benefiting from the willingness of several companies seeking diversification in the region or a basis for wider Asian operations beyond mainland China and Hong Kong.

A center of shared aspirations

We publish here an excerpt from the inauguration speech of Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore's new president

I have dedicated my life to serving Singapore, our home. Nothing could be more meaningful to me. My greatest privilege has been to work actively on the ground, week after week, for more than two decades. Listening to people's hopes and concerns, helping them overcome life's difficulties and sharing their joys. (...) An equitable and inclusive society goes far beyond government policies. It is about all of us. It is about the respect and friendship we bring to one another. Regardless of our background and educational achievement. Regardless of race, religion or any other differences. And it's about knowing that if one group of our people loses hope, all of us will have less hope as Singaporeans. Now more than ever we need to deepen our solidarity as Singaporeans so that we can lift each other up. (...) The challenges facing our country will increase. We are in a time of transition, both in Singapore and internationally. We are entering a new, more difficult and more complex era. The world is increasingly divided and unstable. Global crises-economic, geopolitical and environmental-are erupting more often. They will test all countries, especially smaller ones like Singapore. At home, in Singapore, we are becoming a democracy with more diverse opinions. I see this as inevitable and healthy, and I have said it many times. But our real challenge as Singaporeans is to ensure that this diversity of opinion does not lead us to a more divided society, like many others. We need to be a democracy with more room for diverse opinions and a thriving civil society. But to be confident in our future, we must also be a society with a strong center of shared aspirations and respect for all citizens.(...) We can and must strengthen a culture of respect for all Singaporeans in the years ahead. We must never become just another small country. I have been flying Singapore's flag internationally for many years and will actively work to strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones. (...) In my many years in government as a minister, I have remained true to my ideals of social justice and inclusion and have worked continuously, year after year, to build consensus on practical and sustainable ways to improve the lives of ordinary workers and citizens. Although the president is distinct from the government and does not engage in politics, I will never give up this purpose in my life and mental independence in the performance of my duties. We will go through ups and downs. But we are still one place where we can work together to make the future better for all.

Who is the new Singapore’s President?

Former vice-premier Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 66, got 70.4 percent of the vote

Article by Tommaso Magrini

Singapore’s presidential elections took place on Friday 1st September. over 2.5 million Singaporeans went to the polls at 1,264 polling stations across the island. According to the final results, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 66, garnered 70.4 % of the vote, while his fellow candidates Ng Kok Song and Tan Kin Lian, both 75, obtained 15.72% and 13,88%. The margin by which the former deputy Premier Tharman won, was surprising and unexpected to some analysts, given the recent scandals that have plagued the People’s Action Party (PAP) in recent weeks and which, they argued, could have invalidated his candidacy. this was not the case. The winner has a deep relationship with the party that has always dominated the city-state scene. If the election was seen as a barometer of public sentiment, then the PAP has confirmed its grip. Tharman was a popular politician, having won several parliamentary election victories, including the largest margin of votes in the 2020 general election as a member of the PAP. Tharman resigned from the party and his government posts in July to run for president after 22 years in politics. The President’s role is largely ceremonial in Singapore, although the office is supposed to provide checks and balances on the government. The President has veto powers over any specific budget or transaction that may draw on the national ‘grand reserves’. The president can also veto the appointment or removal of key public officials and instruct the anti-fraud office to investigate specific cases even when the Prime Minister disagrees. Premier Lee Hsien Loong said he called Tharman to congratulate him. “I assured him of my government’s full cooperation”

Ambassador Mario Vattani bids farewell to Singapore

The diplomat is leaving the city-state. We publish here an excerpt of his farewell to the Italian community, made in a video on YouTube 

As I prepare to leave this office, I would like to say goodbye to the members of our Italian community in Singapore. Your support and presence have been essential in developing this dynamic partnership with Singapore. I believe that we have indeed succeeded in making the opportunities offered by Singapore better known in Italy, and the proof of this are the many agreements signed, the many visits by senior officials we have welcomed, from those responsible for foreign affairs and transport to those for infrastructure, as well as the missions of our Ministry of the Interior, the Bank of Italy and many academics. With this government, Italy is increasingly looking to South-East Asia as a region of great growth for our companies, and the commitment will increase in Singapore given its geopolitical and economic centrality. You will recall that right here, on 1 May, the very first phase of the Indo-Pacific campaign of our most modern navy ship, the Francesco Morosini, began. For us Singapore is an important showcase, a country able to anticipate trends that will be followed by the rest of a region with 600 million inhabitants, and for this reason since I arrived I have tried in every way to increase our visibility with popular events such as the Italian Festival, which totalled something like 300,000 visitors this year. We have also increased our presence from a structural point of view. Since September last year, we have been able to move the Embassy to a new prestigious and central location that also houses a showroom for our companies. We know that one characteristic of Singapore is the high concentration of capital, which is why we launched the Global Sorta last year, successfully bringing our start-ups here. It is no coincidence that our Minister of Foreign Affairs President Antonio Tajani chose Singapore along with San Francisco and Tel Aviv to create an Italian Innovation Hub. Singapore has ambitious plans for the future and we can work together to realise them. Now my appointment as Commissioner General for Italy at Expo Osaka 2025 is a new challenge and I am sure that we will be able to create an exceptional showcase in Osaka for companies, creating new challenges for the future.

Singapore flies with free Wi-Fi for all

As of July 1, Singapore Airlines becomes one of the first international airlines to offer free and unlimited Wi-Fi to all passengers

Article by Tommaso Magrini

Surfing the Internet has become increasingly important, even while in the air. Singapore Airlines, reports the South China Morning Post, has joined the handful of carriers that offer free in-flight Wi-fi to all passengers and, starting July 1, customers will be able to surf without the usual charges or data limits. In-flight Internet has long been an inconvenient and messy add-on cost that is usually more trouble than it is worth, if available at all, and usually remains exclusive to those paying for a first or business class seat. Although time spent online has declined since the Covid-19 pandemic closures, in 2022 the 5 billion regular Internet users still spent more than six hours a day browsing and scrolling, according to We Are Social, a British company that tracks web and social media use. At the same time, air passenger numbers are on the upswing. According to the International Air Transport Association, global passenger traffic is back to 90 percent of its pre-Covid level in April 2023, meaning the world is on track to return to the 4.5 billion passengers carried in 2019, the year before the pandemic began and travel restrictions were imposed.

Hence, carriers like Singapore Airlines are banking on free Wi-fi to persuade passengers to choose the airline to fly with. Air New Zealand is the best airline in the world; Singapore ranks first in first class. "In today's increasingly hyper-connected world, in-flight high-speed Wi-fi connectivity is one of the most important requirements for our customers," said Yeoh Phee Teik, Senior Vice President Customer Experience at the airline. To access Wi-fi, passengers will have to sign up for the airline's free loyalty program, similar to how some of the few other carriers that offer free Wi-fi, such as Qatar Airways and Delta Air Lines, operate. Singapore Airlines said the offer will apply to 129 of its 136 aircraft, with the exception of seven Boeing 737-800 NGs that it says "are not Wi-fi enabled."

No to protectionism and arrogance

We publish here an excerpt from the speech at Chatham House of Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister of Singapore

The United States and China should abandon the “hubris” of claiming superiority of their respective political systems and instead should focus on collaborating to advance their self-interests. There are no saints in the relationship between the superpowers. Both of them need to make adjustments. Both of them need to avoid a sense of hubris with regard to the superiority of their own systems. And both of them need to recognise that there’s actually a great deal in common in the way they go about trying to improve lives and grow incomes.Those are huge grounds for seeing eye to eye and developing rules to make sure that trade is fair, investment is fair and intellectual property is protected. These are rules that can be developed. The absence of a strategy of interdependence would not necessarily mean that China gradually withers away. It eventually rises anyway but when it finally gets there it will know who made it extremely difficult for it to get there. That makes for a dangerous world. There was a “step change” in the threat perception about China in the US in 2016. I don’t think that step change in the curve was occasioned by any new strategy on the part of China or any new development in China’s market share or China’s actions in any regard. It was domestic politics. Politics matters, and I think we are trundling down a road where we are in the politics of pessimism and grievance and it has to be redressed. China doesn’t yet feel it is ready to be an equal with the US at the centre stage but wanted to play a more major role in rule setting in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, in trade and other areas, On Taiwan, no serious observer, including those who are very close observers and who are engaged in this believes that China wants war with Taiwan. Neither does the US. And it’s extremely important to preserve prior understandings on Taiwan, and preserve the constructive ambiguity on Taiwan that has lasted for decades on the part of both the US and China. About global trade, if we go for a system that is protectionist, that imposes restrictions and where your actions domestically have negative spillovers on the rest of the world, you might be able to preserve relative superiority, at least for some period of time. But it is almost certainly at a cost of absolute performance everywhere.

The fintech race in Singapore

More and more regional and international players look to the city-state to launch digital banks

Singapore gears up on digital banking. Deregulation in the city-state is encouraging large regional tech companies such as Grab (the ubiquitous superapp in Southeast Asia) to enter the market, hoping to attract younger customers and small businesses. Although this is expected to boost banking competition, virtual retail banks have yet to bring their operations fully online due to persistent regulatory restrictions. Meanwhile, incumbents such as Standard Chartered are digitizing their services at an accelerating pace. GXS, a digital bank majority owned by Grab, has expanded services since its opening in September. "We are a bank created by digital natives for digital natives," CEO Charles Wong told Nikkei Asia. GXS targets so-called gig economy workers, such as those who deliver meals or give rides to commuters via the Grab app. The bank also seeks to attract those just starting their careers. There are no minimum balance or account maintenance fees. Meanwhile, Standard Chartered, one of the UK's largest banks, has begun operating a digital bank called Trust Bank, which in four months has attracted more than 400,000 users. Trust Bank was co-founded with FairPrice Group, operator of Singapore's largest supermarket chain. Meanwhile, Ant Group, the fintech affiliate of Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding, has obtained a digital wholesale license, allowing it to conduct transactions for businesses. Ant's Anext Bank, a digital-only bank, allows Singapore-registered companies to open a business account online in an instant, even from abroad, a first for the city-state. The trend looks set to continue. In a survey conducted by Visa, 88 percent of SMEs in Singapore said they plan to conduct at least some of their transactions digitally.