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.

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