Singapore Race for Digital Licences Enters Final Stretch

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Asiamoney, September 22 2020

Singapore has whittled the bidders for its five digital banking licences down from 21 to 14; several are well-funded partnerships with Chinese backers and a track record in disruption. But has Covid-19 moved the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s goalposts?

Contestants in the race for Singapore’s five new digital banking licences are approaching the finishing line. In June, the Monetary Authority of Singapore announced that the initial field of 21 applications had been whittled down to 14 that met the grade.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the whole process – from the initial invitation for applications back in August 2019, up to the present day – has coincided with a complete reshaping of the economic and social environment. As the bidders present their cases, they must be wondering whether the MAS’s own considerations have changed along the way.

“In the pre-Covid world, I would have imagined the focus would be on innovation, on who can bring in the cheapest services for the segments the MAS was aiming for – the under-banked in Singapore,” says Thilan Wickramasinghe, head of research for Asean financials at Maybank Kim Eng. “Initially, that would have been the primary deciding factor. Increasingly, now it will be stability, safety and capital.”

Innovation will still be a big part of it, he says, “but MAS will be looking at who’s got the deepest pockets and the ability to manoeuvre, even if there is a prolonged slowdown.”

That being the case, who’s likely to come out on top?

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Chris Wright
Chris Wright
Chris is a journalist specialising in business and financial journalism across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is Asia editor for Euromoney magazine and has written for publications including the Financial Times, Institutional Investor, Forbes, Asiamoney, the Australian Financial Review, Discovery Channel Magazine, Qantas: The Australian Way and BRW. He is the author of No More Worlds to Conquer, published by HarperCollins.

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