Singapore to assess COVID-19 impact on digital bank bidders - sources

Anshuman Daga
File photo of the logo of the Monetary Authority of Singapore at its building in Singapore

By Anshuman Daga

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Bidders for five Singapore digital bank licences on offer will have to factor in how the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted their funding and profitability plans, as the central bank kicks off interviews with applicants over the next few weeks, three sources aware of the matter said.

Singapore has drawn interest from 21 applicants seeking to shake up its banking landscape in what would be its biggest liberalisation in two decades.

"The coronavirus outbreak is likely to alter business plans of players and the regulator will be keen to understand changes in their strategy before making a shortlist," said one person who asked not to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Singapore is issuing up to two digital retail and three wholesale bank licences, and bidders need S$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) in paid-up capital.

The seven bidders for the retail licences include a venture of ride-hailer Grab and Singapore Telecommunications <STEL.SI>, internet firm Sea <SE.N>; a group headed by gaming firm Razer <1337.HK>; another led by consumer tycoon Ron Sim; and fintech firm MatchMove's consortium with Singapura Finance <SBDS.SI>.

For wholesale licenses, 14 bidders have applied.

One of the sources said that due to business uncertainties caused by COVID-19, Singapore's central bank will be closely scrutinising funding requirements and expansion plans of bidders, given that digital banks generally tend to lose money in the initial phase.

Responding to a query from Reuters, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said that an applicant group's financial strength is one of the key considerations MAS takes into account when "assessing its ability to manage a prudent and sustainable digital banking business."

"This could also include relevant implications faced by applicants in view of the COVID-19 situation," the central bank said in a statement. It has said it will inform successful applications in the second half.

Retail digital banks will be able to take deposits from and offer services to both retail and non-retail customers, but they must be headquartered in Singapore and controlled by locals.

Fitch Ratings said in a recent note that the pandemic would put off weaker, aspiring online banks from competing for the licences. More established challengers, especially from a non-traditional banking background, will likely reassess their digital bank strategy.


(Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Additional reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Kim Coghill)