Ant Financial may join race for Singapore digital bank licences

Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

Billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Financial Services Group said it may apply for a virtual banking license in Singapore, a move that would add a heavyweight contender to the race.

“We are actively looking into this opportunity,“ Hangzhou, China-based Ant Financial said in an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg News.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is offering as many as five digital banking permits to non-banks in a bid to open up the industry to new competitors. A successful entry by Ant Financial would pit China’s largest online financial company against traditional incumbents DBS Group Holdings Ltd. and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in the growing market for digital banking in Southeast Asia.

Though Ant didn’t disclose whether it will seek a retail or wholesale license, it will be easier for the Chinese firm to meet the conditions for the latter.

There are up to two licenses for grabs for a full digital bank, which can serve all kinds of customers and require S$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) in capital as well as local control. Another three would be for wholesale banks, which foreign firms can run and the capital threshold is S$100 million.

OCBC, Southeast Asia’s second-largest lender, has agreed to join peer-to-peer lender Validus Capital Pte. and Temasek Holdings Pte’s venture capital arm to seek a wholesale virtual banking license before the year-end application deadline. DBS, which operates a digital bank in India and Indonesia, hasn’t expressed any intention to seek a license.

Southeast Asia’s digital lending market is expected to more than quadruple to $110 billion by 2025, according to a report by Bain & Co., Google and Temasek Holdings Pte.

Ant Financial is also getting into digital banking in Hong Kong. Earlier this year, its Ant SME Services (Hong Kong) Ltd. unit received a permit from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to operate a virtual bank in the Chinese territory.

Ant’s payments app Alipay and its local e-wallet partners had about 900 million annual active users in China and 1.2 billion globally as of June, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Bloomberg

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.