StanChart, Singapore labour union arm plan digital-only bank

Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

Standard Chartered Plc is planning its second digital-only bank in Asia, teaming up with a unit of Singapore’s biggest labour union, according to people familiar with the matter.

The London-based bank would hold a majority stake in the new venture, with the remainder held by NTUC Enterprise, a division of the National Trades Union Congress that also runs a chain of more than 100 supermarket outlets across Singapore, said the people who asked not to be identified as the matter remains confidential.

Alex Twigg, co-founder of Australian startup Judo Bank, has been hired for the business, which has been code-named “Project Phoenix,” the people added.

Standard Chartered is accelerating its digital strategy in Singapore to compete with larger local rivals such as DBS Group Holdings Ltd. and non-bank challengers including Grab Holdings Inc., which has applied for one of the country’s digital licences. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the financial regulator, will hand out as many as five digital licences to non-banks this year.

Talks on Standard Chartered’s new initiative with NTUC are ongoing and the plan is in an early stage, said the people, who didn’t provide a timeline.

Standard Chartered and its local partners obtained a digital-only bank licence in Hong Kong last year. Known as Mox Bank Ltd., it’s not fully operational yet, but the bank said in its earnings report late last month that it will be launched “very soon”. It also has several digital banks in Africa.

Substantial Presence

The MAS said earlier this month it plans to revise rules governing foreign lenders with a substantial local presence that may allow them to set up digital-only banking subsidiaries. It also designated Standard Chartered as the country’s first Significantly Rooted Foreign Bank (SRFB), reflecting the bank’s substantial presence in the city-state.

Foreign banks that “substantially” exceed the SRFB criteria may be allowed to establish a digital-only bank, the MAS said.

A representative for Standard Chartered in Singapore declined to comment. NTUC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Standard Chartered has increased its local workforce to 10,000 from 8,000 in the past few years, the bank said in a press release earlier this month. Some 70 % of the local management team is Singaporean, it said.

Judo Bank focuses on lending to small and medium-sized businesses, according to its website. Twigg also helped found UBank, another online lender which is part of National Australia Bank Ltd., according to his LinkedIn profile.

Twigg left Judo in June, according to co-founder Joseph Healy. Twigg couldn’t be reached for comment.

Online consumer firms are set to expand into banking services. Grab, the Singapore-based ride-hailing company, has partnered with Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. to apply for a digital-banking licence. So has billionaire Forrest Li’s Sea Ltd., which provides e-commerce and digital payments services.

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.