SINGAPORE: The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said it has extended the assessment period for approving digital bank licences, citing the global escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Successful applicants will be informed in the second half of this year instead of in June, as originally intended, the central bank said on Thursday (Apr 9).
In January, MAS released an update that it had received 21 applications for digital bank licences and planned to announce the successful applicants in June.
"The global escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic since then has prompted the implementation of enhanced safe distancing measures in Singapore, and many companies are allowing staff to work from home to the extent possible," said the central bank.
"In view of these developments, MAS will extend the assessment period for the award of digital bank licences," it added.
MAS said the the delay will allow applicants to dedicate their resources and attention towards managing the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses.
It will also enable MAS to focus resources on ensuring monetary and financial stability, and ensuring that financial institutions remain resilient and able to perform their role in supporting businesses and individuals through this challenging time, it added.
Last year, MAS announced it would issue up to five digital banking licences to non-bank players.
Of these, up to two of the licences will be for digital retail banking, which will allow firms to provide a range of financial services as well as take deposits from customers.
Another three will be issued for digital wholesale banking, which allows licensees to serve small-and-medium enterprises, as well as other non-retail sectors.
Several big names have already thrown their hats into the ring for Singapore’s digital bank arena.
The largest player so far might be China’s Ant Financial, owned by billionaire Jack Ma, the founder of Internet giant Alibaba.
Valued at US$150 billion, an Ant Financial spokesperson told CNA in February that it had applied to MAS for a digital wholesale banking licence, as part of its commitment to “promoting financial inclusion globally”.
Razer Fintech, the financial technology arm of gaming hardware firm Razer, has formed a consortium – which includes companies such as Sheng Siong Holdings, insurer FWD and vehicle marketplace Carro – to apply for a digital full bank licence.
Meanwhile, ride-hailing giant Grab formed a joint venture with telco Singtel to bid for a full digital bank licence.
Both Grab and Singtel have dipped into financial services in the past, with both companies offering e-wallet platforms – which Razer has also introduced.