The Grab Holdings Inc. and Singtel partnership to operate a digital bank gets a nod from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), allowing the consortium to accept deposits and offer other banking services for retail as well as corporate customers.

After the announcement of the license approval, the Grab-Singtel consortium installed Charles Wong as the new digital bank’s chief executive officer. It also made public the plan to assign 200 employees to operate the digital bank by the end of 2021. The new positions to fill include product, technology, risk management, finance, and compliance officers.

Wong is a former Citigroup executive with more than two decades of experience in the banking industry. He worked in various positions at Citigroup including important roles in the strategy, wealth management, global markets, lending, bancassurance, marketing, and product development departments.

Anthony Tan, Grab co-founder and CEO, looks forward to the commencement of the digital bank’s commercial activities. He believes the digital bank will advance the goal to “empower more people to gain better control of their money and achieve better economic outcomes for themselves, their businesses and families.”

Yuen Kuan Moon, Singtel’s CEO-designate, similarly expresses abundant optimism over the approval of the digital bank license application. “We have the assets and the synergies to make banking more accessible and intuitive, to deliver much-needed product simplicity, speed and affordability to consumers and enterprises,” Moon says.

Meanwhile, the tech giant Sea Group also received approval for their digital bank license application. Sea Group is the main company behind Shopee, Garena, and SeaMoney. The digital banking license is viewed as a boon to Sea Group’s foothold in Singapore’s digital economy.

“Sea’s mission is to better the lives of consumers and small businesses through technology, and we are honoured to be selected by the Monetary Authority of Singapore for the award of a digital full bank license and to have the opportunity to offer digital banking services addressing the underserved financial needs of young consumers and SMEs in Singapore,” says Forrest Li, Chairman and group CEO of Sea.

Two other groups were granted digital banking licenses–digital wholesale bank licenses in particular. These were the Ant Group of Jack Ma and the consortium formed by Greenland Financial Holdings, Linklogis Hong Kong, and Beijing Co-operative Equity Investment Fund Management.

Ant Group released a statement to thank MAS for the license and stress their commitment to serving their customers, especially SMEs. “We look forward to building stronger and deeper collaborations with all participants in the financial services industry in Singapore,” the statement reads.

The license given to the consortium led by Greenland Financials appears to be a surprise to some, as it managed to outdo bigger contenders such as fast, the Hong Kong based AMTD, and even China’s ByteDance, the company responsible for TikTok.

Greenland Financial posted a statement on WeChat expressing its anticipation to introduce “China’s cutting-edge fintech and experience in serving China’s SMEs to Singapore.” Reportedly, the digital bank that will be established after the Greenland-led consortium obtained a wholesale digital banking license will be called GLL Bank.

In a statement, the Monetary Authority of Singapore affirmed the first wholesale digital banking licenses it approved. “The two selected digital wholesale bank applicants met [our] expectations and were assessed to be demonstrably stronger across the criteria notwithstanding the general high quality of the eligible applicants,” the MAS statement writes.

The digital wholesale banks are expected to start their operations in the early part of 2022. They will be serving non-retail customers, including small and midsize enterprises.

The Grab-Singtel consortium, Sea Group, Ant Group, and the Greenland consortium now share the distinction of being the first digital banks in Singapore after their licenses were granted on December 4, 2020. These digital banks are not required to have a physical office.

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