Thu, Aug 22, 2019 - Page 10 News List

OCBC, Singtel in talks for virtual bank in Singapore

Bloomberg

Old shophouses stand amid new office and residential buildings in Singapore yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) is in talks with companies including Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (Singtel) about seeking one of the city-state’s planned virtual bank licenses, according to people familiar with the matter.

Singapore’s second-largest bank would take a minority stake in any virtual-banking joint venture and sees it as a way to tap new customers and markets, the people said, requesting anonymity because the talks are confidential.

For example, Singtel might have clients for its telephone services that do not bank with OCBC, one of the people said.

Banks worldwide face increasing competition from telecoms and technology firms that are getting into financial services including payments and lending.

However, some are partnering, including in Hong Kong, where Standard Chartered PLC tied up with PCCW Ltd (電訊盈科) earlier this year to create a virtual bank.

OCBC’s discussions are preliminary ahead of more details on the conditions for the new license applications which the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is expected to issue later this month, the people said.

The eventual choice of partners might change depending on licensing conditions, they added.

“We are open to forging new partnerships and ventures that allow us to serve new segments and new markets,” OCBC’s head of digital and innovation Pranav Seth said in an e-mailed reply to questions, while declining to comment on any talks on a virtual license application.

A Singtel representative declined to comment.

Singtel chief executive officer Chua Sock Koong (蔡淑君) earlier this month said that her company is studying the prospects for a virtual license.

The MAS in June said that it plans to issue as many as five new digital bank licenses to non-bank firms as part of efforts to strengthen competition in financial services.

The UK and Hong Kong are among major economies that have allowed licenses for virtual banks, creating a new generation of rivals for traditional lenders.

The MAS’ initiative adds to the digital units that local lenders have been allowed to set up since 2000.

The central bank said it would award up to two licenses for new retail banks and as many as three for lenders to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Of the big three domestic lenders, OCBC is the only one that does not have a pure-play digital bank, though it has been using technology to facilitate services such as robo-investment advice and instant online account opening for small and medium-sized enterprises.

DBS Group Holdings Ltd operates a digital bank in India and Indonesia, while United Overseas Bank Ltd opened one in Thailand earlier this year.

In Hong Kong, Standard Chartered holds a 65 percent stake in one of the territory’s new virtual banks, with PCCW, HKT Trust & HKT Ltd and Ctrip Financial Management (Hong Kong) Co owning the balance.

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