Fintech start-up abandons plans to bid for Singapore digital banking licence

Mr Prajit Nanu, the co-founder and CEO of Nium, recently rebranded from Instarem, said Singapore banks are "extremely well entrenched" in wholesale banking.
Mr Prajit Nanu, the co-founder and CEO of Nium, recently rebranded from Instarem, said Singapore banks are "extremely well entrenched" in wholesale banking.PHOTO: NIUM

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Remittance start-up Nium - which recently rebranded from Instarem - has withdrawn from the contest for a Singapore digital wholesale banking licence, doubling down on its global business-to-business payments instead.

"Singaporean banks are extremely well entrenched in that ecosystem," Nium co-founder and chief executive officer Prajit Nanu said in an interview, referring to wholesale banking. "Our strengths lie elsewhere and we have decided to consolidate and focus on those areas."

Backed by investors including Temasek Holdings unit Vertex Ventures and Rocket Internet, Singapore-based Nium said it was interested in a licence after the Monetary Authority of Singapore announced in July it will grant as many as two digital full-bank licences and up to three digital wholesale bank licences.

OCBC is in talks with Keppel Corp and peer-to-peer lender Validus Capital Validus to form a consortium and apply for a digital wholesale banking licence before a year-end application deadline, according to media reports on Monday (Nov 4).

Other companies that expressed a desire to apply included Singtel, Grab and Razer. Nium is the first to declare its withdrawal.

Mr Nanu said his company will focus on building a platform that enables companies to send, spend and receive money around the world. It serves businesses in more than 40 markets and holds regulatory licences including in the European Union, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Japan. It is seeking new electronic money institution licences for card issuing and stored value facilities in Mexico and Brazil.

Nium raised US$41 million (S$55.7 million) earlier this year, making it one of the best-funded fintech start-ups in South-east Asia.