iFast-led consortium joins fray for S'pore digital bank licence

Fintech firm partners China-based players in bid to serve as virtual bank for companies

Mr Lim Chung Chun, chairman and chief executive of iFast.
Mr Lim Chung Chun, chairman and chief executive of iFast.PHOTO: ST FILE

Mainboard-listed financial technology firm iFast Corporation is leading a consortium that is bidding for one of Singapore's wholesale bank licences, it said yesterday.

The group joins a list of known applicants - including Chinese billionaire Jack Ma's Ant Financial and crowd-investing platform Funding Societies - for a licence to serve as a virtual bank to corporate clients.

China's ByteDance, which owns popular app TikTok, is also reported to have applied for a wholesale digital bank licence.

A group led by gaming firm Razer and partners Grab and Singtel have put in bids for one of two digital full bank licences, which allow for retail customers.

iFast's partners are China-based companies Yillion Group and Hande Group. Yillion operates one of the four digital banks in China and has Hong Kong-listed Meituan Dianping - the third-largest Chinese Internet firm based on market capitalisation - as a key shareholder.

Hande Group is a fintech firm founded by Dr Cao Tong, former president of Webank, China's first digital bank.

iFast chairman and chief executive Lim Chung Chun said he sees the consortium helping the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) market that has been under-served by banks. "As a platform supporting over 400 companies across five markets, we have seen how digital solutions can provide the impetus to grow their business. We believe there is a big opportunity in Singapore for a new bank to become the 'bank of choice for SMEs', particularly for loans."

iFast operates a wealth management fintech platform with assets under administration of $10 billion as of Tuesday.

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which publishes The Straits Times, holds a 15.21 per cent stake through its subsidiary SPH Invest.

iFast spent $7.5 million between 2000 and 2004 before the Singapore business turned profitable in 2005. It has since made a cumulative profit of more than $100 million on its local business.

"By tapping the unique strengths and experiences of each consortium member, we are confident that an iFast-led digital bank will be well equipped... to better address some of the inefficiencies... in Singapore's banking industry," said Mr Lim.

iFast shares closed up 1.9 per cent at $1.06 yesterday. SPH shares closed down 2.3 per cent at $2.15.

Applications for Singapore's first digital bank licences closed on Tuesday, with the results to be announced by the middle of this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2020, with the headline 'iFast-led consortium joins fray for S'pore digital bank licence'. Subscribe