StanChart, NTUC Enterprise plan digital-only bank in Singapore

Standard Chartered is accelerating its digital strategy in Singapore to compete with larger local rivals.
Standard Chartered is accelerating its digital strategy in Singapore to compete with larger local rivals.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Standard Chartered  is planning its second digital-only bank in Asia, teaming up with NTUC Enterprise, according to people familiar with the matter.

The London-based bank would hold a majority stake in the new venture, with the remainder held by NTUC Enterprise, said the people who asked not to be identified as the matter remains confidential.

NTUC Enterprise is the holding entity and single largest shareholder of the labour movement's social enterprises, which include NTUC FairPrice, NTUC First Campus, NTUC Foodfare, Kopitiam, NTUC Health, NTUC Income and NTUC LearningHub.

Mr Alex Twigg, co-founder of Australian start-up Judo Bank, has been hired for the business, which has been code-named "Project Phoenix," the people added.

Standard Chartered is accelerating its digital strategy in Singapore to compete with larger local rivals such as DBS Group and non-bank challengers, including Grab, which has applied for one of the country's digital licences. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the financial regulator, will hand out as many as five digital licences to non-banks this year.

Talks on Standard Chartered's new initiative with NTUC are ongoing and the plan is at an early stage, said the people, who didn't provide a timeline.

Standard Chartered and its local partners obtained a digital-only bank licence in Hong Kong last year. Known as Mox, it's not fully operational yet, but the bank said in its earnings report late last month that it will be launched "very soon". It also has several digital banks in Africa.

SUBSTANTIAL PRESENCE

MAS said earlier this month it plans to revise rules governing foreign lenders with a substantial local presence that may allow them to set up digital-only banking subsidiaries. It also designated Standard Chartered as the country's first Significantly Rooted Foreign Bank (SRFB), reflecting the bank's substantial presence in the city-state.

 

Foreign banks that "substantially" exceed the SRFB criteria may be allowed to establish a digital-only bank, the MAS said.

A representative for Standard Chartered in Singapore declined to comment. NTUC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Standard Chartered has increased its local workforce to 10,000 from 8,000 in the last few years, the bank said in a press release earlier this month. Some 70 per cent of the local management team is Singaporean, it said.

Judo Bank focuses on lending to small and medium-sized businesses, according to its website. Mr Twigg also helped found UBank, another online lender which is part of National Australian Bank, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Mr Twigg left Judo in June, according to co-founder Joseph Healy. Mr Twigg couldn't be reached for comment.