Singtel teams up with app provider Grab to serve the un- and under-banked

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Dec 9, 2020

via Flickr © 401(K) 2013 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © 401(K) 2013 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • A Grab-Singtel consortium is poised to set up a dedicated team by 2021 to build Singapore’s next-generation digital bank
  • It is to be led by retail banking veteran Charles Wong 
  • The new bank says it will target young PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians), gig workers and micro-SMEs 

For aspiring digital service providers (DSPs) looking to launch into new roles and bag steady revenues, banking and associated financial services has always looked like a reasonable bet, combining the natural mobile communications prowess of the mobile telco while demanding a level of public trust which surveys show telcos usually have.

There are already well-trodden mobile banking and mobile payments ventures, many providing services for the traditionally unbanked. There are other ventures  with ambitions to  tempt the already well-banked with better rates, online convenience and so on. 

The most high profile telco banker so far is probably Orange which has made banking one of its specialities. 

Now, newly into the fold, comes Grab Holdings Inc., described as Southeast Asia’s leading super app; and Singtel, Asia’s leading communications technology group. The pair are aiming to set up a full digital bank and say the opportunity to do so comes as more people and businesses are going online in Singapore. It claims research shows that 40% of residents are underbanked and therefore open to adopting new services.

The consortium will focus on serving consumers and small businesses, starting with time-starved young PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians), gig workers with flexible incomes, and micro-SMEs who face limited access to financing. 

Grab and Singtel’s mission  is to enable these underserved groups to easily access transparent financial services that are embedded in their everyday activities.

The priority is to create the most seamless and secure digital banking experience in Singapore. 

It’s being led by retail bank veteran, Charles Wong, who is assembling a team of experts with diverse backgrounds in banking, fintech and technology. Key roles overseeing product, data, cybersecurity and technology have already been filled with around 200 more roles to be added by the end of 2021 in the areas of product, data, technology, risk, finance and compliance. 

Wong brings a wealth of retail banking experience, and a deep understanding of the financial needs of both retail customers and SMEs, it’s claimed. Prior to joining the consortium, he was a veteran at Citigroup with more than 20 years of experience, and spent nearly five years in his last role as its retail banking head in Singapore. At Citigroup, he held roles in strategy, global markets, wealth management, bancassurance, lending, product development and marketing.

Wong says that he saw the digital bank as a natural extension of the Grab Financial Group as well as the mobile financial business of Singtel, so will be able to draw on the combined experience of both companies having already built a successful regional fintech ecosystem in highly regulated environments, offering digital financial services across payments, insurance, lending and investing.

Grab and Singtel first formed a consortium in December 2019 to apply for the licence. Grab has a 60 percent stake in the consortium entity while Singtel holds a 40 percent stake. The consortium aims to formally launch the digital bank in early 2022. 

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