Shopee parent Sea makes only known solo bid for digital full bank licence

SINGAPORE – Sea Limited, which owns e-commerce platform Shopee and game developer Garena, is the latest known contender for a full digital bank licence – and the only one known to be going it alone.

Announcing its entry into the race on Tuesday afternoon (Jan 7), Sea said that its core focus is on millennials and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore.

It intends to draw on its insights on the needs of these users from across the company’s digital ecosystem to innovate processes, products and services for individuals and SMEs, the firm said.

Sea, which is headquartered in Singapore and listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is the first applicant for the full bank licence which is not partnering with any other firms.

The firm was founded in Singapore in 2009 and listed in 2017, and has a market capitalisation of more than $25 billion as of the end of 2019. It counts Tencent Holdings, one of China’s largest internet companies, as a major shareholder.

Its digital financial services arm SeaMoney,which was first established in 2014 as AirPay before a name change late last year, offers e-wallet services, payment processing, micro-lending and related digital financial services in the region under AirPay, ShopeePay and other related brands.

Its digital financial services are largely concentrated in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Sea chairman and group chief executive Forrest Li said that the firm has “unrivalled insight” into the needs and wants of millennials and SMEs across South-east Asia through its e-commerce, gaming and financial services platforms.

“We have also developed exceptional capabilities in addressing these unmet needs, and have the technology, infrastructure, data analytics capabilities, and management experience to design and scale Singapore’s first full digital bank,” he said.

Sea’s announcement follows MAS’disclosure on Tuesday that 21 applications were submitted for up to five digital bank licences which will be issued by mid-2020.

Seven bids were made for up to two digital full bank licences that can serve both retail and corporate customers. Another 14 applications were made for up to three wholesale bank licences which are limited to non-retail clients.

Consortiums which have gone public with their full bank licence application include a Grab-Singtel tie-up, a group led by gaming company Razer, and Beyond, which is led by Osim founder Ron Sim’s V3 Group.

Contenders for a wholesale bank licence include Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Financial and a consortium led by Hong Kong financial services provider AMTD Group.

Successful applicants will be announced in June.

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