Battle For Digital Banking Licenses In Malaysia Heats Up As Grab-Singtel JV Joins Contest

Anthony Tan, cofounder, and CEO of Grab speaks at a panel in Singapore, November 6, 2018. Justin Chin/BloombergGrab Holdings & Singtel have teamed up again to bid for a Malaysian digital banking license, intensifying the competition for the five available licenses.Grab and SingtelSingapore's largest telco announced the joint bid in a stock exchange filing. They have already been granted a full digital banking license for the city-state and plan to launch their financial services in the early part of next year.Grab-SingTel will compete against a consortium that includes budget carrier AirAsias' fintech unit BigPay and Malaysian telco giant Axiata. RHB Group had previously partnered with Grab-SingTel.Malaysia has begun to embrace online financial services following the award of digital banking licenses by Singapore and the Philippines. This is in response to regulators' efforts to increase financial inclusion throughout the region. Fitch Ratings reported that 290 million Southeast Asians do not have formal bank accounts. This suggests a large untapped market for online banks.We are confident that our strategic collaboration will address the rapidly-evolving needs of segments of retail customers as well as micro-SMEs, Axiata's group CEO Izzaddin Idris stated in a statement last month when the company announced the partnership with RHB.BigPay has teamed up Malaysian Industrial Development Finance, the largest asset manager in the country Permodalan Nasional Berhad. Ikhlas Capital is a Singapore-based private equity company. If it receives the license, BigPay will be able to expand its financial services beyond international remittance and digital payments.Salim Dhanani, CEO of BigPay Bank, stated that BigPay Bank will enable us to achieve our mission to create a connected financial future for Malaysian entrepreneurs and consumers. We'll be able reach more Malaysians by offering a wider range services if we are granted the license.According to the Malaysian central bank, 40 applicants expressed interest in the licenses which will be issued next year. According to Reuters, a consortium that includes Sunway, a real estate company, and Linklogis, a Hong Kong-listed company, are also vying to obtain s licenses. Tencent is backing the consortium.iFAST Corp., a Singapore-listed online broker, announced Wednesday that it formed a consortium of international partners to apply for a Malaysian license. This group will reach the 40% of Malaysians without access to traditional banking services.Lim Chung Chun (iFAST Chairman and CEO), stated that we believe the bottom 40 has been left behind, despite Malaysia's progress. The solutions we offer for the bottom 40 will be immediate and provide benefits, such as free life insurance, interest-free loan for daily necessities, micro investments, and insurance. iFAST Bank will be profitable and serve the bottom 40 segments.