China's Ant Financial applies for Singapore digital banking licence

FILE PHOTO: A security guard stands next to the logo of Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba's financial affiliate, at its headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China January 24, 2018. Picture taken January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Shu Zhang

(Reuters) - China’s Ant Financial, an affiliate of ecommerce giant Alibaba Group Holdings, has joined the race for a digital banking licence in Singapore, the company said in a statement on Thursday.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has said it will issue five such licences, as it embarks on the biggest liberalisation of its banking sector in two decades.

“In line with our commitment to promoting financial inclusion globally, we have submitted an application to the Monetary Authority of Singapore for a digital wholesale banking licence,” a spokesperson for the company said in an emailed statement.

“We look forward to contributing to the development of the digital banking landscape in Singapore.”

Gaming firm Razer Inc also on Thursday said it was leading a consortium that has applied for a licence, while earlier this week Singapore Telecommunications Ltd and Southeast Asian ride hailing firm Grab said they were teaming up for a bid of their own.

MAS, Singapore’s central bank, is set to issue up to two “digital full bank” licences and three wholesale bank licences.

The city-state is set to announce the winners in mid-2020 and the digital banks are expected to start operations in a phased manner from mid-2021.

A spokeswoman for MAS said it could not comment on individual licence applications.

Reporting by Leng Cheng and Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Alex Richardson