The Super (And Crypto) Rich Are Choosing Singapore As The World’s Safest Haven
Money is sloshing around Singapore like never before. Family offices, Bentley sales and real estate prices are booming. The Super Rich Are Choosing Singapore As The World’s Safest Haven
When Singaporean car dealer Keith Oh first read the Facebook message, he wasn’t sure it was real. A Chinese client ordered a S$1.1 million ($830,000) Bentley—sight unseen—over the social network.
“They just asked for the price and when we could do the delivery, that’s all,” he said. “It’s a million dollars to us but it’s probably nothing to them.”
The quick sale was the latest sign of a wider trend: Money is sloshing around Singapore like never before. As the coronavirus pandemic hammers Southeast Asia and political turmoil threatens Hong Kong, the city has become a safe harbor for some of the region’s wealthiest tycoons and their families.
For rich people “who can decide where they want to live and settle down, Singapore is a place of choice now,” said Stephan Repkow, who founded Wealth Management Alliance in 2015 after four years at Union Bancaire Privee. He said two of his foreign clients had become residents in the past 12 months and more are on the way.
Singapore has long been a draw for wealthy Chinese, Indonesians and Malaysians who would come for short trips to shop, play baccarat at the casino or get medical check-ups at world-class clinics. Mount Elizabeth Hospital Orchard, just steps from the flagship stores of Gucci and Rolex, features a UOB Privilege Banking Centre in the lobby.
The pandemic has changed all that, prompting many tycoons and their families to stay for months, in some cases seeking residency to ride out the storm. On a per capita basis, the mortality rates in Malaysia and Indonesia are more than 10 and 30 times higher than in Singapore, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
The number of single family offices in the city-state has doubled since the end of 2019 to about 400, including firms recently set up by Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Shu Ping, the billionaire behind Chinese hotpot empire Haidilao International Holding Ltd. Demand for private golf club memberships is soaring, real estate prices have jumped the most since 2018 and until the recent clampdown, Michelin-star restaurants were packed.
Global banks like UBS Group AG meanwhile are expanding in the city to manage the massive influx of assets.
A spike in virus cases that’s led to stricter border measures and the cancellation of upcoming events such as the World Economic Forum meeting may pause some of the rich migration to Singapore, but it’s likely to be short-lived.
While cases have jumped to a few dozen a day, it’s a far cry from the several hundred daily infections in New York City alone. Singapore is also charging ahead with vaccines: It’s given enough jabs for 30% of the population, almost twice the rate in China and even further ahead of neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
It’s a delicate balance for Singapore, which relies more on trade and open borders than just about any other Asian nation. Locking down and restricting travel for too long would make it unattractive to global investment and talent, while failing to control the virus risks a political backlash and its reputation as a safe regional hub.
“Our recent spike of pandemic is very unfortunate, but we will eventually go through this phase again,” Repkow said. “Singapore is resilient and able to manage crisis in a very pro-active and efficient manner.”
Seletar Aiport, the hub for private jets, has seen demand for hangar space soar during the pandemic, said Alan Chan, head of business development at the 67 Pall Mall wine club, who until November was an executive at Go-Jets.
One private jet pilot who declined to be identified said it’s still extremely difficult to snare a spot. While the recent strict travel rules have extended to people with their own aircraft, he added that most expect them to ease in line with commercial flights after a few weeks.
Singapore doesn’t divulge many details on its super-rich migrant residents, but private bankers, multi-family offices and other service providers say the new arrivals are helping their businesses, in a city famous as the setting for the “Crazy Rich Asians” film.
One top banker who declined to be identified said Chinese clients ranked first among new account openings, followed by those from India and Indonesia. Another said that client meetings—once a tortuous process of flying to Jakarta and fighting traffic—had become much easier because many of his Indonesian customers were staying in the same luxury condominium in Singapore.
Harish Bahl, founder of Smile Group, a family office that focuses on tech investment, said he’s never met this many super rich in the city. He’s been working in the tech space for more than two decades.
“Since the pandemic, billionaires from all over the world have been staying on longer in Singapore, including those from China, Indonesia, India and the U.S.,” he said, citing incentives for setting up family offices.
One Indonesian businessman who continues to live and work in his home country said his parents have spent more than a year sheltering from Covid-19 in the city-state. While they previously knew about five other Indonesian families living in Singapore before the pandemic, the number has since mushroomed to about 25.
Some of the elders spend their days in leisure, meeting with friends and exploring the city. The more restless have kept active by running their businesses remotely, and many have established family offices—in part to ease the process for gaining residency, he said.
Singapore makes it relatively easy for the super rich to settle. Through its Global Investors Program, the country grants a fast-track to permanent residency to qualified business owners or families if they invest S$2.5 million in a local business, certain funds or a family office with at least S$200 million in assets.
“This has enabled us to strengthen the quality of investors we attract, and is in line with our efforts to strengthen Singapore’s status as a key Asian node for high-growth tech companies and investment activities, grow existing and new industries, and create jobs for Singaporeans,” Matthew Lee, senior vice president of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, wrote in an email.
Perks related to permanent residency include ease of travel, long-term stay permits for parents, cheaper, easier business loans, reduced stamp duties on real estate and a path to full citizenship.
The government also introduced a new investment vehicle last year, known as the Variable Capital Company, making it more attractive for family offices, hedge funds and private equity firms to set up shop. Over 260 VCCs have been established since then, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
All this has increased demand for high-end luxury products and services. Odette—a Michelin three-star restaurant considered one of Asia’s best, where a tasting menu for two with wine and cheese can top S$1,000—was booked solid for months until dining in was paused. “We have a lot of Indonesians, for example, over the past few months trying to come in every two to three weeks,” said General Manager and Operations Director Steven Mason, speaking before the fresh curbs limited business to takeout only.
To be sure, wealthy locals who are unable to travel are contributing to the spending spree.
“Eating is the new travel—I think that’s why restaurants are doing so well,” said Mason.
On the 27th floor of the Shaw Centre near the Orchard Road shopping strip, construction is almost underway at 67 Pall Mall, the first international outpost of its London namesake. Despite having little more than an empty shell to show potential clients, the wine club is on track to open by November with 3,500 clients. A life membership goes for S$200,000.
“Singapore during the virus is a great place to be” compared to other cities, said Chief Operations Officer Niels Sherry. “Not many clubs open with a sold-out member base.”
The wealth effect is also pushing up prices at golf clubs. The cost to join the Sentosa Golf Club has soared to S$500,000 for foreigners, up 40% from pre-pandemic levels. Some of these golfers have permanent residency, while others are recent arrivals who see it as a good investment, according to broker Lee Lee Langdale.
Once tycoons land in Singapore for an extended stay they need a car. Sales of premium vehicles to foreigners since mid-2020 have jumped about 50% to 60% compared with a year earlier, said Vincent Tan, founder of luxury car dealer Vincar.
“The majority are Chinese,” and most pay in cash, he said. “The Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Porches and high-end Mercedes are the models that move quite well.”
Statistics released by the Land Transport Authority show that the number of Bentleys and Rolls Royces cruising the streets of Singapore leaped to more than 1,300 in 2020, the biggest jump since 2013. That trend is continuing, with another 70 of these cars registered in the first four months of 2021, in a nation of just 5.7 million people.
Global banks are gearing up to serve the super rich. JPMorgan Chase & Co. plans to double the number of private bankers in the city over the next two years, while HSBC Holdings Plc is offering ultra-rich clients in Hong Kong and Singapore direct access to its investment bankers.
UBS’s Asia Pacific President Edmund Koh told the Business Times that Singapore was attracting as much of the new assets in the region as Hong Kong. That compares with a 75%-25% split in Hong Kong’s favor five years ago, said Koh, who recently opened a new Singapore office for 3,000 staff.
Brendan Carney, CEO of Citibank Singapore, said the city’s fundamental attractiveness remains strong despite the latest virus clampdown.
“We are confident that long-term industry prospects will not be dampened by the recent Covid restrictions,” said Carney, whose New York-based bank plans to hire more than 330 relationship managers for its wealth business by 2025.
The influx of foreigners is helping to fuel the property market, with the strongest growth in the luxury sector.
It’s also made Singapore an outlier in the rental market, with rates rising even as they fall in New York, Hong Kong and London.
All this visible display of wealth can cause resentment, according to Toby Carroll, who lectures on political economy at the City University of Hong Kong and previously worked at the National University of Singapore.
“The negative impact for the majority of people facing increased costs of living—including of housing—declining social mobility and rising inequality bodes poorly for social cohesion,” he said in an email. “The link between rising inequality and social instability is very real.”
In the meantime, Singapore’s merchants like Ace Financial Service Pte.’s Oh, the car dealer and financier, are making hay.
“Post-Covid, we’ll probably emerge stronger and this will be a better place to stay so a lot of new citizens may call Singapore home,” he said.
SIX And SBI Planning Digital-Asset Exchange Based In Singapore
SIX Digital Exchange and SBI Digital Asset Holdings Co. plan to create an exchange for digital assets that’s based in Singapore and will start operation by 2022.
The plan, which is subject to regulatory approval from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, sees formalized Singapore operations next year, with the goal of launching active offerings by 2022 at the latest, according to a statement. Connectivity to Swiss and Japanese businesses as well as other partnerships are expected to follow. The joint venture’s issuance, exchange and CSD platforms are expected to be fully regulated by existing Singapore law.
“Our reach as soon as go live will be across the whole of Southeast Asia and we expect to have market participants from across the region as soon as we launch,” said Tim Grant, head of SDX. “The real play is global liquidity. That’s what the institutional market wants. It doesn’t want to trade 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in its own market then go to the next and the next.”
This is all happening at a time when the world of crypto and digital currencies is coming of age. Bitcoin just surpassed its December 2017 record high. Companies like MicroStrategy Inc. and Square Inc. are embracing crypto, and it’s winning fans like Paul Tudor Jones and Stan Druckenmiller.
However the space is still volatile. That late-2017 peak saw a spate of expansion plans that never came to fruition. And there are still struggles with regard to legal and regulatory issues. The founders of crypto trading giant BitMEX resigned their roles with the operation after being charged by U.S. authorities by skirting laws preventing money laundering, as one example. Decentralized finance or DeFi, a recent boom, has had its share of controversies as well.
SDX and SBI are outlining some big plans for the new operation, however. “We’re trying to disrupt ourselves,” Fernando Vazquez Cao, chief executive of SBI Digital Asset Holdings, said in an interview.
The exchange plans to offer equity — both listed shares and private placements — as well as debt instruments, fund structures and structured products, Grant said. The venture will be looking at crypto assets and even “nonbankable” assets like real estate and art, he said.
Separately, a venture was announced Monday in which SIX Digital Exchange, Swisscom and Sygnum Bank will enable Swiss banks to offer access to digital assets for their customers through an institutional digital asset gateway. An initial joint service, based on the already available Custodigit platform is planned to start in the first quarter of next year with plans to add “significant capabilities” throughout the year, according to a release.
Amazon Leads Tech Invasion of Singapore Offices That Banks Ruled
Tech behemoths are chipping away at the dominance of banks in the island-state’s central business district.
In the financial mecca of Singapore, a new crowd is flocking to its offices: technology companies.
Steadily growing their footprint in recent years, tech behemoths are chipping away at the dominance of banks in the island-state’s central business district. Exemplifying the trend, Amazon.com Inc. recently leased space in Asia Square Tower 1, while ByteDance Ltd. secured floors in the landmark One Raffles Quay.
That’s good news for developers and real estate investors at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is upending work practices around the world, raising questions about the future of the office. Citigroup Inc., DBS Group Holdings Ltd. and Mizuho Financial Group Inc. are among banks that are trimming space in the Southeast Asian hub, accelerating a trend that began even before the health crisis.
The financial industry used to be the main driver of office demand in Singapore, taking up almost half of new space between 2004 and 2014. That share plunged to 26% between 2015 and 2020, according to estimates by real estate consultancy firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. Over the same period, the portion obtained by tech firms almost tripled to 22%.
Financial firms were forced to trim workspace because of the pandemic and “that’s probably not a great thing,” said Alan Miyasaki, head of Asia real estate acquisitions at Blackstone Group Inc. “But that vacancy was snapped up really quickly because there was a lot of these technology firms coming in.”
U.S. and Chinese tech giants are capitalizing on Singapore’s position as a gateway to Southeast Asia’s 650 million smartphone-savvy population.
Amazon is taking over three floors that Citigroup is giving up, while TikTok parent ByteDance is leasing three levels at One Raffles Quay. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. bought a 50% stake in a Singapore office tower in a deal valuing the property at S$1.7 billion ($1.3 billion).
More may follow suit, including Indonesian upstarts Gojek and Traveloka and South Korea’s Coupang, according to analysts from Savills Plc and Knight Frank. And the hype over the region’s tech firms is mounting with Singapore-based Grab Holdings Inc. set to list in the U.S. in a deal valuing the startup at $40 billion.
“We expect tech firms to remain a key driver of office demand in the near to medium term,” said Tay Huey Ying, head of research and consultancy at JLL Singapore.
The tech invasion has so far had a limited impact on the scene in the financial district, where smartly dressed office workers remain the norm. But in one-north, a business park that’s home to firms like e-commerce giant Sea Ltd., there are signs of what’s to come if more tech firms set up bases downtown. The area is bustling with mostly younger workers dressed in T-shirts and baseball caps.
A similar trend is already playing out in the U.K. Technology and media companies accounted for 40% of office leasing in the City of London last month, the most of any sector, according to Savills. In the past nine years, banks slashed their London footprint by about six million square feet — the equivalent of a dozen Gherkin skyscrapers, according to broker CBRE Group Inc.
Easy access to funding for tech firms including startups makes Singapore an appealing destination. And to draw top global talent, the government last November launched a program providing a two-year visa for tech entrepreneurs and investors.
The city-state’s famed low taxes, ease of doing business, political stability and access to talent are also attracting foreign firms, said Mark Addy, a partner at KPMG in Singapore.
Rents in Singapore are showing signs of a recovery after slumping during the pandemic-induced recession.
The office rental index climbed 3.3% in the first three months, the first gain in seven quarters, according to Urban Redevelopment Authority data. A two-month lockdown contributed to an 8.5% drop in 2020.
Led by demand from tech firms, rents are likely to bottom out this year before recovering in 2022, according to Calvin Yeo, head of corporate real estate at Knight Frank.
Lower office supply may also boost rents. There is limited gross new stock coming in from 2021 to 2023 and some older buildings are being taken down or slated for redevelopment, said a spokesperson for CapitaLand Integrated Commercial Trust, which owns six office buildings in the financial district. Office supply will fall even after most of these redevelopments finish, and so rents should improve over time, the spokesperson said.
That bodes well for investors like Blackstone, which is looking to invest in more Singapore properties to capitalize on rising demand from the tech sector.
Developers aren’t panicking, either. Banks have been adjusting their footprints since the 2008 financial crisis, and as long as Singapore remains a viable business destination there will be demand for offices, the spokesperson for CapitaLand Integrated Commercial Trust said.
And while brick-and-mortar banking may be in retreat, fintech is a booming corner of the industry. Singapore’s major banks have piled billions of dollars in the past decade into improving financial technology and digitization while shrinking their physical branches. The financial sector is expected to add about 6,500 jobs this year—many in tech roles—according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
A boom in private banking is also likely to keep banks in the city center, with firms like Nomura Holdings Inc. seeking to capitalize on Singapore’s growing prominence as a wealth hub. Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong also strengthens Singapore’s appeal for lenders.
“Singapore in contrast to the political unrest in Hong Kong is an oasis of calm,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian research at United First Partners.
Banks will just need to share their playground. “The pandemic has accelerated the proliferation of technology into our everyday lives,” Tang said. “The rise of technology firms is inexorable.”
Alibaba, Google Among More Than 300 Companies Seeking Singapore Crypto Licenses
Companies apply under the Payment Services Act, a comprehensive regulatory framework for companies handling activities relating to digital assets, including payments and trading.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has received over 300 requests for payments and crypto exchange licences, including applications from Alibaba and Google.
* The MAS is working out how to speed up the application process, the authority’s chief financial technology officer, Sopnendu Mohanty, said in an interview with Bloomberg.
* Companies apply under the Payment Services Act, a comprehensive regulatory framework for companies handling activities relating to digital assets, including payments and trading.
* Firms that have applied but are still awaiting approval may continue offering specific payment services while their application is processed.
* Among them are Alibaba’s various entities and Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
* “Giving licenses to somebody is a premium, it is not something to be taken lightly,” Mohanty said. “We are ensuring that whoever gets an MAS license will be credible.”
Singapore’s Millionaires Count Expected To Surge 62% by 2025
Singapore’s count of millionaires could increase by more than 60% over the five years from 2020 to 2025, according to Credit Suisse Group AG, part of a surge in millionaires expected in Asia as financial capitals emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The city-state may have 437,000 millionaires by 2025 compared with 270,000 in 2020, according to the bank’s 2021 Global Wealth Report. That 62% pace would be faster than Hong Kong’s estimated 60% for the same period, but slower than the growth forecast in mainland China, India, Australia, South Korea and Tawian.
Singapore’s millionaire density — or percentage of millionaires in the total population — was 5.5% in 2020, the second-highest in Asia after Hong Kong’s 8.3%, the report said. The island nation’s Gini coefficient — a more broad-based measure of wealth inequality — was at 78.3 in 2020, much higher than Japan’s 64.4, South Korea’s 67.6 and Taiwan’s 70.8.
The wealth share of the top 1% in Singapore was almost 34% at the end of 2020, compared with 18% for Japan, 24% for South Korea and 28% for Taiwan. In a small country like Singapore, higher wealth inequality can result from an unrepresentative cluster of very high net-worth individuals, the report said.
Singapore’s Economic Rebound Slows Amid Renewed Virus Limits
Singapore’s economy lost momentum in the second quarter as weeks of tightened mobility restrictions weighed on this year’s expansion.
Gross domestic product in the three months through June contracted a seasonally adjusted 2% from the previous quarter, when it expanded 3.1%, the Ministry of Trade & Industry said Wednesday. The median estimate among 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a quarterly contraction of 1.8%, as the city-state reimposed restrictions to stem a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections.
Compared to a year earlier, when the economy nosedived amid lockdowns at the start of the pandemic, activity rebounded 14.3%. The expectation was for 14.8% growth, according to the median estimate of 16 economists.
In absolute terms, the economy in the second quarter remained 0.9% below its level from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, according to the ministry.
“The economy will definitely be above pre-pandemic levels by the full year,” said Chua Hak Bin, senior economist at Maybank Kim Eng Research Pte. in Singapore. The city-state “is on a stronger footing compared with the rest of the neighborhood: The Covid situation is under control and vaccinations are much higher. Singapore can start strategizing on how it’s going to reopen its economy and borders.”
Policy makers expect Singapore’s economy to grow at least 4%-6% this year after it suffered its worst contraction last year since independence in 1965. The official forecast for full-year growth is due to be revised next month.
“For the full year, above 6% growth is eminently likely, so there should be an upgrade in the official growth forecast, maybe to the 6%-7% range,” said Selena Ling, head of Treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore.
What Bloomberg Economics Says:
Singapore’s seasonally adjusted contraction in the second quarter was deeper than expected, but the year-on-year bounce was still solid enough to require a boost in our forecast. We now expect annual growth of at least 6.2% in 2021, compared with an earlier projection of 5.8%. With virus curbs still relatively strict, activity should gain significant momentum once herd immunity is achieved to allow a full reopening of the economy in 4Q.
— Tamara Mast Henderson, Asean Economist
The city-state’s economy has been buoyed during the pandemic by robust exports and a resilient financial-services industry, while more tourism-reliant sectors such as hospitality and food and beverage continue to suffer.
The Singapore dollar was little moved by the data, trading at 1.356 to the U.S. dollar as of 9:15 a.m.
After months of success limiting outbreaks, Singapore was forced to tighten restrictions in mid-May to curb the spread of the virus, halting dining-in at restaurants and limiting social gatherings.
The outlook will depend largely on whether Singapore is able to meet vaccination targets in the months ahead and keep the Covid caseload low, as well as the broader regional and global recoveries. The government aims to have two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated by National Day on Aug. 9.
“Even as Singapore’s GDP is on course to cruise past the 4%-6% growth target for the year, there should be no illusions about inflated headlines from the base,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank Ltd. He warned of “downside risks that linger, and interruptions to the recovery that lurk as the delta variant outbreaks around Asean cast a shadow on Singapore’s small, open economy.”
Wednesday’s advance release marks the government’s first look at the economy’s performance in the second quarter, based mainly on data from April and May. More data in coming weeks will firm up the picture for final second-quarter figures in late August.
Singapore Home Price Growth Slows Amid Virus Curbs
Singapore’s home price growth slowed in the second quarter after virus restrictions deterred new launches and limited the number of people who could view apartments.
Private property values rose 0.8% from the previous quarter, according to Urban Redevelopment Authority data released on Friday. That’s lower than the 0.9% flash estimates and less than the 3.3% growth in the first quarter.
It’s the first time that home value has slowed in five quarters. Singapore’s property market has been sizzling, with both prices of public and luxury homes hitting records. But since May, sales have eased after the government imposed a month-long lockdown-like order that limited apartment viewings.
After curbs were relaxed in June, analysts had expected demand to pick up again. But a fresh round of restrictions imposed this week is set to further dampen the frenzy.
“Private residential property prices are expected to continue to expand, but at a modest pace, which will lead to a 5% to 8% yoy growth for the whole of this year,” said Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at APAC Realty Ltd. “The good news from this slower price growth is that the policy risk of more cooling measures is deflated.”
Singapore Eyes Starting Quarantine-Free Travel In September
Singapore aims to relax more virus curbs, including starting to allow quarantine-free travel in September, marking the first time it’s set out a timeline to reopen borders that have been mostly shut for more than a year.
The Southeast Asian city-state expects to have fully vaccinated 80% of its population by then, placing the nation in a solid position to move forward with reopening, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament on Monday.
Wong’s comments sent shares of flagship carrier Singapore Airlines Ltd. and airport ground-handler SATS Ltd. spiking. SIA shares rose as much as 2.2% while SATS climbed as much as 2.3%, even as the benchmark Straits Times Index slipped.
The higher inoculation rate will allow authorities to ease measures, including allowing larger gatherings of fully vaccinated people. The country will also be able to start reopening borders and establishing travel corridors with other countries or regions that have infections under control. Wong’s comments come as other ministers also reiterated on Monday a pledge to push ahead with reopening despite recent setbacks.
“While other countries may have come to terms with a certain level of Covid -19 cases and even deaths, this is not the choice we want to make in Singapore,” Wong said, explaining restrictions that were reimposed last week. “At the same time, there is no need to wait for everyone to be vaccinated before we begin to open up. That would mean holding back the entire reopening timeline until much later in the year, which is not tenable.”
If Singapore hits its vaccination target, it could stake a claim as arguably the world’s best-vaccinated financial capital. Already, the city-state has given at least one dose to about 75% of the population, which ranks eighth on the Bloomberg global vaccine tracker overall among economies tracked and best in the world among countries with more than 5 million people.
One of the world’s success stories in containing the virus, Singapore suffered a setback in mid-July after infections spread in karaoke lounges and a fishery port that supplies produce to markets all over the island. More than 1,000 people have been infected in the clusters, and the city set a daily record of local virus cases.
Easing for Vaccinated
With already more than half of its population fully vaccinated, Singapore was aiming to raise this figure to two-thirds by its Aug. 9 independence day, pegging the easing of measures to these milestones. But the outbreaks and growing concern that 200,000 elderly have yet to be vaccinated prompted authorities to tighten curbs, raising questions as to whether the city-state was deviating from its reopening path.
“The answer is a clear no. We are determined to get to our destination of being a Covid-resilient Singapore. But our journey must take into account public health realities,” Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said in a separate speech. “Sometimes, we may need to take a detour if we see hazards ahead. This way we can ensure that we will get to our final destination safely, even though it may take a little longer.”
Authorities will review existing virus curbs in early August based on factors such as the overall infection rate. A positive outcome will allow the government to ease some of the measures — but only for vaccinated people, Wong said.
Once key inoculation levels have been reached, Wong said, fully vaccinated people may be able to travel without serving a 14-day hotel quarantine on their return. Depending on the risk level of the countries visited, quarantine can be replaced with a rigorous testing regime, or the quarantine can be shortened to seven days and served at home. Unvaccinated individuals can also travel, but will have to quarantine.
Gan added that if the incidence of severe illness from Covid-19 remains low despite clusters emerging occasionally, practically all social and workplace restrictions can be lifted under this endemic stage. Indoor mask-wearing may still be a way of life however, the ministers cautioned.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament that Singapore is already shifting parts of its approach to live with the virus, and having 200 or more cases a day may not be unusual in a situation where the virus is considered endemic.
More infected patients who show no or mild symptoms can now be housed in community-care facilities rather than hospitals, he said. That has already been the case for patients aged 17-45, and authorities will expand the bracket to age 59, he said.
That means that as many as 60% of infected cases may recover in community-care facilities. The government aims to raise the number to 80%, with some patients even recovering at home, he said.
Although Singapore is proceeding with progressive easing of virus curbs, Wong cautioned that it may have to dial back on its measures if the situation worsens.
“At each stage of easing we will monitor the health outcomes, especially the hospitalization and intensive care unit cases closely,” Wong said. “We will ensure that these remain acceptable and stable, before we proceed to the next step. But if hospitalization cases — or worse, severe illnesses — were to shoot up, we will have to be prepared to slow down, or even pull back.”
Singapore Grants Its First-Ever Crypto Exchange License As The Industry Remains Wary Of China
Singapore has taken the first step in formalizing crypto exchanges, as the crypto-curious city-state benefits from the exodus from China, according to a Financial Times report.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore has granted Australian crypto exchange Independent Reserve an “in principle” approval. Other crypto exchanges like Binance had already been given temporary exemptions to provide services, but Independent Reserve is the first to receive the formal go-ahead, with over a hundred applications remaining on the MAS’s docket.
“Now everyone is wondering who will get approval next,” one person at a crypto exchange told the FT.
Singapore has seen a wave of interest from the industry as China’s crypto crackdown has left many wary of putting down roots in Hong Kong, one Singapore-based exchange operator told the FT.
“A lot of our customers were worried Chinese officials could come across and take their assets sitting in offline vaults,” he said.
In the wake of this “China overhang,” the city-state has appeared hospitable to crypto investment.
“All eyes are on Singapore and their regulatory regime,” Raks Sondhi, Independent Reserve’s Singapore-based managing director, told the FT.
The somewhat slow pace of regulatory approval was due to the MAS’s commitment to getting consumer protections and money-laundering controls right, he added. For example, Singapore is requiring crypto firms to share the personal information of anyone who makes a transaction over a certain value, a provision known as the “travel rule.”
Singapore Sets Its Sights On Becoming A World Force In Esports
Singapore may not compete for gold in many Olympic events, but the tiny city-state is emerging as a force in a different kind of sport: mobile and video games.
In May Singapore hosted the Free Fire World Series, which garnered a peak viewership of 5.4 million — the highest-ever for any esports match outside of Chinese platforms, according to Esports Charts. In July the nation opened its first esports experiential center, equipped with world-class live-streaming and pro-esports facilities.
Come year-end, when Singapore aims to have loosened border restrictions, it’s set to host the first Asian edition of Gamescom — the world’s largest videogame industry event — and the inaugural Global Esports Games. The island aims to capitalize on the billion-dollar esports sector, banking on its infrastructure investments, status as a global business hub and gaming ecosystem to become Southeast Asia’s leading destination for the fast-growing sport.
“Our world-class events and digital infrastructure have also made Singapore an attractive location for the industry to hold gaming and esports events here,” the Singapore Tourism Board and Enterprise Singapore said in a statement to Bloomberg. “The government will continue to support companies as they push boundaries through experimenting with new and immersive content formats and business models, as well as level up the quality of our local talent to become leading creators of world class content.”
Southeast Asia Will See Fastest Revenue Growth In Global Esports Sector
Esports, or multiplayer mobile and video games played competitively by professional gamers, has morphed from a niche market into a mainstream phenomenon, turbo-charged by rising mobile penetration and digital entertainment demand during the pandemic. Southeast Asia is expected to lead the world in esports revenue with compound annual growth of 20.8% through 2024, nearly double the global rate, according to a report from Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Newzoo BV.
That’s attracting investments and growing numbers of esports and gaming startups with regional ambitions to Singapore.
“From the game developers’ perspective, Southeast Asia is the next frontier. The region is at the vanguard of mobile esports,” said Carlos Alimurung, chief executive officer of events organizer and broadcaster ONE Esports. Singapore is taking the regional lead due to its infrastructure, B2B enterprise landscape and talent pool, he said.
Singapore’s games and esports market was estimated to have grown 15% between 2019 and 2020, with around 220 companies currently, according to the statement from the government agencies. That includes major local players like Sea Ltd.’s Garena Online Pvt. and startups like yup.gg and Storms.
Apart from tournament organizers, broadcast production and new tech platforms, “we can expect to see greater investment focus on esports intellectual property owners and platforms to encourage them to base their official esports leagues in Singapore,” said Elicia Lee, vice-chairwoman of the Singapore Games Association, the local trade association for gaming and esports.
As concerns grow over a possible crackdown on China’s online gaming industry, Southeast Asia is emerging as an alternative destination for investments, in particular for mobile esports. Some 87% of the region’s gamers play on mobile phones, compared to about 60% in North America and Europe, according to ONE Esports’ in-house analytics team.
As gaming companies seek to capture Southeast Asia’s rising demand, a slew of regional and global mobile esports tournaments have filled Singapore’s calendar, including the two world championships this year.
Amid lockdowns, offline tournaments have been supported by the tourism board, which allowed international teams to fly in while ensuring the safety of each competition. For May’s Free Fire World Series, 18 teams from 11 regions came to Singapore to compete for a $2 million prize pool.
That tournament gave “a sense of the global appetite for esports content that we can produce here,” said Jason Ng, vice president of strategic partnerships at Garena. “We’re increasingly seeing levels of engagement rivaling those of traditional sports.”
Revenue streams for esports are largely the same as for traditional sports — sponsorships, advertising, merchandise, ticket sales and media rights — but the pandemic has spurred an influx of brands that want to connect with digital-savvy youth. This mobile-first demographic in Southeast Asia will drive consumption trends, ONE Esports’ Alimurung said.
Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., Southeast Asia’s biggest telecom operator, is also getting into esports to engage millennials. After starting its own competitive league in 2018, Singtel expanded its tournaments to a regional scale this year while ramping up investments in mobile-gaming platforms like Storms.
“Esports and gaming continue to be an important part of Singtel’s business strategy as we grow our digital-services offerings to capture new growth areas in the 5G era,” said Gan Siok Hoon, Singtel’s managing director of consumer sales and mobile marketing.
Singapore’s physical esports infrastructure is also being upgraded. The city recently opened a 12,000-square-foot esports experience center, with more venues planned, said Johnny Ong, co-chairman of Esports Entertainment Asia.
The company intends to build another integrated esports venue in Singapore as part of its Asia Venue Fund, with facilities including a multipurpose esports arena, esports business hotel, themed retail, a training academy and flexible co-working spaces.
”In my 15 years here, esports has been through its boom and bust cycles,” said Nicholas Khoo, co-founder of the Singapore Cybersports and Online Gaming Association. “Right now this region is about to see rapid acceleration and innovation.”
In fact, Olympics aside, Singapore may just get its shot at sporting glory: The next Southeast Asian Games, slated to be held sometime next year, will recognize esports as a medal event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee — ahead of the rest of the world.
The Ultra-Rich Are Driving A $24 Billion Property Frenzy In Singapore
In an exclusive Singapore neighborhood shaded with rain trees, a local tech billionaire plunked down $95 million for a mansion. Near an upscale shopping district, a Taiwanese family with a grocery empire spent $216 million for all the units in a condominium development.
That’s the kind of money sloshing around Singapore’s red-hot residential market this year. To be exact: S$32.9 billion ($24 billion) spent in the first half alone — the city’s biggest frenzy in more than a decade and double what was recorded in Manhattan over the same six months.
With inflation on many minds, the ultra-rich are stuffing cash into luxury properties around the globe, and in few places is the trend as apparent as in Singapore. The city’s home prices jumped by a record 4.1% in the first half as tycoons across Asia seek a safe harbor. Some are shifting funds from economies hammered by the pandemic or, in the case of Hong Kong, political turmoil.
The boom in Singapore is reminiscent of 2007, when “well-heeled foreigners were lured by the glamor promised by two upcoming resorts and casinos,” said Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at APAC Realty Ltd. unit ERA. That flurry was tamed by the global financial crisis and property curbs. “The difference now is that there are more newly minted ultra-rich people, especially from China and India.”
When Hong Kong-listed Shun Tak Holdings unveiled its first residential project, Park Nova wasn’t just a showcase of the 54 luxury apartments. It was a display of buyers’ wealth as Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Ferarris descended upon the site, 10 minutes by foot from Singapore’s famous shopping belt Orchard Road.
“I’ve never seen so many luxurious cars at one point,” said Dominic Lee, head of the luxury team at Singapore-based PropNex Realty. “If you drove a BMW that day, you’d feel depressed.”
All three penthouses were snapped up, fetching prices of as much as S$34.4 million. “For rich people, such prices aren’t a concern. If it’s a good buy, they would want it,” Lee said, adding that the buyers were both local and foreign.
Sales of bungalows — the equivalent of mansions and the crème de la crème of housing that can only be purchased by citizens and some permanent residents on a case by case basis — surged by 83% to over S$1.5 billion in the first half compared with a year ago. That’s also 79% higher than the pre-pandemic sales in 2019.
“There is a sudden surge of demand for prized assets from newly minted ultra-high-net-worth citizens, start-up millionaires and affluent families relocating their families to Singapore since the start of the pandemic,” said Christine Sun, senior vice president of research and analytics at OrangeTee & Tie.
In the city’s prestigious Sentosa Cove, where massive houses on the waterfront boast private berths for yachts, transactions tripled to S$190.7 million in the first half, compared with the same period a year ago, according to data from List Sotheby’s International Realty.
Prices in the neighborhood — the only area where foreigners are allowed to purchase luxurious bungalows — also jumped 7% last year, mainly driven by interest from China, said Lewis Cha, executive director at Sotheby’s International Realty.
“Some of the buyers decided to move out of their rental apartments for a more permanent home while others decided that Singapore is a safe haven to park their funds,” Cha added.
Similar to London, there’s another factor luring well-heeled foreign buyers to Singapore: Privacy.
Buyers use trusts to conceal their identities from the public and even the government. For instance, banks can register themselves as the legal owner on behalf of the individuals. It complicates the burden on developers to screen prospective buyers for money laundering risks.
The city-state is reviewing existing laws to further strengthen requirements for developers to guard against money laundering activities in the sale and purchase of uncompleted private properties, a spokesperson of the Urban Redevelopment Authority said in a response to Bloomberg’s query.
Soaring prices have fueled speculation that authorities may impose curbs to cool the market, which last happened in 2018. Those concerns were allayed when the central bank said the property market wasn’t overheated, suggesting the government wouldn’t be making moves anytime soon.
Still officials have good reasons to be vigilant. More people are looking to upgrade from public to private units to show they’re moving up the social mobility ladder. If those buyers are priced out, it may become a political test for the ruling People’s Action Party, which is already under scrutiny after suffering its worst parliamentary results last July.
Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said in June that a prolonged divergence between prices and income is unsustainable and undesirable.
“If unresolved, this could lead to questions of a greater inequality gap and what the government is looking to do to reduce this,” said Nydia Ngiow, the Singapore-based senior director at BowerGroupAsia, a strategic policy advisory firm.
Barring any market shocks such as property curbs, however, Singapore’s housing frenzy is set to continue. “The market appears to be going on a Poseidon Adventure, sailing into a tsunami,” said Alan Cheong, executive director of research at Savills Plc. “The tsunami turns out to be the liquidity that is keeping the market afloat.
“Hence, rather than capsizing, the party could continue.”
Singapore’s Social Divisions Aren’t So Clear Cut
The role of foreigners in the economy has been scrutinized amid the pandemic, yet class anxieties may be the country’s bigger pressure point.
Singapore has declared its intent to begin putting the pandemic behind it and rebrand as what the health minister calls a “Covid-resilient nation.” Dismounting from the carousel of closures and reopenings is going to be tough — the city state has had a few false dawns. Even harder will be papering over the social and economic divisions that have deepened because of the disease.
Lockdown-like restrictions began easing Tuesday, with dine-in allowed for groups of up to five, provided they are vaccinated. Work-from-home rules will be relaxed next week. Travel, vital to the republic’s standing as a hub, could become less gnarled by bureaucracy. In many activities, the fully inoculated will enjoy more freedoms, though the hawker centers and mom-and-pop coffee shops beloved by Singaporeans can seat groups of two regardless of shot status.
As welcome as lighter curbs are, Singapore is miles from being fully up and running. The new normal that politicians have been talking about for the better part of a year will require the country to strip out some of its old DNA. Long a haven for trade, finance and foreign talent, the government says it’s still keen on the first two, though appears ambivalent about the third. Discourse is becoming more sensitive to themes of equality and opportunities for the average citizen. Immigration is a particularly tender point.
While varying degrees of disquiet over the role of foreigners has long existed, the rhetoric has become sharper in the past decade. The number of permanent residency visas granted — roughly equivalent to green cards in the U.S. — has fallen dramatically since the global financial crisis of 2007-2009. Last year’s recession, the worst in the republic’s history, and an election that left a few bruises on the ruling party, made tightening criteria for work papers inevitable.
Surveys this year by the Institute of Policy Studies, a Singapore think tank, showed people fretting about job security and opportunities for their children, while favoring strict limits on immigration. The government has responded to the political climate, raising salary thresholds and requiring that dependents who wish to work obtain their own company-sponsored visas.
Even if Singapore’s total foreign workforce fell to about 1.2 million last year from 1.4 million in 2019, it still represents more than 20% of the population. Employment passes, issued for professional roles that pay at least S$4,500 ($3,323) per month, fell 8.6% from the previous year. The decline is being felt across industries from manufacturing to finance, white- and blue-collar alike. Banks, frequently in the political cross hairs on hiring, are keen to emphasize promotions for locals.
In an Aug. 8 address, on the eve of National Day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong foreshadowed policy changes that aim to balance the interests of locals and foreign workers. “We have to adjust our policies to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners in Singapore,” Lee said.
“If we do this well, we can continue to welcome foreign workers and new immigrants, as we must.”
Lee also urged citizens not to take social cohesion for granted. A series of race-related incidents and violence have featured prominently in domestic media in recent months.
Expatriate professionals often complain about being watched and subjected to more scrutiny than local residents. But beneath the growing unease with foreigners is a sentiment that gets far less attention: class anxieties. In that light, there may be more common ground between expats and well-to-do locals than the prevailing narrative suggests.
I know plenty of Singaporeans who are as frustrated with stop-go pandemic responses and disappointed by apprehensions about reopening as any European or American. They are also just as keen to travel abroad and feel equally targeted by Covid-fighting measures.
Class divisions also need to be seen in the context of Singapore’s long-term economic slowdown. The population is aging, while people are marrying later and having fewer children. The country has one of the highest levels of gross domestic product per capita in the world, but income inequality remains a persistent worry.
Most citizens consider themselves working class or lower-middle class. Concerns about social stratification have also arisen amid booming property prices and the towering costs of education.
How the fourth generation of leaders, the cadre of lawmakers vying to succeed Lee in a few years, handles this mix of sentiments will determine whether Singapore continues its ascent as a magnet for business or succumbs to populist-tinged currents. Does the state, already a huge influence on the economy by determining land use, housing and shares in some of the biggest companies, become more redistributive? The head of the central bank last month gently floated the merits of a wealth tax and minimum wage. 1
While the pandemic didn’t create economic and social anxieties, it no doubt brought them to the surface. When the government banned dining-in and restricted social gatherings a few weeks ago, business owners felt they were scapegoated for lapses that allowed clusters to develop at seedy karaoke lounges and a fish market frequented by local seniors. While Singapore once considered tony restaurants a badge of sophistication, their owners describe a more complicated landscape.
Some have observed the high level of scrutiny cosmopolitan spots downtown receive relative to the hawker centers and food halls that dot housing estates and suburbs. Safe distancing ambassadors — civilians with red shirts and ID lanyards known as SDAs — have become a constant presence in well-heeled parts of the city, peering through cafe windows and aiming their smart phones at patrons huddling too closely around their cappuccinos.
On the afternoon before the latest clampdown, which began July 22, I enjoyed a late lunch at a food center in Kallang nestled among industrial warehouses and near apartment towers erected by the Housing & Development Board. I saw no SDAs. Nobody asked for my temperature or checked I had signed in using TraceTogether, Singapore’s contact tracing app.
I struggled to even locate the barcode on a nondescript girder somewhere in the vicinity of the front of the hall. The only person taking photos as I tucked into a delicious nasi padang plate was me. (The government has since made TraceTogether sign-in mandatory at hawker centers, which makes one wonder why it took so long.)
DBS Wins Regulatory Approval In Singapore For Crypto Payment Services
Starting next Monday, DBS Bank’s crypto exchange will start operating, allowing institutional investors to trade Bitcoin.
Singapore’s largest bank, DBS Bank, has expanded its scope of supported cryptocurrency services by scoring another regulatory approval.
DBS Bank’s brokerage arm, DBS Vickers (DBSV), has received in-principle approval from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to provide digital payment token services as a payment institution, the company officially announced Thursday.
The approval is granted under Singapore’s Payment Services Act, paving the way for DBSV’s payment license. Once licensed, the firm will be able to directly support asset managers and companies trading in digital payment tokens through DBS Bank’s cryptocurrency-enabled exchange, DBS Digital Exchange (DDEx).
In conjunction with the MAS approval announcement, DBS also disclosed that DDEx will begin operating 24/7 starting next Monday, allowing investors to trade on the platform at any time. The exchange initially operated only during Asian trading hours, the company said. Launched in late 2020, DDEx supports trading of major cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), XRP and Bitcoin Cash (BCH), targeting only institutional investors.
Eng-Kwok Seat Moey, group head of capital markets at DBS Bank, said that the company has been seeing growing demand among corporates and asset managers for digital payment token services. “This could add to DDEx’s volumes in the coming months, and, coupled with DDEx going operational round-the-clock, help accelerate growth for DDEx,” he noted.
DBS Bank has been actively extending its range of supported digital asset-related services after setting up a crypto exchange last December. In May, DBS Private Bank launched a cryptocurrency trust solution via its fully-owned trust company DBS Trustee. It previously announced that it had posted tenfold volume growth on its cryptocurrency exchange in the first quarter of 2021.
The latest news comes shortly after the MAS issued the first in-principle approval for Australian crypto exchange Independent Reserve last week, allowing the firm to operate as a fully regulated digital asset service provider.
Singapore Has A New Richest Person With $20 Billion Fortune
Forrest Li, Sea Ltd.’s billionaire co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer, has become Singapore’s richest person as shares of his company surged.
Li, who was born in China and later became a Singapore citizen, is now worth $19.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after Sea’s American depositary receipts rose 67% this year. The city-state’s second-richest person, paint tycoon Goh Cheng Liang, has a net worth of $17.7 billion.
It’s another example of how tech billionaires are climbing up the wealth rankings in countries across Asia. Earlier this year, Brian Kim, the founder of messaging giant Kakao Corp., became South Korea’s richest person.
Sea, Southeast Asia’s most valuable company, has been turning to fintech for further growth beyond gaming and e-commerce, while also expanding beyond the region. It won a digital-banking license in Singapore in December and acquired Indonesia’s PT Bank Kesejahteraan Ekonomi, better known as Bank BKE, people familiar with the matter said in January.
Both moves “should allow the group to grow its SeaMoney business beyond payments to include lending, insurance, wealth management and other financial services,” said Nathan Naidu, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.
SeaMoney, the company’s digital-payments and financial-services business, saw total payments using its mobile-wallet services rise to more than $4.1 billion in the second quarter, up almost 150% from a year earlier, Li said on Sea’s earnings call on Aug. 17. Sea’s revenue rose 159% to $2.3 billion in the period.
Sea’s broader success has been founded on its mobile game Free Fire, which has exceeded 1 billion downloads on Google Play. It’s also been driven by its e-commerce platform, Shopee, which has become the second-most downloaded shopping app on Android and iOS globally, Li said on the earnings call, citing App Annie data.
Sea’s three founders, Li, Gang Ye, and David Chen, started the company in 2009. Ye, chief operating officer, is worth $10.8 billion, while Chen, Shopee’s chief product officer, has a net worth of $3.6 billion.
Sea declined to comment on the executives’ wealth valuations. In late March, the company gave a gift of S$50 million ($37.1 million) to the National University of Singapore to advance research in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Naidu said he remains positive about Sea’s prospects, even after the stock surged more than 20-fold since listing in 2017. He said he expects demand for the company’s services to hold strong after being boosted by the pandemic, and pointed to Shopee’s expansion into Latin American markets including Brazil.
“After Covid, people have warmed up to digital services and online platforms,” he said. “I don’t think they will completely give up the convenience being offered.”
Singapore Grants Digital Token Payment Licenses To FOMO Pay
The city-state granted an “in principle” license to Independent Reserve in August.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) issued a digital payment token license to local fintech company FOMO Pay, according to a Wednesday press release.
* FOMO Pay can now provide payments services using digital currencies, including CBDCs and crypto tokens, the statement said.
* While this is the first full issuance of such a license, in August the MAS granted an “in principle” approval to Australian crypto exchange Independent Reserve for a DPT license. “Several” other digital payments providers will soon receive their licenses, the South China Morning Post reported.
* MAS also issued a domestic money transfer and a merchant acquisition license to FOMO Pay.
* Following the 2019 Payment Services Act, Singapore is seen as a beacon of favorable crypto regulation, while countries like China and the U.S. are clamping down on the industry.
Singapore Issues Investor Alert For Binance
The crypto exchange is unregulated in Singapore and may have broken the law, according to the city-state’s financial watchdog.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore issued an investor alert for Binance’s global website, according to the central bank and regulator’s site.
* The list includes entities that are unregulated by the MAS but that may be erroneously perceived as licensed or regulated, the agency said.
* The MAS subsequently said Binance may have breached Singapore’s Payment Services Act by providing payment services to and soliciting business from residents of Singapore, Bloomberg reported. The authority ordered Binance to stop such activities immediately, according to the report.
* In early July, MAS said that it would “follow up” with Binance’s Singapore entity, which at the time was waiting for the review of its license application.
* In an emailed statement to CoinDesk on Thursday, Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, said it is aware of the notice and is “actively working” with the MAS to address the watchdog’s concerns.
* In late August, Binance hired Richard Teng, the former CEO of Abu Dhabi’s financial watchdog, to head its Singapore operations, possibly to curb the regulatory tide against it.
* Binance has been in regulators’ crosshairs all around the world in recent months, including in Japan and the U.K.
* Singapore’s 2019 Payment Services Act requires crypto companies to be licensed to operate in the city-state.
* The law has been perceived as largely positive toward the industry, because it creates a comprehensive legal framework under which crypto companies can operate. Hundreds of companies have applied for the licenses, and the MAS has started granting the coveted certifications.
* On Wednesday, the MAS issued a digital token payments license to local fintech firm FOMO Pay.
Babel Finance Sets Up Shop In Singapore
Over two-thirds of Singaporeans with personal investments have crypto in their portfolios.
Crypto financial services provider Babel Finance is expanding into Singapore.
* The new company, called Babel Asia, will be independent of Babel’s Hong Kong office, according to a Thursday press release.
* “Singapore’s trusted legal system, well-developed wealth-management industry and openness to fintech” are welcoming to crypto firms, Babel Asia CEO Shanshan Yu told CoinDesk in an email.
* Singapore’s 2019 Payment Services Act set up a regulatory framework for crypto, giving digital-asset firms a pathway to legality.
* Founded in 2018, Babel Finance started out as a lender to crypto miners in China and has grown to serve institutional clients and high net worth individuals.
* It is these institutional investors that Babel is after in Singapore. Yu’s experience in banking will help her win over traditional finance players, the company said. She has been working in Singapore’s banking sector since 2013, with roles at Bank of Singapore, Development Bank of Singapore and United Overseas Bank.
* Babel Finance’s co-founder Del Wang said in a press release that there is “increasing appetite for differentiated asset classes” among Singapore’s qualified investors.
* Over two-thirds of Singaporeans with personal investments have crypto in their portfolios, and over one-third of those who don’t said that they plan to invest in digital assets in the next year, according to a July survey by crypto exchange Gemini and crypto information provider CoinMarketCap.
* Still, Babel Asia has its work cut out for it in terms of compliance and faces joining a long queue for licenses.
* Singapore’s Monetary Authority has reportedly received over 170 applications for licenses from crypto exchanges.
* Only one digital-token payments license has been granted in full to a local fintech player, FOMO Pay, which received approval this month.
* Babel Finance raised $40 million in a Series A round in May.
Singapore Finance Authority Grants Licenses To Independent Reserve And DBS
DBSV and Independent Reserve previously received MAS’ in-principle approvals to provide digital payment token services.
Singapore’s principal financial regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), has officially approved two companies to offer cryptocurrency services in the country.
MAS issued licenses to Australian crypto exchange Independent Reserve and DBS Bank’s brokerage arm, DBS Vickers (DBSV), allowing them to provide digital payment token services under the Payment Services Act (PS Act), on Friday.
According to an announcement by Independent Reserve, the firm became the first Australian cryptocurrency exchange available to retail and institutional investors in Singapore. Founded in Australia back in 2013, the company started setting up its first overseas operations in Singapore in late 2019, offering digital asset exchange and over-the-counter trading services to people and institutions.
In a separate announcement by DBS Bank, the firm noted that the new license will enable DBSV to directly support asset managers and companies to trade digital payment tokens through DBS Digital Exchange (DDEx). Launched in December 2020, DDEx supports the trading of major cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH), targeting only institutional investors.
Both DBSV and Independent Reserve previously received MAS’ in-principle approvals to provide digital payment token services in early August.
Independent Reserve CEO Adrian Przelozny claimed that Singapore has the most detailed licensing requirements of any jurisdiction in Asia. “There are real opportunities for Australia to learn from Singapore’s thorough approach to crypto industry licensing. Currently, there are no custodian requirements for digital asset exchanges in Australia,” he added.
DDEx chair Eng-Kwok Seat Moey noted that the latest regulatory approval marks another significant milestone to the company’s ability to provide a number of crypto-related services, including tokenization, listing, trading and custody.
“Having received formal regulatory approval from MAS, DBSV is now in a better position to support institutional and corporate investors in tapping into the growing potential of digital assets as an investment class,” she noted.
The latest regulatory approvals come shortly after Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, halted several product offerings on its platform in Singapore in early September as MAS warned that the exchange could have been in breach of the country’s PS Act.
Binance previously appeared on the regulator’s investor alert list reflecting “unregulated persons who, based on information received by MAS, may have been wrongly perceived as being licensed or regulated by MAS.”
Singaporean Payments Unicorn Nium Launches Crypto-as-a-Service Platform
Nium says its new service will target banks, businesses and neo-financial institutions.
Singapore-based payments unicorn Nium has rolled out a crypto-as-a-service (CaaS) offering aimed at financial institutions.
* Nium provides turn-key, purpose-built API suites for new and traditional finance companies. Its latest offering seeks to provide ready-made tools amid a period of high demand in crypto.
* The company said its new CaaS will provide institutions with “in-demand capabilities” for crypto investment and initially supports up to five cryptos, according to a statement on Monday.
* Through an API connection to its platform, the firm says its clients can embed crypto marketplace services, along with know-your-customer (KYC), regulatory monitoring, brokerage, custody and processing.
* Nium has decided to launch its product throughout the U.S., with a further 15 cryptos expected to be added to be added to the service by next year. Another 25 countries and jurisdictions are expected to be supported by next year, including Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
* In July, Nium secured $200 million in fresh funding led by tech investor Riverwood Capital receiving unicorn status with a valuation above $1 billion.
* “Our global clients are seeking more and more ways to differentiate their core offerings,” said Prajit Nanu, co-founder and CEO at Nium. “We offer access to modular fintech elements for payments and card issuing – and now, crypto.”
Singapore Minister Sees A Place For Crypto In Asia Hub
Cryptocurrencies have a place in Singapore’s financial sector if these digital assets are regulated, according to the chairman of the nation’s central bank.
“There may be a role for crypto in future finance that extends beyond pure speculation and illicit finance,” Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said Wednesday at the Asia Financial Markets Forum.
Stablecoins, for example, can have a role together with traditional payment systems, though these digital assets need to be regulated for illicit finance activities including anti-money laundering, he said.
The central bank is keeping an “open mind” on cryptocurrencies because the regulator wants technologies and innovation to develop, said Tharman, one of Singapore’s most influential politicians who has held roles in organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.
Tharman’s comments come as Singapore builds its status as a crypto-technology hub and lays the framework for activities such as trading, listing, tokenization and custody. In contrast, countries like China have taken a more hardline approach.
The city recently granted licenses to the brokerage arm of DBS Bank Ltd. and an Australian cryptocurrency exchange, even as the regulator has been warning the public about the risks of trading digital assets such as Bitcoin.
“I think the future will be one where regulated stablecoins will have a useful role. A traditional payment system that innovates and becomes more inter-operable across borders for cheap, fast and instant payments will be an important part of that space, plus possibly some role for other independent innovators in the system,” he said during his dialogue with Bloomberg News’ Haslinda Amin.
Stablecoins are a crypto subset often pegged to fiat currencies such as the dollar.
Rather than using the word crypto, Tharman said he prefers to approach the topic through a fintech lens, whereby such technologies have the potential to help large underserved markets and segments of the population that struggle to get unsecured financing.
In addition, fintech has given a “useful jolt” to the system with banks responding to the challenge, thereby lowering costs and improving reliability of financial services, he said.
‘Wise And Foolish’
Still, Tharman doesn’t see cryptocurrencies replacing money as legal tender given their volatile and speculative nature.
“If you have an instrument that is volatile in pricing, it’s never going to become money,” he said. “It’s going to be a speculative asset, for both the wise and foolish.”
El Salvador became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender in September, drawing attention to whether the move would entice people to transact with Bitcoin and bring any benefits to the country. The experiment had a rocky start however.
Bitcoin slid below $60,000 as euphoria over the first U.S. crypto ETF dissipated and traders took profits following a record-breaking rally.
Singapore To Position Itself As Global Crypto Center, Says Regulator
Singapore is aggressively pursuing policies that will help the cryptocurrency sector grow.
The regulation of cryptocurrencies varies considerably across the globe: China has cracked down on significant amounts of crypto activity in recent months, while Japan only recently allowed specialized cryptocurrency investment funds. El Salvador, on the other hand, has accepted Bitcoin (BTC) as a legal currency.
As financial centers throughout the world seek to regulate the sector, Singapore is aiming to establish itself as the globe’s capital for crypto-related enterprises. According to Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the city-state might have been left behind had it not gotten a head start on how to deal with cryptocurrencies.
“With crypto-based activities, it is basically an investment in a prospective future, the shape of which is not clear at this point,” said Menon, who has headed the MAS for about 10 years.
The country is at the forefront of this movement thanks to its openness toward cryptocurrencies, having developed a legislative framework that favors their use. The tax regime has also been tweaked in order to encourage the industry’s growth.
MAS is putting “very strong regulation” in place to allow businesses that meet its requirements and address the numerous threats to operation, according to Menon.
Singapore must increase its security measures to address threats such as illicit flows, said Menon. The city-state has become a magnet for cryptocurrency companiese from Binance Holding, which has had a series of disputes with regulators around the world, to Gemini, a United States-based operator targeting institutional investors.
Following the implementation of the Payment Services Act in January 2020, 170 firms applied for an MAS license, bringing the number of applicants to around 400.
Since then, only a handful of cryptocurrency businesses have gained the coveted licenses, with two being rebuffed. Around 30 applicants withdrew their applications after interacting with the regulator.
As reported by Cointelegraph, the DBS Group, Singapore’s biggest bank and a pioneer in creating a platform for trading digital tokens and offering tokenization services, was one of the organizations that received the license. Other banks and technology companies in the city-state, such as OCBC and IBM, have also joined in.
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