Singapore’s central bank issued only two of three possible wholesale digital banking permits but awarded full licences to a partnership between booking company Grab and Singtel, along with internet platform Sea.

In a statement, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said digital wholesale banking licences went to an affiliate of Ant Group and a consortium comprising Greenland Financial Holdings Group, Linklogis Hong Kong and Beijing Cooperative Equity Investment Fund Management, which “were assessed to be demonstrably stronger across the criteria”.

MAS noted since digital wholesale banks were introduced as a pilot, it will review whether to grant additional licences in the future. It had planned to issue up to three wholesale permits.

The central bank received a total of 14 eligible applications and expects the new digital banks to start operations in early 2022.

MAS MD Ravi Menon said: “We expect them to thrive alongside the incumbent banks and raise the industry’s bar in delivering quality financial services, particularly for currently underserved businesses and individuals. They will further strengthen Singapore’s financial sector for the digital economy of the future.”

The monetary authority had hoped to issue the licences in June, but delayed to allow companies and authorities to focus on tackling the impact of Covid-19 (coronavirus).