A crypto firm hopes to get a Singapore banking licence

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Cryptocurrency-related financial services are hard to find in Singapore, as digital assets are a market traditional lenders have tended to avoid. Sygnum, one of the first crypto companies to obtain a conditional banking and securities dealer license from Swiss regulators, is hoping to fill that gap.

Sygnum, which is based in both Switzerland and Singapore, plans to apply for a banking licence in the island nation. It has started talking with regulators and petitioned for a capital markets services licence, which will allow the firm to offer asset-management business as a first step into financial services, co-founders Mathias Imbach and Gerald Goh said in a phone interview on Tuesday (Aug 27).

"In order for us to provide a full suite of services, we need to operate as a bank" in Singapore, said Goh, who is also chief strategy officer. After the company becomes a full bank in Switzerland, a transition expected this year, it will be able to apply for a traditional banking licence in the city-state, said Goh.

Once it fulfills the final criteria to become a Swiss bank, the company will be able to issue, store, trade and manage the digital assets Bitcoin and Ethereum, and convert fiat currencies such as Swiss francs, Singapore and US dollars and euros into the two cryptocurrencies. The company also will offer custody, brokerage and tokenization services for digital assets to qualified investors and institutions.

While the volume of bitcoin trading has surged and attention to digital assets has jumped with the likes of Facebook's proposed Libra coin, regulation of the industry is sporadic and in its infancy. Sygnum has been raising money and getting backing from established players as it works to get Singapore's approval.

Sygnum has raised about 60 million Swiss francs, which will suffice for the next few years, Imbach said. Some 85 per cent of the firm's employees including all board directors have a stake, and Singapore Telecommunications is among institutional investors. Chua Kim Leng, the MAS's former special advisor for financial supervision, sits on the board and also heads the anti-money laundering committee at the company.

In March, Deutsche Boerse agreed to invest in Custodigit AG, a joint venture between Swisscom and Sygnum that provides a technical solution for the custody of digital assets for regulated financial services institutions.


While waiting for final clearance and procedure to set up a bank in Switzerland, the company is conducting due diligence on potential customers to ensure they comply with anti-money laundering rules, Imbach said.

"We have been approached over the past few months by many parties who hold a lot of cryptocurrencies and look for a fully regulated bank," said Imbach, who is chief executive officer of Sygnum. "One of their biggest challenges is to find banking specialists to connect them to the real world, to pay their taxes, their employees' salary."