Singapore customers to soon have a single view of what they own and owe across major banks

This story first appeared in Oct 25, 2019, and has been updated.

SINGAPORE expects to announce soon the details of a single platform for consumers to aggregate their financial information from various accounts across major banks.

Such a platform, first reported by The Business Times in February 2019, will allow consumers to consent to sharing their consolidated financial data with financial institutions, as well as with certain non-banking entities.

In time, it could also make it simpler for consumers to compare products and services for better financial planning, and - if they wish to - to easily switch between competing offers.

This liberalisation, a concept called "Open Banking" in Europe, comes amid a recognition that Singapore consumers need a seamless, consolidated view of their assets and liabilities so they can plan for their sunset years. (Singaporeans' life expectancy in 2019 was 83.6 years.)

The banking industry and regulators are looking at using application programming interfaces (APIs) - codes that enable computer applications to speak to one another - to slice and dice the data that can be shared with consumers because this data belongs to them, but to keep separate the data that cannot be shared on the platform because some of that is proprietary to the banks, said Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), in an interview.

This move will be the third pillar of Singapore's recent move to liberalise its financial sector on the digital front. The two other pillars are the issuing of digital bank licences and giving fintechs access to the real-time payment system, which is the backbone of Singapore's payments infrastructure.

On Monday, MAS said that eligible non-bank financial institutions will, from February 2021, have direct access to the banking system's real-time retail payments infrastructure. This will give non-bank players - major payment institutions under the Payment Services Act - access to payment rails for them to offer PayNow services.

"If you take all these three together, the challenge to the banks is not trivial," Mr Menon said, adding that there are "deep-seated convictions" that customers will benefit from better service, and that the banks will emerge stronger from the competition.

The MAS has rounded up all the applications for digital banking licences. It will award up to two licences for a digital full bank (which will have access to cheap retail deposits) and up to three licences for a digital wholesale bank.

The MAS has also said that the Singapore banks, which have collectively cornered more than half the market share here, must remain strong local anchors amid the competition. With their heft and experience, incumbent banks are already gearing up to respond in kind, Mr Menon said.

"Our banks will not sit still. We'll be seeing some very interesting competition."