Singapore fintech startup abandons plans competing for digital banking licence

[SINGAPORE] Singapore cross-border startup InstaReM, which recently rebranded as Nium, has withdrawn from the contest for a digital wholesale banking licence in the city state, doubling down on its global business-to-business payments instead.

"Singaporean banks are extremely well entrenched in that ecosystem," Nium chief executive officer Prajit Nanu said in an interview, referring to wholesale banking. "Our strengths lie elsewhere and we have decided to consolidate and focus on those areas."

Backed by investors including Temasek Holdings unit Vertex Ventures and Rocket Internet, Nium said it was interested in a licence after the Monetary Authority of Singapore announced in July it will grant as many as two digital full-bank licences and up to three digital wholesale bank licences. Other companies that expressed a desire to apply included Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, Grab Holdings Inc and Razer Inc. Nium is the first to declare its withdrawal.

Peer-to-peer lender Validus Capital Pte has agreed to join forces with OCBC Bank, Vertex Ventures and Keppel Corp to seek a local digital banking licence before a year-end application deadline.

Mr Nanu said his company will focus on building a platform that enables companies to send, spend and receive money around the world. It serves businesses in more than 40 markets and holds regulatory licences including in the European Union, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Japan. It is seeking new electronic money institution licences for card issuing and store value facilities in Mexico and Brazil.

Nium raised US$41 million earlier this year, making it one of the best-funded fintech startups in South-east Asia.