SINGAPORE (Nov 26): Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. is well placed to take on Chinese technology giants that are looking to join Singapore’s digital banking market, its top executive said.

The entry of such firms would constitute “extended competition but not necessary new competition,” Chief Executive Officer Samuel Tsien said, when asked about the threat posed by companies such as Jack Ma’s Ant Financial Services Group.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore unveiled plans this year to grant as many as five virtual bank licenses to boost competition and innovation in the nation’s financial industry. China’s Ant Financial and Ping An Insurance (Group) Co. are among companies considering applications, and Tsien said OCBC may join the race, both as a bank and through its insurance unit.

New entrants will face high regulatory costs in areas such as “know your customer” and transaction monitoring, Tsien said in an interview. They also won’t be allowed to buy customers by offering unrealistic interest rates for depositors and borrowers, he added.

Singapore regulators “want to bring in the technology, bring in new thinking, bring in new ways of doing business and channels,” the CEO said. They “don’t want the financial system to be impacted as a result of these aggressive players coming in, forgetting about the commercial reason of existence.”

The MAS has pledged to evaluate the business plans of digital banking applicants to deter “value-destructive behavior” and ensure a “level playing field among banks,” according to a Q&A by the regulator.

License Talks

OCBC is plotting its own plans for digital banking in Singapore, which provides a platform to expand in the lucrative Southeast Asian market. While embarking on a digital transformation of its operations, the bank may also join one of the consortia led by non-banks seeking a virtual banking license.

“We are talking to various parties but we have not made a final decision whether we would go in or not,” Tsien said. “It’s attractive to us because it’s the way that we can test out in the new digital economy as to what we could do.”

OCBC has agreed in principle to join a group led by peer-to-peer lender Validus Capital Pte. and Temasek Holdings Pte’s venture-capital arm to apply for a wholesale digital banking license before a year-end deadline, Bloomberg reported this month.

Other companies that have expressed interest include ride-hailing firm Grab, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and game device maker Razer Inc.

Great Eastern Holdings Ltd., OCBC’s insurance arm, may also join a digital banking consortium should a non-bank offer the chance to expand its customer base, Tsien said.

“In the event that there are some consortia which are able to offer their client base to us for our insurance business, we will pursue that,” Tsien said. “But the major driving factor is not the banking business. It’s the franchise of the customers of that consortium and we want to tap that.”