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The Edge Singapore8/14/2020 07:00 AM GMT+08  • 7 min read
Briefs: MAS commits $250 mil, Airbnb close to filing for IPO, and HK tycoon Jimmy Lai says arrest took him by surprise.
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Quoteworthy: "There is a reason it [the coronavirus] has hit America worse than any other advanced nation. It is because of Trump’s failure to take it seriously from the start." –— Kamala Harris, running mate of US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden

MAS commits $250 mil to drive tech and innovation
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) says it will commit $250 million over the next three years to accelerate technology and innovation-driven growth in the financial sector under the enhanced Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme (FSTI 2.0).

The enhanced scheme, which builds on the FSTI scheme introduced in June 2015, also aims to strengthen support for large-scale innovation projects and build a stronger pipeline of Singaporean talents in FinTech.

The launch of FSTI 2.0 was announced by MAS managing director Ravi Menon on Aug 13 at the “Singapore FinTech Festival: Green Shoots Series”, which are virtual meet-ups for the FinTech community to share practical advice on topics ranging from bolstering cash flows to ensuring cybersecurity in times of increased remote work arrangements.

FSTI 2.0 will introduce several enhancements, including doubling the maximum funding quantum to $400,000 from $200,000 under the Proof-of-Concept (POC) Grant. MAS will also increase the maximum funding support from 50% to 70% of the qualifying project cost.

The higher funding support will enable financial institutions and FinTech firms to undertake larger-scale POC projects to experiment, develop and deploy innovative solutions, empowered by emerging technologies.

The enhancement also includes a merit-based tiered funding mechanism that will replace the existing flat 50% funding support of qualifying project cost.

A higher level of funding will be allocated to POC projects which demonstrate stronger merits. The level of funding support and quantum cap for each applicant will vary according to the total number of favourable votes awarded by an evaluation panel.

MAS will raise the maximum funding quantum for all qualifying AI projects under the Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics (Aida) Grant to $1.5 million from $1 million, and it will introduce a new Aida-Lite track, providing half the funding quantum of the Aida track. With Aida-Lite, financial institutions will be able to obtain funding support to adopt proven AI solutions to enhance their operations. — Felicia Tan

Airbnb close to filing for IPO after travel rebound
Airbnb Inc plans to file paperwork for a stockmarket listing in the next few weeks, paving the way for its shares to start trading as soon as the fourth quarter, according to people familiar with the matter.

The San Francisco-based company is preparing to submit documents confidentially with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for an IPO, said the people, who asked to not be identified discussing private information. The long-awaited move would represent a swift comeback for the home-sharing start-up after the coronavirus pandemic sent the travel industry into a tailspin.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Airbnb was planning to file paperwork later this month. Airbnb declined to comment on the matter. The company’s plans could change as new outbreaks of the disease continue to flare in the US, the people said.

Airbnb is working with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc on its IPO, according to a person familiar with the matter. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

CEO Brian Chesky had originally wanted to take the initial steps towards a listing in March, but his plans were nixed by Covid-19. By April, Chesky was facing US$1 billion ($1.37 billion) in cancellations, he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in June. Travel bans and lockdowns caused planned bookings to tumble about 90% and Airbnb cut 25% of its workforce in a bid to survive. Other travel sites, like TripAdvisor Inc and Booking Holdings Inc, also hit crisis mode and had to eliminate thousands of jobs.

But by May, Airbnb was already seeing a rebound. The number of nights booked at US listings between May 17 and June 3 was greater than during the same period the previous year, as city dwellers took advantage of work-from-home policies and escaped apartments for nearby vacation rentals. As of June 17, Airbnb’s bookings had increased 20% y-o-y in the US, according to data from market research firm AirDNA.

Prior to the pandemic, Airbnb had been leaning towards a non-traditional route to the public markets. The company was planning to follow in the footsteps of Spotify Technology SA and list directly, forgoing raising new money by selling shares and allowing its investors to put their shares on the market without waiting for a lockup period. But the turmoil caused by the pandemic forced Airbnb to raise US$2 billion in debt and equity securities in April to shore up its finances, reducing its valuation to US$18 billion from US$31 billion. As a result, the company decided to take the traditional IPO route to raise cash for the business, the people said. — Bloomberg

Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai says arrest took him by surprise
Hong Kong media tycoon and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai said his arrest on Aug 10 took him by surprise and that he has been overwhelmed by residents’ subsequent support despite the threat from China’s new national security law.

“I didn’t expect an arrest as quick as this because I thought that China, with such a strong response from the international community, knew that the implementation of the national security law was a blunder,” he said in a live-streamed conversation hosted by his flagship Apple Daily newspaper on Aug 13.

“I thought they would keep a low profile to make sure that the international community is comfortable with it, the investors, the businessmen — to tell the world that the national security law actually now has calmed everything down,” he said.

Lai said he was touched by Hong Kong residents who have supported freedom of the press by this week buying up both copies of the popular pro-democracy newspaper and shares of his media company, Next Digital, which helped boost the stock price by as much as 1,100%.

“I was really overwhelmed by the emotion of the city — people were obviously very angry about my arrest and came out in different ways to support us,” he said. “The oxygen is getting thin and we are all choking. But when we’re choking, we’re still taking care of each other, and keep resisting and keep fighting for our rule of law and freedom.”

Some 200 police officers on Aug 10 raided the headquarters of the Apple Daily, which supported Hong Kong’s historic protest movement last year. Scenes of officers walking through the newsroom shocked a city where freedom of the press has long been guaranteed, and which is home to many global media organisations.

The arrest stands to exacerbate already-fraught US-China tensions. The Trump administration this month slapped sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and moved to ban China’s popular WeChat and TikTok apps from the US.

Beijing retaliated with sanctions on some US officials and human rights activists. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, speaking to US outlet Newsmax TV this week, promised to hit back over Lai’s arrest.

Lai said that the police who arrested him all seemed to be local Hong Kong officers and that, for the moment, he was not afraid of being spirited away to the mainland for a trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party. He said that could change if Beijing was convinced he had seriously endangered national security.

But he also made conciliatory remarks, arguing that the world should be friendly towards China. He said the West’s confrontation with Beijing was a result of Chinese leaders pursuing an agenda that was in conflict with global norms, and the world would not have peace until China realised that and changed its behaviour. “The world doesn’t want to confront China because they’re so big — confrontation every time with China will have such a negative impact on the world,” Lai said.

“The world just wants to change China’s behaviour, and attitude toward the international community, because they’re using the kind of values which are in conflict with the world’s civilised values,” he added. “If we don’t change them, the world will not have peace. And that’s why today people are talking about the ‘new Cold War’.” — Bloomberg

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