Alibaba’s fintech arm Ant Financial and TikTok operator Bytedance are joining the increasingly heated race to set up digital banking operations in Singapore.

Why it matters: The Lion City has become a top destination for Chinese companies looking to set up digital banking operations as plans in Hong Kong stall due to ongoing protests.

  • Ant Financial and Bytedance are joining local contenders including gaming company Razer and ride-hailing platform Grab, which have all submitted applications for full banking licenses in the same week.

Details: Ant Financial confirmed on Thursday to Bloomberg that it applied for a wholesale license. Singaporean media The Business Times reported on Friday that Bytedance also has applied for the same license.

  • Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced in June that it would issue up to two digital full bank (DFB) licenses and three digital wholesale bank (DWB) licenses.
  • Digital wholesale banks will be allowed to take deposits from and provide banking services to small- and medium-sized companies and other non-retail customers, MAS said. Digital full banks, which will be allowed to provide services to retail and non-retail customers, must be controlled by Singaporeans and headquartered in the city-state.
  • The banking regulator is expected to announce in mid-2020 which applicants will be rewarded the licenses. The licensed digital banks are expected to start their operating as early as the mid-2021.
  • Bytedance declined to comment when contacted by TechNode on Friday.

Context: Ant Financial is regarded as one of the frontrunners in the digital banking race in the region, and obtained a license from the Hong Kong banking regulator in 2019. Ant Financial has been deepening its roots in the fintech and mobile payments markets in Southeast Asia, where Alibaba has established its e-commerce presence.

  • Bytedance has been eyeing China’s digital payments market since 2018, but appears to have made little progress. Aside from its consumer lending app “Manfen” launched in October, Bytedance also offers a micro-lending service through Jinri Toutiao’s “Fangxinjie” feature.
  • Bytedance is considering Singapore as the home for its global headquarters outside of China.

Update and correction: added detail about Bytedance’s consumer finance offerings, corrected the Manfen launch to October. An earlier version said it had launched in November.

Nicole Jao is a reporter based in Beijing. She’s passionate about emerging trends, news, and stories of human interest within the world of technology. Connect with her on Twitter or via email:

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