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Singapore’s central bank to pour $20m into AI and data as it pushes fintech growth

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) continues bringing finance and technology closer together, making sure that Singapore’s financial industry doesn’t miss the fintech train.

One in three digitally active people considering themselves regular fintech users.

Today’s announcements at the second annual Fintech Festival aim to show it’s still keeping up just fine: a US$20 million grant for artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics projects, a dedicated fintech hub in the middle of Singapore’s business district, new cyber security and cross-border payments initiatives are some of the ways MAS is making Singapore’s finance industry tech-ready.

MAS managing director Ravi Menon took the stage on Tuesday to reflect on the state of fintech. Financial technology services are on the cusp of mainstream adoption, he said, with one in three digitally active people considering themselves regular fintech users, according to Ernst & Young.

In Singapore, more than 400 fintech startups have set up shop. And finance execs can now “carry on an intelligent conversation about blockchains without looking at their notes – this is a big change from just two years ago,” Menon said.

Among the initiatives MAS is setting up to take advantage of this tailwind are:

  • A new US$20 million grant for AI and data analytics projects. Part of the US$165 million Financial Sector Technology and Innovation Scheme, the grant is meant to support the adoption and integration of AI and data analytics systems in financial institutions as well as training personnel in these areas. The scheme has already funded fintech startups like SoCash.
  • A cross-border platform for trade finance based on distributed ledger technology (otherwise known as the blockchain). MAS hopes to have the project, called Global Trade Connectivity Network, up and running by early 2019. It’s being jointly developed by MAS and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to allow snappy transfer of digital documents and data between the two territories.
  • Boosting cyber security initiatives. This includes the establishment of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which will do what it says on the tin: help financial institutions share cyber threat data and coordinate on defense and response. MAS is also partnering with the Association of Banks in Singapore to lay down risk management guidelines including for red-teaming – a sneak invasion test on a financial institution’s live online system.
  • Making it easy to send money from Singapore to Thailand and vice versa through mobile payments. MAS and the Bank of Thailand have linked Singapore’s PayNow mobile payments system with Thai counterpart PromptPay. This allows for fast and safe cross-border payments between the two countries using just a mobile phone number.
  • A fintech innovation hub at Singapore’s business district. The building at 80 Robinson Road is currently home to fintech hub Lattice80, which occupies two floors. MAS announced the entire building will be devoted to fintech startups, giving them 100,000 square feet of space. The building will be rebranded to 80RR to reflect its new hip fintech identity.
  • For cross-border payments, MAS will also partner with the Bank of Canada to collaborate on Project Ubin, the central bank’s initiative to enable money transfers using blockchain tech. MAS announced a successful first trial of the project early this year. More recently, the authority successfully produced three software prototypes for decentralized payments, and plans to release the source code to developers. MAS produced a report on this second phase of the project, available here (PDF link).
  • MAS is also streamlining the way it’s collecting data from financial institutions, aiming to make all its data requests machine readable; working with banks in Singapore and abroad to come up with a unified know-your-customer application; and partnering with the World Bank to create the ASEAN Financial Innovation Network, where fintech startups can focus on financial inclusion for unbanked people in Southeast Asia.

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