Yesterday, DigFin profiled a U.S. entrepreneur addressing issues of digital identity and data sovereignty. These are issues that Singapore’s government has been addressing for years – and banks and tech startups say it’s proving to be a good system for commerce.
Instead of assuming that data needs to be “democratized”, that is, distributed so that individuals control their information, Singapore set up a central repository in 2016. The platform initially was for residents to access government services but it has since been extended to business.
And businesses are finding this pool of data a huge benefit.
“For a company, the control of data equals locked revenue,” said a Chinese techfin company’s spokesperson. “No company is willing to share data and it’s extremely difficult for new comers to challenge existing data kings [meaning, corporate holders of user information]. A government initiative is therefore key to ensuring a level playing field and to protect innovation and creativity.”
Hong Kong is following suit in part with a rollout of new digitally tagged identity cards, but it will take time for it to collect enough data and connect users to government services. Singapore in the meantime will continue to roll out new features.
OCBC is one of the four banks that joined MyInfo’s pilot in May 2017; the bank then launched Singapore’s first instant account opening for deposits last year, leveraging MyInfo. Since then, account opening has expanded from instant approval to instant use. For example, a personal loan can be instantly released to a new customer’s account.
“We were the first bank in Singapore to enable the instant approval and use of a new bank account last year”, said Aditya Gupta, OCBC’s head of e-business for Singapore and Malaysia. “Now, we are the first local bank to enable the instant approval and use of credit cards, which are immediately available for use on mobile devices to do e-commerce transactions.”
He said close to 80% of all OCBC digital product applications now are leveraging MyInfo; the average volumes of products opened through digital channels have increased three times after integration with MyInfo; 35% of all current account products are opened through MyInfo.
We have cut the manual approval process from three days to just minutesAditya Gupta, OCBC
Dennis Tan, OCBC’s head of consumer financial services, expects that one in every two OCBC Bank customers to be onboarded digitally by 2020.
For banks onboarding a new customer, there are two levels of checks, Gupta explains: to authenticate the information the customer provides (e.g., income or home address); and verifying the person is who they claim to be.
MyInfo does the first check. Because the information is government-certified, customers don’t need to provide any supporting documentation.
OCBC now only needs to focus on the second level and check the identity of the person, which cuts out a lot of work for both the bank and the customer.
“For consumers, the application process is reduced from 15 mins (to fill in forms) to 60 seconds,” Gupta said. “More importantly, we have cut the manual approval process from three days to just minutes.”
Gupta thinks that MyInfo also enhances data privacy and security. All data access needs customer consent, case by case. And the authentication has the same security standard as when filing data with the government.
MyInfo is essentially a collection of open-sourced APIs that users can integrate with different services. This being a government initiative, it’s open to all residents and companies, large or small, with government technicians available to support integration.
Kristal.AI, a robo-advisory wealth management platform, integrated Myinfo in September 2018. The application procedure took around a month. The MyInfo team from the Singapore government guided Kristal through the process and “resolved all technical issues”. Kristal’s Singaporean spokesperson told DigFin.
Vivek Mohindra, co-founder of the firm, who is based in Hong Kong, says Kristal actually first operated there because Hong Kong’s regulator was quick to grant a retail advisory license. The business then opened in India and Singapore.
But since then, Kristal has added 400 customers in Singapore versus only 200 in Hong Kong. One reason? MyInfo, which enabled onboarding to be compressed from days to minutes.
“We have more than doubled our customers so far this year and will grow even faster now,” the Singaporean spokesperson said.
Youtrip, a Singaporen version of Revolut, is one of the first adaptors of MyInfo, Caecilia Chu, co-founder and CEO told DigFin.
Youtrip runs a multi-currency mobile wallet with a prepaid Mastercard. The firm claims wholesale currency exchange rate with zero fees. The product has recorded 1 million transactions for the first 10 months. It raised US$25.5 million in a pre-Series A funding in May 2019.
It is worth noting that Youtrip is a Hong Kong-based company but Singapore is its main market. Its two founders are from Hong Kong; the company’s technical support centre with some 40 engineers is also located in the Fragrant Harbor.
Chu says the initial reason to open shop in Singapore was to take advantage of a partnership with EZ-Link, a local smart-card company focused on local transport.
But as Youtrip’s business model is based on digitalization, MyInfo has helped speed its growth.
“In the digital space, the key is to move fast,” Arthur Mak, chairman of Youtrip, told DigFin. “Our products get updated almost every two weeks. We focus on the digital side so that we can deliver the value to the customers at very low or no cost.”
Youtrip integrates digitally with both local and regional banks or brokers providing wholesale forex prices, letting the company hedge its positions in real time whenever users spend money on its card.
On the other side, 91% of customers come onboard via MyInfo, which helps Youtrip digitize the whole KYC procedure.
Mak says integrated with MyInfo took a few weeks. The challenge isn’t the tech, he says, but understanding all the compliance around it.