"Shaping the Financial Ecosystem of the Future" - Speech by Mr Ravi Menon, Managing Director, Monetary Authority of Singapore, at the Singapore FinTech Festival 2023 on 16 November 2023
Good morning, and welcome to Day Two of the Singapore FinTech Festival.
A year ago, I spelt out five outcomes we want to achieve through FinTech collaboration: instant remittance, atomic settlement, programmable money, tokenised assets, and trusted ESG data.
- These continue to be anchors for our vision of Singapore as a Smart Financial Centre.
- But let me package them in a more intuitive outcome-based way as I report progress and set out where we want to go.
Our goal is nothing short of audacious: to collaborate with the financial industry and international partners to shape the financial ecosystem of the future. There are three key outcomes we want to collectively achieve as part of this emerging financial ecosystem.
- Instant Payments – make cross-border payments cheaper, faster, and more efficient.
- Seamless Financial Transactions – enable financial assets to be transacted seamlessly across multiple trading venues through digital assets, digital money, and interoperable digital networks.
- Trusted Sustainability Ecosystem – foster a trusted data and disclosure ecosystem to support sustainable finance for the world’s transition to net-zero.
Let me start with FinTech’s foundational pillar – electronic payments.
Singapore’s e-payments journey has taken us from domestic transfers to bilateral linkages to multilateral networks.
Singapore’s retail payments infrastructure – FAST and PayNow – has made digital transfers across bank accounts and e-wallets widely accessible.
- We can now transfer money electronically to individuals using just their mobile phone numbers or national ID numbers, and to businesses using their unique entity numbers – in real-time, 24/7, and at zero cost.
- This payment infrastructure has supported a boom in e-commerce and a variety of online services, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Singapore has combined multiple QR codes into a single SGQR label, the first of its kind globally.
- This single label compatible with multiple consumer apps and e-wallets has made QR code-based mobile payments simple for consumers, merchants and billing organisations.
- SGQR is now accepted by over 90% of merchants in Singapore.
- We have just embarked on SGQR+ to explore enabling merchants to accept QR code payments from a variety of payment schemes through a single financial institution.
- This is the final step towards complete QR interoperability. It means a merchant can consolidate transfers coming in through multiple payment schemes or bank apps through a single set of accounts.
Singapore has led the way in bilateral instant payment linkages.
- Singapore’s PayNow has linked up with Thailand’s PromptPay and India’s Unified Payments Interface – enabling individuals in Singapore to directly transfer funds to and receive funds from individuals in these two countries, real-time.
- I am pleased to say that by the end of this week, we will be able to have real-time payments with individuals in Malaysia through the PayNow-DuitNow linkage.
Singapore has also been establishing QR payment linkages with its Asian neighbours.
- Thanks to our QR payment linkages with China, Malaysia, and Thailand, travellers between Singapore and these countries experience seamless transactions – from purchasing train tickets to indulging in local shopping.
- I am happy to announce that later this week, we will be able to experience the same convenience with Indonesia with the launch of the connectivity between NETS QR and Indonesia’s QRIS.
Singapore is now working with like-minded partners to create multilateral real-time payment networks.
- Last year I shared that MAS had been working with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub on Project Nexus – a multilateral solution to link multiple national real-time payment systems.
- Since then, there have been three developments:
- The BIS Innovation Hub has published a technical proof of concept for connecting the payment systems of the Eurosystem, Malaysia, and Singapore.
- MAS has partnered the central banks of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand and the BIS Innovation Hub to develop the core foundational work for a multilateral instant payment linkage across the five ASEAN countries.
- Central banks from major economies outside of ASEAN and real time payment system operators have expressed strong interest to be part of Project Nexus.
Our vision is to form a coalition of the willing to build a global public good payment utility. Users around the world should be able to send money across borders in a secure, efficient and affordable way.
SEAMLESS FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS
But we must aim higher.
A larger vision that is emerging is of a network of interoperable systems that allows payment, clearing and settlement to take place instantaneously and seamlessly.
The key components to realise this vision are: digital assets, digital money, and digital infrastructure.
Digital assets have two critical features that can fundamentally transform the nature of financial transactions: direct exchange and fractionalisation.
- First, tokenisation enables financial assets to be represented as digital tokens that can be exchanged directly without the need for intermediaries.
- This makes possible atomic settlement or the simultaneous exchange of two assets in real-time.
- It eliminates settlement risk, duplicative reconciliation, and the need for large funding accounts.
- Second, tokenisation enables the fractionalisation of assets.
- This makes possible the partial collateralisation of assets and grants a much broader range of investors access to these assets.
Digital money provides a secure and stable medium of exchange.
- It enables the payment, clearing and settlement of these digital or tokenised assets simultaneously on the same platform.
- This eliminates frictions that arise from delays in clearing and settlement, especially in cross-border settings.
Digital infrastructures help to host and execute digital assets and digital money. They form the basis of digital asset networks.
- These digital infrastructures enable the ownership and transfers of tokenised assets and digital money to be recorded consistently among participating entities and directly on the ledger.
- Digital asset networks run on these infrastructures and facilitate trading, payments, clearing, and settlement of digital assets without the need for intermediaries.
To fully realise seamless financial transactions across digital asset networks, we must ensure they are interoperable.
- Currently, there is a proliferation of digital asset networks, due to different commercial motivations or legal and regulatory requirements.
- We cannot wish these dynamics away and force consolidation of all financial transactions onto a single network.
- It is more feasible to work towards making these diverse networks interoperable.
How should we build this new financial architecture? Let me start with digital assets.
Through Project Guardian, MAS and industry partners are tokenising different asset classes with specific desired outcomes.
We are tokenising foreign exchange for a 24/7 global liquidity pool.
- This will free up trapped liquidity that is fragmented across multiple trading venues.
- It will also reduce the cost of establishing and maintaining multiple bilateral counterparty trading lines as required in today’s over-the-counter markets.
- The Bank of New York Mellon and OCBC are trialling a cross-border FX solution to enable secure, interoperable payment solutions across heterogenous networks.
We are tokenising bonds for seamless cross-border distribution and settlement.
- This unlocks liquidity for traditionally less frequently traded assets and facilitates their use as collateral for financing.
- It also enables greater operational efficiency for cross-border distribution and settlement of capital market instruments.
- UBS, SBI Digital Asset Holdings, and DBS Bank executed a pilot repo agreement with natively issued digital bonds, working across Switzerland, Japan and Singapore.
We are tokenising funds for efficient issuance and trading.
- The native issuance of Variable Capital Company (VCC) funds enhances distribution and secondary market trading of fund shares.
- Franklin Templeton is piloting the issuance of tokenised money market funds through a VCC structure to maintain the records of share ownership, offering greater transparency, lower minimum subscription cost, and increased efficiency.
I am pleased that the International Monetary Fund is joining the Project Guardian Policymaker Group.
- MAS established this Policymaker Group in 2023 to partner fellow regulators in Japan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to explore the development of international standards and frameworks to underpin asset tokenisation.
- The IMF will help provide the global perspective needed to scale our efforts.
There are four contenders for digital money.
- privately issued cryptocurrencies;
- central bank digital currencies or CBDCs;
- tokenised bank liabilities; and
- well-regulated stablecoins.
Cryptocurrencies have failed the test of digital money.
- They have performed poorly as a medium of exchange or store of value.
- Their prices are subject to sharp speculative swings.
- Many investors in cryptocurrencies have suffered significant losses.
Wholesale CBDCs and tokenised bank liabilities can play the role of digital money and help to achieve atomic settlement.
- Since 2016, MAS has conducted many experiments with other central banks and the financial industry to explore the use of wholesale CBDCs on distributed ledgers to facilitate real-time cross-border payments and settlements.
- We will take our experiments a step further next year.
I am pleased to announce that MAS will pilot the “live” issuance of wholesale CBDCs to instantaneously settle payments across commercial banks.
- Previously, MAS had only simulated the issuance of wholesale CBDCs within test environments.
- MAS will soon partner the local banks to pilot the use of wholesale CBDCs as a common settlement asset in domestic payments.
- Banks will issue tokenised bank liabilities that represent claims on their balance sheets by their retail customers.
- Retail customers will be able to use these tokenised bank liabilities in transactions with merchants who can in turn credit these tokenised bank liabilities with their respective banks.
- Outstanding interbank obligations arising from these transactions will be settled via an automatic transfer of wholesale CBDCs.
- Clearing and settlement thus occur in a single step, on the same infrastructure, unlike the current system in which clearing and settlement take place on different systems, and settlement occurs with a lag.
Stablecoins – if well regulated – can potentially play a useful role as digital money alongside CBDCs and tokenised bank liabilities.
- MAS has therefore invested in developing a rigorous regulatory framework to ensure a sound stablecoin ecosystem in Singapore.
- But the legislative amendments for the stablecoin regulatory framework to take effect will not be ready for at least a year.
- An interim approach that MAS has adopted is to acknowledge entities whose stablecoins can already demonstrate compliance with MAS’ regulatory framework.
MAS has granted in-principle approval under the Payment Services Act to three entities, who will issue stablecoins that substantively comply with MAS’ upcoming stablecoin regulatory framework.
- The three entities are:
- StraitsX SGD Issuance that will house the XSGD pegged stablecoin that is already on the market;
- StraitsX USD Issuance; and
- Paxos Digital Singapore that will issue new USD-pegged stablecoins.
- Once the legislative amendments take effect, these stablecoins will be regarded as “MAS-regulated stablecoins”.
Well-regulated stablecoins can help to spur innovative use cases. One example is in purpose bound money applications, showcased through Project Orchid.
- StraitsX is trialing XSGD-backed purpose bound money to facilitate escrow arrangements in e-commerce transactions.
- This ensures that funds are released to merchants only when the customer receives the purchased items, providing greater assurance to both parties.
- This is being tested at this Festival, in partnership with Amazon and Grab.
Digital Infrastructure - From Fragmented to Unified Networks
The final piece of the new financial landscape is its underlying digital infrastructure.
The limitations of existing digital asset networks mean they may not be fit-for-purpose as a global infrastructure for digital assets.
- Public permissionless blockchains have attracted many users and applications but they suffer from lack of accountability, anonymity of service providers, and legal uncertainty.
- Private permissioned blockchains address regulatory and legal concerns but suffer from lack of interoperability, leading to fragmentation of liquidity in digital assets.
We need open and interoperable networks which are also compliant with relevant regulatory requirements.
I am pleased to announce that MAS and a group of industry players have come together to launch the Global Layer One (GL1) initiative as a foundational digital infrastructure across multiple DLT networks.
- GL1 is conceived as a global public good.
- It will facilitate seamless cross-border transactions and enable tokenised assets to be traded across global liquidity pools, while meeting relevant regulatory requirements.
- MAS welcomes interested financial institutions and international policymakers to join this initiative.
A foundational digital infrastructure offers the possibility of regulatory compliance by design.
- Instead of doing regulatory compliance checks after systems are implemented, a compliance-by-design approach enables policy and regulatory requirements to be programmed beforehand and enforced automatically in real time.
Together, digital assets, digital money, and a foundational digital infrastructure can help realise the vision of seamless financial transactions across the world.
- I encourage you to visit the MAS Future of Finance booth where we have shared this vision for a future financial ecosystem.
TRUSTED SUSTAINABILITY ECOSYSTEM
Last year, I spoke about Project Greenprint – a collaborative effort with the financial industry to build a trusted data ecosystem to support sustainable finance.
- Data collection processes are manual and tedious, verification is costly, and the ESG reporting landscape is fragmented.
- Project Greenprint sought to bridge these gaps by piloting digital utilities to streamline the collection, access, and use of ESG data.
I am pleased to announce the next phase of Project Greenprint – the launch of a new Greenprint integrated platform.
- Titled “Gprnt.ai”, it will be driven by a new entity – Greenprint Technologies.
- This entity will be supported by MAS together with HSBC, KPMG, MUFG and Microsoft.
- The new platform aims to unify and synergise the current pilots under Project Greenprint, to deliver enhanced capabilities that support Singapore’s national-level sustainability reporting and data needs.
Greenprint has developed a simplified ESG reporting tool, focusing on the needs of SMEs as a first step, enabling them to leapfrog complexity and costs.
- Reporting entities can consent to releasing relevant data from digital systems they employ in their day-to-day activities. These include utility meters, business accounting and payroll solutions, building and waste management systems.
- For Singapore users – trusted data maintained by government agencies, retrievable via the MyInfo business platform.
- Greenprint will organise this data into ESG-related outputs which are returned to the reporting entities.
- Where source data are unavailable, AI tools will allow users to upload documents and extract key data.
- For example, a Microsoft GPT4-powered chatbot will help bridge data gaps and craft sustainability narratives.
Our vision is for Greenprint to become a baseline for how companies report ESG data.
- Beyond Singapore, Greenprint will also look to partner and collect data from countries and sectors where our financial institutions have pressing needs, to better support their climate risk management and net zero transition efforts.
- We look forward to onboarding more partners shortly and growing the platform regionally and globally.
Greenprint goes live next February and will progressively scale over the course of the year.
- We need to come together to co-create systems for good data that will underpin our collective efforts to meet our 2050 net zero targets.
- Please visit the Greenprint booth in Hall 5 to learn more about the platform and discuss your partnership prospects.
Let me conclude as I have done on so many previous FinTech Festivals: everything we do in FinTech must have a larger purpose.
- Yes, there is money to be made, costs to be cut, opportunities to be seized.
- But FinTech is more importantly …
- about solving real-world problems
- about improving people’s lives
- about promoting a more inclusive society
- about securing a sustainable planet for the future
This sense of higher purpose has permeated the FinTech Festival since 2016. It is why people come back year after year to the FinTech Festival – to build a better world.
Thank you all for your support. Have a great FinTech Festival!
The eighth edition of the Singapore FinTech Festival came to a close on 17 November 2023, drawing a record 66,000 participants, up from 62,000 attendees in 2022.
MAS and Bank Negara Malaysia have jointly launched the real-time payment systems linkage between Singapore’s PayNow and Malaysia’s DuitNow.
MAS and Bank Indonesia have jointly launched the cross-border quick response payment linkage between Indonesia and Singapore.