Singapore’s DBS bank launches cryptocurrency exchange

Photo André François McKenzie / Unsplash

On December 18, Singapore-based DBS bank launched the first cryptocurrency exchange in the world backed by a traditional bank.

By Natasha Teja

On December 18 DBS bank launched a digital currency platform that allows traders to exchange cryptocurrency and investors to fundraise through tokenization. The move makes DBS the first traditional bank to launch such an exchange.

Firms and accredited investors will be able to trade in four established cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ether, Bitcoin Cash and XRP. Four fiat currencies—the Singapore, US and Hong Kong dollars and the Japanese yen—will be also available.

DBS said in a press release that the platform includes “fully integrated tokenization, trading and custody ecosystem for digital assets.” The platform aims to enable early-stage companies to trade digital currencies with other financial assets as collateral, providing more options for businesses to raise funds.

Photo: king_kong001 / Pixabay

Singapore pushes the digital economy

With the backdrop of COVID-19, the bank’s decision emphasizes the growing significance of digital assets. However, Singapore’s financial sector has had plans to improve and pioneer blockchain technology for several years.

In 2016, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) launched “Project Ubin” with DBS as a leading partner. The scheme aims to explore the potential benefits of blockchain and distributed ledger technology  with industry partners through practical experimentation.

The final phase of the project began in July 2020 and focuses on proving the business value of blockchain-based payment networks, including through research by MAS in collaboration  with state-owned investment company Temasek. The two produced a report that highlighted the benefits blockchain technology could bring to the financial industry. MAS has partnered with over 40 financial and non-financial institutions both in and outside of Singapore for Project Ubin.

In terms of the new cryptocurrency exchange, MAS has in principle given DBS approval to operate organized markets for assets that include private equity funds, shares and bonds. The bank will act as a custody service holding cryptographic keys and controlling digital assets on behalf of clients.

DBS chief Piyush Gupta told the Straits Times, “Over the last few years, the private capital market has been growing exponentially and more companies would rather stay private than go public. A large chunk of funds is now being raised in Asia. The fact that there is a lot of private capital lends itself to the possibility of monetizing and creating liquidity in it.”

The new DBS cryptocurrency platform is supported by the Singapore Exchange

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) has backed the move by DBS and will own a 10% stake in the bank’s digital exchange. The two aim to deepen Singapore’s liquidity and grow the country’s capital markets for digital assets and currencies.

This isn’t the first time SGX has dabbled in the cryptocurrency market. In September 2020, in collaboration with UK-based cryptocurrency data provider CryptoCompare, SGX launched crypto indices under SGX’s iEdge index suite.

In SGX’s press release, Simon Karaban, senior vice president of SGX, stated, “As the world moves swiftly towards digitalization in the creation and accumulation of wealth, digital assets are increasingly being adopted by investors.”

DBS has made significant efforts in the past several years to keep up with digital trends. Since 2016, the bank has invested US$3.3 billion (SGD 4.4 billion) in technology.

DBS Group CEO Piyush Gupta (right). Photo: Richter Frank-Jurgen, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Increasing Singapore’s competitiveness

In the press release announcing the new exchange, DBS Group CEO Piyush Gupta said, “For Singapore to become even more competitive as a global financial hub, we have to prepare ourselves to welcome the mainstream adoption of digital assets and currency trading.”

The statement is a timely one as on January 2, Bitcoin reached a major milestone as its price surpassed US$30,000 for the first time. The meteoric rise of cryptocurrency has seen central banks around the world announce plans to create bank-backed digital units. In essence, a central bank digital currency (CBDC) is the digital form of a country’s fiat currency and uses digital tokens and blockchain technology to represent that country’s currency.

Government banks in the US, Sweden, China and elsewhere are starting to test digital applications. Facebook has also made moves to begin rolling out its own digital currency, Libra.

According to Fortune Business Insights, the global cryptocurrency market is projected to reach US$1.75 billion by 2027, up from $740 million in 2019.

While the new addition to the portfolio of DBS is unlikely to significantly increase profits, the move is in part motivated by DBS’ desire to diversify its sources of income.

Singapore has positioned itself as an international financial hub and tried to stay ahead of global trends. With COVID-19 emphasizing the digital space, the launch of the cryptocurrency exchange is a timely and smart move by DBS.

About the Author

Natasha Teja
Natasha is a British/Indonesian freelance writer based in Singapore. With a background in geopolitics, she is interested in writing about the current political and socioeconomic issues facing Asia.