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Labuan IBFC sees more digital financial service licences approved in 2020 despite pandemic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 — Labuan International Business and Financial Centre (Labuan IBFC) has seen a growing number of digital financial service (DFS) licences approved in 2020 despite the challenging environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labuan IBFC chief executive officer Farah Jaafar said the Labuan Financial Services Authority (Labuan FSA) approved 30 new DFS licences in 2020, bringing the total number of DFS providers in the midshore international business and financial centre to 62.

“The digital financial services providers are predominantly token issuers, e-payment portals and digital assets trading platform providers,” she told Bernama via an email after speaking at a webinar titled “Discovering Labuan International Business and Financial Centre — From a Banking Perspective” on Thursday evening.

According to Labuan IBFC Market Report 2020, 29 new DFS licences were approved in 2019, with the number of DFS providers amounting to 35 in that year.

On the differences between a DFS licence issued in Labuan IBFC versus those pending to be issued by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) next year, Farah explained that Labuan IBFC’s digital banking licences are operating within the wholesale banking environment, and not limited to the Malaysian market.

“This allows banks which are licensed within the Labuan regime to only deal with corporates or ultra-high net worth individuals, and not general retailers,” she said.

However, she pointed out that a consortium led by Green Packet Bhd and Zico Holdings Inc, which had recently been awarded a conditional investment bank licence by Labuan FSA, also applied for a BNM digital bank licence. 

“This clearly denotes that different markets are being catered to by different regimes,” she added.

Meanwhile, speaking at Thursday’s webinar, Asia Pacific Investment Bank Ltd (APIB) asset management products and wealth management director Dr Lai Heow Gran shrugged off concerns that digital banks under BNM’s licences would impact the services provided by DFS providers in Labuan, as both sides would play different roles in this regard.

For instance, he said, the central bank’s digital bank licence would be focusing on the local onshore financial institutions, while APIB’s target customers are from global and regional midshore markets.

Apart from that, he said APIB is implementing blockchain in order to provide digital assets or digitisation.

“We focus more on digitised investment bank products or services rather than digitised consumer banking product users,” Lai said.

APIB is a licensed Labuan investment bank. Its wholly-owned unit, Asia Digital Bank (AsiaDB), was awarded the digital banking (investment bank) licence by Labuan FSA in December 2020.

Moving forward, Farah said despite the challenging environment due to the pandemic, Labuan IBFC prevailed and remained vigilant as evidenced by the influx of digital financial service providers. 

“It is encouraging to notice that digital providers — ranging from global corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises and technology providers — all looking to expand their digital business reach in Asia via Labuan IBFC.

“This positive momentum is expected to continue, and Labuan IBFC looks forward to working with these digital players to encourage financial inclusion in Asia,” she added.

BNM announced in July 2021 that it had received 29 applications for a digital bank licence following a six-month application period ending June 30, 2021. Up to five licences may be issued, and notification of successful applications will be made in the first quarter of 2022.


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