Incorporating a fintech company in Singapore: What you need to know

The financial technology (fintech) sector in Singapore has enjoyed strong support and growth in the last five years. The country’s central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), has announced robust incentives for fintech companies which include investments of up to S$225 mil (US$158 mil) by end-2020 as well as establishing a 100,000 square feet fintech innovation hub – equivalent to two football fields – that fintech companies can use for office space, experimentation and collaboration purposes.

Fintech also receives a warm reception from Singapore’s established financial sector that serves as a hub for the Southeast Asia’s economic growth.

Banks and financial service providers in Singapore view fintech companies as supportive enablers instead of disruptive competitors. From their point of view, fintech companies help increase the efficiency and accountability of core financial service offerings.

Further support for fintech companies is underway with the Singapore Institute of Accredited Tax Professionals proposing a 10% tax incentive for fintech companies tabled at the 2018 Budget. Upon acceptance of the pitch, fintech companies will enjoy concessionary tax rates on top of current support incentives offered by MAS.

It is no surprise then that many fintech companies flock to Singapore to open or expand their business operations. Over the past few years, more than 30 multinational fintech innovation labs and research centres have been established in Singapore, while over 400 new fintech startups have set up shop in the country.

How does the process of incorporating a fintech company in Singapore differ from normal company registration procedures?

Traditionally, the incorporation of financial services companies in Singapore is a long, complex process subject to heavy regulation – a daunting phrase for fintech company incorporation in Singapore.

However, MAS has recognized the need for regulatory relaxation in order for fintech products and services to be explored and experimented on, as well as to encourage a financial ecosystem that supports fintech innovation and adoption. To do so, they introduced a new fintech regulatory sandbox program in mid-2016.

Through the regulatory sandbox, aspiring fintech companies can set up shop within a specific range of operations and experiment with innovative financial products or services in the production environment, within a well-defined space and duration. The sandbox will also include appropriate safeguards to contain consequences of failure.

Depending on the nature of the fintech experiment, MAS will relax specific legal and regulatory requirements (on a case-by-case basis) which the sandbox entity will otherwise be subject to for the duration of the sandbox. These requirements include

  • Asset maintenance requirement
  • Board composition
  • Cash balances
  • Credit rating
  • Financial soundness
  • Fund solvency and capital adequacy
  • Licence fees
  • Management experience
  • MAS guidelines, such as technology risk management and outsourcing
  • Minimum liquid assets
  • Minimum paid-up capital
  • Relative size
  • Reputation
  • Track record

Upon successful experimentation and upon exiting the sandbox, the sandbox entity can proceed to deploy their products and services on a broader scale, provided that they can fully comply with relevant legal and regulatory requirements.

The first intake under MAS’ regulatory sandbox program received over 30 applications, with insurance startup PolicyPal being the first fintech company to graduate from the sandbox in September 2017. Since then, many other fintech companies have signed up for the sandbox, which lets them test ideas in a safe, stable, and low-risk environment before exporting them to bigger markets.

How do I register for the sandbox?

To register for the sandbox, you need to download the required registration forms from MAS’ dedicated portal for it here. Upon submitting a registration request, MAS will process your application and inform you within 21 working days if your application is potentially successful.

Once your application is deemed successful, it will enter an evaluation period where MAS will work closely with you to make necessary adjustments to your application. During this period, which may vary in length depending on the complexity of your product, you are allowed to change details in the application for resubmission.

Fully-approved sandbox applicants will receive written approval notification, and the agreed regulatory relaxations will come into effect for the duration of the sandbox.

Sandbox entities need to declare their status to customers and disclose the key risks that will be involved, as well as consent to having their company details disclosed on MAS’ sandbox portal. During this period, if you want to make any material changes to your fintech company, you’ll need to send a change request to MAS at least 1 month in advance.

For more details on regulatory sandbox guidelines, log on to MAS’ sandbox portal here.

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