Digital Banking

TikTok’s ByteDance Bids For Singapore Banking License

The owner of TikTok, the Chinese video sharing social network, is reportedly expanding into financial services with the family that owns OCBC Bank, the global financial services corporation headquartered in Singapore.

ByteDance is negotiating with the Lee business family as the technology group seeks to add banking to its portfolio, sources told the Financial Times (FT).

Like other technology companies, ByteDance, best known for TikTok, one of the world’s most popular social platforms apps, wants a piece of financial services. The Beijing-based giant with a valuation of $75 billion is competing for one of five electronic banking licenses to be issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the nation’s central bank and financial regulatory agency, by year’s end, the report said.

There are competitors including Alibaba’s Ant Financial, the Chinese eCommerce conglomerate, and Xiaomi Corp, the 10-year-old Chinese electronics company headquartered in Beijing that manufacturers smartphones.

But FT reports a partnership with the Lees, one of Singapore’s most well-known corporate families who earn much of their wealth through their ownership stake in OCBC Bank, considered one of Southeast Asia’s biggest banks.

The report said Patriarch Lee Kong Chian, OCBC’s founder, served for years as chairman, and other family members have held senior positions at the bank.

The Lee family owns several businesses including Lee Rubber Group, which manufacturers rubber products. In addition, the Lee Foundation, its charitable division, supports a number of nonprofits and cultural projects.

ByteDance does not operate a digital bank, the FT reported. In China, most virtual financial services are dominated by Tencent and Alibaba through their WeChat Pay and Alipay platforms.

ByteDance had explored applying for a virtual banking license in Hong Kong, which opened its banking sector to technology companies last year.

ByteDance did not confirm or deny the report of a team-up with the Lees, while Lee Tih Shih, an OCBC board director, declined to comment. However, after the FT published its report, the Lee family’s companies issued a statement denying that their businesses “are involved in the reported bid for a digital bank license in Singapore, or in any negotiations relating to the bid.”

In February, PYMNTS reported ByteDance was aiming to grow into eCommerce with the addition of  games and other apps. Sources said TikTok has been at work to launch its own music streaming services to compete with Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. “They are building an ecosystem which has less risk, which does not solely rely on one product,” Matthew Brennan, a tech consultant based in China, said at the time.

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