Grab-Singtel Digital Bank Plucks Charles Wong From Citigroup

(Bloomberg) -- Charles Wong, Citigroup Inc.’s former retail banking head in Singapore, has joined a new venture between Grab Holdings Inc. and Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. that’s competing for a digital bank license.

The Grab-Singtel joint venture said it’s starting to fill critical roles because it will take time to build a new digital banking service in the Southeast Asian financial hub. Wong will be senior managing director of the digital bank as it starts up.

“We remain committed to investing in and hiring talent despite the current Covid-19 situation,” Grab and Singtel said in response to queries from Bloomberg News. “We are recruiting and building the foundation now to ensure that we have the right talent and infrastructure when the opportunity comes to provide a differentiated digital banking experience.”

Singapore has yet to announce the winners among digital bank license bidders. The city-state’s all-out efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak has prompted the Monetary Authority of Singapore to extend the assessment period. As many as five licenses will be awarded in the second half of this year, instead of June as originally planned.

At Citigroup, Wong held roles in areas including bancassurance and wealth management during his two decades at the U.S. bank, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Grab, Southeast Asia’s most valuable startup, has been banking on the potential of financial services to become profitable after burning cash in pursuit of growth in its ride-hailing, digital payments and delivery businesses.

But the coronavirus outbreak has brought fresh challenges as demand for Grab’s services collapsed as many cities across Southeast Asia are in lockdowns. In Singapore, where the government has imposed a weeks-long partial lockdown, there was a record 1,426 new coronavirus cases on Monday.

Grab Chief Executive Officer Anthony Tan warned on Monday that the challenges the Softbank Group-backed company is facing will require “tough decisions” about cutting costs and managing capital.

“We will right-size our costs, manage our capital efficiently and make the necessary operational adjustments in order to weather the storm and carve out a path to profitability,” he said.

Singtel is Singapore’s largest telecommunications firm.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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