Grab acquires Singapore robo-advisory startup

Ride-sharing operator buys Singapore-based robo-advisory startup Bento, expanding its app offerings to include retail wealth management services in the country where it's eyeing a digital bank licence.

Grab Holdings has acquired Singapore-based robo-advisory startup Bento as part of efforts to include retail wealth management services via its mobile app. The ride-sharing operator is vying for a digital bank license in the Asian nation. 

The acquisition would see Bento rebranded as GrabInvest and its products were expected to be integrated with the Grab app in Singapore within the first half of 2020, said Grab in a statement Tuesday. It would not reveal how much it forked out for the purchase. 

Bento's service offerings included client onboarding and portfolio construction and rebalancing. 

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GrabInvest would form a new business vertical under Grab's financial services unit, Grab Financial Group, which current services portfolio included mobile payments, loyalty rewards, loans, and insurance. The unit would be led by Bento's founder and CEO Chandrima Das. 

Grab said the new business unit looked to "democratise" access to retail wealth management products, with the aim to provide consumers across Southeast Asia the ability to save and invest in financial products traditionally limited to affluent individuals and institutional investors.

It added that its services would be kept "low cost", transparent, and user-friendly. GrabInvest would operate under a retail wealth management capital markets services licence in Singapore, where the company said it would observe consumer protection standards detailed in the country's Capital Markets Services licence.

Grab Financial Group's managing director Reuben Lai said: "In Southeast Asia, there is a lack of access to affordable wealth management products and retirement planning solutions for most people. As we face an increasingly volatile and uncertain economic environment, it is imperative Southeast Asians acquire the tools and knowledge to protect their future by sustainably building wealth for themselves and their families."

Describing the region's retail wealth sector as "underserved", Grab Financial Group's head of investments and new businesses Philip Chew said the merger would enable such services to be accessible on Grab's mobile platform.  

Grab is vying for a digital bank license in Singapore, teaming up with local telco Singtel to target "digital-first" consumers and small and midsize businesses. The two partners planned to form a joint entity, with Grab owning a 60% stake.

The country in June unveiled plans to issue up to five digital bank licenses as part of efforts to add market diversity and boost the local banking system. Industry regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said this would include two digital full bank licenses, allowing licensees to offer financial services and take deposits from retail customers, and up to three digital wholesale bank licenses, which would enable licensees to serve SMBs and other non-retail segments. 

MAS last month said it received 21 applications for the licences, including seven for the digital full bank licences and the remaining for the digital wholesale bank licences. Organisations that had publicly announced their bids included a consortium led by local wellness and lifestyle brand V3 Group and contactless card company EZ-Link, games hardware maker Razer, and internet company Sea, which owns e-commerce company Shopee.

MAS said it would unveil the successful applicants in June 2020, with these companies expected to commence business by mid-2021.

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