• DBS said during its earnings that digital transformation is a key theme for post pandemic growth for the bank
  • Volume is comparatively low because its institutionally focused and the bank is “careful” about who it brings on

Singapore-based DBS Bank, one of Southeast Asia’s largest by market cap, gave some insights into its digital asset trading desk that it launched late last year during its earnings call on Friday.

The bank said that its trading desk, which is open only to professional investors and wealth managers in Singapore, has daily trading volume between 30-40 million SGD ($23-$30 million) with 120 investors onboarded.

In addition to offering cryptocurrency trading for bitcoin, ether, bitcoin cash and XRP in multiple regional currency pairs, the desk also offers digitized stocks and bonds. During the call Piyush Gupta, DBS’ CEO, said that while the numbers might seem small compared to Coinbase or some regional exchanges they are two different products. 

“This is not a retail product, we are only open to professional investors and wealth managers,” Gupta said. “We’re being careful about who we bring on.”

DBS also said that it was working on extending the trading desk hours of the desk from Singapore business hours to 24-7. The bank wouldn’t provide exact figures about growth forecasts, but Guptra said that business is rising “steadily”. 

A DBS spokesperson confirmed to Blockworks that the majority of clients are currently in Singapore, but there are EU based clients waiting to be onboarded. The most popular trading pairs are BTC-USD and ETH-USD, the spokesperson confirmed.

Doubling-down on digital transformation

While DBS’ earnings showed a relatively strong recovery for the bank as Singapore climbs out of the depths of the Covid-19 recession, Gupta emphasized that the bank was doubling-down on digital transformation as a way to accelerate its growth. 

One initiative its undertaking is a platform called Partior, which it announced earlier today before the earnings. Developed in conjunction with JPMorgan and Temasek, Patriot — Latin for share — digitized M1 commercial bank money with an aim to provide nearly instant around-the-clock cross-border payments. In contrast, Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), which also provide similar functionality are a digitally-issued version of M0 money, or cash, instead of digitizing existing money. 

“The current hub and spoke arrangement in global payments often results in delays as confirmations from various intermediaries are needed before a settlement is treated as final. This in turn has a knock-on effect and creates inefficiencies in the final settlement of other assets,” Gupta said in a statement. “By harnessing the benefits of blockchain and smart contracts technology, the Partior platform will address current points of friction.”

The bank plans to launch this platform in the third quarter of the year, and will initially target the Singapore dollar-USD currency pair before expanding.

Firing on all cylinders

Overall the bank said that earnings for the first quarter rose by 72% to SGD 2.01 billion from SGD 1.17 billion a year ago. Covid-19 hit Singapore, a trading hub heavily reliant on the free flow of people and product, hard as government statistics showed its economy by 5.4% during 2020. Its economy is expected to grow by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2021, but will eventually recover to 6% for the whole year according to forecasts. 

“This has been an extraordinary quarter for our business as we fired on all cylinders. Loan and deposit growth was robust, fees were strong and treasury had a record performance. At the same time, we remained disciplined on costs while asset quality was resilient,” Gupta said during the call. 

  • Blockworks
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    Sam Reynolds is a Taipei-based reporter, covering digital assets and regulation throughout Asia. Before joining Blockworks he was an editor at Forkast News and an analyst with IDC.