IN AN era when architectural masterpieces curve and bloom (Zaha Hadid), or shimmy and fold (Frank Gehry), designers of central-bank buildings remain reassuringly fond of right angles. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the city-state’s central bank and financial regulator, is housed in a boxy tower just south of the central business district. But tucked into one corner is a room called “LookingGlass@MAS” that desperately wants to be Silicon Valley: witness the scruffily dressed young men, whiteboards on wheels covered in buzzwords and the kitchen along one wall.

This is the MAS’s fintech lab, where Singapore is trying to put its own twist on the technologies disrupting the financial sector. A report from Citigroup published in 2016 warned that as fintech lets customers do more online and cuts into banks’ lending and payments activities, European and American banks could lose almost 2m jobs in the next ten years. Similar fears stalk Singapore, home to more than 200 banks, and dependent on finance for 12.6% of GDP.

In London, Berlin and San Francisco, many fintech innovators are betting against the big banks. Singapore,...Continue reading