Applying to the MAS FinTech Regulatory Sandbox

Last updated on July 26, 2021

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It is no surprise that the financial sector is heavily regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). However, these regulations can pose a barrier to entry for startups with innovative ideas. To combat this, the MAS allows firms to test and experiment their products or services within a clearly defined space and with lower compliance standards.

If you are an entrepreneur interested in starting a financial technology (FinTech) business in Singapore, you might consider joining the MAS FinTech Regulatory Sandbox. This article will explain:

What is the MAS FinTech Regulatory Sandbox?

The FinTech Regulatory Sandbox allows businesses to experiment with innovative financial products or services in the financial sector, but within a well-defined space and duration. MAS supports such businesses by relaxing certain legal and regulatory requirements for the duration of the Sandbox, which is at least 6 months.

The Sandbox will also include appropriate safeguards to contain the potential consequences of business failure and minimise their impact on Singapore’s financial system. For instance, a Sandbox Express entity (see below) is required to explain to its customers how outstanding trades will be managed should the business cease to operate.

What are the Benefits of Joining the MAS FinTech Regulatory Sandbox?

The Sandbox allows the MAS to relax certain legal and regulatory requirements for the business, such as requirements relating to credit ratings, asset maintenance and cash balances. Exactly which specific legal and regulatory requirements will be relaxed depends on the nature of the experiment and product.

As compliance standards are lowered for these businesses, this then results in cost savings on compliance and provides more flexibility for business operations.

What are the Options for Joining the MAS FinTech Regulatory Sandbox?

There are two Sandbox options:

  1. The Sandbox Express; and
  2. The regular Sandbox.

Both offer a space to experiment with your products, but the greatest distinguishing factor is the customisability of the Sandbox.

The Sandbox Express

The Sandbox Express is suited for experiments where the risks are low and well-understood by the financial market. Thus, the duration of the Sandbox Express is also relatively short at 6 months. The Sandbox Express is currently available only for:

  • Carrying on business as an insurance broker; or
  • Establishing or operating an organised market.

By imposing disclosure requirements and pre-determined rules, the MAS can quickly approve such experiments. One such disclosure requirement for a business in the Sandbox Express is that it will be required to disclose to all potential customers:

  • That it is operating in a Sandbox for the approved period; as well as
  • The scope and limitations of its activities.

Generally, the MAS will complete the assessment of the suitability of the Sandbox for the experiment, and respond within 21 days. These conditions must be strictly adhered to, as any breach may result in the MAS terminating the Sandbox.

The regular Sandbox

If the business model or product is complex, then the regular Sandbox may be better suited for your needs. The regular Sandbox provides greater customisation regarding the relaxation of different legal and regulatory requirements. This allows your business to better balance the risks and benefits of the experiment, and increase the probability of success.

When applying, you may state your preferred Sandbox duration in your application to the MAS. This must be justified by the relevant details of the experiment, such as risk management.

How to Apply to Join the MAS FinTech Regulatory Sandbox     

The Sandbox Express 

To apply to the Sandbox Express, you will have to complete an application form that can be downloaded from the MAS website here. There are no fees involved in making the application, which is to be submitted to the MAS via email to fintech_sandbox@mas.gov.sg.

The regular Sandbox

To apply to the regular Sandbox, you will have to complete a separate application form that can be downloaded from the MAS website here. There are also no fees involved in making the application.

If your business is an existing MAS-regulated financial institution, then you should submit the application directly to the MAS Review Officer. In every other case, you should submit your application via email to fintech_sandbox@mas.gov.sg.

For either Sandbox option, there is a cooling-off period of 3 months in the event of unsuccessful applications. In other words, if the MAS rejects a Sandbox application, it will then not consider an application from the same application during this period.

The cooling-off period is meant for applicants to conduct a more comprehensive due diligence, and perhaps rework their business model to improve its value proposition, before submitting a new complete application.

What Happens At the End of the Sandbox Period?

At the end of the Sandbox period, the legal and regulatory requirements relaxed by the MAS will expire. Your business must then exit from the Sandbox and meet all applicable legal and regulatory requirements.

If both you and the MAS are satisfied that the Sandbox has achieved its intended test outcomes, then your business may proceed to deploy the product or service under experimentation on a broader scale.

If your business is unable to meet the legal and regulatory requirements, the Sandbox will be discontinued and your product cannot be deployed further. Should this be anticipated, you may consider making an application for extension of the Sandbox period.

Can the Sandbox Period be Extended?

In most circumstances, the Sandbox will expire on the stated date even if your business is unable to fully comply with the relevant legal and regulatory requirements by then.

Exceptionally, however, you may make an application for an extension of the Sandbox period. You should make the application early if you anticipate that your business cannot comply with the existing legal and regulatory requirements upon exiting the Sandbox, and generally not later than 1 month before the stipulated expiration.

These applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and the MAS may grant the extension if there are good reasons for doing so. For instance, the MAS may approve an extension if your business needs additional time to incorporate feedback from customers, or to rectify other flaws in the product, before exiting the Sandbox.

As a regional financial hub, Singapore takes a strict stance towards the management and regulation of the financial sector. Yet, at the same time, the MAS maintains a level-playing field for new and established businesses alike, and encourages FinTech innovation to improve efficiency. This manifests in the FinTech Regulatory Sandbox, which provides a conducive environment for businesses to test and grow feasible financial products.

If you have a FinTech business or intend to start one, it is recommended that you seek legal advice from a FinTech lawyer.

A FinTech lawyer will be able to advise you on setting up your FinTech business as well as the appropriate business models, applying for the Sandbox, and complying with the legal and regulatory requirements (during and after the Sandbox).

The early stages of starting a business can be complicated, and even more so in the financial sector. Even accidental breaches of conditions imposed by the MAS may have drastic consequences, such as the immediate termination of the Sandbox. It is thus best to receive advice on compliance from a FinTech lawyer familiar with Singapore’s financial regulations so that you can focus on business development.

You may get in touch with experienced FinTech lawyers here.

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