How StanChart’s Liberty met the MAS CBDC challenge


Standard Chartered Bank, in a consortium with its in-house SC Ventures and with a fintech, Shareable Assets, is driving a prototype concept that would use governments’ digital money to fully open bond markets to retail investors.

The concept is one of 15 proposals in the finalist list of a global CBDC challenge organized by Monetary Authority of Singapore, to explore use cases for central-bank digital currencies. (DigFin is profiling a number of these use cases.)

Aaron Gwak, head of capital markets for ASEAN at Standard Chartered in Singapore, put together the pitch based on Liberty, a startup he founded with backing from SC Ventures, which supports internal entrepreneurs.

Citizen financiers

Liberty was founded to help make fixed-income markets more accessible to retail investors. (The company’s name pays homage to America’s Liberty Bonds sold to citizens to finance the First World War.)

Some governments are finding their citizens are hungry to invest in their bonds. Gwak says governments in the Philippines and Indonesia, for example, have had success issuing bonds directly to their people. The Philippines raised PHP516 billion ($10 billion) in its retail Progresso bonds in August 2020 and another PHP463 billion ($9 billion) in March 2021.

However, the architecture of bond markets has evolved to cater to institutional investors, not retail. Bonds usually do not trade on an exchange. They are instead warehoused and distributed over the counter by large commercial banks.The brokers who sell bonds need to make a commission, which means they only trade in large lots. There is no secondary market for retail bonds, so there is little price transparency – which gives market makers plenty of space to charge a spread on bid/asks.

Retail bonds in emerging markets

Wealthy countries have developed enough infrastructure for consumer banks to sell bonds to retail investors at a modest profit. But this requires a system of clearing houses, central depositories, and custodians, as well as market makers. This ecosystem is poorly developed, or non-existent, in many emerging markets.

Gwak says emerging-market governments have issued over $10 trillion worth of bonds. It’s a big market – but it could be even bigger if people who aren’t in the formal financial system could get access to these securities in ultra-low denominations.

“It’s a citizen’s birthright,” he said. “And retail bonds are a way for governments to not only raise funding, but to give something back to their people.”

Liberty was launched to develop technology-based solutions to this problem. The startup then teamed up with Shareable Assets, a Singapore-based fintech that has capital-market licenses, so it can manage funds and sponsor token offerings. Together they are working on a prototype in Hong Kong to issue “green” bonds to retail investors based on blockchain, under the auspices of BIS Innovation Hub. Now they are pitching this prototype to MAS for its global CBDC challenge.

A platform for all CBDCs

Gwak says he designed Liberty to be compatible with central-bank digital currencies. One of the problems with retail-bond infrastructure is that the currency and the security settle apart. Shareable-Liberty’s protean product is designed to let people use an app to buy retail government bonds that are denominated as digital fiat, with denominations as low as single dollars or even cents. The platform can then become a marketplace for peer-to-peer trading of these token-based assets, thus creating a secondary market.

“This infrastructure can plug’n’play into any form of CBDC, be it account-based or token-based, directly or via a financial institution,” Gwak said. At least, that’s what he expects: he wants to get into MAS and other central bank sandboxes to prove Liberty is compatible with CBDCs.

“The concept is simple,” Gwak said. “But building infrastructure to be interoperable, and scalable – that’s hard.”

Cash versus securities

If Liberty gets off the ground, it has implications beyond making it easier for retail investors to buy government bonds.

“The bond and the currency are backed by the same government,” Gwak noted. “The only difference is that the bond provides interest.”

If the marketplace accrues enough liquidity, it would make bond prices transparent, and eliminate the need for market makers. If CBDCs or tokenized securities were connected to DeFi markets, it would bypass the existing OTC markets institutions use to trade bonds.

Gwak says the industry would still need bankers; this wouldn’t spell the end of the debt capital markets desk. There would still be a requirement for analyzing what securities are suitable for which customer segments. “Underwriting and placement are human behaviors,” Gwak said. “Changing the mechanics of how they move doesn’t change that.”

But using CBDCs as cash for government bonds would erase the frictions between currency and securities, possibly to an extent that would frame how people use cash and securities in a novel way.

“If I owe someone $10 for a cup of coffee, I could pay with cash – or I could pay with bonds,” Gwak said.That’s a radical idea. But for now, Gwak’s focus is basic. “The core idea is that governments need money and citizens could help share that burden. Traditionally, bonds are harder to move than equities, because they lack liquidity. The infrastructure that was built for bonds has not catered for retail. CBDCs can play a role in changing that.”

Cryptocurrency: Coming to a bank near you


For Alex Manson, the moment when his employers at Standard Chartered first became interested in crypto is still sharp in his memory. “Peter Sands, who was then our CEO, put a pitch on my desk about a crypto-related company,” says Manson. “He literally threw over this and said, ‘Interesting, no? Don’t you think we should look into it?’”

Manson was ambivalent. It was 2014, and Standard Chartered had just been fined $300m by US financial watchdogs for anti-money laundering violations. “Maybe our regulators don’t want to hear that we’re doing crypto today,” Manson recalls telling Sands. “Maybe tomorrow, but not today.”

The matter was dropped. Even so, Manson – and the bank’s – interest in crypto kept being piqued over the following months, interest that would culminate in a significant investment by Standard Chartered in Ripple. The start-up’s distributed ledger technology, the bank reasoned, could be transformative. Standard Chartered was hardly alone in its curiosity. Word was spreading about how distributed ledgers could transform everything from payments to auditing and KYC processes. By the time Manson left his position as head of Standard Chartered’s transaction bank in 2018, “blockchain was at every conference,” he says.

Banks and cryptocurrency
Will we soon be able to withdraw Bitcoin at an ATM? Big banks are increasingly interested in cryptocurrencies. (Photo by ImYanis/Shutterstock)

That year Manson was appointed to head up the bank’s innovation unit, SC Ventures. The new role gave him a broad remit to invest in start-ups and business models that stood out as the future of banking. By then, Manson felt it was the right time to explore how a major bank like Standard Chartered might facilitate cryptocurrency trades. But for that to work, there needed to be a safe place for institutional investors to park their money – something glaringly absent in the Wild West that is the crypto ecosystem. “And so, instead of trading the currency, we decided to go ahead and set up a cryptocurrency custodian,” says Manson.

The result was Zodia, an ‘institutional-grade cryptoasset custody’ solution that offered investors the chance to store their coins in a place carrying the imprimatur of a trusted financial organisation. While it isn’t the first solution of its kind – Swiss investment bank Vontobel, for example, launched a similar scheme in 2019 – the launch of the SC Ventures-backed platform in July signifies a much broader foray into crypto by mainstream financial institutions. Over the past six months, several international banks that include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo and BNY Mellon have all made announcements that they will allow their richest clients to invest and trade in cryptocurrencies.

Millions more have been invested by international banks into blockchain companies, with institutions like JPMorgan Chase, Nomura and ING pouring money into start-ups little-known outside the niche world of decentralised finance (DeFi). For his part, Manson believes that these banks share his conviction that the future is bright for crypto. “Digital assets are here to stay,” he says, which means that the sector not only needs to be equipped to service them, but “safeguard them, trade them, and sell them.”

How this will be achieved without undermining mainstream banks themselves remains an open question. The world of cryptocurrencies is one that some consider a financial morass, a closed community where scams are common and true investing nous is hard to come by. If financial history has anything to tell us, it’s that bubbles are more common than we think – and a danger that regulators around the world are keen to avoid at almost any cost.

Banks and cryptocurrency: that FOMO feeling

Matthew Shillito first heard about cryptocurrencies around the same time as Manson. “It was around the time Bitcoin had just gone through its big drop, and then it was heading back over the $100 mark,” recalls the University of Liverpool law lecturer. “Family members were asking me, ‘Should we invest in this?’” (They didn’t.)

Since then, retail interest in cryptocurrencies has boomed, with some individuals investing their life savings in certain coins. Banks, by contrast, seem late to the party, even going so far as blocking account holders from transferring their money directly to exchanges. This seems altogether prudent, explains Shillito, when considering the anti-money laundering rules most financial institutions operate under. Crypto, after all, is hardly lacking for stories about scams and other nefarious transactions.

“That financial risk, and the risk to their reputation of being linked to money laundering, terrorist financing and other crimes, means that they’re going to be hesitant to allow us to seek our own investments using our bank accounts,” explains Shillito.

Even so, that’s hardly stopped banks, hedge funds and other major investors from speculating in cryptocurrencies. Not only is it much easier to comply with AML regulations by whitelisting five big investors instead of five thousand small ones, but the capital such institutions can access is far larger – and potentially, the returns, too.

[Banks] have seen the massive price rises of cryptocurrencies and have a bit of a fear of missing out.

Susannah Streeter, Hargreaves Lansdown

“It’s no surprise that banks also want a piece of the action,” says Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “I would say that they’ve seen the massive price rises of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum and have a bit of a fear of missing out.”

This isn’t to say that such interest is confined to trading. For many banks, cryptocurrencies constitute a new asset class, one that is rapidly establishing itself as viable for investment. As such, “what these banks are doing is really diversifying the assets that they’re holding, and including crypto within the mix,” explains Streeter, reflective of a basic inclination among financial institutions to hedge their risk by exposing themselves to as many different types of asset as possible.

Banks are also investing heavily in start-ups operating in the space, says Shillito. “That seems to be a more steady way for these banks to see a return on their investments” in crypto, he says, providing a useful hedge against the risk inherent in trading in coins. “The kinds of institutions they’re investing in, the crypto businesses, don’t seem to have that same volatility in their share price.”

Not every bank has proven enthusiastic. In May, HSBC’s group chief executive Noel Quinn announced that it was highly unlikely to either invest or trade in cryptocurrencies thanks to their volatility and lack of transparency. This, says Streeter, is indicative of a wider bifurcation within the banking community as to the ultimate utility of crypto investments. For its part, she explains, HSBC’s reticence is unsurprising “given its strong foothold in Asia, and in particular China,” where a crackdown on mining has been underway since spring.

The reluctance of others is likely down to a mixture of size and the importance of their retail business relative to investment and trading, says Shillito. “One of the really interesting things is that the big UK banks aren’t moving into the investing space with the same kind of urgency as the big international banks,” he explains. “The biggest UK bank at the moment is still Barclays, but they’re only just in the top 15” who are investing in the crypto market. Even then, adds Shillito, “they are really just investing in companies, predominantly”.

Taming the frontier

Many of these international banks are also investing in the future of crypto itself. While the market may have come a long way from its early days as a closed community of libertarian-minded blockchain enthusiasts – the total market value of cryptocurrencies was recently estimated at some $2trn – it still lacks the ecosystem of financial instruments and institutional safeguards necessary to protect the assets of major investors.

And so, big banks have been building just that. “Custody was a big one,” says Manson, with not only SC Ventures but Goldman SachsBNY Mellon and JPMorgan announcing moves to build dedicated solutions. “Exchange and brokerage are going to be big, too. And there may well be other bits and pieces over time because, essentially, what we’re trying to do is build a financial institution of the future, with DeFi in mind.”

All of this takes time, adds Manson. Zodia, for example, was almost four years in the planning. Similar projects at other banks are likely to have experienced similar timelines, he argues. “It’s not just the technologists you need,” says Manson, but risk specialists, legal experts, and many other support personnel. Even then, the trigger is generally only pulled on crypto schemes once the bank in question has made the assessment, after years of observation, that involvement in an element of the crypto market is merited.

Even then, the publicity surrounding these moves often belies the size of the commitment made. “I think it’s very contained,” says Manson. “Actually, I think that the vast majority of financial institutions have not really come into the space.” Rather, says the SC Ventures chief, it’s better to think of mainstream banks’ interest in crypto as equivalent to dipping their toes in the water rather than wading straight into the river.

A woman buys cryptocurrency through the Dashboard portfolio app. An upsurge in retail investor demand for Bitcoin, Ethereum and other crypto coins has attracted the attention of regulators, who fear that banks and consumers alike are exposing themselves to unnecessary financial risk. (Photo by Getty)

Banks and taking the crypto out of cryptocurrency

That might be prudent given the increasing interest of regulators in the space. A recent proposal from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, a forum for the world’s most important financial regulators, suggests that banks cover 100% of all potential investment losses in the space. This, says Streeter, would put a “high price tag on trading and holding cryptocurrencies,” threatening to dampen enthusiasm for the asset class across the sector. "They’re certainly not putting that type of financial buffer against their current investments," she says.

SC Ventures' Manson isn’t worried. Indeed, he believes that increased regulatory interest in crypto is probably a good thing. “It’s obviously a headwind if you believe, as the founders of Bitcoin did, that regulations are bad per se, and that the world of cryptocurrencies needs to exist outside of all regulations,” he says. “In my mind, [that] wasn’t even realistic in the first place, and is not a good thing.”

If anything, Manson believes that more discussions among regulators about crypto is a sign that the market is reaching a new level of maturity. “It’s a natural stage in its evolution,” he says.

When it comes to risk, however, Manson believes that the easiest way for the crypto market to mature is for institutions such as Standard Chartered and others to broaden their existing commitments. “It’s going to sound a little arrogant – and I really don’t mean it this way – but one of the mitigating factors, I believe, is the fact that we’re getting in there,” he says. While Manson acknowledges that moving into crypto comes with its own unique risks related to financial crime and volatility, every mainstream financial institution that’s announced new projects in the space comes equipped with  deep institutional experience in trading many different - and regulated - asset classes.

For many who have been in the space for a long time, we always felt that this was both inevitable and essential.

Jason Deane

In time, we may finally see the cloistered world of DeFi enter the mainstream. That, however, “will take more than a few banks to make that into reality,” says Manson. Only after banks, regulators and policymakers work together to establish strong legal frameworks for the market will we see the benefits of DeFi experienced by the public at large.

Somewhat surprisingly, crypto veterans have greeted the arrival of institutions like Standard Chartered with enthusiasm. “For many who have been in the space for a long time, we always felt that this was both inevitable and essential,” says cryptocurrency consultant Jason Deane. “‘Inevitable’ in the sense that as Bitcoin grew, it would eventually become impossible for institutions to ignore it, but also ‘essential’ in that large-scale institutional involvement would almost certainly accelerate regulatory clarity.”

It’s also the end of an era. The creation of Bitcoin at the height of the 2008 financial crisis was itself a comment on the fragility of the current fractional reserve banking system; embedded in its first block was a newspaper headline referring to plans for a second UK bank bailout. The new, decentralised marketplace that resulted was an attempt to show what was possible by working outside of that system. Now, the major establishment players have come to settle in this new frontier – and may succeed in taming it.

FinTech Bridge Live: Sustainability in PropTech

In our recent SC Ventures FinTech Bridge live session, Marion Bernardi and Harald Eltvedt spoke with Marie CheongVirginia Brumby Ferreira and Apurv Suri about trends, regulations and opportunities to drive sustainability and impact in the booming #proptech space. Here are some key takeaways:

💥 Tech advancements, hybrid work arrangements, increasing business focus on achieving #netzero and government regulations are key factors driving the innovation and transformation of property usage and management.

🏛️ Governments vs. Corporates - who is leading the change? While we're seeing more regulations in place to support green building, we don't need to wait for regulations to influence change. We need business models aligned to what stakeholders and customers will pay for, e.g. better use of space and workplace experience with focus on sustainability - that will drive change!

🏢 Hybrid work arrangements are changing expectations of work spaces. When people want to come into the office, we need to think about how we can make it the most collaborative, productive, attractive and sustainable experience it can be.

💪 Co-creating with clients and partners is key, enabling us to tap into various areas of expertise to drive innovation.


Connect with our speakers and other like-minded folks at our SC Ventures FinTech Bridge

Watch the full session

We’ve partnered with Linklogis to rally investors to drive sustainable trade finance



Singapore – Standard Chartered, a leading international banking group, and Linklogis, a leading supply chain finance technology solution provider in China, today announced a joint venture to establish Olea, a fully-digitised trade finance origination and distribution platform that aims to bring together institutional investors seeking opportunities in an alternative asset class with businesses requiring supply chain financing, subject to regulatory approval.

Headquartered in Singapore, Olea will be headed by Amelia Ng (SC Ventures, the innovation, fintech and ventures unit of Standard Chartered) as CEO and Letitia Chau (Vice Chairperson and Chief Risk Officer of Linklogis) as deputy CEO.

Olea’s rigorous risk analytics and secure platform offers investors access to investment options for returns that align with their risk profiles. It provides a radically transparent, speedier and hassle-free way to access working capital for supply chain participants regardless of size.

Ng said: “By marrying Standard Chartered’s international trade and risk management expertise and unparalleled knowledge of Asia, Africa and the Middle East with Linklogis’ innovations in supply chain technology, Olea is uniquely positioned to reinvent trade finance and be a force for good. Olea aims to disrupt today’s trade finance model by matching suppliers’ financing needs with alternative liquidity from investors seeking a compelling asset class linked to the real economy.”

Chau added: “Standard Chartered is not only one of Linklogis’ institutional shareholders, but also an important strategic partner. Since 2019, Standard Chartered and Linklogis have accomplished many projects together. The new joint venture, Olea, offers an agile and robust platform, using blockchain and AI technology to drive exceptional efficiency and transparency for suppliers seeking affordable and convenient financing.”

Investors gain access to a full range of trade finance assets globally – and particularly in Asia – with credible insights on asset quality, while supply chains partners can access financing via transparent and frictionless processes.

Charles Song, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Linklogis said: “The advent and application of emerging technologies have become an important driving force for the global economic transformation, and new technologies are being implemented in many fields such as trade finance and supply chain finance. Linklogis, as China’s largest technology solution provider for supply chain finance, can bring its top-notch operating experiences and industry-leading technologies into Olea. We believe that the joint effort between the two firms can take the lead in operating a flexible, sustainable and scalable supply chain financing business proposition.”

Alex Manson, who heads SC Ventures, said: “Trade, and accordingly trade financing, are essential for sustainable economic growth, even more so as businesses emerge from the pandemic and lockdowns. Olea brings together the strengths of Linklogis and Standard Chartered in this space and represents the next generation of supply chain financing, providing transparency and risk assessment of trade assets while fulfilling institutional demand for alternative investments.”

Standard Chartered and Linklogis’ relationship began in February 2019 when both companies signed a memorandum of understanding to explore the co-creation of innovation solutions that will support the supply chain finance ecosystem. They completed their first joint deep-tier supply chain financing transaction in August 2019, and have successfully executed several other award-winning1 transactions to date. In January 2020, Standard Chartered announced a strategic investment into Linklogis, which marked its first investment in a supply chain platform in China.

1Standard Chartered and Linklogis won the 2019 Asia’s Best Treasury and Finance Strategies Awards by Corporate Treasurer. Their joint project – “New Economy Solution” – also won The Asset Triple A Awards in 2020.

For further information please contact:

Jeremy Liu Marketing and Public Relations Linklogis +86 173 1050 0814

Josephine Wong Group Media Relations Standard Chartered +65 6981 1514


We are the leading supply chain finance technology solution provider in China, aiming to redefine and transform supply chain finance through technology and innovation. Our cloud-native solutions optimise the payment cycle of supply chain transactions, digitalise the entire workflow of supply chain finance, and enhance transparency and connectivity in the supply chain finance ecosystem, thereby supporting the real economy.

Linklogis is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchanges, as the first listed China supply chain finance technology SaaS enterprise.

For more information please visit Follow Linklogis on WeChat and LinkedIn.


Standard Chartered

We are a leading international banking group, with a presence in 59 of the world’s most dynamic markets, and serving clients in a further 85. Our purpose is to drive commerce and prosperity through our unique diversity, and our heritage and values are expressed in our brand promise, here for good.

Standard Chartered PLC is listed on the London and Hong Kong Stock Exchanges.

For more stories and expert opinions please visit Insights at Follow Standard Chartered on TwitterLinkedInInstagram and Facebook.

Mobilizing the potential of AI for sustainable trade finance

Around the world, 1.7 billion people still lack access to a formal bank account. As data grows exponentially, AI has the power to transform this data profusion into financial inclusion, with the right infrastructure and ethical framework. In a recent World Economic Forum article, SC Ventures' Amelia Ng and Laurent Le Moal, CEO of PayU, share the three key elements needed to sustainably and safely mobilize the potential of AI to develop sustainable trade finance for small businesses. Read more

We’re excited to announce that Zodia Custody is now registered with the Financial Conduct Authority

We’re excited to announce that Zodia Custody, our institutional grade cryptoasset custody solution based in London, is now registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and providing commercial services to clients as a cryptoasset business.

Zodia Custody, developed with Northen Trust Corporation, satisfies institutional investors’ need for a cryptoasset custodian that understands traditional custody, while maintaining the flexibility required to adapt to the ever-changing cryptoasset market.

Services are now available for the two most traded cryptoassets, Bitcoin and Ethereum, with plans to expand to more cryptoassets based on client demand.

Find out more:

Our collaboration with ENGIE Factory Asia-Pacific

In line with efforts to reach net zero emissions by 2050, we’re thrilled to announce our collaboration with ENGIE Factory Asia-Pacific to build and invest in new sustainability startups. Combining our strength in financial services and ENGIE's expertise in low carbon energy solutions, we aim to create high-growth ventures that address climate change, accelerating Asia’s transition to zero carbon.

Find out more:

TP ICAP to launch crypto trading platform with Fidelity, Standard Chartered

Zodia Custody, our digital assets custody venture, is collaborating with TP ICAP to provide custody services for their wholesale trading platform for spot crypto assets.

The platform will provide clients with the trading infrastructure, connectivity, surveillance, and market standards they require as a minimum across traditional markets, whilst also recognising the nuances of this new asset class, ensuring the highest standards of security and asset safety.

Find out more:

Coming soon: a financial solution leveraging Standard Chartered’s banking expertise and Bukalapak’s digital innovation

Earlier this year, we announced our partnership with Bukalapak. Customers in Indonesia can soon download our new digital banking app by nexus by Standard Chartered and Bukalapak to access banking services at their fingertips anytime, anywhere.

A first for Indonesia’s digital banking landscape, our digital savings account provides a completely paperless, non face-to-face onboarding experience, leveraging advanced automation and security technologies with AI and biometric facial recognition to offer users access to safe banking services securely.

Keep an eye on this space for our launch announcement and brand reveal.

Learn more about our partnership:

We're excited to announce our partnership with Franklin Templeton, to launch Autumn in Singapore

We're excited to announce our partnership with Franklin Templeton, to launch Autumn in Singapore, a first-in-market wealth, health and lifestyle consumer platform. Autumn will make it easier for customers to plan their finances and future, through a comprehensive range of tools, products, and services across all aspects of wealth, health, and lifestyle regardless of their life stage.

Full story here: