(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia’s largest mobile phone network operator and fourth largest bank are among key contenders to win one of five coveted digital banking licenses in the Asian nation, which could unlock a slice of the booming e-commerce market.

Bank Negara Malaysia will as soon as this month pick from a pool of 29 applicants in a bid to increase access for people who are currently underserved by the country’s banking system, Governor Nor Shamsiah Yunus has said. Malaysia would follow countries from the Philippines to Singapore dishing out licenses in recent years. 

Among the frontrunners is a consortium comprising of mobile phone network operator Axiata Group Bhd. and RHB Bank Bhd. There’s also an application from a group including Kenanga Investment Bank Bhd., the Sarawak state government and Revenue Group Bhd., a Malaysian information technology services firm. 

The central bank wants digital lenders to help spur more people to save for the future and for more entrepreneurs to grow their businesses to capture market share in e-commerce in Southeast Asia, home to than 650 million people.

“We also expect the entry of these digital banks to accelerate the digitalization of our incumbent banks,” the governor said, adding that an announcement on the winners could come alongside the publication of the central bank’s annual report by the end of March.

Other contenders include applications involving public and private companies:

  • A joint venture between Southeast Asia’s biggest ride-hailing and food delivery firm Grab Holdings Ltd. and Singapore’s mobile phone network operator Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., known as Singte. (The consortium was one of the winners of Singapore’s digital banking licenses in 2020)
  • A group consisting of Genting Plantations Bhd., the plantation arm of Malaysia’s casino-to-hospitality conglomerate Genting Bhd., technology firm PUC, Pahang and Sabah state governments
  • A joint venture between Japanese AEON Financial Service Co Ltd. and its Malaysian unit AEON Credit Service (M) Bhd.
  • A consortium of AirAsia budget airline owner Capital A Bhd.’s BigPay, Malaysian financial group Malaysian Industrial Development Finance Bhd. or MIDF and Ikhlas Capital, a Singapore-based private equity firm co-founded by Nazir Razak, the youngest brother of former Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak
  • A group comprising of Singapore’s wealth platform iFAST Corp. army cooperative Koperasi Angkatan Tentera Malaysia, investment firm THZ Alliance, and Lee Thiam Wah, founder and major shareholder of Malaysian supermarket chain 99 Speedmart
  • A consortium of Green Packet Bhd., a Malaysian tech company led by Puan Chan Cheong, Singapore-listed Zico Holdings Inc. and digital Islamic factoring platform M24 Tawreeq Sdn.
  • A group led by Malaysian conglomerate Sunway Bhd.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.