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Singapore wants foreign banks to go local

June 29, 2012

SINGAPORE: Singapore plans to force foreign banks with a relatively large share of deposits in the city-state to locally incorporate their retail operations, forcing them to commit more capital here.

The move is part of a growing trend by local regulators around the world to protect their home turf by forcing global banks to “ring-fence” their retail operations in overseas markets.

Hong Kong and China already have similar rules in place and other countries, including Thailand, have signalled they have similar intentions. They want to ensure that if a foreign bank runs into trouble, it won’t protect its core domestic business at the expense of its overseas retail customers.

The new rules in Singapore are likely to increase costs for banks like Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, BNP Paribas, and HSBC.

ANZ said in a statement it was supportive of the new rules, but had yet to meet them.

“The road to locally incorporating our retail operations is some way ahead and we are open to ongoing conversations” with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said Vishnu Shahaney, chief
executive of ANZ Singapore.

Other banks that could be affected are ICICI Bank Ltd , State Bank of India, and Malaysia’s Malayan Banking Bhd, known as Maybank. Officials with Maybank said today they were prepared to locally incorporate if the government required.

From the point of view of the banks, incorporating locally “involves significant set-up costs, plus they lose some of the flexibility attaching to operating as a branch,” said Simon Topping, KPMG’s Asia-Pacific head of its Financial Services Regulatory Centre of Excellence.

“They also need to tie up capital in the subsidiary, which may not always be welcome,” he said.

The new rules in Singapore will apply to foreign banks that are important to the domestic market and that operate under Singapore’s Qualifying Full Bank (QFB) licence, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in a speech to bankers attending an industry dinner last night.

Citigroup is already incorporated locally, while Standard Chartered announced plans to do so in
February.

QFBs can open several branches in Singapore and accept retail deposits. In contrast, most other foreign banks are restricted to just one outlet and can accept retail deposits.

Tharman, who is also the finance minister, said the central bank would consider allowing foreign banks that incorporate locally to open an additional 25 places of business, of which up to 10 may be branches.

The government still wants domestic Singapore banks to hold at least 50% of local deposits, Tharman said, reiterating a long-standing position.

By forcing foreign banks to commit capital in Singapore, they may decide to compete more aggressively against domestic lenders DBS Group, United Overseas Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp.

“It is still too early for us to comment, but we always welcome healthy competition,” said OCBC CEO Samuel Tsien.

- Reuters


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