Singapore

Introduction

 

About Singapore

 

Singapore, a vibrant city-state in the heart of Southeast Asia, offers businesses a number of competitive advantages in setting up a treasury function. Singapore is rated the second most competitive economy in the world and is the highest ranked country in Asia, according to the Global Competitiveness Index 2018.

The city has a well-established business infrastructure with a transparent and efficient institutional framework, a pool of highly skilled English-speaking professionals and a regulatory system that meets international standards. Singapore is also the largest foreign exchange market in Asia Pacific and it has more than 200 banks with a presence in the country, and a growing number choosing it as a base for their regional operational headquarters. It has an established financial sector, mature capital markets and a wide variety of sophisticated financial instruments.

Singapore has preferential investment and business policies with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In total it has 13 bilateral FTAs, and 11 regional FTAs. Singapore also has tax treaties with more than 85 countries and territories, offering tax incentives for businesses. In addition, it offers approved finance and treasury centres a reduced corporate tax rate of 8% on income derived from qualifying finance and treasury centre (FTC) services.

Singapore's geographic location has made it a major shipping and logistics hub, and it is the second busiest port in the world and the top maritime capital.

 

Singapore Market Profile Infographic_small
 

What solutions are available in Singapore?

Solution Description
Treasury Centres A centralised treasury is one way to reduce the tax burden, centralise risk management, improve liquidity and enhance yield on cash.
Interest Optimisation Maximise your interest yield from for your balances held with the bank.
Notional Pooling Cash balances in different accounts are notionally offset to derive the net balance, which is then used to calculate interest.
Sweeping/ Zero Balance Account (ZBA) ZBA are checking accounts with zero balances where funds are physically swept to eliminate excess balances and maintain greater control over disbursements.
Intercompany loans Similar to bank loans, intercompany loans refer to lending between entities within the same group.

Corporate Tresury in Singapore

Singapore, a vibrant city-state in the heart of Southeast Asia and ASEAN, offers a number of competitive advantages for setting up a treasury function. Here, we highlight some of the key benefits relevant to treasury and cash management.

 

Financial Market Development

  • The World Economic Forum ranks Singapore fifth in the world for its financial system in The Global Competitiveness Report 2018.
  • Singapore is ranked third for the soundness of its banks and its market capitalisation, while it is also in the top 10 for venture capital availability and the financing of SMEs.
  • Singapore has a well-established business infrastructure with a transparent and efficient institutional framework, a pool of highly skilled English-speaking professionals and international regulatory standards.
  • The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has set up a FinTech and Innovation Group to oversee regulatory policies and development strategies in the financial sector.
  • There are no restrictions on capital flows in and out of Singapore.

 

Sophistication of Banking Systems

  • There are around 200 banks in Singapore, including 38 representative offices, with a growing number choosing it as a base for their regional operational headquarters.
  • Singapore is the banking hub of Southeast Asia.
  • Singapore is the largest foreign-exchange market in Asia Pacific and the third largest in the world (Bank for International Settlements triennial global survey 2016).
  • Singapore's debt market has grown in depth and breadth over the past decade, with an extensive range of both Singapore government securities and foreign corporate bonds available, with outstanding bonds worth SGD386 billion.

 

Regulatory Bodies

  • The Monetary Authority of Singapore regulates the banking industry with a regulatory framework in line with international standards, although capital requirements for Singapore-incorporated banks are set higher than the Basel III minimum requirements.

 

Tax

  • The corporate income tax rate is 17%. There is a rebate of 20% of the corporate income tax payable subject to a cap of SGD10,000 for Year of Assessment 2019. There is a partial tax exemption of 75% on the first SGD10,000 and 50% on the next SGD290,000.
  • Both resident and non-resident companies are taxed on their Singapore-sourced income. However, in respect of resident companies, foreign-sourced income is taxed when it is remitted to Singapore although a remittance exemption may be available subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions set out.
  • Foreign company branch profits are taxed at the same rate as resident company profits. There is no branch profits remittance tax on the remittance of profits to a head office by the branch of a foreign company.
  • The standard rate for goods and services tax (GST) is 7%, with certain goods and services being zero-rated whilst others are exempted, including financial services. According to Budget 2018, the standard rate for GST will be increased to 9% sometime between 2021 and 2025. GST is not currently charged on the import of services, although a reverse-charge will be introduced from 1 January 2020.
  • Income from investment such as dividends, interest and rent is subject to tax in Singapore, although Singapore dividends are tax exempt.
  • Gains made on capital transactions are not subject to tax in Singapore unless it can be proven that the gains were trade in nature.
  • Interest expenses that are used for business purposes are generally tax deductible.There are no thin capitalisation rules in Singapore. 
  • Stamp duty of 0.2% is charged on the purchase price or value of shares, whichever is higher.
  • Withholding tax of 15% is charged on interest paid or payable to non-resident companies where no tax treaty is in place. Rates range from 0% to 15% where a tax treaty is in place and the non-resident can provide a Certificate of Residence. Certain domestic law exceptions are available.
  • Under the Financial Sector Incentive scheme (FSI), certain activities for qualifying institutions are taxed at 5%, while a broader range of financial activities are taxed at 12% or 13.5% for awards granted or renewed after 1 June 2017 for a period of five, seven or 10 years.
  • Income derived from qualifying finance and treasury centre (FTC) services is taxed at 8% for an initial period of five years. Interest payments to overseas banks or approved network companies, where the funds borrowed are used for approved qualifying FTC services, are exempt from withholding tax.
  • Approved regional headquarters in Singapore are taxed at 15% on qualifying overseas income.
  • Singapore has tax treaties with more than 85 countries and territories.
  • Singapore is a signatory to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement, through which information is exchanged between tax administrations, to provide a single, global picture on some key indicators of economic activity within multinational enterprises.

 

Benefits for Regional Treasury Centres (RTCs)

  • Singapore offers approved FTCs a reduced corporate tax rate of 8% on income derived from qualifying FTC services.
  • Singapore offers approved FTCs withholding tax exemptions on interest payments on loans from overseas banks or approved network companies provided the funds borrowed are used for qualifying FTC services.
  • Singapore is the regional risk management and treasury hub for Asia Pacific, as well as a renminbi gateway, second to Hong Kong in the region.
  • Singapore has preferential investment and business policies with ASEAN members and a total of 13 bilateral FTAs, and 11 regional FTAs.
  • Singapore's Global Trader Programme provides a reduced corporate tax rate of 5% or 10% on qualifying income, including from physical trading, brokering of physical trades and derivative trading income, for three or five years.
  • Cash concentration is widely available in Singapore on a domestic and cross-border basis. Different legal entities can participate in the same cash-concentration structure.
  • Notional pooling is allowed in Singapore on both a domestic and cross-border basis. Different legal entities can participate in the same notional cash pooling structure.

 

Comparison of Singapore and Hong Kong as a Location for RTCs

  • Singapore and Hong Kong offer significant benefits to FTCs.
  • Corporate income tax for approved treasury operations in the two locations is broadly similar, at 8% for Singapore and 8.25% for Hong Kong.
  • Singapore offers a withholding tax exemption to FTCs on interest payments on funds borrowed from non-resident banks and approved network companies, provided the funds are used for qualifying FTC services, while Hong Kong has no withholding tax on interest.
  • Singapore has the edge in terms of tax treaties, having agreements with more than 85 locations, compared with around 40 for Hong Kong. Singapore also has a total of 13 bilateral FTAs, and 11 regional FTAs.
  • Both cities have highly developed infrastructure, deep capital markets and strong talent pools.
  • When both tax and non-tax issues are weighed up, Singapore tends to have the edge for businesses that are active in Southeast Asia, while Hong Kong tends to be the location of choice for corporations focused on Mainland China due to its status as an offshore renminbi hub.

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Banking

 

Banking System

Three banks dominate Singapore's commercial banking: DBS Bank, Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) and United Overseas Bank (UOB).

  • Singapore has 129 commercial banks, of which 125 are foreign and four are local. In addition, there are three finance companies, 38 representative offices and 25 merchant banks.
  • Foreign banks are full banks and provide a full range of banking services under Qualifying Full Bank (QFB) privileges.
  • Commercial banks operate as full banks, wholesale banks (full services excluding SGD retail bank services) and offshore banks.
  • The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) encourages foreign banks to participate in domestic banking through the QFB programme

 

Bank Accounts

  • A company with a permanent or registered address in Singapore and with its management operations in Singapore is regarded as resident.
  • Residents, both domestic and overseas, and non-residents may hold foreign exchange and local currency (SGD) accounts. Local currency accounts are freely convertible into foreign currency for residents and non-residents.
  • Residents and non-residents have overdraft facilities available to them.
  • Interest is available to demand deposit and currency accounts.

 

Legal and Regulatory

  • MAS takes on the role of central bank and operates autonomously. It does not require full central bank reporting.
  • Singapore is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC).
  • Singapore has in place anti-money laundering legislation which is applied by MAS. It is also a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Asia/Pacific Group of Money Laundering (APG) and Group of International Finance Centre Supervisors (GIFCS).
  • A financial intelligence reporting unit has been set up, the Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO), which is a member of the Egmont Group.

 

Payments

 

Payment Systems

FAST

(Fast And Secure Transfers)

Interbank electronic transfer system
  • Processes SGD interbank transfers for a maximum of SGD 200,000 within Singapore.
  • Available 24/7 and transfers settled almost immediately.
  • 19 participants.
PayNow Digital funds transfer system
  • Operated by the Association of Banks in Singapore.
  • Processes SGD interbank transfers for a maximum of SGD 200,000 within Singapore. Uses mobile numbers or NRIC/FIN (National Registered Identity Card number) as recipient identifier.
  • Available 24/7 and transfers settled almost immediately.
  • Operates via FAST.
  • 9 participants.

MEPS+

 

Singapore's Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system

  • Processed through the MAS Electronic Payment System (MEPS).
  • Owned and operated by MAS.
  • Used for high-value, urgent SGD interbank transfers.
  • Processes final settlement of participants' net balances from other Singapore clearing houses.
  • Settled in real time.
  • 66 participants.

ACH

(Automated Clearing House)

 

Nationwide clearing system

  • Operated by Singapore Clearing House Association (SCHA).
  • Divided into three subsystems (described below).

IBG

(Interbank Giro System)

 

Deferred multilateral net settlement system

  • Subsystem of ACH.
  • Processes low-value and bulk electronic transactions same day.

SGDCTS

(SGD Cheque Truncation System)

 

Cheque and paper-based truncation system

  • Deferred multilateral net settlement system.
  • Subsystem of ACH.
  • Processes SGD-denominated cheques next day, with no value limits.
  • 61 participants, of which 34 are direct participants.

USDCTS

(USD Cheque Truncation System)

 

USD cheque- and -paper-based truncation system

  • Deferred multilateral net-settlement system.
  • Subsystem of ACH.
  • Processes USD-denominated cheques for next day for transactions originating in Singapore and if remitting bank is a direct member of USDCTS, with no value limits.
  • 49 participants, of which 33 are direct participants.
  • The USDCTS settlement bank is Citibank.

NETS

(Network for Electronic Transfers)

Interbank electronic credit and debit transfer system

  • Owned and operated by Singapore's three main banks: DBS, OCBC and UOB.
  • Processes all ATM, EFTPOS and CashCard payments.

 

 

Payment Instruments

 

Credit Transfers

  • Used for salary and supplier payments in SGD.
  • High-value and urgent interbank transfers settled via MEPS+ same day.
  • Low-value, non-urgent and high-volume electronic credit transfers settled via IBG same day.
  • Paper-based payments used for standing orders and sometimes payroll payments.

 

Direct Debits (auto debits)

  • Used for low-value, regular payments in SGD such as utility bills.
  • Processed through IBG, for next day.

 

Card Payments

  • Singapore has a high penetration of credit and debit cards, and their popularity has in turn boosted the widespread usage of contactless payment systems.
  • Visa is main card of choice, with MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club also in use.
  • Processed via NETS same day.
  • Electronic money schemes available as top-up prepaid cards. The main prepaid payment cards are MatchMove Mastercard and Fevo Mastercard.
  • Stored-value cards come in two types: Single-purpose stored-value cards (SPSVC) used to pay only for services provided by the card issuer; and multipurpose stored-value cards (MPSVC) used for a variety of payments, with CashCard, ez-link and FlashPay the most common. E-money payments are settled next day.

 

Online Payments

  • MAS and the Infocomm Media Development Authority have developed the Singapore Quick Response Code (SG QR), a series of protocols adapted from the specifications set out by EMVCo, the organisation responsible for setting global standards in debt and credit payments.
  • Payments by mobile phone can be done by downloading the app onto a smartphone and storing credit in a 'mobile wallet'.
  • A consortium of seven mobile wallet providers — Diners Club, EZi Wallet, EZ-Link, Liquid Pay, Mastercard, UnionPay International and Wirecard — have come together to offer a single QR-based payment scheme available for domestic and international transactions.
  • In 2017, mobile payment usage grew by 53%, with 26% of cardholders using this technology (JD Power Singapore).
  • The three leading global digital wallets — Samsung Pay, Apple Pay and Android Pay — have an established presence, with a network of local and regional mobile wallet providers, such as Dash, PayLah! and Alipay, infiltrating the digital payment market. 
  • PayLah! is operated by DBS/POSB, but can be used by non-DBS/POSB account holders. It has mobile payment and banking solutions, is operable using QR codes and has linked up with the 7-Eleven store network as a payment provider.  
  • Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), in collaboration with the Land Transport Authority and other industry players, has launched the Specification for Contactless e-Purse Application — CEPAS — which provides a national interoperable standard for different multi-purpose stored value (MPSV) card payment schemes. Several wearable devices now carry the ez-link CEPAS purse for contactless payments.
  • DBS has launched the POSB digibank Virtual Assistant, a banking facility that operates through a ‘chatbot’, using Facebook Messenger as the media platform, and offering banking services beyond customer service.

 

Digital Currencies

  • Cryptocurrencies have not been widely adopted (0.02% of global bitcoin trading volume according to PwC), but Singapore has become a hub for initial coin offerings (ICOs) and the government has provided a conducive environment for their use and exchange.

 

Cash, Cheques and Money Orders

  • Cheques are the most common cashless payment method in terms of value.
  • Truncated and cleared at ACH.
  • Possible to use USD- and SGD-denominated cheques.
  • USD and SGD cheques processed via SCHA and settled via MEPS+.
  • While cash is also preferred, especially for low-value transactions, the government has stated its aim to reduce the use of cash and become cheque-free by 2025.
  • Money orders are available in Singapore through vendors such as Western Union and MoneyGram. Money can be sent domestically or internationally, either online or in person.

 

Demographics

Singapore Market Profile Infographic

1 (Progressive) max rate for incomes over SGD320,000

 

Recent Developments

 

Singapore’s Internet Economy Sees Strong Growth

Singapore’s internet economy has grown at an annualised rate of 17% since 2015 to be worth USD12 billion this year. The value of the internet economy is expected to more than double in the coming six years to reach USD27 billion by 2025, according to a report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company. The report said Southeast Asia’s internet economy was booming—driven by the ubiquity of mobile phones, rising internet penetration and a growing middle class.

Read more about the development here.

 

Singapore Named Top Smart City

Singapore has been named as the world’s leading smart city, while it is also rated first for its readiness to embrace artificial intelligence. The IMD Smart City Index 2019, which ranks 102 cities worldwide, named Singapore as the smartest city in 2019 due to its efforts to use technology to improve people’s lives. At the same time, research by the Oliver Wyman Forum found that Singapore was the most prepared out of 105 cities for the technological and digital disruption that artificial intelligence will bring.

Read more about the development here.

 

Fintech Investment Soars

Investment in fintech ventures in Singapore soared by 69% year-on-year during the nine months to the end of September to total SGD1 billion, according to analysis of industry data by Accenture. The boom was driven by investment in payment startups, which accounted for 34% of the total, followed by companies involved in lending at 20% and insurtech firms at 17%. But the number of deals actually fell by 29% during the period, dropping to 94 from 133 in the same period of the previous year.

Read more about the development here.

 

Unified Payment QR Code Launched

Singapore has launched a unified payment QR code as it continues to move towards being a cashless society. The Singapore Quick Response Code (SGQR), which is thought to be the world’s first common payment QR code, is compatible with 27 e-payment schemes, including PayNow and NETS. The QR code will be rolled out over the coming six months, making it easier for consumers in Singapore to make QR payments and for merchants to receive them.

Read more about the development here.

 

SWIFT’s Global Trial with FAST Successful

Payments network SWIFT has announced that its trial to link up its gpi Instant service with Singapore’s Fast And Secure Transfers (FAST) system has been successful. The trial, which involved 17 different banks across seven countries including Australia, China, the Netherlands and Thailand, enabled cross-border payments to be settled within 25 seconds. The fastest cross-border payment was from Australia to Singapore and took just 13 seconds.

Read more about the development here.

 

 

This Market Profile is brought to you by DBS. Get in touch with us for further insights on doing treasury in Singapore and take advantage of our innovative solutions to empower your business. Click here to find out more.

 

 

Sources: World Economic Forum, PwC, International Monetary Fund, CIA World Factbook, Trading Economics, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Bank for International Settlements, Statistics Singapore, Monetary Authority of Singapore, The Association of Banks in Singapore, Enterprise Singapore

 

The information herein is published by DBS Bank Ltd. (“DBS Bank”) and is for information only. The information is assembled based on information available and accurate as at Oct 2019.

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