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Friday, July 12, 2019, 20:31
S'pore 'cautions bankers against capitalizing on HK protests'
By Agencies
Friday, July 12, 2019, 20:31 By Agencies

A general view of Singapore's financial business district is seen from Marina Bay in Singapore on July 12, 2019. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG - Singapore has cautioned wealth managers against aggressively marketing their services or making other efforts to woo clients to the city-state by capitalizing on rival Hong Kong's political bickering, people with knowledge of the matter said. 

Officials from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) made the request last month to wealth managers, including DBS and a unit of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp, the people said, declining to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter. 

The central bank told bankers it wanted to ensure wealth managers in Singapore were sensitive to the situation in Hong Kong and did not design campaigns specifically targeting business from Hong Kong, the people said. 

Any upheaval in Hong Kong could actually be negative for Singapore, said Ravi Menon, managing director of Monetary Authority of Singapore

The move came as political unrest arose in Hong Kong after protesters went to the street to oppose a now suspended-extradition bill. The extradition bill would have allowed Hong Kong to surrender fugitives on a case-by-case basis to jurisdictions that it does not yet have long-term agreement with, such as the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Macao. 

Some tycoons in the special administrative region have moved funds, or considered doing so, given provisions in the bill that would have allowed mainland authorities to potentially freeze funds or other assets in the city. 

The unrest has also encouraged some wealth managers to choose to set up in Singapore after also considering Hong Kong, the main offshore hubs for wealth management in Asia, Reuters has reported. 

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When asked for a comment for this story, MAS referred to comments last month by its managing director, Ravi Menon, that there were no signs of "any significant shift of business or funds" from Hong Kong to Singapore. 

He had said that any upheaval in Hong Kong could actually be negative for Singapore. 

It was not immediately clear how many banks had received the MAS guidance. Private banks routinely and legally help clients to move and manage their assets in different parts of the world. 

"The message was that we shouldn't be taking undue advantage of what's going on in Hong Kong," said a senior banking source in Singapore

"The message was that we shouldn't be taking undue advantage of what's going on in Hong Kong," a senior banking source said on condition of anonymity. 

"We have to act responsibly and not launch campaigns to convince clients that this is a good time for them to move their assets," he said, adding he was not aware of any banks making a big push to get business from Hong Kong in the current climate. 

"We are getting a lot of enquiries. What can we do if clients are looking to moving money here? We can't stop the flows," the Singapore-based banking source added. 

DBS and OCBC declined to comment. 

OFFSHORE MOVE 

Hong Kong and Singapore compete fiercely to be considered Asia's premier financial center. Global private banks including Credit Suisse and UBS, as well as Asian wealth managers have their regional operations in the two hubs. 

The riches held by Hong Kong's tycoons have until now made the city the larger private wealth base, with 853 individuals worth more than US$100 million -- just over double the number in Singapore, according to a 2018 report from Credit Suisse. 

Singaporean banks, including DBS and OCBC, have been rapidly expanding their businesses in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland over the past few years.

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Like their global peers, Singaporean wealth managers also have Greater China desks in Singapore dedicated to clients in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and help them open bank accounts and set up family offices or trusts. 

Greater China is an informal term usually used by multinational companies to refer to their business operation area that encompasses the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.

This region also accounts for a significant portion of revenue of Singaporean banks.

"The fact is that we are getting inquiries from clients in Hong Kong. They want to know how this will impact their assets and the Hong Kong markets," an industry executive said. 

"If they really want to move offshore, we have to help them with that," the executive added.

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