INDUSTRY AND REGULATORY BACKGROUND
In recent years, Singapore has seemed relatively immune from the conduct scandals which have plagued banks in other jurisdictions. That has largely remained the case. However, Singapore did see the resolution of one large criminal case in the past year. In May 2022, a high court judge convicted John Soh Chee Wen, a prominent Malaysian businessman, and Quah Su-ling, former CEO of Singapore Exchange (SGX) listed IPCO International, for their roles in a scheme which erased billions from the SGX in 2013. According to prosecutors, this was “the most serious case” of market manipulation ever in the country.1
The men were accused of inflating the price of three penny stocks, which ultimately led to an $8 billion loss from the SGX’s market capitalization. The trial was adjourned for sentencing at a later date. In December, John Soh Chee Wen was sentenced to 36 years in prison while Quah Su-ling was sentenced to 20 years. In a joint statement by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Singapore Police Force and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Chief Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng said: “The prosecution is committed to act against offenders who engage in market manipulation and other offences that harm the investing public and financial market participants, and we will not tolerate any attempts to subvert our criminal justice system.”2
Expansion of the Regulatory Perimeter
In June 2022, the MAS pledged to enact harsh consequences for bad behavior in the cryptocurrency industry.3 MAS’ Chief Fintech Officer, Sopnendu Mohanty, believes the world is “lost in private currency” which is creating more turmoil in the market overall. “We have been called out by many cryptocurrencies for not being friendly, my response has been: Friendly for what? Friendly for a real economy or friendly for some unreal economy?” he said.
MAS has undertaken many collaborative efforts with other jurisdictions over the past few years. This commitment to international collaboration continued in 2022. In May, MAS published a joint statement of intent with the Swiss State Secretariat for International Finance (SIF) to promote data connectivity in financial services.
The agencies intend to explore policies and rules to facilitate the following goals:
- Enable data flows (including personal information) within financial groups or with business partners, across borders by electronic means;
- Support the free choice of location for the storage and processing of data; and
- Protect confidentiality of customers’ data and privacy.4
In June, the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (UKSDEA) entered into force, an unprecedented trade deal that opened lines of digital trading between the two countries.5 Then, in September, MAS signed a FinTech Cooperation Agreement with India’s International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA), to facilitate regulatory collaboration and partnership in fintech. As a part of the agreement, the regulators will utilize existing regulatory sandboxes to support cross-border experimentation and refer companies to one another’s sandboxes. They will also share non-supervisory information relating to innovation and facilitate discussion on emerging FinTech and innovation issues.6
Expanding upon the UKSDEA, Singapore and the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding on a “UK-Singapore FinTech Bridge” in November. The FinTech Bridge will deepen collaboration in fintech innovation, including in the areas of payments, regulatory technology (regtech), and wealth management.7
Singapore as an International Financial Center
In September 2022, MAS launched the Financial Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) 2025, laying out its approach to continue Singapore’s growth into a leading international financial center. The ITM comprises five key strategies:
- Enhance Asset Class Strengths;
- Digitalise Financial Infrastructure;
- Catalyse Asia’s Net-Zero Transition;
- Shape the Future of Financial Networks; and
- Foster a Skilled and Adaptable Workforce.8
“If we do this right, our financial centre will continue to stay relevant and competitive, and be a key global financial node that connects global markets, supports Asia’s development, and serves Singapore’s economy,” said Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.9 That same month, Singapore was ranked as the top financial hub in Asia, and in third place globally on the Global Financial Centres Index of the world’s leading international financial centers. This is three places higher than it sat on the previous year’s list.10 Then, in December, a survey of capital market participants by the Asia Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) found Singapore to be the top Asian Pacific (APAC) market overall, due to its political stability, fintech development initiatives, and predictable and transparent regulatory policy environment.11“Overall, the survey results indicate a continued optimistic perception of APAC markets, reflected in the fact that a majority of participants intend to expand their business presence in the region,” said Alice Law, CEO of ASIFMA. “Sustainable finance is also considered the development area with most potential with 57 percent of respondents planning to expand their offerings.”
In February 2023, the Association of Banks in Singapore published the results of its third annual Banking Trust Index for Singapore (BTIS) survey. The ABS found that trust in Singapore’s banking industry had increased for the second year in a row, attributing this trust to the resilience banks have shown throughout the pandemic and industry-led efforts to protect customers from scams.12 [Read Ong-Ang Ai Boon's Article from Our 2021 Compendium]
We are very encouraged by the strong public trust in banks in Singapore,” said Wee Ee Cheong, ABS Chairman and CEO of UOB. “This motivates us to keep doing right by our customers and we will continue to honour the confidence they have in us. Trust is fundamental to the banking industry. We are committed to providing more convenient and innovative services in a responsible manner to customers.”
MONETARY AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE
Culture and Conduct Supervision
MAS has long been seen as a global leader in the supervision of culture and conduct risks, seeking to maintain a high standard of behavior in Singapore’s financial sector. [Read Ho Hern Shin's Article from Our 2021 Compendium]
In 2022, MAS announced a record number of enforcement actions, and seems determined to improve its ability to detect and punish misconduct further still. “Why are people coming here? Because they trust our financial system,” said Peggy Pao, head of MAS’ enforcement department. “You want a welcoming industry for sure, but that doesn’t mean you go light.”13 By centralizing its enforcement under Pao’s department, MAS has made its process for investigations and reviews much more efficient. MAS is also considering other proposals to protect investors’ rights. Options that have been raised by the industry are an ombudsman, a market conduct tribunal, and a procedure for class-action lawsuits.
In December, MAS issued a consultative document entitled “Revisions to Guidelines on Fair Dealing – Board and Senior Management Responsibilities for Delivering Fair Dealing Outcomes to Customers.” The proposed amendments focused on expanding the scope of the guidelines to all financial institutions and the products and services offered by them.14 Financial institutions are “expected to deal with their customers fairly, across various stages of the product life cycle or provision of service,” MAS wrote. In that direction, MAS’ proposed guidelines include five fair dealing outcomes:
- Customers have confidence that they deal with financial institutions where fair dealing is central to their corporate culture;
- Financial institutions offer products and services that are suitable for their target customer segments;
- Financial institutions have competent representatives to serve customers;
- Customers receive clear, relevant and timely information that accurately represents the products and services offered and delivered; and
- Financial institutions handle customer complaints in an independent, effective and prompt manner.
MAS has also sought to encourage innovation both in the financial sector and in its own supervisory capabilities. [Read Marcus Lim's Article from Our 2022 Compendium]
In 2018, MAS promulgated a set of ‘FEAT Principles’ that work to promote Fairness, Ethics, Accountability and Transparency, aiming to facilitate the responsible adoption of artificial intelligence and data analytics (AIDA) tools in the industry.15 “The FEAT Principles lay the foundation for a thriving AI and data analytics ecosystem,” Dr David Hardoon, MAS Chief Data Officer at the time, said. “As the financial industry harnesses the potential of AI and data analytics on an increasing scale, we need to be cognisant of using these technologies in a responsible and ethical manner. The FEAT Principles are a significant first step that MAS has taken with the industry. I would also thank the FEAT committee members for their invaluable contribution towards this process.”
In July 2021, MAS launched the Global Veritas Challenge to accelerate the adoption of AIDA solutions which promote the principles of fairness, ethics, accountability and transparency (FEAT).16 The Veritas Consortium, a partnership between MAS and 26 industry participants, published five papers laying out assessment methodologies for FEAT principles to promote the responsible adoption of AI technologies.17 Alongside these white papers, the consortium released a software toolkit to enable the automation of fairness metrics.18 In June 2022, MAS published the results of its thematic review of select financial institutions’ implementation of the FEAT principles. It found that most institutions are in the early stages of implementing risk management processes specific to AIDA tools, as they are not yet widely utilized for decision making. It also outlines several recommendations, including ensuring that those responsible for governance of AIDA tools have the necessary expertise and authority, and that foreign institutions have a representative from Singapore participate in group-level committees.19
In May 2023, the government of Singapore passed a bill to establish the “Collaborative Sharing of ML/TF (money laundering/terrorism financing) Information & Cases” system, or COSMIC — a digital platform for financial institutions to share information on customers displaying potential financial crime concerns. COSMIC will be owned and operated by MAS.20 The COSMIC platform will initially focus on three risk areas: misuse of legal entities for money laundering, trade-based money laundering utilizing fraudulent trade documents, and proliferation financing and evasion of international sanctions. Overall it aims to improve detection and prevention of criminal activities in the financial sector. MAS stressed that it will ensure the information is exchanged and stored securely. The platform will also have robust controls and strict user access limitations, subject to periodic audits to ensure their efficacy. In the first phase of the COSMIC implementation, it will be available to the six major Singapore banks– DBS, OCBC, UOB, SCB, Citibank, and HSBC. This allows the platform to achieve operational stability and enables MAS to closely engage participant financial institutions to calibrate its features and address operational concerns.
In October, MAS launched an “ESG Impact Hub,” which is aimed at supporting the country’s ESG ecosystem.21 The establishment of the Hub seeks to capitalise on the strong industry interest in Project Greenprint which is a collection of initiatives that aims to harness technology and data to enable a more transparent, trusted and efficient ESG ecosystem to enable green and sustainable finance. The Hub seeks to achieve this by working on three fronts:
- Growing ESG FinTechs: The Hub will facilitate the discovery, scaling and deployment of technology solutions to address the ESG needs of corporates and financial institutions, notably in terms of accurate measurement, reporting and verification of climate and sustainability data.
- Anchoring ESG Enablers: MAS will engage knowledge partners, financial institutions and investors to organize key ESG initiatives out of the Hub, such as ESG FinTech accelerator programmes, training and capacity-building workshops, and thought leadership events.
- Supporting ESG Stakeholders: MAS will engage the Hub community to deploy its programs and solutions to drive material, quantifiable impacts that support sectoral transition efforts, with particular emphasis on the eight focus sectors identified by the Green Finance Industry Taskforce (GFIT).
“The establishment of the ESG Impact Hub is a critical milestone in Project Greenprint’s journey to build a vibrant and robust ESG ecosystem in Singapore, underpinned by technology and data,” said Darian McBain, MAS’ Chief Sustainability Officer at that time.
Other Articles in the 2023 Compendium of Regulatory Priorities Series
Introduction to the 2023 Compendium of Regulatory Priorities