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Opinion

Private banking: Singapore not yet stainless

The Asian state’s leaders should be wary of the impact of international scrutiny on its private banking industry.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November, Euromoney put a question to host nation Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who had spent part of his morning in talks with US president Barack Obama. The Obama administration, we said, was getting tough on private-banking centres over client confidentiality and bank secrecy, most obviously Switzerland. Is that scrutiny coming to Singapore too, and what’s the impact on the country’s private-banking industry – a mainstay of its financial services success story – if it does?

Lee told us it had not featured in discussions with Obama. He underlined Singapore’s "high standards of probity and integrity", and revealed that Singapore had now signed sufficient double-taxation agreements with other jurisdictions to join the white list the OECD keeps of countries that show an acceptable degree of international cooperation on tax matters. "I do not think it is a burning issue for us," he said.

We’re not so sure about that. It’s true that the deal signed with France to share tax information, the 12th such link, does take Singapore off an unappealing-sounding grey list held by the OECD (although notably the US is not among the countries with which it has signed agreements).

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