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Singapore ramps up scrutiny of family offices, hedge funds

Bloomberg • 4 min read
Singapore ramps up scrutiny of family offices, hedge funds
The government’s push to tighten various investment regimes has accelerated since March. Photo: Bloomberg
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Singapore authorities are demanding more information from family offices and hedge funds while stepping up closures of dormant firms after a string of scandals highlighted cracks in the financial hub’s oversight.

The government’s push to tighten various investment regimes has accelerated since March, with agencies setting out additional requirements that must be met in the coming months and ramping up the removal of inactive corporate entities, according to people familiar with the matter.

Family offices that have been granted tax exemptions were given new forms asking for greater detail in May and told to submit the information by the end of June. In March, the Monetary Authority of Singapore confirmed it would repeal a licensing regime used by hedge funds with assets of up to US$250 million ($338.3 million) by Aug 1 and migrate them to one with stricter reporting requirements.

Singapore is stepping up scrutiny of financial institutions after a series of criminal cases highlighted the challenges of policing the influx of foreign wealth into the city-state. At least one of the accused in a recent $3 billion money laundering case was linked to family offices that were granted tax exemptions.

“Having more (and ideally more varied) data helps with potentially detecting undesirable activity earlier, which can help to minimize any loss of economic impact or reputation that illegal activity may cause,” said Richard Crowley, assistant professor of accounting at Singapore Management University. 

According to annual forms that must be submitted to the MAS by family offices with tax exemptions, firms must now confirm that their beneficial owners, directors, representatives and shareholders have never committed, been convicted or even been charged with money laundering or terrorist financing offences.

See also: Six family office funds tied to Singapore launder case got tax breaks

They must also confirm that the assets under management adhere to domestic capital control regulations and the fund management company isn’t facing regulatory actions by any authority in the world.

Family offices must maintain an account with a private bank based in Singapore and provide both the citizenship and the country of birth for its ultimate beneficiaries and relevant staff members, according to the forms due for many firms by June 30.

A spokesperson for the MAS said it flagged in December that its processes would be enhanced to broaden the scope of due diligence checks and it would take “swift action” to remove incentives from firms if adverse activities were detected.

See also: Singapore proposes tougher law to catch money launderers

“The updated annual declaration forms form part of the enhancements,” the spokesperson said, adding that more implementation details and the regulator’s response to industry feedback would be published later this year.

The monetary authority has also tightened the tax incentive process, including by broadening due diligence checks to a wider group of individuals and entities and appointing a panel to screen applicants for money laundering and terrorism financing risks. 

Single family offices linked to people charged “no longer enjoy tax incentives,” it said. 

Licence shift 

Last October, the MAS signalled plans to cut the Registered Fund Management Company licence category that has been used by many hedge funds since 2012 and migrate them to a stricter Licensed Fund Management Companies regime. In March, the agency gave an August deadline for the move.

“RFMCs have similar admission criteria and business conduct requirements as LFMCs,” the MAS said in October. “However, RFMCs are subject to lighter requirements in terms of the frequency and granularity of regulatory reporting.”

Meanwhile, Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority has been reaching out to the directors of some inactive companies in a bid to shut them down, according to three people familiar with the moves. While the agency had previously removed such firms, two industry experts said it was relatively novel while a third said the scale of the requests was larger than they’d ever previously heard of.

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A spokesperson for ACRA noted that 17,000 inactive companies had been struck off the register in the five years ending 2023 and that efforts had been ramped up since then.

“ACRA has been stepping up efforts to strike off inactive companies,” the spokesperson said in a statement, defining these as firms that it has reasonable cause to believe are no longer carrying on business. “This is part of ACRA’s ongoing efforts to reduce the risks of inactive companies being misused for illicit purposes.”

When combined with plans to tighten rules for corporate service providers, the moves are likely to add to costs for smaller firms trying to do business in Singapore, according to service providers who asked not to be identified, citing client confidentiality. But they added that it would also help improve the quality of data given to authorities and close loopholes that had allowed low-quality firms to operate in the city-state.

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