Dateline: Beijing, China
It’s hard to escape the mindset that the place you just so happened to be born is the perfect place for all of your money. But think about it: isn’t it odd that the very place you came from is ALSO the safest and most wonderful place on earth?
The ONLY place where money is safe and sound… and never stolen by a greedy government… and never subject to currency loss?
The ONLY place to live, spend time, invest, and do business is home sweet home?
I was in Singapore for a few days last week meeting with my bankers and trying to build some new relationships. So I thought that it would be interesting to share a question I recently received from Mike in Westmont, Illinois, who has been reading the site for quite awhile:
I’ve read 40 or 50 of your blogs and think they are informative and helpful and they have me thinking. But I hear you mention Singapore a lot. My wife joked that if we had a nickel for every time you said “Singapore” we could retire. Is there any reason you really like Singapore, and would you recommend banking there?
I do mention Singapore a lot. I like to go with winners… and Singapore has proven to be a winner.
Fifty years ago, no one knew what Singapore would turn into. What was once called a “malarial swamp” by British colonists had just broken off from what’s now Malaysia, and they had less than 300 square miles to work with.
They had to do something to make the place GO.
Talk to smart people here and they’ll tell you how it worked: have an education system that makes real world knowledge important, and stress the values of cultural harmony.
Looking back, we can see that Singapore did a lot of things right. It’s now the second most free economy in the world according to the oft-quoted Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.
The only place beating them – Hong Kong – has begun to crack down on foreigners, and Americans in particular, from opening accounts there.
Sure, you can open an account at one of the big multinationals in Hong Kong if you have a lot of money ($100,000 on the personal level for really bad service). And maybe that’s for you. In some cases, it’s a good strategy. But if you REALLY want to reduce your sovereign risk, you’ll go with one of the locals.
Hong Kong’s local banks don’t need your money. They’ve got tons of it flowing in from China. They’re so conservative in their lending practices that they’ve got more than they need.
Singapore, however, is not attached to a country with hordes of new millionaires literally flooding in by the day.
Make no mistake, plenty of rich people are flocking to Singapore…
It’s one of the top destinations for affluent expats; nearly 1 in 5 Singapore residents is a millionaire.
Offshore gold holdings and bank accounts alike are flocking to Singapore, as countries like Switzerland screw over the people who trusted them by gutting bank secrecy and trashing their currency.
Asia is the epicenter of 21st century growth, and Singapore is at the heart of it. It’s THE place for the new wealthy in countries from India to Indonesia to store their wealth…
Where it’s out of the governments’ hands.
Sure, there are things I don’t like about Singapore…
It’s silly to fine people $500 for drinking water on the subway
The culture is a bit conformist for my taste (although it has its “gritty” pockets).
A decent broom closet will set you back $2,000 a month.
And I actually ordered a drink on Collyer Quay that cost me $74.
Singapore lacks a lot of the excitement that much of Asia offers perhaps because it’s so sterile. What makes it a safe place to store your wealth makes it less enticing unless you have a family and want to settle down.
You can somewhat compare Singapore to the boring person your mom wants you to date. Probably good for you, but not a place to hang around forever.
But if you want a stable, solid jurisdiction to bank or store wealth in, Singapore is a great place for you.
Singapore isn’t a part of an unholy alliances like the EU that make it kow-tow to bankrupt, greedy countries to stay a member.
Yes, they are now part of the global information sharing regime, and they are FATCA compliant. Those things, sadly, are part of the “new normal”, and one reason why getting second passports in countries that are off the radar may be your best long-term defense strategy.
However, Singapore knows where its bread is buttered, and that’s in the financial sector. The government is basically tripping over itself to find new ways to bring foreign capital into its borders.
That means better treatment for you. For example, one logistics expert I spoke to there told me that the government could care less who owns gold brought into the country. If it’s over a certain limit, it has to be declared. But that’s it.
Imagine doing that in a western country like the United States.
Every year, Global Finance magazine publishes a list called “World’s 50 Safest Banks”. Normally, I don’t put a lot of stock in one set of bankers slapping another set of bankers on the back.
In 2013, the Big Three banks in Singapore take positions 12, 13, and 14… a trifecta. They are the strongest banks in Asia.
Around the same time, Bloomberg said OCBC was the strongest bank in the world.
But here’s the kicker: of the eleven banks that beat them, only one was outside of Europe (in Canada). And nine of the eleven are from countries in the EU.
That’s important because, as a preface to its ratings, the magazine cites these banks’ “explicit guarantees” from their governments. The same kind of guarantees that led to Cyprus.
Is that where you want your money? In the hands of bankrupt bureaucrats who arrogantly decide what THEY think should happen to YOUR money?
Of course not.
In case you’re wondering, the top US bank (a regional bank) ranked 31st on the list, and not a single national US bank made the list.
Perhaps that’s why a 2008 study ranked the US 40th in global bank stability. Perhaps the FDIC won’t save you after all.
There are a lot of places you can bank offshore. And I’m not trying to steer you in one direction. It’s your money and you should call the shots.
But Singapore ticks all four boxes I look at in an offshore jurisdiction:
Stable economy? Yes.
Stable banks? Absolutely.
Open to foreigners? Yes (while this is changing, it’s not nearly as bad as Hong Kong… yet)
Good customer service, ability to reach your banker, and ability to communicate in English? Yes. Heck, the malls are open until 11:30 at night.
That’s why I believe Singapore deserves your consideration. It’s not a panacea (no place is), but it’s worth a look before they totally close the doors.
You can still do business here without being a multi-millionaire, although immigration has become rather difficult for all but the most determined. It gets a lot easier at the $3.5 million level.
And if you are looking to establish a larger presence there, private banking is some of the best in the world. With as little as a few hundred thousand dollars in, you can be sipping wine and eating fresh fruits any time you go in to make a deposit.
Most importantly, you have your choice of over a dozen currencies. If you’re an American, you may have never thought about banking in South Korean won, but you can in Singapore. Talk about spreading your sovereign risk.
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