Long considered the top country for economic competitiveness and the best place in Asia to do business, Singapore continues to attract foreign investment and entrepreneurial spirits. As a gateway to the Asia Pacific region, it has a sophisticated banking industry, an extensive financial ecosystem and a flourishing digital innovation and fintech scene. With the introduction of the variable capital company or VCC in January this year, Singapore has firmly cemented its place as a leading financial and fund management hub in Asia.
If you are looking to do business in Singapore, one of the most crucial steps after incorporation is opening a corporate bank account. We’ve prepared an overview to help you navigate the process and to assist you in taking that initial leap.
Choosing the Right Bank for Your Company.
There are five local banks to choose from in Singapore and 128 commercial banks from around the world who have branch offices in the country. Each bank has strengths and weaknesses and there are many reasons why you might select one bank over another. Perhaps you have a personal bank account with one of these institutions, which would provide ease in opening a corporate account. Perhaps you prefer the minimum opening balance offered by one bank versus that of another. Or maybe one offers services that you need and can’t find at the others. The right bank will be the one that best serves all your business needs. The local banks include:
- Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited (OCBC)
- Bank of Singapore, which is a part of OCBC
- DBS Bank Limited, known as DBS
- Far Eastern Bank Limited
- United Overseas Bank, known as UOB
If your corporation deals in multiple currencies, you will want to bank with an institution that offers a multi-currency account. Other services that may be important to you when you’re making your decision as to which bank is right for you are:
- Mobile banking services
- Debit or credit card services, as well as loan services if needed
- A large network of bank branches with ATMs readily available in the places you travel
- A digital business dashboard that will allow you to monitor various aspects of your company’s financial transactions
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has provided enhanced security measures aimed at reducing money laundering and the funding of terrorist activities by requiring additional information from businesses wishing to bank in Singapore. While each bank may have its own unique requirements, depending on your nationality, passport, and nature of your business, these are the documents that are generally required in order to open a corporate bank account in Singapore:
- Certified copies of the passports of all of the corporation’s directors, authorised signatories, and ultimate beneficial owners.
- Proof of residential address within the last three months for directors, signatories, and ultimate beneficial owners.
- A resolution from the Board of Directors, prepared by the secretary of the corporation, sanctioning the opening of the account.
- Certified copies of the company’s Certificate of Incorporation, the Company Constitution, and Company Business Profile from the Registrar of Companies. If your company was incorporated in a Tax Haven Country — such as Andorra, the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, the Cook Islands, the Island of Jersey, Hong Kong, The Isle of Man, Mauritius, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Panama, St. Kitts, and Nevis — you will need to provide a Certificate of Incumbency that is less than a year old.
- Bank account forms signed by all authorised signatories.
Additional documentation that may be requested (and you should be prepared to provide) include:
- Proof of the type of business you do, including evidence such as business contracts and invoices.
- Proof of the company’s customers and suppliers.
- Details of your management team.
- The company’s financial projections.
All documents must be provided in English, and the company is responsible for the accuracy of translated documents. FATF has not only provided enhanced security measures to those who are permitted to bank in the country but has also established a list of high-risk world locations. If your business is from any of the following locations, you may be prohibited from opening a corporate account in Singapore or may be required to provide additional documentation to ensure that your business is safe:
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The Application Process.
Before applying for your corporate bank account in Singapore, you will want to ensure that you have properly registered your company to do business within the country. The company must have a resident director and a registered company address in Singapore. You can have up to 50 shareholders, you must have appointed a corporate secretary, and have capital of at least S$1.
In some cases, you may be permitted to apply for a corporate bank account online. However, in other circumstances, you will be required to appear in person at the banks. Banks generally require the presence of at least two of the corporation’s directors to be physically present in the country during the opening of the account as this helps to reduce the potential of delays in the process. Much of this depends on the bank. OCB requires two directors, while DBS handles the opening of many of their accounts entirely online, making it attractive to corporate directors who are not personally present in the country but still want to open an account there. The steps for opening an account include:
- Filling out the new account application form as provided by the bank.
- Submitting all required documentation, along with this form.
- Waiting for the information provided in your documentation to be verified by bank personnel. The verification process ensures that your business operations are legitimate.
- Paying any opening fees and depositing the required minimum opening balance.
- The release of the corporate bank account numbers to account holders and signatories.
How Long Does It Take, and What Does It Cost?
The length of time that it takes to open a corporate bank account in Singapore varies and is largely dependent on which bank you decide to use and whether you have all of the proper documentation. For some, the process can take as little as a day and application may take place online. Those who are qualified to apply online include:
- Those who are sole proprietors or single directors who also serve as the only shareholder and the only authorized signatory.
- Those who already have a personal bank account with the bank where they’re opening their corporate account.
For others, the process may take a couple of weeks, pending the verification of your information. It is important when planning to open a corporate bank account, to begin gathering and preparing the documents before starting the application process.
Typically, a bank will charge an opening fee in order to open the account. The amount of this fee is generally small, and — particularly for those who already have a personal account with the bank — there may not be an opening fee charged at all. Other fees may also apply to the opening of your corporate bank account in Singapore, including:
- A fee for internet banking.
- A fee for multi-currency pooling.
Bear in mind that you will be required to provide a minimum opening balance on your new account, as well. Here is a look at the minimum balance structure for accounts available to corporations at some of the local banks in Singapore (at the time of publishing):
- DBS Digital Business Account: Requires an account set-up fee that may be waived at the bank’s discretion. A minimum initial deposit of S$1,000 is required, but no minimum balance is required after that. Account fees are S$218 per year or S$18 per month. Online banking is free.
- OCBC Business Growth Account: Minimum initial deposit of $500, no minimum balance for the first six months. Starting in month 7, the business must have a minimum balance of S$3,000 with a fee of S$35 is required.
- UOB e-Business Account: Minimum initial deposit of S$1,000. No minimum balance required for the first two months. Starting in month 3, a S$5,000 starting average daily balance is required. If the month’s average daily balance falls below that amount, then a service fee of S$15 a month will be required for every month it falls below.
As you can see, there are different types of accounts available for different types of businesses — including those who have a low volume of transactions, as well as those — such as those involved in e-commerce, that require a large amount of transactions each month. If your business is a start-up, it is generally advisable to look for an account that waives its minimum balance requirements in the early months. This can reduce the amount of initial expenses you face as your business is getting off the ground.
How we can help.
We are powered by a team of international corporate banking lawyers and compliance specialists, dedicated to helping startups and established enterprises navigate the compliance-laden back office of the banking world.
We have long-standing relationships with a multitude of Singapore banks and know all the ins and outs, to best help you determine which bank will meet your needs.
While most service companies charge hefty fees for bank introductions, with no assistance in account openings. We pride ourselves on being a complete service, giving you the maximum chance of success and with minimal fuss. For a competitive fee, our service includes, around the clock consultation on due diligence requirements, compilation and preparation of documents for review, direct assistance in completing account application forms, submission of the application to the bank and assistance in follow-up negotiations with the bank.
Contact us today and take the next step in expanding in Asia.