Emerging Trends Shaping Singapore’s Financial Future
Often hailed as “the Switzerland of Asia,” Singapore has long been seen through the lens of comparison to its European counterpart. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that such comparisons, while flattering, may not fully do justice to Singapore’s unique strengths and identity in the global financial landscape.
This city-state, with its distinct blend of strategic foresight, robust regulatory framework, and dynamic financial ecosystem, deserves recognition as a standalone powerhouse in finance and asset management.
In this article, we will make the case for why Singapore should be viewed not just as the Asian counterpart to a Western model, but as a formidable financial hub in its own right, carving out a distinct and influential role on the global stage.
The Allure of Singapore in Asset Management
Singapore’s journey to becoming a major force in asset management reflects a narrative much broader than the often-cited analogy to Switzerland. As it marches forward, Singapore is defining its own identity on the global financial stage.
This evolution from its early days of independence has seen Singapore emerge as a pivotal node in the global financial network. This unique positioning is increasingly recognized by major financial players like Ray Dalio and Ken Griffin, who are expanding their operations within its borders.
The influx of such high-profile names not only signifies Singapore’s growing importance in the global financial scene but also highlights its transition from a regional player to an international finance powerhouse. This shift underscores Singapore’s role as a distinct and influential financial hub, marking its territory in the global finance arena.
The Meteoric Rise of Asset Management in Singapore
The asset management industry in Singapore has seen unprecedented growth. In a span of six years, the wealth managed within this sector has doubled, reaching a staggering US$4 trillion. This growth is not just local; about 80% of this wealth is of foreign origin, highlighting Singapore’s appeal on a global scale.
Major financial institutions like BlackRock and UBS Group have significantly expanded their operations, with UBS Group’s offices now being their largest in Asia. This expansion is not just in numbers but in the diversity of services, indicating a deepening and widening of Singapore’s financial services landscape.
Listen to Podcast: Episode 3: Fund and Wealth Management Industry in Singapore
Government Initiatives: A Key Driving Force
Singapore’s rise as a premier financial hub can be largely attributed to its government’s strategic initiatives. These policies are designed not just to react to current financial trends, but to anticipate and capitalise on future opportunities.
Singapore has acted with this philosophy in mind since the 1960s, and it remains a central tenet of its attitude (and policies) going forward.
The Introduction of the VCC Framework
A standout example of Singapore’s innovative policymaking is the introduction of the Variable Capital Company (VCC) framework in 2020.
This flexible legal structure, offering tax and legal incentives, positions Singapore as an attractive hub for hedge funds, private equity firms, and venture capitalists, comparable to established financial centres like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg.
Attracting Global Talent and Investment
Government policies are also tailored to attract foreign talent and investment. Incentives for high-net-worth individuals and investment managers for family offices, coupled with a stable political climate and high living standards, make Singapore an appealing destination for global financial professionals.
The sharp increase in the number of family offices, from 400 in 2020 to 1,100 at the end of last year, is indicative of this trend. The city-state is now catering to a broader spectrum of wealth management needs, providing specialised services for high-net-worth individuals and families.
Singapore and Hong Kong: An Evolving Rivalry
One cannot fairly talk about Singapore’s role as a financial hub without mentioning Hong Kong. The rivalry between Singapore and Hong Kong, Asia’s two financial powerhouses, is a complex and evolving saga, deeply rooted in their unique historical, economic, and political contexts.
Historical Context and Strategic Positioning
Hong Kong’s historical role as the gateway to China has long established it as a major global financial centre. Its close ties with the Chinese economy and international finance give it a unique advantage, especially in dealmaking and access to Chinese markets.
Singapore, strategically located in Southeast Asia, has emerged as a global financial hub, serving as a crucial link between East and West, somewhat reducing Hong Kong’s exclusivity to this advantage.
Political Stability and Regulatory Environment
Recent years have seen Hong Kong grappling with political pressures and uncertainties, primarily due to China’s increasing influence, which has raised concerns about the autonomy of its legal and financial systems.
In contrast, Singapore boasts a stable and predictable political climate, coupled with a transparent, well-regulated financial sector, making it a magnet for investors seeking stability.
Economic Strategies and Market Diversification
While Hong Kong leverages its position as the primary channel for investments in China, Singapore has diversified its financial services, focusing on wealth management, fintech, and green finance. This diversification in my mind, positions Singapore as the leader of emerging financial trends in Asia, if not beyond.
Impact of Global and Regional Events
Global and regional events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the US-China tensions, have also shaped the dynamics between the two cities. Singapore’s effective pandemic response and its neutrality in global geopolitics have enhanced its appeal, contrasting with Hong Kong’s more complex position due to its proximity to mainland China.
The Tale of Two Capital Markets
The capital markets of both cities offer a stark contrast in scale and scope. Hong Kong’s stock market, valued at about US$5 trillion, significantly outpaces Singapore’s, which stands at around US$400 billion.
This disparity extends to the Initial Public Offering (IPO) landscape, where Hong Kong continues to lead by a substantial margin. These figures underscore the challenges Singapore faces in elevating its capital market to compete directly with Hong Kong’s more mature market.
Recognising that it cannot compete with Hong Kong in such aspects, Singapore is instead capitalising on its strengths. This includes becoming a hub for companies seeking to diversify their presence in Asia or establish a base for operations beyond China.
Singapore’s approach involves facilitating a broader Asian strategy for multinational banks and financial services firms, as indicated by the trend of companies adopting a dual hub strategy in the region.
Emerging Trends Shaping Singapore’s Financial Future
Impact of Global Economic Shifts
Recent global and regional economic shifts, such as the decline of Hong Kong’s freest economy status and the economic slowdown in mainland China, are influencing the financial dynamics in Asia.
Singapore’s rise in the financial sector is partly due to these shifts, as it has become a more attractive destination for wealth management amidst regional uncertainties.
Differential Growth in Asset Management and Banking
Despite changing perceptions and economic shifts, Singapore still lags behind Hong Kong in terms of being a preferred base for global banking operations, particularly those seeking access to the Chinese market.
This distinction highlights a divergent growth trajectory where Singapore excels in wealth management and private banking, while Hong Kong maintains its edge in traditional banking and equity markets.
Dual Hub Strategy in Asian Finance
With these trends in mind, the “Dual Hub Strategy” is becoming increasingly prominent, reflecting a complementary dynamic between Singapore and Hong Kong. While Hong Kong remains the preferred gateway to China’s vast markets (for now), Singapore is carving out a distinct niche in wealth and fund management.
This strategic variation allows global banks and financial institutions to leverage Singapore’s stable political climate, regulatory transparency, and strategic location for broader Asian operations, without diminishing their established interests in Hong Kong.
Singapore’s role in this dual hub model is pivotal for the future of global finance. The city-state’s focus on emerging financial trends like fintech and green finance, along with its innovative legal frameworks such as the VCC, positions it as a forward-thinking, adaptable hub in the global financial network.
As Singapore and Hong Kong continue to complement each other’s strengths, this dual hub strategy heralds a more diversified and dynamic Asian financial landscape, offering a spectrum of opportunities for global finance.
Where to Next With InCorp
As we have explored, Singapore’s dynamic role in the global financial landscape is more than just a reflection of its past successes; it is a promise of future potential.
For investors, asset managers, and financial professionals looking to navigate this evolving sector, the need for informed guidance and strategic positioning is paramount.
InCorp, with our deep expertise and insights into Singapore’s asset management sector, is your ideal partner in this journey. We have a suite of fund services such as license application and fund company setup with an experienced team ready to help you capitalise on the exciting opportunities it offers.
Contact InCorp today to explore how we can help you make the most of Singapore’s burgeoning asset management landscape.
- Singapore's appeal as an asset management hub stems from its robust regulatory framework, strategic location, and stable political environment. These factors, combined with its innovative initiatives like the VCC framework, make it a preferred destination for global investors.
- Singapore's financial sector has seen remarkable growth in asset management, with a significant increase in managed wealth and a growing number of family offices. Its policies and strategies have been tailored to attract global talent and investment, positioning it as a leading financial hub.
- While Hong Kong has been a gateway to China, Singapore offers a diverse range of financial services, political stability, and a strategic location that serves as a link between East and West. This diversification is key to Singapore's unique positioning in the global financial arena.