Singapore: Go away, American bank account holders.
That's what some of the world's largest wealth-management firms are saying ahead of Washington's implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, known as Fatca, which seeks to prevent tax evasion by Americans with offshore accounts. HSBC Holdings, Deutsche Bank, Bank of Singapore and DBS Group Holdings all say they have turned away business.
"I don't open US accounts, period," said Su Shan Tan, head of private banking at Singapore-based DBS, Southeast Asia's largest lender, who described regulatory attitudes toward US clients as "Draconian."
The 2010 law, to be phased in starting January 1, 2013, requires financial institutions based outside the US to obtain and report information about income and interest payments accrued to the accounts of American clients. It means additional compliance costs for banks and fewer investment options and advisers for all US citizens living abroad, which could affect their ability to generate returns.
"In the long run, if Americans have less and less opportunities to invest overseas, it would be a disadvantage," Marc Faber, the fund manager and publisher of the Gloom, Boom and Doom report, said last month in Singapore.
The almost 400 pages of proposed rules issued by the US Internal Revenue Service in February create "unnecessary burdens and costs," the Institute of International Bankers and the European Banking Federation said in an April 30 letter to the IRS, one of more than 200 submitted to the agency. The IRS plans to hold a hearing tomorrow and could amend how and when some aspects of the rules are implemented. It can't rescind the law.
The government needs to be tougher on offshore tax crimes than it has been, said US Representative Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat and one of the original sponsors of the legislation. Fatca, introduced after Zurich-based UBS said in 2009 that it aided tax evasion by Americans and agreed to pay $780 million (Dh2,868 million) to avoid prosecution, is already helping to improve banking transparency, he said.
"People should know, and the IRS should know, what money is being held offshore and for what purpose," Neal said. "I don't think there's anything unreasonable about that."
UBS, the world's biggest non-US private bank according to London-based industry tracker Scorpio Partnership, said in 2008 it would discontinue offshore accounts for US citizens. The firm now refers them to its wealth-management offices in the US or to its Swiss Financial Advisers unit, which complies with US and Swiss regulations, said Serge Steiner, a spokesman for UBS. The company continues to provide Americans outside the US with services other than securities investments, including consumer and commercial loans, foreign-currency spot trading and precious-metals transactions, he said.
Investments in products offered by third parties that non-US citizens can purchase through UBS or other banks also may be restricted.
"Most of the hedge funds I know in Asia won't take American clients," said Faber.
Bank of Singapore, the private-banking arm of Oversea-Chinese Banking, ranked strongest in the world for the last two years by Bloomberg Markets magazine, has turned away millions of dollars from Americans because it doesn't want to deal with the regulatory hassle, according to Chief Executive Officer Renato de Guzman. The bank had $32 billion under management as of the beginning of the year.
"It's too complex, too challenging," de Guzman, who at 61 has more than 35 years of banking experience, said in an interview in Singapore in March. "You probably should have a dedicated team to handle them or to understand what can be done or what cannot be done."
At industry meetings he attends in Singapore, not accepting US clients is "quite a prevailing sentiment," de Guzman said. There are 18 private banks operating in Singapore, including units run by UBS, Credit Suisse Group, Deutsche Bank and HSBC, he said.
"We have enough business in Asia, so we don't want to make our lives too difficult," de Guzman said.
Asia has the world's fastest-growing number of people with more than $1 million in investable assets, according to a report last year by Bank of America and Capgemini. Its number of millionaires climbed 9.7 per cent in 2010 to 3.3 million people, higher than the 8.6 per cent growth in North America. The combined wealth of Asian millionaires increased to $10.8 trillion, topping Europe for the first time, the report said.
Singapore is Asia's largest wealth-management centre, with $512 billion in offshore assets in 2010, data compiled by the Boston Consulting Group show. Bank of America is the world's No 1 wealth manager, with $1.9 trillion under management, followed by Morgan Stanley and UBS, with $1.6 trillion, according to Scorpio.