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Wealth Management for Expats in Singapore

Submitted: April 2014

Singapore is one of the world’s leading centres for the wealth management industry. In the future, Singapore will possibly overtake Switzerland in this area.

Product and fee structure transparency have definitely been an issue in the past, and it probably still is to some extent. However, financial regulation in Singapore is getting tighter and the market for wealth management services is becoming more competitive. In other words, things are changing for the better for consumers.

When you are offered a financial product from a wealth manager, you should anyway check:

  • Product transparency, especially with regard to the underlying risk
  • Fee structure – this should be clear enough from the beginning
  • If you understand the product at all – if not, you had better walk away.

Generally speaking, you should look for a wealth manager if you think you need help with financial planning. A financial institution is prone to offer you more sophisticated services when you are or get wealthier. These services range from traditional lending or investment management to inheritance tax planning or asset protection.

Don’t think that Singapore’s wealth management industry is reserved for millionaires only. In fact, private banking services are available if your investable wealth is a six-digit number, the minimum being generally between SGD100,000 and SGD250,000.

Instead of opting for a commission-based pricing structure, you might wish to consider fee-based private banking services. This option can be helpful if you need to ensure service quality and if your investable wealth is high enough.

Issues for expatriates

Financial planning complexity increases dramatically when you become an expatriate, as additional cross-border issues must be taken into account. These include, but are not limited to:

  • International availability of liquid assets
  • If your stay in Singapore affects your ability to invest in some jurisdictions
  • Social security arrangements in your host country
  • Effects of international mobility on your pension
  • Your residency status for income tax purposes
  • Asset protection
  • Foreign exchange exposure
  • Inheritance law considerations, and
  • Inheritance tax planning.

It is essential to check if your wealth manager is qualified enough to deal with your specific cross-border issues.
In all cases, be wary of:

  • Language issues
  • Cultural differences, and
  • How contactable your wealth manager is.

US taxpayers

It may be harder for US citizens to find a relevant wealth manager outside the US. This is because US citizens remain subject to US tax rules, even when they are resident outside the US.

If you are a US taxpayer, you are likely to need a specialist wealth manager, i.e. with the appropriate qualifications and licences for advising US citizens resident in Singapore.

 

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