DBS, OCBC, UOB in talks to fight money laundering

Sources said the the banks are reviewing the idea of collecting data at a newly created registry and using the information when deciding whether to approve applications for new accounts. The talks come as Singapore froze bank accounts as part of prob
Sources said the the banks are reviewing the idea of collecting data at a newly created registry and using the information when deciding whether to approve applications for new accounts. The talks come as Singapore froze bank accounts as part of probes related to 1MDB and charged a former BSI private banker in the city with money laundering.ST FILE PHOTOS
Sources said the the banks are reviewing the idea of collecting data at a newly created registry and using the information when deciding whether to approve applications for new accounts. The talks come as Singapore froze bank accounts as part of prob
Sources said the the banks are reviewing the idea of collecting data at a newly created registry and using the information when deciding whether to approve applications for new accounts. The talks come as Singapore froze bank accounts as part of probes related to 1MDB and charged a former BSI private banker in the city with money laundering.ST FILE PHOTOS

Big 3 said to be exploring country-wide model to pool data on prospective clients

The biggest banks here are in talks about setting up a system for sharing information on prospective clients in an effort to combat money laundering.

DBS Group, OCBC and UOB are exploring the possibility of a country-wide model for anti-money laundering and enhanced client knowledge, according to Ms Loretta Yuen, the head of legal and regulatory compliance at OCBC.

The bank believes the new model "will bring significant control and operational efficiency benefits to the industry and Singapore", Ms Yuen said by e-mail, adding that it's premature to discuss details of the initiative.

The model under review would see the three banks pool data at a newly created registry, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the talks are private.

The banks would use the information when deciding whether to approve applications for new accounts, the sources added.

The pilot project may start with corporate accounts, according to one of the sources.

The talks come as Singapore froze bank accounts as part of probes related to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the embattled Malaysian state fund, and charged a former BSI private banker in the city with money laundering.

There is no timeline on when the registry would be set up, said the sources. The plan may be expanded to international banks within the country if a pilot proves successful, they said.

One of the main hurdles in planning the project is the sharing of potentially sensitive customer information because of Singapore's strict banking secrecy laws, according to the sources. A requirement to get applicant consent is among the possible solutions, they added.

Banks in Singapore and elsewhere already share client data for the purpose of assessing their creditworthiness. Singapore's credit bureau, for example, compiles records of consumer loans based on information contributed by the banks.

A spokesman for DBS confirmed that it was involved in an exploratory study on the initiative, but declined to comment further. UOB did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

1MDB has been the subject of overlapping investigations in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as in countries such as Switzerland and the United States, amid allegations of financial irregularities.

1MDB has consistently denied wrongdoing.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in March it has been conducting a "thorough review of various transactions as well as fund flows" related to the case through its banking system.

The MAS last year boosted its anti-money laundering rules, requiring financial institutions to have more comprehensive checks on customers.

Singapore in July 2014 raised the maximum jail term for money laundering to 10 years, from seven years.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Banks in talks to set up system to fight money laundering'. Print Edition | Subscribe