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Shaking the money tree: What lies ahead for Singapore's banking sector

The banking sector is this week's focus in the Straits Times' Roundtable series on the future economy. Amid new ways to lend money and finance trade, what lies ahead?

Mention Singapore as a financial centre and the image that comes to mind is the Marina Bay skyline. DBS is at Marina Bay Financial Centre. Across the road at Raffles Place are the impressive buildings of United Overseas Bank and OCBC Bank.

For years, local banks have gone from strength to strength, as has Singapore as a financial centre.

But there are cracks in the all-powerful facade. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently predicted that a "powerful storm" would shake up the Asia-Pacific banking industry in the wake of slowing global growth and a rise in bad loans.

Ratings agency Moodys downgraded its outlook on the Singapore banking system to "negative", citing some of these reasons as well.

And there is more bearish news.


ILLUSTRATION: MIKE M DIZON

As the review here into fund flows relating to Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB continues, banks have been taken to task by the regulator for making a dent in Singapore's reputation as a clean and trusted financial centre because of their lack of compliance with anti-money laundering rules.

The local market is also reeling from news that the oil price slump has claimed its first major casualty, in offshore and marine player Swiber. Indeed, the reverberations through the banking sector which bankrolled Swiber - DBS is a key banker - and other oil and gas players are yet to be fully felt.

Amid this, the sector must plan for a future which is closer than we think. Developments where start-ups are stealing a march on banks, and technology that cuts out the traditional middleman role of the banks are winds of change sweeping the landscape.

In the this sixth of seven ST roundtables on the future economy, panellists grapple with making sense of these changes - and how best Singapore can benefit from them.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Shaking the money tree'. Print Edition | Subscribe