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What homeowners need to know about Singapore’s shift to new interest rate benchmark SORA

Borrowers with floating-rate mortgages have to switch out of their loans as SOR and SIBOR will be discontinued in 2023 and 2024, respectively

The Steering Committee for SOR & SIBOR Transition to SORA has recommended that banks offer a SORA Conversion Package, with no additional fee and no lock-in period, to borrowers affected by the discontinuation of the SOR benchmark in 2023. PHOTO: GETT
The Steering Committee for SOR & SIBOR Transition to SORA has recommended that banks offer a SORA Conversion Package, with no additional fee and no lock-in period, to borrowers affected by the discontinuation of the SOR benchmark in 2023. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

IT manager Sue* will soon have to switch her existing loan based on the Singapore Dollar Swap Offer Rate (SOR) to a new loan package for a studio apartment she bought five years ago. She has not heard from her bank yet, but she is concerned that she may have to incur additional costs. She also wonders if the new loan package will involve a change to her lock-in period.

Married couple Tom* and Jane* face a different set of concerns. Their take-home pay has fallen due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and they are in danger of breaching the mortgage servicing ratio (MSR) and total debt servicing ratio (TDSR) requirements that limit how much households can borrow.

There are 7,000-plus retail borrowers who have floating-rate property loans referencing SOR, which will be discontinued after June 30, 2023. These loan packages need to be replaced with new ones, including those based on the Singapore Overnight Rate Average (SORA). 

Besides the SOR-based retail loans, which have a total value of S$4.2 billion1, customers with property loans tied to the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (SIBOR) will also need to switch out in due course as SIBOR will be discontinued after December 31, 2024.  

What are SOR, SIBOR and SORA, and how are they different?



Global reforms to improve financial stability

The shift away from SOR and SIBOR comes as regulators and banks around the world move towards new interest rate benchmarks determined by transacted rates, which are more robust compared to existing benchmarks that are based on estimates.  

With the globally used US dollar (USD) London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) set for discontinuation after June 30, 2023, SOR – which uses USD LIBOR in its computation – will similarly be discontinued immediately after that date. As for SIBOR, the less-used six-month SIBOR will be discontinued after March 31, 2022, while the more widely used one-month and three-month SIBOR will be discontinued after December 31, 2024.

A transition plan for SIBOR-based loans is in the works and will be announced at a later date.

“The transition to SORA is overseen by an industry committee convened by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) comprising the relevant stakeholders. Since August 2019, the industry has put in significant effort to provide solutions to support a smooth transition away from SOR and SIBOR,” says Mrs Ong-Ang Ai Boon, director of The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS).  

What’s next for homeowners with existing SOR-based loans

The MAS-established industry committee, the Steering Committee for SOR & SIBOR Transition to SORA (SC-STS), has recommended that banks make available a SORA Conversion Package for existing customers with SOR-based mortgages. This package is designed to minimise differences in interest payments at the point of conversion from SOR to SORA and will be offered at no extra fees or lock-in period.

In the above example, this should be good news for Sue as she will not incur any administrative fee or be subject to an additional lock-in period if she switches to the SORA Conversion Package.

If she prefers not to take this up, she may also opt for fixed-rate loans or loans pegged to other reference points such as fixed deposit rates or board rates that are currently being offered by banks. 

As for Tom and Jane, MAS will not require the MSR and TDSR to be re-computed when they switch their loans out of SOR to other loan packages, including the SORA Conversion Package.  

While these changes may sound complex, the actual impact on borrowers is likely to be minimal as banks in Singapore have been preparing over the past two years to ensure that the  transition to a new interest rate benchmark is seamless for customers.

“Banks have adopted a clear and consistent industry-wide approach in facilitating the switch to SORA recommended by the SC-STS. With the adjustment spread calculation formula and data made publicly available, affected borrowers can be assured of high transparency and peace of mind,” adds Mrs Ong-Ang.

  • Click here to learn more about SORA and get the latest updates on Singapore’s interest rate benchmarks.

1 https://abs.org.sg/docs/library/sc-sts-recommendations-for-transition-of-legacy-sor-contracts.pdf

*Sue, Tom and Jane are personas drawn up based on common concerns of homeowners with SOR-based loans. 

Source: ABS

This is the second of a four-part series on the banking industry’s transition to SORA, the new interest rate benchmark in Singapore.