Swiss seek to be S'pore's preferred partner in financial services

A delegation of top bankers from Switzerland, led by its finance minister, was in Singapore this week as part of a four-city tour to deepen ties with key Asian financial hubs.

Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer told a forum at the Fullerton hotel on Monday that his country wants to become Singapore's preferred partner in the financial services sector and cooperate on an even greater scale.

Mr Maurer was on the third leg of the four-city visit, which includes Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The visit comes amid heightened scrutiny in recent years on Swiss banking by countries eager to recover unpaid taxes by their citizens who keep their money offshore.

Forum moderator Claude Baumann, partner of Finews Asia, asked what has been done to change the image of Swiss banks being associated with scandals.

Swiss Bankers Association chairman Herbert Scheidt, one of the panellists at the event, replied: "Swiss banks are always on the side of their clients.

"Ten to 15 years ago, it was acceptable to have your savings held in another country.

"However, in this era where transparency and complete compliance is a given, Swiss banks need to ensure this international standard is met."

Financial centres have adapted to the changing attitudes of populations and the authorities by carrying out discussions on the integrity of financial institutions, he noted.

He also affirmed that the fundamental values associated with Swiss banks such as stability and excellence still remain.

Mr Maurer added: "Switzerland has very strong expertise in the wealth management sector and it is known for its long-lasting political stability, well-built infrastructure, strong regulatory framework and availability of a highly qualified workforce."

Mr Maurer also talked about the importance of strong leadership and direction in this changing financial landscape.

Switzerland sees Singapore as a partner with whom it can discuss strategies that allow both financial markets to benefit.

Mr Edmund Koh, head of wealth management for Asia Pacific of UBS Singapore, said: "Culturally, Singaporean and Swiss banks are more alike than different. Like Switzerland, Singapore is always a few steps ahead, we build things that are sustainable.

"In the future, I do see potential for a merger of sorts between the banks and I feel it will bring very complementary skills into the mix," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Swiss seek to be S'pore's preferred partner in financial services'. Print Edition | Subscribe