Singapore can teach capital useful lessons in how to develop as a major financial centre

Abu Dhabi Model Economies: The financial sector in Singapore has made great strides to become the leading centre for South East Asia, and is challenging Hong Kong as the most important financial location in east Asia.

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South East Asian power is making great strides in the region

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The financial sector in Singapore has made great strides to become the leading centre for South East Asia, and is challenging Hong Kong as the most important financial location in the whole of east Asia.

Angelina Fernandez, the director of communications for the monetary authority of Singapore (MAS), reels out the international plaudits: rated the third most competitive country last year by the World Economic Forum, and the best for physical infrastructure in Asia, Singapore can reach a market of 4 billion people in Asia who are within seven hours' flying time.

There are more than 700 financial institutions based on the island, including 167 banks, 176 insurance companies, and 111 fund managers. Assets under management by these institutions totalled S$1.2 trillion (Dh3.62tn) in 2009, and have risen significantly since. "The key is that we have adopted a unified approach," Ms Fernandez says.

The MAS combines the role of central bank, market regulator for the Singapore Exchange (SGX) - the unified equities and derivatives market - and is in overall control of the strategic development of the financial services sector.

"We are a small country competing in a big global market, and there is a limited talent pool in financial services. We thought from the beginning it was best not to split it up," says Ms Fernandez.

The SGX is well plugged in to the enormous financial potential of China. Some 41 per cent of its total market capitalisation of about S$700 billion comprises foreign companies, with about two thirds of these coming from China and Hong Kong. "The Chinese companies that come to Singapore are not focused on domestic China, but on global trade," she says.

Singapore is ready to begin trading in Chinese yuan if the currency becomes fully convertible, and already has a swap arrangement in place to facilitate trade. The SGX recently made a takeover offer for the Australian stock exchange, which was blocked by the Australian authorities. It is also being talked of as a possible bidder for the London Stock Exchange.

The MAS is also aware of the growing market for Islamic finance. Although there is only a comparatively small Muslim population in Singapore, it is close to big Islamic markets in Indonesia and Malaysia.

It has changed some of the banking and tax regulations to allow for Sharia-compliancy, and is aiming to expand in the market for cross-border Islamic finance.

* Frank Kane