Singapore’s reputation as a great business center and a vibrant economy can be traced back to its colonial days, when its strategic location was capitalized by traders and entrepreneurs. Since then, the country has consistently worked on the early foundation laid, vigorously building on it to become the phenomena that it is now. Of the many factors that played a crucial role in the story of Singapore’s commercial success, one that stands out and merits special attention is banking.
Commercial banking in Singapore today is representative of the best that the world has to offer in the banking segment, but it is the result of long years of evolution. From being a basic modest framework for a trade center, to being a modern sophisticated banking system that today backs the famous Singaporean economy, the system has come a long way. And in this evolution, commercial banks particularly have played a crucial role, being the customer facing end of the banking sector. Anyone who has had a chance to bank with any of Singapore’s commercial banks will tell you how efficient and organized they are.
In 1999 when the commercial banking sector liberalization began, commercial banking took a giant leap in Singapore. Now, with foreign big names coming in, existing local banks had to up the ante and incorporate the latest and the best into their offerings, if they were to stay in competition. There were mergers and consolidations, making the banks better, stronger and readier to take on international competition.
They were many that went defunct but the ones that survived the onslaught of liberalization did so because they’re engineered themselves into a more efficient world class bank. The result–a stronger banking system and better banking services for the Singaporean patron. Names like HSBC, Standard Chartered, Citibank, Bank of America etc became familiar names to Singaporeans. Commercial banks started playing a more engaging role in people’s lives and in the way they did businesses. Citibank for example, with its offerings started changing the face of commercial banking, through ATM and Phone Banking services.
Citibank popularized the ATM culture in the 80s when not many Singaporeans were exposed to it, and then again in the 90’s with the introduction of the round the clock Phone Banking service, it brought in a culture that readied the populace for a more sophisticated banking to follow, post liberalization.
Commercial banking in Singapore brought about a cultural change, influencing the way people spent and saved, and of course changed their approach to financial matters. The upmarket sophisticated Singapore shopping and spending culture that is so famous world over, has a lot to do with the reliable and easy banking tools, introduced by the commercial banks. The giving of licenses to six foreign banks to operate as full banks, between 1999-2002, further proliferated commercial banking, with the banks setting up ATM networks all across the country in an aim to include even the semi urban and rural setting into their customer pool.
In 2005 Credit Sussie, the Swiss banking major, brought in Swiss style private banking to Singapore, and the move is a great example of how extra dimensions are being continuously added, strengthening and improving an already very strong commercial banking system in Singapore.