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Tiny Singapore excels in global rankings

Helen Burggraf considers the rise and rise of Singapore as a global financial centre.

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Start with a good sized (but not sprawling) land mass; mix with good transport and utility networks; add plenty of reasonably priced high-rise office buildings and mixed use developments. Cook at a moderate temperature year ‘round, and serve with liberal sprinklings of cinemas, parks, pubs, shopping malls, restaurants, and perhaps a casino complex or two.

These days, of course, few financial centres are created from scratch. Most, including Singapore, London and even Dubai, evolved out of one-time trading ports.

Shipping remains a key industry in Singapore today. But its success as a financial centre, particularly over the last few years, is attracting growing attention – not least from rival jurisdictions keen to figure out its secret. 

And who could blame them. Just the other day, for example, it was reported that Standard Chartered Bank has chosen to hire some 2,000 new staff in Singapore, out of a total 4,000 new hires it intends to make in all of Asia as it seeks to expand in the region.

The remaining 2,000 new Standard Chartered jobs will be spread out among a number of other Asian countries, with 1,000 of these earmarked for Malaysia, Singapore’s neighbour.

Standard Chartered’s announcement followed news in September that tiny Singapore had squeaked into the rarefied top category of jurisdictions in the Global Financial Centres Index, which rates 175 financial centres around the world twice a year. This top, so-called “global leaders” category contained only three other entities: New York, London and Hong Kong.

Friendly and transparent

Earlier this year, the World Bank/IFC annual business-friendliness survey, which evaluated Singapore in its capacity as a country rather than a city, ranked it first for the second year in a row, ahead of, in order, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the US and UK.

Last month, the city-state tied for first place in Transparency International’s so-called Corruption Perception Index, which ranks 178 countries on how corrupt they are considered to be by experts at such international organisations as the World Bank,  Economist Intelligence Unit and World Economic Forum. (New Zealand and Denmark shared the top spot.) The UK scored 20th – its lowest ranking ever – and the US was 22nd .

Singapore’s arch Asian rival for regional supremacy, Hong Kong, was 13th.

Then there’s Singapore’s global per capita GDP ranking – fourth place, according to IMF data for 2009, sandwiched between oil exporters Norway (3rd) and Brunei (5th).

For financial advisers with expatriate clients, though, perhaps the most meaningful of the various recent jurisdictional league tables is HSBC Bank International’s comprehensive Expat Explorer survey, which placed Singapore in fourth place overall out of 26 countries on such quality of life issues as healthcare, accommodation and ease of assimilation.

Only Canada, Australia and Thailand scored higher, while Hong Kong placed only tenth and Switzerland – so often touted lately as the refuge of choice for tax-weary UK hedge fund managers – came in 13th.

To read more about Singapore, see “Merlion Roars Again”, the country profile in the November issue of International Adviser, which may be read and downloaded here.

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