Confidentiality

Obligations

Describe the private banking confidentiality obligations.

Banking secrecy in Singapore is regulated pursuant to section 47 of the Banking Act. Section 47 states that customer information shall not in any way be disclosed by a bank in Singapore or any of its officers to any other person except as expressly provided in the Banking Act.

Section 47 of the Banking Act also applies, with some modifications, to merchant banks approved as financial institutions by MAS.

In addition, the statutory banking secrecy regime does not preclude a bank from contracting with its customers to assume a higher standard of confidentiality.

Scope

What information and documents are within the scope of confidentiality?

The banking secrecy obligation under section 47 of the Banking Act applies to customer information. ‘Customer information’ is defined in the Banking Act as:

  • any information relating to, or any particulars of, an account of a customer of the bank, whether the account is in respect of a loan, investment or any other type of transaction; or
  • ‘deposit information’, which in turn is defined as information relating to:
    • any deposit of a customer of the bank;
    • funds of a customer under management by the bank; or
    • any safe deposit box maintained by, or any safe custody arrangements made by, a customer with the bank.

Customer information does not include any information that is not referable to any named customer or group of named customers.

Expectations and limitations

What are the exceptions and limitations to the duty of confidentiality?

Exceptions to the general prohibition against disclosure in section 47 are set out in the Third Schedule to the Banking Act. Examples of such exceptions include:

  • written permission has been obtained;
  • bankruptcy or insolvency of the customer;
  • where the disclosure is necessary to comply with an order made, under any specified written law, to furnish information for an investigation or prosecution of an offence;
  • compliance with a court order under the Evidence Act, Chapter 97 of Singapore;
  • internal audit or risk management;
  • suspension or cancellation of a credit or charge card;
  • assessment by a credit bureau; and
  • creditworthiness for a commercial transaction.
Breach

What is the liability for breach of confidentiality?

An individual who breaches the provisions of section 47 commits an offence punishable by a fine not exceeding S$125,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both. In the case of a corporation, the offence is punishable with a fine not exceeding S$250,000.

In addition, a breach of contractual confidentiality obligations is a breach of contract, which attracts liability for damages. The contractual confidentiality obligations may also be enforced by an injunction prohibiting any disclosures by the bank in breach of the contractual confidentiality obligations.