The Monetary Authority of Singapore published its inaugural Enforcement Report on March 20, giving an overview of prior enforcement efforts in the financial markets during the period of July 2017 to December 2018. The report further outlines MAS’s strategic priorities.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has consistently taken a firm stance on financial regulatory enforcement. There are three principles underpinning its enforcement philosophy: early detection, effective deterrence, and the shaping of business and market conduct.
From July 2017 to December 2018, the MAS targeted enforcement in three main areas:
- Market abuse: Conduct that disrupts genuine price discovery and undermines market integrity. Insider/false trading and fraud-related activities fall in this category.
- Financial services misconduct: Misconduct by MAS-licensed entities and representatives relating to breaches of business conduct rules when performing financial services activities or the giving of improper advice relating to financial products.
- Anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT) related breaches.
Because of these efforts, the MAS has taken the following actions (among others):
- Imposed a total of S$16.8 million in financial penalties and composition on 42 financial institutions
- Issued 223 warnings and 444 supervisory reminders to individuals and financial institutions (among others)
- Reprimanded five individuals and 27 financial institutions
- Issued 19 prohibition orders against ”unfit” individuals from working in the financial industry
MAS’s review and investigations are completed fairly quickly, generally within eight months, compared to the 19.1 months the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority generally takes.
Featured Enforcement Cases
Significant cases that illustrate the suite of MAS’s regulatory powers include the following:
- The first conviction for market misconduct arising from joint investigations with the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force: An individual was sentenced to 16 weeks’ imprisonment and a 5-year prohibition order for “spoofing” to defraud contracts-for-differences providers on 50 occasions across 17 securities for a profit of S$30,239
- A comprehensive AML review in relation to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) where fines totaling S$30 million were imposed on several established banks in Singapore; two banks were ordered to close and multiple prohibition orders were issued against their employees, and in some instances, prohibition orders were made on a lifetime basis
- Halting an initial coin offering (ICO) issuer from proceeding with its securities token offering in Singapore: A public LinkedIn post calling attention to the offer contravened advertising restrictions
- Warning eight digital token exchanges in Singapore to avoid facilitating trades in digital tokens that constituted securities or futures contracts under Singapore law without MAS’s authorization
- Misselling by a financial advisory representative, resulting in a four-year prohibition order
Priorities in 2019–2020
The report details that MAS’s enforcement priorities for 2019–2020 are to ensure the following:
- Timely and adequate disclosure of corporate information by SGX-listed companies to enhance investor protection
- Proper business conduct of financial advisers and their representatives
- Financial institutions’ compliance with AML/CFT requirements
- Brokerage houses maintain internal controls to detect and deter market abuse
- Adequate surveillance and investigations into suspected insider trading activities
The report provides greater transparency into MAS’s role in policing errant behavior in Singapore’s financial markets. In particular, providing real-life case examples and penalties meted out gives useful insight into what MAS views as unlawful behavior and the corresponding severity with which it views such misconduct. Outlining MAS’s future enforcement priorities sends a clear message to companies and individuals alike that MAS’s focus on compliance in these areas will be backed up by enforcement action where necessary.
The report was published after a February 2019 speech by an executive director of MAS in the context of fund management highlighted a similar focus on enforcement. The speech recognized that Singapore’s growth as a key asset management hub was in no small part attributable to Singapore’s robust regulatory and supervisory regime. One of MAS’s strategies has been to structure the teams of its compliance officers such that funds with similar focuses or strategies are being supervised by the same group of officers—this allowed MAS to better keep up with trends and developments affecting similar clusters of fund managers.
The report reveals two other noteworthy features of MAS’s enforcement policy.
First, the MAS is leveraging technological advances in data analytics and artificial intelligence to identify unusual trends. The report identified “Project Apollo” as an augmented intelligence tool that automates computation of key metrics used for trade analysis to identify market manipulation, boasting a system accuracy rate of 98%. The MAS has already been applying data analytics to identify unusual trends and flag outliers in the asset management space, and we expect the future use of text analytics on financial statements and audit reports of fund managers to come into play.
Second, as a board member of the International Organisation of Securities Commission (IOSCO) and a signatory to IOSCO’s Multilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MMOU) and Enhanced MMOU, the MAS is able to request assistance from regulators worldwide to enforce Singapore’s securities and derivatives law. Such assistance can range from obtaining records to freezing assets.
MAS has consistently displayed innovation in discharging its role as Singapore’s principal markets regulator. We can expect a similar level of robustness in the enforcement standards in the next report, which will be published every 18 months.