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Singapore’s Individual Accountability and Conduct Guidelines

  • United Kingdom
  • Litigation and dispute management

05-05-2021

On 10 September 2021, the Individual Accountability and Conduct Guidelines (Guidelines) introduced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will come into effect. This is likely to be the most significant development with respect to individual accountability in 2021 within Asia.

The Guidelines were announced on 20 September 2020 following two public consultation exercises in Singapore. Their implementation will bring Singapore broadly into line with accountability regimes established in other jurisdictions, including the UK’s Senior Managers and Certification Regime and Hong Kong’s Manager-In-Charge regime.

Alongside the Guidelines, the MAS has published its response to frequently asked questions concerning the Guidelines (the FAQs) as well as an information paper (the Paper). The Paper is the product of a thematic survey and dialogue sessions conducted by the MAS. Together, the FAQs and the Paper clarify the MAS’ expectations concerning conduct and culture as well as how institutions should implement the Guidelines.

The Outcomes

The Guidelines require financial institutions to achieve five outcomes (the Outcomes):

  • Outcome 1: Senior managers responsible for managing and conducting the financial institution’s core functions must be clearly identified.
  • Outcome 2: Senior managers must be fit and proper for their roles, and held responsible for the actions of their employees and the conduct of the business under their purview.
  • Outcome 3: The financial institution’s governance framework should support senior managers’ performance of their roles and responsibilities, with a clear and transparent management structure and reporting relationships.
  • Outcome 4: ‘Material Risk Personnel’ must be fit and proper for their roles, and subject to effective risk governance, appropriate incentive structures and standards of conduct.
  • Outcome 5: The financial institution should have a framework that promotes and sustains among all employees the desired conduct.

The Guidelines are not prescriptive concerning how the Outcomes are achieved although specific guidance (the Specific Guidance) is offered in respect of each of the Outcomes. Instead the MAS has adopted an outcomes-focussed approach. The benefit of this approach is that each organisation can, to some extent, take a different approach to achieve the Outcomes, taking into account the size and scale of their operations and their existing compliance framework.

Do I need to comply with the Guidelines?

With limited exceptions, the Guidelines apply to all financial institutions regulated by the MAS, including insurers, brokers and banks.

No exemption is available for a financial institution which already complies with overseas requirements similar to the Guidelines. In those circumstances, the Guidelines must still be adopted with respect to that institution’s operations in Singapore.

However, the MAS has offered a degree of flexibility for non-exempted financial institutions with less than 50 employees. While those institutions will still be expected by MAS to fulfil the Outcomes, they will not ordinarily be expected to adopt the Specific Guidance. As a result, smaller financial institutions enjoy greater flexibility in adopting the Guidelines in a way that they deem appropriate. However, if the Specific Guidance is not adopted, those institutions should be prepared to justify the variance and demonstrate how the relevant Outcome is still achieved.

What should I do?

The introduction of the Guidelines underscores the importance of culture and conduct to not only financial institutions but also to their senior management. The Managers-In-Charge regime in Hong Kong has allowed the SFC to more easily identify the senior manager responsible in event of a regulatory investigation. We anticipate that this will also be the case in Singapore following the introduction of the Guidelines.

The Guidelines will become effective in four months’ time. Experience in the UK and Hong Kong has shown that the adoption process is likely to be more challenging and time consuming than you might anticipate. It is therefore important to begin work now to ensure that you can hit the ground running as soon as the Guidelines are implemented later this year.

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