SINGAPORE: New regulatory measures aimed at beefing up the defences of local corporate service providers against illicit activities were announced by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) on Friday (May 11).
From Nov 15, a mandatory half-day training programme and an online proficiency test will kick in for all such service providers looking to register or renew their registration with ACRA. Since 2015, local corporate service providers have been required to register with the regulatory watchdog as filing agents.
ACRA will also be publishing the names of those that have been suspended or had their registration revoked due to severe breaches of anti-money laundering or counter-terrorism financing regulations. This will take effect for those found to be guilty during inspections conducted from next month.
The new measures will help local corporate service providers to “keep pace with constantly evolving threats” and strengthen their resiliency against financial crimes like money laundering and terrorism financing, said ACRA’s chief executive Ong Khiaw Hong at an annual industry conference.
Corporate service providers – individuals or firms that provide services like company set-ups, corporate secretarial services and statutory filing of documents – play a key role in helping to combat illicit corporate activities, added Mr Ong in his keynote speech delivered at the conference.
While a majority has since “responded well” to the enhanced regulatory framework put in place in 2015, ACRA’s Mr Ong said the sector needs to “remain mindful of the growing complexity and cross-border nature” of global money laundering and terrorism financing risks.
It also must “keep abreast of developments with international standards and best practices”.
Mr Ong added that ACRA’s compliance reviews showed a “small segment” of the local industry that has not kept pace. About 10 per cent of those reviewed in the past year were found to be non-compliant and detected with significant breaches, such as incomplete customer due diligence conducted.
“These measures are vital to uphold the standards of the industry,” said Mr Ong. “As more corporate entities seek to establish themselves and do business here, we must step up vigilance. We will continue to strengthen our measures to deter those who seek to use our financial hub for illicit purposes.”
Echoing the same sentiment, Mr Nathaniel C V, chairman of the Chartered Secretaries Institute of Singapore (CSIS), said corporate service providers tend to be “the first port of call” for businesses looking to set up shop in Singapore.
The training, which CSIS will work with ACRA and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) to co-develop, will help align the sector in terms of compliance with regulations and requirements.
“It is an education process that has been taking place for a period of time but now it will no longer be each player doing it on its own,” he said. “There will now be a mandatory process to access the level of performance of these service providers.”
Corporate service providers told Channel NewsAsia that the announcement of the mandatory training does not come as a surprise given that it was first floated in 2016. They also agree that it will be a move in the right direction for the industry.
More training will benefit the sector, said Ms Jennifer Lee, director of corporate secretarial at Intertrust Singapore. She added that the “concise” length of the mandatory programme also makes sure that the new requirement accommodates the staffing needs of corporate service providers.
M Tay & Co’s director Lynn Wan said the new programme will complement existing guidelines to ensure that all players are “on the same page”. “To be relevant, we have to maintain our standards and uphold Singapore’s reputation as a trusted business hub,” she added.