Structured products – difference between S’pore and Hong Kong

Update: In ParliamentMinister for Trade and Industry and Deputy Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore said: “The MAS approach allows for a wider range of Singapore investment options to cater for diverse needs while keeping the regulatory framework”, which Mr Lim described as “fundamentally sound”. (Channel NewsAsia).

Rachel Chung / Columnist

Previously, I did not want to write about this issue because I did not want to pre-judge how MAS and the government will handle this issue. The silence, the position to distance itself, the local media blackout on HKMA decision and the eventual “breaking-news speed” of the local media coverage once again prove me right when I do not want to be.

Media Coverage

I am disgusted with how sensational journalism is being lent to invoke cheap emotions when there was raw sorrow involved. These photos are splashed across the front page of ST to show Mrs Ling “looking visibly less upset than last week…welcomed the Government’s move to help”.

I am disgusted at how the government is cited as a “hero” again. Well, get this straight. MAS only stepped out and issued a statement after Mr Tan Kin Lian’s event to help the affected folks drew thousands. It took a citizen to do the duty of what government people should do. The alarm bells must have gone off in a few government sectors. The government only issued a guarantee of deposits after HKMA pressured their banks to buy back minibonds products.

This is to ensure Singapore’s competitive advantage in the banking and finance sector and I believe, not out of any real sympathy for the people. And have the ministers or MAS ever stopped to ponder on why the banks in Hong Kong would agree to buy back the products? Why did their government or HKMA not pander to the banks?

And please. The ST headline on 18 Oct 08 made me want to vomit. “MAS to Banks: Do the Right Thing”. It was Tan Kin Lian who first blogged and told MAS to do the right thing!

The accountability of MAS

A financial dodo like me might not know how to read a financial product sheet but any qualified and probably overpaid snazzy economist or finance expert in MAS should know and should have known that the product sheets for Minibonds were dodgy. Time for the blame game soon.

The government likes to proclaim that it has no power or control over Temasek Holdings – would it be another skit of how MAS has no jurisdiction or power over banks? In the bid to whore out to banks making their global presence here, are we prepared to screw our people over offending them?

Difference between Hong Kong and Singapore

While Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Donald Tsang “pledged to help those caught up in the Lehman Brothers minibond row get justice if any criminal or civil liability is identified“, our MAS chairman, Mr Goh Chok Tong says that “that’s life, if you want good rewards, you have to take risks. Otherwise, leave your money with the CPF.” and that “MAS is a very professional, rational institution” Oh yes, that I have no doubts about. The MAS is indeed extremely professional and rational towards banks. What is the stance of MAS towards the people?

MAS managing director, Mr Heng Swee Keat, says “We expect them to do the right thing” … “to be accessed on a case-by-case basis“. Am I the only person who feels that such a statement is not straightforward and can be interpreted in creative ways?

While Mr Joseph Yam, Chief Executive of the HKMA, said that the role of the HKMA is to investigate complaints of mis-selling against banks – “The HKMA is dealing with the complaints as quickly as possible.  It is, of course, very important that we do this objectively and without pre-judging the issue.  If, after investigation, we find cases of mis-selling, we will treat them very seriously“; our MAS says that it has “asked the chief executive officer of these [financial] institutions to personally chair internal review panels to look into these complaints.” I am sure these CEOs will be totally impartial and there will be no conflict of interest to consider.

The Selfish Singaporean

Those people who are all smug and arrogant about how they “would not be cheated” or “would not buy something they do not understand” seem to have missed the point that the product was angled to be deceptive or dodgy in the place. Yes, at this point of time, we are all so interested to know your wisdom of diversified investments and how you are not so dumb like some old uneducated folks. Haven’t heard of saying the right thing at the right time?

Yes, I run the risk of sounding stupidly sentimental for objecting to such callousness, but look – gloat privately instead of rubbing salt in wounds, ok?

The feedback we have been getting is that mis-selling is rife. I have been getting calls from investors who say that their relationship managers told them it’s like a fixed deposit and that at the end of 5.5 years, they are getting 5% returns. Tell me that is not mis-selling.

I have my investment principles too but taking a cheap satisfaction at a time like this would belie anyone’s upbringing and basic sense of decency.

How you can help

Mr Tan Kin Lian is helping the minibond investors to seek redress. As such, he needs volunteers to help the investors write their statement of claim, as there are a few thousand statements to be written.

The statement will be based on the questions contained in section 1 of this paper:

If you volunteer, please send your particulars (i.e. name, e-mail address, telephone number, and postal code, language) to [email protected]. He will put your particulars for the investors to contact you. As some of us might be inexperienced in dealing with such situations, Mr Tan will also kindly arrange a briefing to the volunteers on how to write the statement.

You can also read his advice to investors here.

Lucky Tan had compiled a list of questions to Parliament. Let’s see how the development pans out.


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