The sky is blue, birds fly, and every business needs a bank. As obvious as the fact that it’s an ACRA mandate for you to have a bank account, what may not be as obvious is which bank to choose.
Singapore being the financial hub, is home to several banks for business owners like you to choose from. This means that your choice will be dependent on the nature of your business and/or its specific needs.
In this article, you’ll get a quick look in alphabetical order at six of Singapore’s most popular local and international banks for businesses, plus one digital-only challenger bank (also known as a neobank) for modern businesses looking for a 100% online business account.
We will also discuss what sets them apart from their peers. It’s a good idea to make a shortlist and then scrutinize each bank’s service offerings up close before you choose.
Comparing Bank Notes
It’s easy to get distracted by all the different services banks have for businesses, such as financing options, international fund transfers, multiple-currency accounts and online banking. The trick is to focus on what your business needs, and to find out which banks offer it, and offer it best.
US-based Citi set up in Singapore in 1902, and has since become the country’s largest foreign banking employer. For businesses, Citibank asks for SGD100,000 or its equivalent in USD for an initial deposit, and requires you to maintain an average monthly balance of SGD50,000 for local currency accounts and USD200,000 for foreign currency accounts. Penalties for falling below minimum are SGD100 and SGD200, respectively. If you want to take out a business loan, approval will depend on Citibank’s assessment.
One of Asia’s leading banks with more than 9 million customers in 18 markets, DBS offers business banking solutions for SMEs as well as MNCs. When it comes to opening an account, DBS is generally regarded as being the quickest and easiest to deal with, with the bank itself saying five minutes is all it takes. They also offer an online application option (although they would much prefer you to be physically present), and keep hard-copy documentation to a minimum.
DBS’ digital banking capabilities have also been praised for ease of use and comprehensiveness, meaning you would be able to do most, if not all of the things you would have to go to a bank for online. Being digitally connected to ACRA has also proven to be convenient for entrepreneurs, as have its mobile phone access and free security device.
You’ll need SGD1,000 to SGD3,000 to open your account, and while there is no minimum balance requirement for their digital business account, you do need to maintain an average balance of SGD10,000 monthly to avoid the monthly SGD35-fee. Their Digital Business account however, doesn’t have a minimum monthly balance and therefore has no falling-below fee. You’ll have to pay SGD20, though, for over-the-counter transactions. DBS business accounts also come with a 0.3% cash-back, free travel insurance, and networking events. DBS also offers a Venture Debt Financing scheme for start-ups.
DBS does seem to have a fair number of monthly fees that come with certain types of account, and may seem rather limited in terms of the kind of bank account your business can have with them. They also charge monthly fees for all of their accounts save the fixed deposit which effectively puts your money out of easy reach.
Malaysia’s largest financial services group and Southeast Asia’s fourth largest bank, Maybank has 2,400 branches in 20 countries, with its presence in Singapore as its largest overseas operations.
As one of the most popular banks for SMEs, Maybank asks for an initial deposit of SGD1,000, but will not require you to maintain a minimum monthly balance or charge any fees. This bank is recommended for newbie business owners, who might choose to open a FlexiBiz account for starters instead of the PremierBiz account.
Note that if you open a Foreign Currency Account with Maybank, you’ll need to make an initial deposit of the equivalent of SGD1,000 in that currency or HKD10,000. Also, if you take out a business loan from them, your business will have to have been operating for at least one to three years.
Singapore’s longest established bank and Southeast Asia’s second largest financial services group, OCBC offers banking solutions that start-ups might find particularly helpful. You’ll need SGD3,000 to open an account, and you’ll have to have a registered business (i.e. you can’t open an account as a sole trader or proprietor).
OCBC waives their SGD38-account fee for the first three months, as well as the monthly SGD35-fee for falling below the average monthly maintaining balance, which is SGD500 for the first six months. This bank has the most options for opening a business account, which depend on which stage of growth your business is in.
If you have a business that’s just starting out, OCBC also offers a Business First Loan for start-ups. You may choose to open their Business Growth Account which needs just SGD500 to open and comes with an annual fee. This account also gives you a business debit card with your own logo on it for free, as well as one free personal accident insurance plan.
If your business has been growing for some time, the Business Entrepreneur Account might be more your speed. Both the Business Growth and Business Entrepreneur accounts charge an annual fee of SGD38, though the latter offers several transactions for free.
But if you’ve already built up a solid foundation for your business, or are planning on setting up shop in Singapore from overseas, OCBC’s Business Entrepreneur Account Plus might be best for you. Your banking fees will be waived if you have a minimum balance of SGD30,000.
OCBC’s online platform has likewise been said to be among the most user-friendly, though it only has one free security device, and will charge fees depending on the service package you choose. OCBC also gives new business depositors 50% off of their Singtel business plan for as long as your account with them is active.
5. Standard Chartered
Based in the UK, Standard Chartered has a global footprint stretching across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. For businesses in Singapore, Standard Chartered requires an initial deposit and an average monthly balance of SGD30,000—fall below that, and you’ll have to pay a monthly fee of SGD50.
For foreign currency accounts, your first deposit has to be at least USD30,000. You’ll also have to pay a one-time fee of SGD50 if you want to bank online. Depending on the nature of your business, you may have access to FX spots or bonds and other treasury services.
The size of the loan you may take out also depends on the size of your business—you’ll have to present financial statements from at least three years.
Since its beginnings 80 years ago, United Overseas Bank or UOB has expanded its international presence to include Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and China. UOB offers business banking alongside its corporate and commercial banking services, although you might find their procedure for opening a new bank account a bit convoluted.
For one thing, UOB doesn’t allow you to open an account online, and they have a high maintaining balance requirement and steep transaction fees. They require an initial deposit of SGD1,000 and a minimum maintaining balance of SGD5,000. They’ll charge you SGD15 for falling below this minimum, but won’t charge you annual or monthly account fees.
UOB’s business accounts, however, do provide the most liquidity versus their other account types. Their business current account also comes with as much as 20% in rebates, planned overdrafts and a free corporate ATM card.
Given that there are so many things to consider when choosing a bank, many business owners ask their accounting services provider for assistance in reaching a decision, especially when it comes to business incorporation. If you need help in setting up your business bank account, get friendly and expert advice from U Ventures—we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.
Aspire is serving a new generation of digital-savvy businesses with a mobile-first digital business account. As the first neobank for business in Southeast Asia, they have served over 10,000 businesses in Singapore alone. The Aspire Business Account promotes easy user experience, fast account openings, and transparent fee structures. Opening an account is entirely free and comes with no fall-below fees, and free domestic FAST transfers.
Aspire has partnered with a third party to power it’s overseas transaction flow. This means that Aspire users will enjoy the same mid-market exchange rate at a low transparent fee, directly within the Aspire app. The account comes with a free virtual Aspire Corporate Card for day-to-day business expenses. The card offers businesses with 1% cashback on digital marketing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) spend. With no annual fee or hidden charges, the card has zero foreign transaction fees and a low transparent rate.
The downside is that digital accounts are not for everyone. Aspire is built for the modern business owner and entrepreneur, with a forward-looking perspective. It, therefore, does not support cheque payments, but instead offers integrations that allows seamless payment flows and sync directly with your accounting software such as Xero.