For businesses, accounting is a full-time job. Having a business account makes sending and receiving payments, paying salaries, and dealing with other financial obligations easier. But it doesn’t come for free. Banks charge fees on the services they provide. Many impose penalties if you don’t meet their requirements, such as maintaining a minimum balance. If you fail to keep track of these numerous bank charges, they can pile up quickly. Ideally, you should be absolutely sure about the charges you will be paying before you open a business account. This is why reading the fine print at the account opening stage is important.
Read this guide to know about the common bank charges business account holders in Singapore pay. There’s also an overview of bank fees charged by the country’s leading local banks.
When you take out a loan, the bank charges you interest. Similarly, there is a fee when you transfer money or make an ATM withdrawal. Banks charge a fee for every service they provide. On the flip side, many also offer free services, such as a limited number of free transfers in a month or an account opening fee waiver.
These are charges imposed by banks to maintain and keep your business account running. They include:
Account set-up fee: Some banks charge a fee to open an account while others offer this service for free.
Account fee: This is what you pay either monthly or annually to maintain your account. A fee waiver for the first few months is common.
Fall-below fee: If the account balance falls below a specified daily/monthly requirement, a fall-below fee or minimum balance service charge is incurred.
Excess fee: If you use your business account to make a payment that exceeds your available balance, the bank might decline the payment request and hit you with an excess fee, also called overdraft fee. Or, it might accept the request and cover the excess amount. In this scenario, you’ll have to pay back the excess amount and excess fee.
Early account closure fee: You pay this if you close your Singapore business account within six months or a year of opening it.
Inactivity fee: Some banks in Singapore charge an inactivity fee or dormant account fee if an account has been idle for a long period, usually a year. This is usually a monthly fee.
Premature withdrawal fee: Specific to fixed deposits or time deposits, this is charged when the deposit is withdrawn before maturity.
2. Transaction charges
Each time you deposit or withdraw cash, make a payment, or receive a remittance, your bank will charge you a fee (unless it is waived). The amount varies depending on the mode of transfer:
Wire transfers, also called telegraphic transfers (TT), aren’t cheap because they invite a processing fee averaging SGD 20 along with a handling commission and agent fee (charged by the recipient bank). Cross-border wire transfers move via the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) messenger system. Despite the high fee, a wire transfer is the preferred mode for moving money securely across borders. Learn more about wire transfers in our bloghere.
FAST (Fast and Secure Transfers) supports electronic money transfers between FAST bank and non-bank partners within Singapore. An online FAST transfer is one of the cheapest ways to move funds but an over-the-counter transaction will attract a much higher fee.
GIRO allows businesses to make and receive one-time and recurring payments through a network of participating banks in Singapore. Like FAST, GIRO transfers are quite cheap, averaging less than SGD 1 per transaction.
PayNow enables transfers between 15 participating banks and four non-bank partners and allows users to collect SGD funds instantly. PayNow is free for customers of the participating banks.
MEPS, short for MAS Electronic Payment System, is a local inter-bank electronic payment system. It is more expensive than FAST, GIRO, and PayNow.
ACH, short for Automated Clearing House, is a network in Singapore that is primarily used to process SGD and USD-denominated cheques drawn on Singapore banks. Bank charges to process foreign currency cheques are quite hefty (see table below).
Demand draft transfers are relatively cheap as the bank fee is a small percentage of the payment amount.
Debit/credit card transfers cost more than bank transfers because they incur additional charges imposed by the card provider.
Over the counter or manual transfers are more expensive than online transactions.
A few things to remember about transaction fees:
They vary from bank to bank (more on this later) and might be different for SGD and multi-currency accounts. Some Singapore banks also offer a fixed number of free transfers in a month.
Card transactions made outside Singapore or on a foreign website might attract a 3.25% foreign currency conversion fee, comprising a conversion charge imposed by the card association (such as Visa or MasterCard) and an administrative fee applied by the bank.
Giving standing instructions to banks for recurring payments incurs a fee. Amending your standing instructions application will cost extra.
3. Cheque-related charges
Banks charge fees to issue a cheque book, replenish it, or to issue another in case the first one is lost. However, the first cheque book, or even the first two, are usually free.
Banks also charge for processing cheques. And if your cheque bounces due to insufficient funds in your account or technical problems (wrong date or mismatched signature, etc), the bank charges a returned cheque fee. Cancelling a cheque after sending it out results in a stop payment cheque fee. If you request your bank for digital images of cheques cleared through your account – which you might need for your records – the bank charges you a cheque retrieval fee. Requesting your bank to ‘mark’ a cheque – which means it is good for payment as soon as it is presented – incurs a marked cheque fee.
4. Card-related charges
Some banks charge a small fee to issue a card or to replace a lost, stolen, or damaged card. Using your card at your bank’s ATM is free (with a daily transaction limit, of course) but using it at another bank’s ATM might incur a fee.
5. Digital services charges
There’s a monthly bank charge if you sign up for electronic alerts about your account or to receive information about trade finance tools (financial products/services targeted at importers and exporters to support international trade). This fee might be waived for the first few months.
6. Document-related charges
While paper statements are not the norm in the digital age, banks still provide printed account statements and certificates of balance on request, for a per-copy fee of course. The older the statements requested, the higher the fee. Banks also provide reference letters on request for a price. A reference letter is printed on the bank’s letterhead and confirms your account holder status as well as any financial information that is sought. Also, if you need your bank to confirm your financial information to your auditor, the bank will charge an audit confirmation fee.
Why do banks charge fees?
Banks charge fees and interest to cover operational costs and – like any other business – to earn a profit. Unlike payment service providers that exist solely in the digital space and provide digital business accounts at low to zero cost, banks need funds to maintain their significant physical infrastructure. The higher fees they charge also help banks offer their customers a wider range of products and services than their digital-first counterparts.
What are bank charges like in Singapore?
Singapore’s USD 2-trillion banking sector has robust representation from global and local players. DBS Bank Ltd, United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB), Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation LTD (OCBC), Maybank Singapore Ltd, CIMB Singapore, and Hong Leong Bank are the leading domestic banks. Let’s take a peek at their business account charges:
1. DBS Bank Charges
Considered the largest bank not only in Singapore but all of Southeast Asia, DBS offers both multi-currency and SGD accounts, including the Business MCA Starter account targeted at small companies. Here’s what DBS bank charges look like:
Account fee: It ranges between SGD 40 and SGD 50. Small business multi-currency account holders pay a monthly SGD 10 instead of an annual fee.
Fall-below fee: DBS charges SGD 40 per month if the account balance falls below the minimum average daily balance requirement of SGD 10,000. This fee is waived for the Business MCA Starter account, which does not require a minimum average daily balance.
Excess fee: This fee is made up of two parts – a minimum overdraft interest charge and incidental overdraft interest charge. The former is a standard SGD 10 fee for SGD accounts. The cost varies for multi-currency accounts (see table below). The incidental overdraft charge is SGD 30 or above.
Early account closure fee: Closing a business account within six months of its opening costs SGD 50.
Transaction fees: For local transactions, an online transfer is free but if done manually, it costs SGD 5. An online GIRO transfer costs SGD 0.2 while MEPS charges run between SGD 18 and SGD 20. Payments and collections via FAST work out to SGD 0.50 per transaction. Cheque transfers cost SGD 1-5. For international transfers, DBS charges SGD 10-35 for telegraphic transfers.
2. UOB Bank Charges
With 63 branches in Singapore alone, UOB is a key player in the Asia-Pacific. A look at UOB bank charges:
Account fee: This is an annual fee of SGD 35.
Monthly fall-below fee: The account holder pays SGD 35 if the average daily balance dips below SGD 10,000.
Excess fee: It works out to a minimum SGD 10 per month for SGD accounts but can vary for multi-currency accounts.
Early account closure fee: Closing an account within six months means paying a penalty of SGD 50.
Transaction fees: Single or recurring online GIRO transfers cost SGD 0.20 each but in the case of bulk payments, the rate goes up to SGD 1 per item. All single, recurring, and bulk payment FAST transfers cost SGD 0.50 per item. The fee is a much steeper SGD 10 for FAST transfers made via manual forms. An over-the-counter funds transfer costs SGD 5 if it is between SGD accounts and SGD 15 in the case of multi-currency accounts.
3. OCBC Bank Charges
Set up in 1932, OCBC is the longest established Singapore bank. Let’s take a look at some OCBC bank charges:
Account fee: It charges SGD 10 per month for its SGD Business Growth Account, waived for the first two months. The Multi-Currency Business Account invites the same fee, but it is waived if the account holder also operates an OBCB SGD account. There is no account fee for Business Entrepreneur Account Plus or USD Business Smart Account users.
Monthly fall-below fee: Depending on account type, the fall-below fee ranges from SGD 15 to SGD 50. There is no fall-below fee for Multi-Currency Account holders. Instead, a service charge kicks in if the daily balance exceeds a specified limit. This service charge is payable in the respective currency of the account and varies for each currency.
Excess fee: For SGD accounts, the excess fee amounts to a minimum SGD 30 or Prime + 4.75% per annum, whichever is higher. The prime interest rate is quoted by banks for certain customers and periodically revised. For multi-currency accounts, the excess fee differs for each currency.
Early account closure fee: It amounts to SGD 50 for SGD accounts, but the period of closure varies from six months to a year for different account types. Closing a USD account within a year results in a USD 50 fee. There is no early closure fee for multi-currency accounts.
Transaction fees: If you have an SGD Business Growth Account with OCBC, you’ll enjoy a bundled package of unlimited free GIRO and FAST transfers. For Business Entrepreneur Account Plus users, a GIRO transfer costs SGD 0.10. An over-the-counter funds transfer for SGD account holders costs SGD 20, with the possibility of a fee waiver for the first few transfers. Multi-currency account holders pay USD 43 to send a telegraphic transfer.
4. Maybank Bank Charges
Another top contender in Singapore’s banking sector is Maybank. Some of its corporate banking offers include the foreigh currency current account, SGD current account, FlexiBiz Account, and PremierBiz Account. They come with the following fees:
Account fee: Maybank does not have a monthly or annual account fee.
Monthly fall-below fee: Failing to meet the average daily balance costs SGD 10-35 per month, depending on the account type. The average daily balance range is SGD 1,000 to SGD 30,000. For the foreign currency current account, the fall-below fee is USD 5 per month with an average daily balance requirement of USD 1,000.
Excess fee: The minimum fee is SGD 20.
Early account closure fee: Closing an account within six months costs SGD 50, or USD 20 in the case of a foreign currency current account.
Transaction fees: Maybank’s transaction fees comprise a processing fee and a commission. The processing fee for a local funds transfer in SGD via MEPS is SGD 20. Sending a TT costs SGD 20 (online) or SGD 30 (via bank branch) in processing fees along with a commission of at least SGD 20. Transaction fees for foreign currency account TTs differ according to the currency and also invite an additional commission.
5. CIMB Bank Charges
The final local Singapore bank featured in this article is CIMB. Here’s a quick look at its business current account rates.
Account fee: A zero account maintenance fee is a key feature of the CIMB BusinessGo Account while the BusinessGo Lite Account charges a monthly SGD 28.
Monthly fall-below fee: An SGD account that fails to maintain the minimum monthly average balance of SGD 8,000 must pay SGD 35. Both the fall-below fee and minimum monthly average balance are different for foreign currency accounts. The BusinessGo Lite Account has no minimum balance requirements and, hence, no fall-below fee.
Excess fee: A minimum SGD 20 is the overdraft charge for SGD accounts without credit limits. For foreign currency accounts, the excess fee is a fixed rate in a particular currency (USD 10 or JPY 1,000, for example) plus interest.
Early account closure fee: The cost of closing a BusinessGo, BusinessGo Lite, or SGD current account within six months is a standard SGD 40. For foreign currency current accounts, the fee depends on the currency in which it is payable.
Transaction fees: Both the BusinessGo and BusinessGo Lite Accounts offer free FAST, GIRO, and TT transfers. However, the fee waiver on TTs is temporary and starting 2023, a flat fee of around SGD 19 and SGD 15, respectively, will apply.
6. Hong Leong Bank Charges
With 28 branches across the island state, Hong Leong Bank is one of Singapore’s top local banks and offers both SGD and foreign currency business accounts as well as current accounts. Here’s a snapshot of Hong Leong Bank charges:
Account fee: None.
Monthly fall-below fee: HL Bank’s SGD accounts have a minimum average daily balance of SGD 10,000 or SGD 50,000, for which the fall-below fee is SGD 10 and SGD 50, respectively. Charges for foreign currency accounts vary by currency.
Excess fee: The overdraft fee is Prime + 4% p.a. or SGD 20, whichever is higher. For foreign currency accounts too, the minimum excess fee charged is SGD 20.
Early account closure fee: Depending on the type of SGD account, the charge is SGD 30 or SGD 200 for closure within six months. Closing a foreign currency account within six months costs SGD 50.
Transaction fees: Local online FAST transfers are free, courtesy a fee waiver. Local inbound MEPS transfers are free. Outbound MEPS transfers cost SGD 15 if the amount exceeds SGD 50,000 and SGD 40 for transactions of SGD 50,000 or below. For cross-border telegraphic transfers (both SGD and foreign currency accounts), HL Bank charges a commission that ranges from a minimum of SGD 10 and a maximum of SGD 300. Cable charges, currency exchange commissions, and agent fees are additional. Sending a TT via the bank’s HLB ConnectFirst online service is cheaper than making a manual transfer at the bank branch.
Comparison of Singapore bank charges – administrative fees
Comparison of Singapore bank charges – transaction fees
Same service, different bank charges
If you’re considering opening a business account, pay close attention to the bank charges. Not only are there multiple fees, but charges on some services might vary from bank to bank. For example, some banks charge a fee to set up your account while others offer the service for free. Or, some banks offer free local transfers while others charge for it.
Fee differences also exist between different types of business accounts within the same bank. Among the three multi-currency accounts offered by DBS, for instance, the Business MCA Starter that caters to small businesses waives off the SGD 40 monthly fall-below fee.
Packages of bundled services also cause fee variances. Take OCBC Velocity, an internet banking solution. Under it, OCBC’s Business Growth Account holders enjoy unlimited free FAST and GIRO transfers while Business Entrepreneur Account Plus holders pay SGD 0.10 per GIRO transaction.
Bank fee differences boil down to many factors – high or low operational costs, the provision of additional services, and the inclusion of commissions and fees charged by the bank’s financial service partners, to name a few.
How to reduce your business account fees?
It’s not possible to bank for free, but there are certain charges you can avoid entirely while operating a business account in Singapore. Some tips:
The fall-below fee is one bank charge that can be done away with completely. All you need to do is maintain the required daily or monthly minimum balance. This is easier said than done, considering that funds are tight for most small businesses. And that brings us to the next tip.
Make sure to check the minimum balance requirements of multiple business accounts before settling on one. Requirements vary from account to account, bank to bank. Given that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are an important contributor to Singapore’s economy, most banks have business accounts tailored to their needs. These SME-centric accounts not only have low or zero minimum balance requirements but also charge lower fees for other services.
Keep track of your account balance to avoid paying excess fees. Having a linked account in the same bank is another solution to the overdraft problem. If one account falls short, the excess amount can be drawn from the linked account.
Another easily avoidable bank charge expense is the inactivity fee. This monthly charge is deducted from your account and you’ll end up losing your money. It makes more sense to close the account and claim the money.
Go paperless to avoid paying for physical bank statements and other documents.
Check with your bank for a package deal. Bundling of services reduces operational costs, so the bank passes on the benefit to the account holder in the form of lower fees. A package subscription is also more convenient for the customer as they pay a monthly flat fee instead of paying for every single transaction.
Finally, opt for a digital business account with a non-conventional banking partner like a fintech (financial technology) firm, digital bank, or payments service provider. This is a great way to reduce your bank charges expense. How? These non-bank alternatives offer comparatively lower fees with no hidden costs as well as competitive interest rates. They’re not limited to processing payments but are also in the business of lending to their customers. That’s not all, digital payment service providers are the byword for convenience. Opening an account is instantaneous – an Aspire Business Account takes just five minutes – while traditional bank accounts have a long verification process. They are easy to use and come with winning features such as a single platform for all your finances, regular alerts, and hassle-free accounting software integration, among others.
Digital-only business accounts are cost-effective, convenient
We now know that non-bank payment service providers are a good alternative to banks, given their growing popularity. So, what sets them apart from banks? For one, they offer digital-first – and often, digital-only – services. They are also digital entities themselves with no physical presence, so their products and services are provided via apps, websites, and dedicated software. Their fees are lower compared to most banks. However, like banks, they offer personalised and advanced services such as credit facilities and virtual cards. This makes them particularly attractive to small businesses and start-ups.
Account opening fees and minimum balance requirements are rare when you bank with a payment service provider. Typical charges include transaction fees for sending and receiving money, currency conversion, and card issuance.
To start operations in Singapore, a digital bank requires a licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore. This is not a full banking licence of the kind traditional banks operate under. Many payment service providers, however, partner with licensed banks to offer licensed financial services and insure their products.
Keep charges low with Aspire Business Account
Don’t want bank charges to come in the way you do business? Try Aspire’s Business Account. It has no initial deposit and minimum balance requirements, and it comes with multi-currency accounts, payments and receivables management, expense management, credit lines, corporate cards, cashbacks, and multi-user access. It also integrates seamlessly with your accounting software.
Here’s what you don’t pay when you bank with Aspire:
Account opening fee
Transaction fee for local transfers
And, you get more bang for your buck on these charges:
International payments, which are four times cheaper than what banks offer
Market-leading foreign exchange rates in 30+ currencies across 130 countries
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alvin Ip is a finance leader. He masters business strategy, fund raising, business intelligence, corporate finance and scaling finance teams for growth. He has been a CFO & CEO for multiple businesses and has worked with brands like Varde Patners, PwC Singapore, EY France & more. In his free time, he shares his experience & expertise to help businesses learn and grow.
Aspire is the all-in-one finance operating system for businesses. Our mission is to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs with the financial tools they need to realise their company’s full potential. Learn more about us.