How to set up a money changer business?

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Singapore, being an international financial centre and a tourist hub, has a relatively safe and secure environment for money changers to conduct their business.  This post is a digest of the key requirements in setting up a money changing business in Singapore.

Money changing involves the buying and selling of foreign currency notes and may be conducted under a sole proprietorship, partnership or company. In Singapore, there are currently 382 licensed money changers (as at 31 May 2014).

The following considerations are essential in setting up a money-changer business in Singapore.

 

Money Changer License

Money changing business is licensed and governed under the Money-Changing and Remittance Businesses Act. The supervision and regulatory authority is the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”). MAS sets stringent criteria in granting a money changing license, which can be found here. Where there is more than one applicant in an application, as in the case of a partnership, the criteria generally apply to each and every partner.  Of these criteria, it is important to note that MAS takes a serious view on Anti-Money Laundering (“AML”) and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (“CFT”).  MAS Notice 3001 is prescriptive in the requirements for AML/CFT for money changers, and you may face severe penalties or license revocation if you are found not to have satisfactory AML/CFT processes in place. The money changing licensees are expected to put in place an appropriate system, including the reporting of suspicious transactions, to help prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. They are required to keep complete records of all their transactions and perform relevant customer due diligence measures for transaction amounts of S$5,000 and above.

 

Capital Requirement

There are basically two groups of money changers, namely, the wholesalers and the retailers. Depending on the size of the business, the capital required to run a money changing business varies. For retailers, the initial capital outlay may be a range of SGD 200,000 to SGD 500,000. For wholesalers, the initial capital outlay is typically in excess of SGD 2,000,000.  These capital would be needed for purchasing your stock (foreign currencies), pay rent, hire staff and purchase equipment.

 

Location

MAS requires a money changer to have a permanent place of business. Each place of business requires a separate license. A permanent place of business will be either a shop or office. A money changer cannot operate at a kiosk or shopping cart. A tenancy agreement for the place of business is required.

Other than the regulatory requirements above, like any retail business, location is probably the single most important factor for money changers.  Pick a location that has a ready catchment of tourists, businesses or residents.

 

Systems

Running a money changing business is time sensitive, as you are constantly buying your stock, and selling it at a profit (or loss).  The price in which you buy and sell the stock moves every second (however small the change) based on the inter-bank forex rates.  Not only that, you need to be compliant to the AML/CFT requirements set out in MAS Notice 3001 for all the deals you make.  Hence, there is a need to invest in some reliable systems and hardwares to help you in your business.

 

At the minimum, you will need:

  • Cash counting machine

  • Counterfeit checking machine

  • Receipt printers

  • Money changer software (more details below)

When selecting a money changer software, it is important that the software is able to integrate with the business.  Ask the vendor the following:

Is the software user friendly in that it allows the staff, without much training, to key in deals fast and accurately?

Is the software user friendly to handle cross currency deals, inverse rates?

How fast does it take to complete a deal end-to-end?

Is the software integrated with inter-bank rates for pricing of retail currency rates?

Does the software have AML/CFT capabilities beyond just taking down customer’s particulars?  In this regard, most vendors will require you to purchase additional hardware like scanners and photocopy machines to record customer identification documents.  Others, like MoneyConnect by Ingenique Solutions, will digitized these documents without the need for extra hardware.

Is the software able to check AML blacklist and produce compliance reports?

Does the software allow you to keep track of expenses, inventory and profits?

Does the application integrate with accounting systems for financial reporting?

Is the system resilient to failures due to power, network, hardwares or softwares?

Does the vendor provide both hardware and software support?

How often is the application updated, and at what cost?

In conclusion, setting up and running a money changing business in Singapore is not that difficult. Once the license is granted, the business can be up and running in a few weeks when one has the right location, the capital and the necessary systems in place.

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