Singapore Banking Secrets are Safe for Now

As Singapore strives to be a leading financial centre in the region, banking secrecy laws have become increasingly important. Banking secrecy is what guarantees clients of banks that their information will be kept confidential and will not be passed on to private individuals or official bodies. In Singapore, this comes in the form of section 47 of the Banking Act ("the Act") which places banks under statutory obligations of secrecy in respect of customer account information. This obligation of confidentiality extends to officers in a bank, defined in section 2(1) of the Act to include a director, secretary, employee, receiver, manager and liquidator. Banks are allowed to disclose information about customers and their accounts only under narrowly described circumstances.

Banking secrecy was recently examined in the Court of Appeal case of Susilawati v American Express Bank Ltd [2009] 2 SLR(R) 737 ("Susilawati").

In Susilawati, the appellant was a customer of the respondent bank and executed a charge over all monies in her account to secure her son-in-law's liabilities to the bank. Monies were eventually deducted from the account as a result of her son-in-law's inability to discharge his liabilities. The appellant had her claims of undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty dismissed at the court of first instance and appealed, applying for the court to order a new trial raised by the appellant in the appeal, for leave to adduce further evidence and for leave to amend the pleadings.

The trial judge1 discussed the English Court of Appeal case of Tournier v National Provincial and Union Bank of England [1924] 1 KB 451 ("Tournier") which held that a banker was generally under an implied duty to keep the affairs of his customer confidential. This, however, was subject to four general exceptions. A bank could make a disclosure where: (a) the bank was compelled to do so by law, (b) it was in the public interest to disclose, (c) it was in the interests of the bank to disclose, or (d) the disclosure was made by the express or implied consent of the customer. In particular, the judge focused on the fourth common law exception mentioned in Tournier which allowed disclosure if a customer gave express or implied consent.

The Court of Appeal comments however were of much wider general application. While not expressly raised in the appeal, the Court felt it important to correct any impression that may have been given by the lower court that there was...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT