Financial regulators in Singapore are reviewing a legal loophole that allows a remittance business to charge interest for cash advances even though it technically does not have any authorization to lend money.
The Sunday Times newspaper revealed that Toast Me, the Lucky Plaza firm at the center of the inquiry, had issued a cash advance of S$630 (US$456) to a maid after deducting a “first-time fee of $70” (US$50). She was charged 10% monthly interest on a loan of $700 (US$506).
Remittance companies are not allowed to offer cash advances unless they have a moneylending license, and even when they do, interest is capped at 4%. According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Lucky Plaza has only been licensed to handle remittances.
“MAS is aware that Toast Me issues cash advances to facilitate its customers’ remittance needs and is reviewing such practises in the industry,” the regulator said in a statement to the newspaper.
Legal experts said that the firm, founded in 2015, is exploiting a regulatory gap. There are no rules in the Moneychanging and Remittance Businesses Act against offering cash, because it was assumed firms would stick with their core function: remittances.
Remittance businesses and moneylenders also come under totally different jurisdictions. While the MAS regulates remittances, the Ministry of Law is responsible for moneylending activities.
The loophole is expected to be closed, as the government is trying to boost protection for foreigners by clamping down on moneylending. A new threshold on loans will be introduced by the end of the year.
There were 35,000 loan transactions by foreigners in the first six months of the year, up from 7,500 in the whole of 2016. The number of licensed moneylenders has been reduced to 158, from 209 in 2012.