How to open a brokerage account in Singapore (and how to choose the right broker)

We get emails time to time from readers who are new to investing about how to open a brokerage account in Singapore. Most of time, we simply point them to our stockbroker (who basically sets everything up for them).

But we realised there are other people who may also be interested in knowing how to open a brokerage account — and the things that go into choosing the right broker — but just haven’t gotten around to asking how it’s done. So we decided to do a quick, simple guide on how to open a brokerage account for those who need a little bit of advice.

But first things first — before you open a brokerage account, you need to choose a broker. Singapore brokers are very nearly similar in the fees they charge (S$25) and the facilities they provide. But there are still some minor differences (e.g. ease of using trading platform, level of support, etc.) that may tip the scales in favour toward one particular broker for you.

So before we go into the steps of setting up a brokerage account, here are some things to consider:

7 things to consider when opening a brokerage account

1. CDP vs. nominee account

Before you open a brokerage account with a retail broker in Singapore, you first need to open a central depository (CDP) account. What is the difference?

A brokerage account allows you to trade shares through your broker. The CDP account is where all the shares you purchase from the local stock market (i.e. the SGX) are placed. The CDP account is held directly by the investor (you) which means you are the direct owner of the shares. Being the direct owner also gives you certain advantages — voting rights, the right to attend AGMs, etc. Do note you can have multiple brokerage accounts with different brokers but you only need one CDP account.

The other option is to have your shares held in a nominee (custodian) account by your broker. This means the shares are bought under your brokerage’s name on your behalf and then placed in a nominee account assigned to you. Currently, four brokerage firms hold your stocks in nominee accounts — Citibank Brokerage, Standard Chartered, SAXO Capital Markets, and iFAST Financial.

You can read more about the pros and cons between using a CDP and nominee account.

2. Brokerage fees

When you compare fees among Singapore brokers, you notice that all of them charge more or less the same commission fees:

BrokerageMin Fees (S$)Trading Commissions
≤ S$50K> S$50K-100K> S$100K
CIMB Securities250.275%0.22%0.18%
Citibank Brokerage280.25%0.20%0.10%
DBS Vickers250.28%0.22%0.18%
iFAST Financial100.12%0.12%0.12%
KGI Securities250.275%0.22%0.18%
Lim & Tan Securities250.28%0.22%0.18%
Maybank Kim Eng Securities250.275%0.22%0.18%
OCBC Securities250.275%0.22%0.18%
Phillip Securities250.28%0.22%0.18%
RHB Securities250.275%0.22%0.18%
SAXO Capital Markets150.12%0.12%0.12%
Standard Chartered100.20%0.20%0.20%
UOB Kay Hian250.275%0.22%0.20%

Fees shown are for SGX Singapore dollar stocks only. Fees may vary for foreign-listed stocks and foreign currency-denominated stocks. Updated as of 14 July 2017.

You’ll notice a few exceptions — Citibank Brokerage, SAXO Capital Markets, and Standard Chartered all charge lower commission fees. The reason for their lower prices is because these brokerages hold your stocks in a nominee account instead of your CDP account, which is less popular with local investors. One big feature about SAXO I’d like to mention is their access to 29 exchanges around the world — perfect for the global investor.

Singapore also recently welcomed a new player with the entry of iFAST Financial. iFAST also charges a low commission fee and they provide access to the Hong Kong market. iFAST charges the same fees for Hong Kong stocks and has no custodian fees — great news if you want to invest in Hong Kong stocks. Like Citi, StanChart, and SAXO, your shares are held in a nominee account when you trade with iFAST .

3. Market access

I’ll assume you plan on trading in the local stock market since you’re to looking to open a brokerage account in Singapore. But besides the SGX, you may also be interested in stocks listed in foreign markets like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, the U.S., etc. If that is the case, you probably want to check if a broker offers you access to the markets you want.

Do note that foreign shares are not held in your CDP account, instead they’re held in a nominee account with your broker. Most local brokers charge S$2 per month per counter for foreign stocks. This can add up to quite a bit if you invest quite a bit overseas (in which case you may prefer to go direct to a foreign broker to save on fees).

For U.S. markets, I personally prefer to use a U.S. broker as their commissions are much cheaper at around US$5 per trade (Interactive Brokers goes as low as US$1 per trade). A few U.S. brokers like Charles Schwab and thinkorswim have Singapore branches which can come in handy in case you need any support.

Related: 5 reasons why you should invest in foreign stock markets

4. Types of investment products

Besides market access, you may also want to consider the types of investment products available to you. Besides stocks, brokers may also offer access to ETFs, unit trusts, bonds, options, futures, CFDs, etc.

Some investors may want access to some of these products – for example, I may want to use put options while waiting to purchase a stock. But if you’re not familiar with them and new to investing, then it’s probably best to stay away and stick to investing in just stocks, bonds, and certain ETFs.

5. Trading platform

If you like to place your trades online or on your mobile often, then you may like having an online trading platform/app that is easy and intuitive to use — though this is subjective and comes down to personal preferences. If you’re heavy into technical analysis then features like price charts and technical indicators may be important to you as well.

If so, you may consider trying a demo of the broker’s trading platform to see if you like using it. The last thing you want is be confused by your broker’s trading platform and you end up keying in the wrong trades which could cost you a lot of money.

6. Reputation and track record

Probably the most important factor when it comes to choosing a broker is its reputation. We don’t want to be caught in a situation where a broker goes bust when you have thousands (or millions) of dollars of your hard-earned money kept with them. Even though your stocks are protected in a CDP or nominee account, things can get messy!

MF Global, one of the world’s largest derivatives brokers, misused US$1.6 billion of its customers’ funds to cover its own trading losses before the broker ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2011. Local investors of MF Global Singapore were hit and feared they might never get their investment funds back. It’s therefore important to check a broker’s history and look for any warning signs that might be cause for alarm. In MF Global’s case, the firm had a series of perceived liquidity problems and was hit with large fines and penalties starting in 2008 before it finally collapsed in 2011.

When it comes to SGX retail brokers in Singapore, all of them are tightly regulated by the MAS and many have been around for decades. For example, Lim & Tan Securities and Phillip Securities were both established in the 1970s. Some brokerages are also owned by banks which are household names with Singaporeans.

7. Level of support

Find a dedicated stockbroker that is able to give you great service and timely support. Most of the time, my stockbroker is a quick WhatsApp text, email or phone call away. And even though I can log in to trade online, I usually contact my broker directly and he gets the job done.

I understand that finding a good trading representative that suits your needs can be hit or miss at times, but if you manage to do so, that’s great! I can’t mention the number of times my stockbroker has been there to help me settle any administrative issues or answer any queries I’ve had regarding my trades. On the other side of the coin, great service also means being a good client. So don’t pester your stockbroker incessantly and only approach them if you really need their assistance.

Most importantly, you want a stockbroker that follows your investment objective. If he understands that you’re a medium/long-term investor, he shouldn’t be calling you to offer daily market commentary (unless you request it) or lure you into speculating on short-term trades.

Even though a stockbroker relies on your trading commissions to earn his living, an honest one will not put his interests over his clients’. So make sure you find a stockbroker you can trust and who is candid with you at all times.

Steps to open a brokerage account in Singapore

Step 1: Open a CDP account

To open a CDP account, you need to have a bank account with one of the following banks in Singapore – Citibank, DBS/POSB, HSBC, Maybank, OCBC, Standard Chartered Bank and UOB.

Download and fill up the CDP application form, include your supporting documents, and mail it to:

The Central Depository (Pte) Limited
11 North Buona Vista Drive #06-07
The Metropolis Tower 2
Singapore 138589

Step 2: Choose a broker and open a brokerage account

There are basically two ways to open a brokerage account:

a) Open an account online

Simply download and fill up the application from, include your supporting documents, and mail it to the brokerage’s mailing address.

To make things easier, we’ve included the relevant sign-up links for all Singapore brokers below:

BrokerageAccount informationFull price listTrading platformApplication form
CIMB SecuritiesViewViewDemoDownload
Citibank BrokerageViewViewDemoDownload
DBS VickersViewViewDemoDownload
iFAST FinancialViewViewDemoDownload
KGI SecuritiesViewViewDemoDownload
Lim & Tan SecuritiesViewViewDemoDownload
Maybank Kim Eng SecuritiesViewViewDemoDownload
OCBC SecuritiesViewViewDemoDownload
Phillip SecuritiesViewViewDemoDownload
RHB SecuritiesViewViewDemoDownload
SAXO Capital MarketsViewViewDemoDownload
Standard CharteredViewViewDemoDownload
UOB Kay HianViewViewDemoDownload

b) Head to the office

If you absolutely hate dealing with paperwork (like my wife) or you’re not sure how to fill up the forms, then you can head down to the office of the brokerage of your choice and have a representative help you complete the entire process on the spot.

Another advantage when you head down to the office is that they can also assist you to open a CDP account if you haven’t already done so, which means you can skip Step 1. Sweet.

The fifth perspective

Opening a brokerage account is the first step you need to take to start investing; you literally can’t trade without one! So I hope this simple guide gives you some clear directions and helps you open a brokerage account in Singapore.

If you have any questions that you think we could help with, simply ask in the comments below and we’ll be glad to share what we know. Happy investing! 😊

Adam Wong is the editor-in-chief of The Fifth Person and author of the national bestseller Lucky Bastard! which made the Sunday Times Top 10 Bestseller’s List in 2009 and Value Investing Made Easy which made the Kinokuniya Business Bestseller’s List in 2013. In 2010, he appeared on U.S. national television on the morning show The Balancing Act. An avid investor himself, Adam shares his personal thoughts and opinions as he journals his investing journey online.

14 Comments

  1. Jake

    July 18, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Actually, iFast does allow linkage with CDP too, apparently with no additional commission charges.

  2. T

    July 18, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Hi, I do understand that a monthly fee of $2 is needed per counter if I am trading US or Hong Kong Stocks (when I am residing in Singapore).

    1) However, won’t there be a transfer fee if I was to use a US or Hong Kong based broker and wire money to them from Singapore? If I am not wrong, the wire out fee for OptionsXpress is $15.

    2) In addition for some brokers like Interactive Brokers, there is a min. monthly activity requirement. You need to trade a min. no. of times per month or be subjected to some fee eg. (USD 10 – commission).

    Am I right?

    • Adam Wong

      July 21, 2017 at 9:36 am

      Hi T,

      1) As far as I know, OptionsXpress doesn’t charge a fee to wire transfer funds into your OX account. The bank, however, may do so. Do note you can only wire USD to your OX account.

      As an alternative, OX Singapore also accepts USD or SGD cheques to fund your account. You may lose a little on forex conversion though if you use an SGD cheque.

      http://www.optionsxpress.com/about_us/faq.aspx#wire-transfer

      2) Yes, IB charges a minimum fee of US$10 per month unless you generate at least US$10 in commissions (about 10 trades) OR you have US$100,000 in equity in your account.

      https://www.interactivebrokers.com/en/index.php?f=4969

      • T

        July 21, 2017 at 10:33 am

        Thank you Adam.

      • Adam Wong

        July 21, 2017 at 10:59 am

        No worries!

  3. Jenny Ong

    July 19, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Hi Adam,

    I’m holding 30 lots of China New Town stocks which were delisted in SGX months ago. As I did not sell at the losing offered price, they transferred the shares to Hong Kong stock market. I received my shares ( scripts ) through the brokerage firm m/s Tricor ( may be spelt wrongly ).

    Can you advise how shall I sell and how to monitor the price of this stock. Do I need to open a new brokerage account when I want to sell the shares? Do I have to mail back the scripts when the shares are sold?

    Thank you.

    Regards
    Jenny

    • Adam Wong

      July 21, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Hi Jenny,

      You can monitor the price of the stock anytime online: https://www.bloomberg.com/quote/1278:HK

      If you want to sell your physical scrip shares on the stock exchange, you need to “dematerialize” it first.

      Contact your brokerage and ask them for their procedure on how to convert physical scrip shares into digital scripless shares. Once your brokerage accepts your scrip shares, it will be placed in your brokerage account which you can sell thereafter.

      Yes, you need to give up your scrip shares when they’re transferred to your broker.

  4. Maxx

    July 25, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Hi, Would like to know which brokerage are you guys using? Mind to share? I have an account with OCBC and going to open an trading account with their ocbc securities but as you said the support is important. Would like to hear more thought before making final decision on which to open.

    Thanks

    • Adam Wong

      July 27, 2017 at 10:14 am

      Hi Maxx,

      I personally use CIMB and OptionsXpress.

      My local broker has given me good support over the years and I see no reason to change at the moment.

      OX because they were one of the first few US brokerages with a local presence and I just stuck with them since. Trading platform is very easy to use as well.

      • Maxx

        July 27, 2017 at 11:43 am

        Thank for sharing. I’m trying to open with OX but have to wait untill October due to they are merging with Charles and temp not accepting new account. I did hear many positive about them.

  5. Jessie Tan

    August 16, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    I intend to trade US stocks but not actively. Anybody knows which of these online brokerage – Saxo, Standard Chartered and Option Express will be the cheapest taking into account the currency exchange rate too?

    • Adam Wong

      August 18, 2017 at 11:10 am

      Hi Jessie,

      If you click on the price lists above, you’ll note that both SAXO and Standard Chartered charge a minimum fee of US$10/- for US trades.

      OptionsXpress charges a minimum of US$4.95 per trade.

      I believe their exchange rates will be similar, based on the prevailing market rate. Or you can always convert currencies on your own first before funding your account.

  6. Adam Wong

    October 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Just to let everyone know that OptionsXpress has integrated with Charles Schwab after its takeover. Fees and commissions remain the same.

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