Singapore Bullion Market Association

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Charting the Glittering Success: Albert Cheng and KL Yap Reflect on SBMA’s Three Decades in Singapore

By SBMA

KL Yap: Albert, you’re spent your career in the bullion industry, and continue to play an important role in growing it – let’s delve into the remarkable journey of the Singapore Bullion Market Association (SBMA) over the past three decades. Can you take us back to the inception of SBMA in 1993?

Albert Cheng: The SBMA was formed in December 1993 by 16 corporate members from the precious metals industry. Fearing that the GST scheme to be introduced on April 1, 1994, would immediately undermine the physical bullion business and the country’s role as a hub for bullion in ASEAN, JP Morgan’s head of bullion, Mr Tim Gardiner, and World Gold Council regional CEO Mr Kerr Cruikshank believed it was necessary for a single voice to represent the bullion market.

I then joined SBMA at its inception as its honorary secretary while simultaneously engaging in market development work at the World Gold Council as its regional manager, shifting track from a regional sales and marketing job in the previous eight years from the Royal Canadian Mint based in Hong Kong. The SBMA was successful in persuading the Singapore government to lift GST for re-exported gold bars.

KL: How would you describe the early years of SBMA?
Albert: The association was relatively inactive in the late 1990s due to the departure of key personnel within the gold industry and the closure of gold desks in some of the bullion houses and banks, which was in line with the bullion market cycles, though it remained a registered association. However, the bullion market has taken a positive turn since the 2008 financial crisis. There has been an increase in the number of bullion market initiatives and activities, with many players that exited the market prior to 2008 becoming active again. Until 2012, the SBMA remained an informal association and only met occasionally for business networking.
KL: I know that the period between the late 1990s and 2012 was challenging for SBMA. But there was also a turning point that led to its revival.

Albert: To capitalise on the growing global demand and leverage Singapore’s strengths, the government’s trade promotion agency began consulting the bullion industry in 2010 to establish the country as a hub for bullion activities in Asia. The initiative aimed to enhance Singapore’s capabilities in bullion refining, trading, clearing, storage, and logistics to serve nearby countries, including two key demand centres: China and India, as well as the rest of ASEAN. In February 2012, Singapore announced the exemption of investment-grade bullion and precious metals (IPM) from GST. This move aimed to position the country as a gold hub. The market responded positively, and the bill took effect on 1 October 2012. I’m sure this was one of the key decisions that led to your firm setting up shop here.

KL: Definitely. This decision was crucial in boosting trade, and Metalor Singapore, a 100% subsidiary of Metalor Technologies International SA, was established in 2013 as part of the Swiss refiner’s efforts to supply precious metals to the growing Southeast Asian market. The country is strategically located between the gold trading supply chain of India and China; hence our Singapore refinery enables bullion traders in Asia to be more cost efficient. Also, Singapore was chosen for constructing a gold refinery and bullion manufacturing plant to meet regional gold demand, following the Singapore government’s decision to position the country as an ASEAN precious metals hub. In June 2013, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) certified Metalor Singapore as an approved IPM refiner and producer. The same month, the new refinery cast its first kilo 999.9 bar.
SBMA - Charting the Glittering Success
SBMA - Charting the Glittering Success
Metalor Singapore, a subsidiary of Metalor Technologies International SA, to supply precious metals to the growing Southeast Asian market
Albert: The government has definitely played a crucial role in developing Singapore as a precious metals hub for the region. IE Singapore, the World Gold Council, and key bullion players were instrumental to reviving SBMA. They engaged with various government agencies and the international bullion market to develop Singapore into a global gold-trading hub, alongside London and Zurich, amid strong Asian demand.
KL: The SBMA has also underwent some big changes to become a key player in the Asian bullion industry.
Albert: Yes, they got serious about it in early 2015 under the leadership of the late Chairman Mr. Ng Cheng Thye. Under his watch, the Association revamped its structure, creating a core Management Committee, overseen by an Advisory Board, and supported by a Secretariat led by a CEO. This move aimed to elevate Singapore as a leading hub for precious metals in ASEAN and globally. Later that year, I was also invited to lead SBMA as their CEO, a few months after my retirement from the World Gold Council, continuing the association’s unfinished work and championing Singapore as a gold hub for ASEAN and beyond, again on an honorary basis. Since then, SBMA has been the go-to platform for precious metals business, boosting Singapore’s role across the Asia-Pacific region. We now have a highly successful annual conference, the Asia Pacific Precious Metals Conference (APPMC).
SBMA - Charting the Glittering Success
At our first APPMC event in 2017, CEO Albert Cheng presented a token of appreciation to now Chairman KL Yap for his participation as a panellist.
KL: The conference definitely helped many industry players with finding business opportunities and networking as before that, there was no precious metals summit in this region. I’ve seen it grow since its launch in 2017: more delegates, more sponsors, and even facilitating significant agreements, such as MOUs between SBMA and The Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society (CGSE) in 2017 and Vietnam Gold Traders Association (VGTA) in 2018, fostering closer cooperation and market development between different regions. I know many industry players see it as a vibrant platform connecting regional and international players, and it also showcases Singapore’s growing role in linking markets. But the Covid-19 pandemic brought challenges.
Albert: We had to cancel the conference in 2020 and focused preparations for the 2021 edition. It’s important to support businesses during such times, so the SBMA collaborated with Singapore Exchange (SGX) to host a webinar series on precious metals, offering insights into navigating supply chain challenges. Building on this experience, SBMA transitioned to a virtual format for the 2021 APPMC, which saw a record number of delegates. But as you know, this industry loves in-person interaction, which led to us organising a hybrid conference in 2022, blending physical and virtual participation. Additionally, we conducted outreach trips to Vietnam and Indonesia to promote industry growth and engagement. This engagement helped in making the 6th edition of APPMC in 2023 a record-breaking one, with 470 in-person delegates.

KL: Speaking of increased engagement, our membership has also been growing steadily. Our membership has more than tripled since 2015, now boasting around 70 members from all over the place – ASEAN, Australia, the USA, you name it. It’s a sign of just how important Asia is becoming on the global economic stage, especially in these uncertain times. We’ve also been kept busy with the SBMA/WGC Precious Metals Academy to train and develop the next generation of talent in the industry and enhance their knowledge of the bullion market, and our support of the Thailand Gold Forum, alongside efforts to increase collaboration between Singapore/ ASEAN and Hong Kong/Greater Bay Area.

Albert: Yes, I wouldn’t have expected all this in such a short period of time. Over the past decade, Singapore has firmly established itself as a regional hub for precious metals, with an LBMA-accredited gold refinery, top-notch bullion banks, esteemed financial institutions, global bullion houses, and renowned logistics services firms, not forgetting Silver Bullion’s groundbreaking vault, which can hold an impressive 15,000 tonnes of silver. The work is not complete though – there is room for stronger collaboration with key players in the Asian gold market, such as China, India, Australia, and ASEAN neighbours, as I think Singapore can be a global logistics centre for refining, trading, clearing, tokenizing, and custody of physical large and kilobars. This requires the participation of key stakeholders like bullion banks, jewellery manufacturers, high-net-worth investors, institutional investors, sovereign funds, and even central banks.
The Reserve - Silver Bullion’s High-Capacity Precious Metals Vault
KL: I’m definitely excited about the opportunities ahead, for the SBMA to steer the industry forward in the region, and working closely with you to propel the Association to new heights, building on our collective strengths.
SBMA - Charting the Glittering Success - YAP Photo

KL YAP is the General Manager of Metalor Technologies (Singapore) Pte Ltd’s Singapore Refining Business Unit. He joined Metalor in 2013, initially in Refining Sales. In 2014, he became Refining Business Unit Manager, leading the development of a new precious metal refinery. KL was Vice Chairman of SBMA from 2017 to 2021, now serving as Chairman. With a degree in business commerce, finance, and marketing, he brings prior experience from refinery and heavy industries.

SBMA - Charting the Glittering Success - Albert Photo

ALBERT CHENG is a gold industry veteran, with over 30 years working in the field in various capacities. He is currently the honorary CEO of SBMA and advisor to the World Gold Council and Shanghai Gold Exchange. Before his retirement in 2015, he spent more than 20 years at the World Gold Council, becoming managing director, Far East in 2003.