Professional share dealers are racing against the clock to pass a crucial new examination, imposed by the authorities, by a June 30 deadline.
They need to pass the exam in order to continue to serve clients seeking complex financial products such as covered warrants and exchange-traded funds.
Many are worried that their livelihood will be undermined if they fail to make the grade by the deadline.
If they do not pass the exam in time, they may have to give up serving valuable clients who want to trade such products in addition to the usual shares listed on the Singapore Exchange.
These complex products are known as specified investment products (SIPs).
Remisiers are self-employed agents attached to broking houses who get a 40 per cent share of the commission levied on the trades executed by their clients.
So far, no data is available on the number of remisiers, or trading representatives as they are known in the business, who have passed the Capital Markets and Financial Advisory Services Module 6A examination.
The exam was introduced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) last year to raise competency standards in the stockbroking industry.
One reason for the move was that many unsophisticated investors were burnt by complex investment products during the global financial crisis.
The consensus among industry insiders is that as many as half of the 4,000-strong sales force of dealers and remisiers serving investors in the stock market may not have cleared the hurdle yet.
The confusion over what might happen after the June 30 deadline is compounded by conflicting notifications sent out by the various brokerages to their remisiers.
One brokerage apparently told remisiers who have not passed the exam that if their clients trade SIPs on the Internet, they may not get the brokerage fee for the transactions. But they would still be liable for any losses incurred by the clients on the trades.
The remisiers also face the risk of losing clients trading SIPs who may be re-assigned to dealers who have passed the exam.
Amid the confusion, remisiers are up in arms over what they perceive as an attempt by some brokerages to capitalise on their plight. Mr Jimmy Ho, president of the Society of Remisiers (Singapore), said: "For any broking house to force a remisier to transfer a client to someone else because he has not passed an exam is morally and contractually wrong. These clients were sourced, nurtured and brought into the firm by the remisier."
Older remisiers, who have not taken exams for years, are aggrieved. "They are driving us out. They want new blood in the business and we cannot pass the exam. This is killing two birds with one stone," said remisier Jan Lam, 55.
But some brokerage bosses told The Straits Times they are working on an industry-wide solution to tackle the challenges thrown up by the new MAS requirement.
UOB Kay Hian senior executive director Esmond Choo said: "The industry is looking to resolve the problem, like setting up a central desk to answer clients' queries relating to SIP trades."
Issues such as the compensation a remisier may get from his clients' SIP trades even though he may not have passed the exam are also being thrashed out.
"There will be discussions with various parties, including the regulators," he said.
CIMB Securities chief executive Carol Fong also allayed the fears of her affected remisiers.
She said: "No decision has been made on client ownership and commission sharing. In making the decision, we will engage them on their views and regulatory position, after we have discussions with other industry participants.
At Maybank Kim Eng, chief executive Tan Pei-San said that while remisiers who have not passed Module 6A by the stipulated date would not get commissions from their clients' SIP trades, they will not be required to bear the risk for such trades.
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