Fixed Deposits

A Basic Guide to Foreign Currency Fixed Deposit Accounts

Foreign currency fixed deposit accounts are fairly similar to SGD fixed deposit accounts, but differ by introducing the risk of variable foreign exchange rates. This guide reviews how these deposits work, covering key factors that drive interest earned and important risks to consider.

Table of Contents:

What are Foreign Currency Fixed Deposit Accounts?

Foreign currency fixed deposit accounts allow consumers to convert SGD to foreign currency units, which are then deposited for a set period of time, earning interest at a predetermined rate. These bank-offered interest rates are contingent on the tenure of the deposit, as well as the amount of funds deposited. For the most part, longer periods and higher deposit amounts earn at higher interest rates. When the deposit tenure ends, the deposited funds are converted back to SGD according to prevailing foreign exchange rate.

Banks across Singapore offer foreign currency fixed deposits for a variety of foreign currencies, each with unique interest rates. Offered currencies usually include USD (United States), AUD (Australia), CAD (Canada), GBP (UK) and more. Surprisingly, different banks offer different interest rates for the same countries. For example, one bank might offer 0.78% p.a. interest for an AUD10,000 deposit across 6 month tenure, while another might offer 1.7% p.a.

In most cases, banks require a minimum deposit, usually in terms of foreign currency units. Requirements usually fall between 5,000–10,000 units. However, some countries tend to have higher, specific requirements. For example, JPY (Japan) and CNH (China) often have minimum deposit requirements of 250,000+ units.

Factors that Determine Total Deposit Earnings

The final amount earned from a foreign currency fixed deposit is highly dependent on 4 factors: the amount invested, foreign currency exchange rate, bank-offered interest rate and deposit tenure.

To begin, consumers must decide on how much they'd like to invest in terms of foreign currency units. This determines the amount paid in terms of SGD, based on the current foreign currency exchange rate. For example, opting to invest USD10,000 would require SGD13,800 payment if the exchange rate is 1.38 (USD1=SGD1.38). This initial exchange rate is very important, as it determines whether consumers will gain or lose money when their deposit matures, and funds are converted back to SGD.

Converting Currency for Initial Investment

DescriptionValue
Desired Foreign Currency Deposit AmtUSD10,000
Foreign Currency Exchange Rate1.38
SGD Pay-In for Foreign Currency DepositSGD13,800

The next key components are interest rate, deposit size and tenure. In fact, tenure and deposit size drive interest rate values. Longer tenures and greater deposit sizes often are associated with higher interest rates. In fact, some banks, like UOB, tend to only offer interest rates for lengthy tenures and large deposits for select currencies–notably, AUD and GBP. Interest rates can range from as little as 0.05% p.a. to nearly 3% p.a., depending on the bank and currency.

Finally, at the end of the deposit tenure, foreign currency units are converted back to SGD at the prevailing foreign currency exchange rate. Herein, the value of the fixed deposit is determined. While fixed deposits will always accrue interest, these earnings can be completely wiped out if the final exchange rate is lower than the initial exchange rate. In other words, if the foreign currency of the deposit becomes proportionally weaker than SGD during its tenure, the value of the deposit will become lower than the amount invested once converted back to SGD–hence, an actual loss for the consumer. On the other hand, if the exchange rate remains constant or increases, the consumer can substantially boost their earnings.

Illustrated Loss: Decrease in Exchange Rate

Part I: InvestmentDeposit TermsPart II: Maturation
InputSGD13,800Interest Rate1.50% p.a.Deposit TotalUSD10,073.91
FX Rate1.38Tenure6 monthsFX Rate1.36
DepositUSD10,000Int. EarnedUSD73.91RedeemedSGD13,700.60
Total Loss: SGD(-99.40)

On the other hand, if the exchange rate remains constant or increases, the consumer can substantially boost their earnings.

Illustrated Gain: Increase in Exchange Rate

Part I: InvestmentDeposit TermsPart II: Maturation
InputSGD13,800Interest Rate1.50% p.a.Deposit TotalUSD10,073.91
FX Rate1.38Tenure6 monthsFX Rate1.40
DepositUSD10,000Int. EarnedUSD73.91RedeemedSGD14,103.56
Total Gained: SGD303.56

Ultimately, the variability of foreign exchange rates introduces an element of risk to foreign currency fixed deposits. Nonetheless, there's a greater likelihood of gain than loss as inherent interest rates bolster final earnings. In fact, the final amount gained by an increased exchange rate would be larger than the corresponding loss of a decrease equal in size.

How Exchange Rates Impact Bank-Offered Interest Rates

Foreign currency exchange rates influence more than just whether a fixed deposit will earn or lose money; they also factor into what interest rates banks offer. Countries with relatively stable currencies tend to be paired with lower interest rates; those with greater variability or risk are paired with higher interest rates. In fact, most Singaporean banks offer 0% interest on fixed deposits in Euros, JPY (Japanese Yen), and CHF (Swiss Franc). In this case, banks simply convert SGD to the foreign currency, and after a fixed period, it's converted back. If these currencies strengthen during that period, the consumer still earns money–even without an attached interest rate.

Risks and Benefits of Foreign Currency Fixed Deposits

As discussed, there is a clear risk to foreign currency fixed deposits. Unlike SGD fixed deposits, they can potentially lose money. Consumers can also lose their interest and potentially face penalty fees if they withdraw their funds before the end of the deposit's tenure.

Nonetheless, potential gains outweigh potential loss for these types of accounts, as long as the deposit comes with an interest rate. Opting for a "safer" currency also decreases the probability of loss. Even more, account holders can often extend or renew their deposit, so there's no need to convert currency back to SGD if the exchange rate is currently low. Overall, a foreign currency fixed deposit is a great option if you're looking for a low-maintenance way to earn on savings and are willing to take a slight risk.

Carrie Arndt

Carrie is a Senior Analyst at ValueChampion, specialising in credit cards in Singapore. She previously led consumer studies worldwide as a Senior Research Executive at MMR Research.

Comments and Questions