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SGX: Investors, please come get your money

89,000 people have not claimed $68.3m of dividends and SingTel shares

Companies listed on the Singapore exchange have become takeover targets recently, with the total size of these deals so far this year reaching a record US$13 billionĀ - PHOTO: SPH

SOMEWHERE out there, someone has $1.2 million worth of unclaimed dividends.

The unknown investor is one of 89,000 people who have not claimed their dividends and SingTel shares amounting to $68.3 million as at mid-2013, despite the best efforts of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to contact them. Tomorrow, investors will be able to check if they have unclaimed assets at the website, using their NRIC or passport number. Investors can also call 6589-8039 during office hours on weekdays and on Saturday morning.

"We are highlighting this as part of our investor-education efforts," said SGX head of sales and clients Chew Sutat yesterday.

"Many investors in Singapore have a short-term trading mentality. They don't think about dividends," he added.

Unclaimed dividends come about when investors do not opt for them to be directly credited to their bank accounts, preferring instead to receive a cheque in the mail. About one in four investors have not signed up for SGX's direct crediting service.

The investors then forget that they have cheques to be cashed. For example, one investor had travelled often and did not have time to open his letters.

Another investor, retiree Madam Loh, 65, told SGX that she did not pay much attention to her investments over the years and had missed the cheques.

Thousands of shareholders do not cash their dividend cheques every year, SGX said.

But after six years, unclaimed dividends will be returned to the listed companies which distributed them. Currently, SGX is holding on to $53.7 million of dividends for 74,000 investors - around $726 per investor on average.

SGX said most investors with unclaimed dividends have less than $1,000 to claim back. Five per cent have unclaimed dividends of between $1,000 and $5,000, and 2 per cent have more than $5,000 of unclaimed dividends. One investor has unclaimed dividends of $1.2 million.

Meanwhile, SGX is also holding on to $14.6 million of unclaimed SingTel shares and dividends belonging to 15,000 investors without Central Depository (CDP) accounts.

The telco had held its initial public offering (IPO) in 1993, and Singaporeans could buy shares using their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings. But some did not follow through after the IPO to open a CDP account.

In the 20 years since 1993, after the shares were placed to Singaporeans at $2 a share, SingTel had paid out dividends of about $2.50 per share and it is currently trading at about $3.70 a share - an annualised return of almost 6 per cent a year, Mr Chew noted.

Due to privacy laws, SGX cannot approach brokers or CPF Board to get the latest contact details of the investors.

In some cases, SGX just has their NRIC numbers. In the last few months, however, it has managed to contact some and return $4 million of unclaimed assets.

David Gerald, CEO and president of investor lobby group Securities Investors Associations of Singapore (Sias), said it is encouraging to hear of real-life examples of investors who invested in shares for the long run and enjoyed good returns.

"Share investing is a crucial part of financial planning, and investors should monitor their company's corporate actions and developments," he noted.

The site and hotline to check for unclaimed assets will begin operating today at 8.30am. SGX will waive the administrative fee for the reissuance of dividend cheques and dividend crediting until Jan 26, 2014.

Clarification: In the above story, we gave the wrong impression that some unclaimed SingTel shares were bought with Central Provident Fund monies. The Singapore Exchange has pointed out that the affected shares were bought with cash only, which means the CPF Board is not involved in any way.