Singapore’s Edge as a Regional Digital Hub
Chris Wei, Executive Chairman of Asia and FPI and Global Chairman Aviva Digital, shares why he feels Singapore has edge over other digital hubs in Asia.
It was great fun when I guest-hosted a CNBC TV programme live in studio with Oriel Morrison earlier this week. David Gerald, CEO of the Securities Investors Association Singapore joined as a guest and we discussed Singapore’s position as a global and regional financial hub, its ongoing emergence as a digital centre for excellence, and its role in the larger Asia-Pacific economic infrastructure vis-a-vis Hong Kong.
The two markets have many similarities. Both share a largely Chinese heritage, are known for their decades of success as financial hubs, and simultaneously face challenges around the natural one-child families, aging populations and affordable housing.
Born in Hong Kong, I have deep feelings for this city known for entrepreneurship and deal-making ability. Its location and synergy with Mainland China also form a natural advantage when doing business there. Hong Kong has also become more competitive in startups, providing more support to this ecosystem with the recent launch of its own FinTech Week and the emergence of incubator and accelerator programmes such as Metta and SuperCharger HK.
Singapore on the other hand, is a financial hub where my family and I have lived and worked in for many years. The little red dot, as it’s affectionately called, didn’t become a success overnight. In fact, it took decades for the economy to become what it is today through open foreign trade and calibrated pro-business policies. Through the nation’s short history, it has continuously reinvented itself, not just from an economic standpoint, but also as a regional hub that is tailored to meet the needs of global investors and businesses. The hard work has paid off. Today, Singapore regularly tops lists for ease of doing business compared to its neighbours due in part to the city state’s dedication to developing transparent regulation and efficient infrastructure.
It’s fitting that Singapore, given its history of looking forward, would seek to reinvent itself again as a digital hub. MAS’s launch of the regulatory sandbox, funding support for startups, and the annual fintech festival, are illustrative of its commitment to drive digital transformation and innovation. Accordingly, the country is currently ranked first in the latest Asian Digital Transformation Index.
This is why we chose to set up Aviva’s Digital Garage in Singapore — the territory is at the forefront of innovation and the market size provides agility for organisations to test and learn. This desire to drive change and the city’s embrace of the need to keep pace with innovation is part of the reason for Singapore’s success. Development in regulation in the face of disruption plays a big role in enabling innovation and is also one of the biggest challenges that insurers face. MAS has invested heavily in setting transparent regulatory frameworks that provide financial institutions with greater clarity and a conducive environment to conduct business.
It is impossible to ignore the rapidly evolving landscape and innovation around digital. I articulate the digital journey as a marathon made up of continuous 100m sprints, and it is easy to fall behind after a few races. Therefore, Aviva is constantly looking for opportunities that would propel us to move faster. That is just what we aspire to achieve through our JV with Tencent and Hillhouse in Hong Kong. By partnering with companies which are global leaders in their fields, backed by strong support from the newly created Insurance Authority, Financial Secretary, HKMA, etc., we believe this new JV will disrupt the insurance industry in Hong Kong. In parallel, we expect Hong Kong to seize the opportunity and put up a formidable fight to retain its position as a major regional financial centre as well as a FinTech hub in Asia.
As business leaders, we need to recognise the importance and inevitability of this transformation. What the future holds is still out of focus, but what’s clear today is that disruption is here to stay and centres like Singapore and Hong Kong are important partners in the journey ahead.
First published on LinkedIn.