Singapore’s Financial Sector: A Hub of Innovation & Sustainability

5th May 2023

Singapore is now a globally renowned financial hub and of the most important ones in Asia. In the short 50 years since its independence, the city-state has established itself as a leading global financial centre. The government’s proactive measures to be one step ahead in case of crises and the focus on sustainable finance and FinTech have set the country apart from other destinations. Associations with an interest in the sector can only benefit by organizing an event there.

Words Vicky Koffa

Climbing up the financial ladder was only natural for a country like Singapore. Given its strategic geographical location, Singapore quickly became a major trade epicentre and this created the need for an advanced financial sector to support the trading activities. The government quickly seized the opportunity and provided the right conditions for this development.

Singapore’s Pull Factors

Underpinned by a stable political status and effective regulatory landscape, skilled and experienced workforce, extensive network of free trade agreements and international connectivity, Singapore is an attractive hub for finance and fintech. Measures against crime and money laundering and favorable legal and tax policies create a platform of integrity and safety that few can resist. Business-friendly regulations help to protect employers and employees alike and to maintain a risk-free environment for investment and operations.

In fact, Singapore is home to many top financial institutions, including Singapore-based DBS which has been named “Best Bank in the World” by renowned financial publications. Major tech firms such as Google and Facebook have also set up regional headquarters on the island. The most recent addition in 2020 was the Banque de France, which opened its first Asian office in Singapore and second overseas after New York. The office’s role is to bring the bank closer to central banks and financial authorities in the Asia-Oceania region and monitor Asian economies.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

The presence of important banks, wealth management firms, insurance corporations, commodities traders and treasury-related companies is why the financial and insurance sector is a major contributor to Singapore’s economy. After manufacturing, it is the second highest driver of GDP growth, comprising over 3,413 financial institutions with key sub-sectors including Financial Technology, Banking, Insurance, Asset Management and Capital Markets.

In September 2021, the London-based think tank Z/Yen and the China Development Institute published the 30th Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) survey, where Singapore ranks 4th in competitiveness as a global financial centre. Similarly, it was ranked 2nd in PriceWaterHouseCooper’s City of Opportunity index and 6th largest wealth management centre in the world by Deloitte. As far as safety goes, Singapore was ranked 11th in the world and top in Asia for having the best IP protection in the U.S. Chamber International IP Index 2020.

Fully Supported by the Government

In order to keep up with the ever-changing rules of finance, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) presented last year the refreshed Financial Services Industry Transformation Map (ITM) 2025. The Map outlines growth strategies, training programs, and an agenda for continuous innovation and technology adoption. Its vision is to anchor Singapore as a leading international financial centre in Asia that connects global markets, supports Asia’s development and serves Singapore’s economy.

In this framework, the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Programme in Finance was adopted to strengthen customer service, risk management, and business competitiveness. As innovation has a central role in the development, Sandbox Plus (which provides effective one-stop assistance to firms) was created to strengthen FinTech.

To solidify its position as a player in the blockchain technology, the government launched the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Programme. Regulations have also been updated to focus more on an activity basis rather than an entity-based approach. This allows room for innovation and the expansion of blockchain technologies.

Sustainable Finance

The evolution of the sector is here to stay and be beneficial for the country and its people. In 2019, MAS launched its Green Finance Action Plan to support a sustainable Singapore and strengthen the sector’s resilience to environmental risks. One of its initiatives are the green and sustainability-linked loans, which support companies by defraying the expenses of engaging independent service providers to validate the green and sustainability credentials of the loan.

Furthermore, the use of environmental, social and governance (ESG) guidelines and transparent reporting are becoming mandatory for companies (e.g., for the ones listed in Singapore Exchange). The government has also issued green bonds to fund public infrastructure projects, including Singapore’s first integrated water and waste treatment facility, Tuas Nexus.

No Place Better for an Event

In this advanced ‘smart’ and sustainable financial environment, businesses and thought-leaders have more opportunities for collaboration. The attraction of association conferences is inevitable as Singapore offers easy access to a pool of financial minds and ample inter-sectoral connections.

In November 2022, more than 62,000 participants  (a record turnout for the event) from over 115 countries came together to engage and collaborate on issues relating to the development of financial services, public policy, and technology. The Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) 2022 took place at Singapore EXPO featuring more than 850 speakers from the private and public sectors. As a result, the government announced Project Orchid that explores the use of purpose-bound money. 

Singapore Blockchain Week 2022 brought 10,000 participants together to build a clear image of digital evolution and develop Singapore as a premier Blockchain hub. Hosted by Blockchain Association of Singapore, the meeting was the of the biggest government-supported hybrid blockchain events in Asia. The world’s largest gathering of insurance leaders and innovators, InsureTech Connect Asia, is also coming to Sands Expo & Convention Centre on 30 May-1 June 2023. Over the course of three days, the industry will convene to showcase new innovations, to learn how to increase productivity and reduce costs. 

All in all, Singapore’s commitment to taking proactive measures to anticipate crises, and its emphasis on sustainable finance and FinTech, distinguish it from other destinations and make it an appealing hub for associations interested in these topics.

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