Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the press conference for the sectoral company visit to PwC Singapore

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the press conference for the sectoral company visit to PwC Singapore

1. Good morning everyone. This is part of our ongoing series where we will share with you the challenges and opportunities in the various sectors, and how jobs are being created for fellow Singaporeans. 

2. As I  mentioned some time back, we are not going back to the pre-COVID world, and we will have to learn to not only survive, but to thrive in a COVID world. We do not know how long the COVID situation will last, but it is important for us, in every sector, every industry to start thinking about how we can continue to serve our customers well, do our business well and get on with the training of our workers and upgrading of our workers now. 

3. Today, we are here with the professional services sector. It is a high growth sector for Singapore and for the world. It is a sector which many Singaporeans  aspire to join, and also very important for Singapore as a business hub. The professional services sector underpins our status as a business hub, and how well it does will also determine and shape the future trajectory of Singapore's growth. 

4. If we do well, we are able to service the biggest, the best and most innovative firms from around the world in Singapore. If we do well, we are able to create many opportunities for Singaporeans not just in Singapore, but also in the region and different parts of the world. The sector does not just create jobs for Singaporeans in Singapore, it also creates very high value-added and  challenging jobs for Singaporeans beyond Singapore, and that is how we are able to grow our external wing as well. So, beyond businesses going overseas, it is also about our people going overseas.

5. Now, let me start with some of the unique characteristics of the professional services sector. This sector is quite different from traditional sectors like manufacturing or even bio-med. This sector is very knowledge intensive, it is what we call an intellectual capital heavy sector. Because of that, it has also certain unique characteristics that we should be mindful of. To be frank, the challenges and opportunities are both global. Because we serve the international market, we are deeply connected to the rest of the world. It also begs the question as to why such professional services firms want to be in Singapore and not elsewhere.

6. This is a critical question because they can easily operate anywhere - be it PwC, KPMG, Boston Consulting and so forth. They are all intellectual capital heavy, but they are not asset heavy, as in buildings, machineries and so forth. It is very important for us to remain attractive to this type of firms, so that our people can have the opportunities to fulfil their potential.

7. Why are they attracted to Singapore, or what are the factors that attract them to any particular place - I will put it down to three factors:  access to talent, connectivity and innovation.

8. Innovation is also partly a function of the ability to access talent where the rich diversity of talent that they can aggregate at a certain place and generate new ideas, new products and services for the businesses that they are supporting.

9. Singapore's reputation as a hub for talent is hard won. But at the same time, this reputation can also be easily lost if we are not careful. So, we must continuously look at how we strengthen our ability to grow and attract talent to serve the global market. We must continuously strengthen our connectivity, not just the physical connectivity of air, land and sea, but also the non-physical aspects of our connectivity in terms of data flows, financial flows, regulatory understanding, technology flows and talent flows. If we continue to do this well, then we have every opportunity to continue to excel as a global business hub with a very strong, vibrant professional services sector.

10. Now, let me touch on what has been changing even before COVID, and what will accelerate with COVID for this particular sector so that then we will have a context of the type of jobs that we are creating and the type of skill sets that we need. 

11. Even prior to COVID, the online integration has flattened the entire terrain to make this sector a globally connected sector. We are able to access opportunities beyond Singapore, we are able to create products and services to serve the market beyond Singapore, from Singapore. On the other hand, it also means that other people elsewhere can compete with Singaporeans or Singapore businesses even without being in Singapore. This is a very significant change. 

12. In this sector there is little, if any, geographical insulation. It is all about who has the best team, who has the talent, who is able to better connect with his clients and who can better innovate. The competition is no longer local. Neither is the competition on a single domain. 

13. I think PwC is a very good example. If we  still think that PwC is an accounting firm, then we cannot be more wrong. Today, if PwC is just an accounting firm, then it would have been displaced long ago by a super excel spreadsheet. But today, PwC, as with many of the professional services firms, does not just provide services in a single domain be it accounting, legal consultancy or business consultancy. 

14. In fact, more often than not, as demonstrated by what PwC has shown us today, they provide a whole range of services which complements one another - from risk management to assurance, to compliance and beyond the traditional bookkeeping and business consultancy, and helping businesses to digitalise and transform. This can play to Singapore's advantage, because whoever can train their workers in the suite of adjacent competencies will be better able to protect their competitive position amidst the global competition.

15. All these have already happened before COVID, but let me now touch on what COVID has changed. With COVID, there are now greater uncertainties across the entire business landscape. Many businesses are looking for sharper analysis, clearer ideas on how they can deal with the uncertainties, transform their business models to survive and thrive in a COVID world. Many companies will accelerate their transformation processes.

16. But in this acceleration of their transformation, they will need better and sharper analysis, and trusted partners that can walk this journey with them. With the evolution of the global geopolitical situation, many companies are also very concerned with their ability to operate across different markets in a bifurcating, or in a fragmenting world. And it is very important to be able to site their operations out of a place that they can service different parts of the global ecosystem, even in a bifurcating or fragmenting world. And therein lies an opportunity for Singapore.

17. Having said that, let me touch on how we intend to strengthen our competitive advantages in this sector, and how we will position Singapore and our workers to emerge stronger through this crisis.

18. First, it is the government's responsibility to make sure that we establish the right macro conditions for the sector to thrive. We will continue to work hard on our conventional network of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to allow our firms to access markets beyond Singapore. More importantly, we are going to strengthen our efforts to build a whole new network of digital economy agreements. 

19. This is particularly important for firms like PwC and other professional services firms to access markets beyond Singapore, through the digital realm. We want to be seen as the hub where people can put their services and data here, and to exchange, analyse and process the data in a safe and secure environment.

20. Later, Minister Indranee will also share with you how we have also created a whole network of legal conventions on the legal front to establish ourselves as a choice location for the legal and financial services. So you can see how all these pieces are coming together for us to strengthen our position as the global Asia business hub.

21. Then, very importantly, we must continue to leverage  our brand of trust. Because in many of these professional services, it is not about just the technicalities – it is about whether the clients can trust us with their information and data, and whether they can trust the quality of our work. 

22. The quality of our work is increasingly not just about a single dimension of accounting or legal services. It is about the quality of our work in bringing about different competencies together to provide them a full suite of services – on business transformation and how they access new markets, as well as how they develop new products and services. So this is what we will work closely with the firms in the sector and other countries on to continue strengthening our macro-level advantages. 

23. At the same time, we must also strengthen the competencies of our workers in this area. I will try to now pull together the different parts of how we are doing this for our own people, for us to understand how fellow Singaporeans can emerge stronger from this crisis, and also to seize the opportunities that the new terrain has afforded us. 

24. First, if you look at MOE’s curriculum, particularly in the universities, increasingly we are no longer just looking at single domain subjects for our students. Increasingly, our universities, polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITEs) are training their students in cross-domain knowledge, because we believe that it is very important for us to broaden the knowledge areas of our students so that they have adjacent competencies that distinguish themselves from other students in other countries who might be more narrowly focused.

25. The other thing that we would have noticed in our education system is the need for us to have a stronger cultural understanding of the markets beyond Singapore. And later Oon Jin will be able to share with you some of the experience that PwC has in developing their own people. 

26. The fact that we have a certain proportion of international students and workers here allow our people to have the opportunity to better understand them even before we go into those markets. But of course, nothing beats going into those markets – staying, living and working there – to really get a feel of those markets. 

27. The second set of things that we need to do to make sure that our people excel in this sector is that we must enhance the exposure and internships of our people in these markets beyond Singapore. We have the Global Ready Talent Programme, and we have many companies initiatives like what PwC is doing, committing millions of dollars to upgrade the skills, knowledge and the cultural understanding of their workforce in order to serve the regional and global markets. This is very important. 

28. The third thing that we need to do is to make sure that we continue to encourage fellow Singaporeans to be willing to go overseas and acquire that overseas exposure. Just now during the sharing by PwC, and this is not the only time I have heard this from many of the big companies in Singapore that are serving the regional market, is that when any of the companies, big or small, look for regional leaders, they need people who have regional experience. 

29. That sounds quite simple – regional leaders need regional experience. And if Singaporeans are able to have some of this under their belt as they go through their career, it will be a big plus. Because on the flip side, when professionals hit their 40s and 50s, and they are going after regional and global positions, we will lose out if we do not or have not acquired those necessary exposure prior to that. To serve the regional markets, our people must have the regional experience.

30. Now, beyond going overseas, Singapore must be seen as the convener of international talent, where people from different places are able and attracted to come to Singapore, to contribute to Team Singapore. Because we serve the regional and global markets, we will have a diverse workforce, with diversity of talent and skillsets from different parts of the world to enrich our knowledge and enrich our network.

31. And this is particularly important now as the world threatens to bifurcates and fragment. In fact, a businessman  told me recently that while this may be the crisis of a generation, this moment can also be the opportunity of a generation for Singapore, for us to attract the very best from all around the world to come and join Team Singapore so that we create more opportunities for fellow Singaporeans in Singapore and beyond Singapore.

32. We are committed to strengthening our position as a global business hub. And for us to be a global business hub, we are committed to strengthening our attractiveness to businesses and talent to join Team Singapore in order for us to excel against our competitors. 

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