Centred around the theme of building resilient business models that are viable, responsible and more inclusive, this year’s edition of Singapore Fintech Festival (SFF) kickstarted by introducing the Singapore government’s latest initiatives to prepare for a decentralised future with sustainable outcomes.
These were announced by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, Lawrence Wong, in his opening address earlier today (Nov 2). He had also expressed that Singapore hopes to position itself as a center for innovative and responsible digital asset activities through its new initiatives.
The initiatives include the trialling of the purpose bound digital Singapore Dollar, the launch of eGuarantee@Gov, and the third round of funding for MAS’s financial sector technology and innovation scheme.
Streamlining and improving business processes
The pandemic has been a significant catalyst to digitalisation. Basic financial services, such as bank transfers, have migrated to online channels — and all of these were made possible due to all of Singapore’s earlier investments into its digital infrastructure.
On top of that, the pandemic accelerated the digitalisation of businesses, and the government is also providing full support for this effort as Singapore is constantly looking for ways to use digital technology to streamline and further improve business processes.
“An example of this would be our SMEs Go Digital programme, which was launched to help SMEs make use of digital tech to enhance productivity and generate new sources of revenue,” said Minister Wong.
In conjunction with its efforts to streamline and improve business processes, the government has now launched eGuarantee@Gov.
eGuarantee@Gov is a collaborative initiative by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Ministry of Finance (MOF) to digitalise bankers guarantees and insurance bonds that are provided to government agencies.
Previously, companies that apply for guarantees and bonds would require physical documents that would only be processed after a few days. This can now be done over a day, fully online.
We hope that the collaboration will lead to a significant deduction in time and effort to process guarantees and ultimately benefit the individual and business users.– Lawrence Wong, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Trialling purpose bound digital Singapore Dollars
In his opening address, Minister Wong also announced the trial of purpose bound digital Singapore Dollars.
The new innovation enables people to specify the usage conditions of the digital Singapore Dollar, such as when and where these digital monies can be used.
This ability opens up a wide variety of use cases. For example, parents may ensure that the allowance of their children may only be used for meals and school supplies.– Lawrence Wong, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
To test this, the government will trial the use of purpose bound digital Singapore Dollar-backed vouchers to make purchases at participating merchants at SFF itself. This trial will provide immense learning opportunities as Singapore advances its financial infrastructure.
Improving the access to foreign markets
He also noted that tech has the potential to enhance Singapore’s connectivity with other countries, especially its payments connectivity.
Cross-border payments are still inefficient and costly, but this can be changed with tech. Currently, Singapore is exploring a variety of approaches to tackle cross-border payment problems.
One of it is to establish linkages between the real-time payment systems of Singapore’s key regional partners. Last year, Singapore announced the linkage between the real-time payment systems of Singapore’s PayNow and Thailand’s PromptPay.
The linkage extends the same benefits from PayNow to fund transfers between Singapore and Thailand.
This will not only benefit businesses by reducing cost and improving access to foreign markets, but also provides a faster and cheaper alternative for individuals. For example, foreigners working in Singapore who need to send money back home can stand to gain from this linkage.
With the immense benefits this brings, Singapore is also working to build similar connectivity with Malaysia and India.
“We can expect to see higher transaction volumes once these linkages are established,” said Minister Wong.
Empowering SMEs with an integrated trade and finance ecosystem
If utilised well, tech can be a powerful tool for micro, small and medium businesses. Helping these businesses achieve their potential will bring significant impact on economic and social development.
To bring about this impact, MAS will also be working with its partners to develop integrated trade and finance ecosystems to support financial empowerment to such enterprises.
“This includes partnering with in country public entities for Ghana with the United Nation Capital Development Fund for the world’s least developed countries, as well as with the International Finance Corporation globally on financial literacy and building financial trust,” explained Minister Wong.
Once these ecosystems are in place, enterprises in these countries can access a whole range of capabilities such as financial education, financial services, and government support via an open digital infrastructure.
As these enterprises make use of the infrastructure, they will also build up their verified digital finance and business profile over time. These profiles can be utilised by financial institutions to better understand enterprises and imp their risk assessment.
Governments can also depend on these profiles when providing them with support such as local resources and programmes.
We hope that this can open up more opportunities for Singapore’s financial and business sectors to participate in the development journeys of these countries.– Lawrence Wong, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Supporting the creation of a vibrant financial sector ecosystem
Singapore introduced the financial sector technology and innovation scheme (FSTI) to support the creation of a vibrant ecosystem for innovation in the financial sector back in 2015.
So far, the FSTI has received two rounds of funding since its inception.
For the first tranche of its funding, the government awarded over S$100 million of grant funding for close to 500 projects. For its second round of funding, the government provided over S$200 million in committed funding for more than 1,000 projects.
The scheme brought about many positive outcomes, and these include creating over 200 jobs through the setting up of new innovation labs, catalysing industry efforts to adopt cutting-edge tech, and supporting the growth of young startups into tech players with a strong nexus to financial services.
To further propel the growth of the financial sector, MAS will provide the third tranche of funding today, with a fresh commitment of S$150 million for the next three years. More details will be unveiled in the first quarter of next year.
View your insurance policies on SGFinDex
Other than empowering small businesses, tech can also be leveraged by individuals to craft a better future.
Planning for your finances, for example, is a step towards having less stress in life and building a more resilient financial future. But to do an in-depth review of your financial situation, you need access to data.– Lawrence Wong, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
To aid Singaporeans to take control of their finances, SGFinDex was introduced back in 2020 to give individuals an overview of information from the banks and government agencies, such as loans, deposits and CPF balances.
“With a few clicks of a button, individuals can access data from different private and public agencies, all consolidated in one page, making it significantly easier to get a sense of [their] financial situation,” explained Mr Wong.
He announced that SGFinDex has a new update today — individuals will now be able to view their insurance policies. With the new update, Singaporeans can now identify gaps in their insurance policies easily and have a more comprehensive view of their financial position.
Moving forward, the government hopes to onboard more financial institutions on the platform, as well as include a wider range of financial information for a more comprehensive overview and greater convenience in financial planning.
The phasing out of physical cheques
With electronic payments actively adopted in Singapore, MAS aims to phase out all corporate cheque usage by 2025.
The use of cheques have declined in Singapore especially after the pandemic, from 32 per cent in 2016 to seven per cent in 2022.
However, amongst individual cheque users, MAS recognised that some people are still not comfortable with e-payments, especially senior citizens.
To ensure inclusivity, MAS will provide a longer runway for individuals to switch to e-payment methods. This also provides more time for MAS to consider those who are unable to adopt e-payments, and look into necessary transitional support.
Preparing for a decentralised future
Minister Wong emphasised on MAS’s stance on the speculative trading nature of crypto by retail investors.
MAS believes that trading crypto is highly risky and not suitable for the general public. Most recently, it came up with new proposals aimed to reduce risk of potential harm to consumers in the crypto space.
But there should be no doubt that we are embracing the technology of distributed ledgers and the potential that they have to transform financial markets.– Lawrence Wong, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Hence, this led to the launch of Project Guardian earlier this year, to explore the potential of asset tokenisation in the industry.
Currently, MAS has successfully carried out the first industry trials, featuring the cross currency transactions and the trading of tokenised securities, which helped deepen the government’s understanding of the digital asset ecosystem.
Tackling climate change one step at a time
Minister Wong also touched on the existential issues that come with climate change, such as global warming.
Singapore believes that tech can play a key role in overcoming climate change. Currently, it is investing in new tech to help decarbonise its economy, such as low carbon hydrogen.
However, the ESG fintech landscape is still nascent in Singapore. To identify key use cases and growth strategies in this space, MAS will be partnering KPMG and Singapore Fintech Association.
To set a positive example in Singapore’s nascent ESG fintech landscape, the carbon emissions for SFF this year will be measured, and this will be used as a guide for decarbonisation efforts for subsequent festivals.
An inaugural ESG fintech zone has also been set up within SFF, as the government recognises the need to channel finance and fintech towards addressing this global crisis.
Featured Image Credit: Singapore Fintech Festival 2022