9 November 2015

Gaining from Singapore as a Smart Nation

Marcus Treacher, Global Head of Innovation, Payments and Cash Management, HSBC
(This article was first published on 9 November 2015 by The Edge)

Long regarded as a critical hub for the corporate treasurer, Singapore is fast acquiring another title under its belt – as a leading innovation centre in Asia –under the government’s Smart Nation vision. Marcus Treacher, HSBC’s Global Head of Innovation for Payments and Cash Management, shares about the real benefits companies can expect to reap from the government’s innovation drive and how they need to transform themselves into Smart Companies.

Singapore is in the process of transforming itself into an outstanding innovation hub that is revered around the world as a Smart nation. the Smart Nation programme ultimately aims to leverage information and communication technologies, networks and data to increase connectivity, competiveness and productivity, improving the welfare of Singaporean citizens in the process.

The government has already started to put in place the necessary infrastructure, policies, ecosystem and capabilities that will help achieve this goal, and at the same time it has also turned to the corporate world to help build and create new connected solutions, systems and platforms.

For example, Singapore has seen an increasing number of companies setting up innovation centres here in the past few years. The financial services sector, in particular, has taken the lead on this to leverage technology to fundamentally transform product and services offerings and delivery.

Most recently, HSBC opened a financial technology (FinTech) innovation lab at its Collyer Quay premises, focusing on corporate banking needs in payments, trade and supply chain, but also covering the full range of HSBC services including retail, to help bring the key financial themes of the Smart Nation initiative to life.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has identified six imperatives for the FinTech sector – digital and mobile payments; authentication and biometrics; block chains and distributed ledgers; cloud and software as a service; big data; and learning machines.1

Take the area of digital mobile payments, for example. Mobile devices have changed the customer experience and are forcing organisations to constantly rethink how they engage with their customers and employees, particularly as the world is fast becoming a cashless society and payments are increasingly made not at physical in-store touch points but online. The reality is that a mobile device today isn’t simply a phone anymore.

In line with this growing digital and mobile phenomenon, financial services providers are looking into understanding the needs of all parties in the end-to-end distribution chains to come up with more adequate solutions, relevant platforms and their software, as well as to maximise take-up of these solutions to replace traditional cash and cheque services. This, thereby, supports the elimination of cash and improves efficiency on the whole.

As companies embrace setting up online selling to reach a wider pool of markets and geographies, banks and other financial services providers will also need to look into more intuitive and efficient ways to facilitate online payments and receivables via enterprise applications. A mobile to mobile cross border service might be developed, for example, to explore how Singapore’s mobile-enabled clearing system might be connected with existing national mobile services to create an international low value payment capability.

Another area which financial services providers focused on innovation are closely watching is block chains and distributed ledgers. Commonly associated with Bitcoin, the technology behind the crypto-currency has attracted much attention as a faster, potentially cheaper and arguably safer method of making payments than conventional bank transfers. This further development and wider use of such technology is likely to have a significant impact in the future, with advantages for corporates revolving around real-time gross settlement and currency exchange, lower cost of operation, and greater resilience against system failure.

It is essential for corporates to realise, however, that a significant part of translating the government’s vision of a Smart Nation into reality rests on their very shoulders.

Corporates need to capitalise on what is clearly a significant initiative of the Singapore government, to actively pursue and demonstrate a culture of innovation and turn themselves into Smart Companies. They can take confidence in the Lion City’s top-notch Intellectual Property protection rights to bring their best people and technology here to drive the innovation agenda.

But most importantly, companies must first have the strong commitment to execute the innovation program, consider their strategic imperatives, explore how they can arm themselves with the right tools and knowledge and then transform holistically through their own people, processes and structures.

Gaining from Singapore as a Smart Nation (2-page PDF 130KB)

1Read MAS' speech on "A Smart Financial Centre"..