Keynote Address By Ms Indranee Rajah Senior Minister Of State For Law And Finance At The Institute Of Singapore Chartered Accountants’ Event “Our Future Together: Future Of Professional Learning And Entrepreneurship”
Mr Gerard Ee, President of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants
Dr Hilary Lindsay, President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
Professor Mark Allison, Executive Director, Education, of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
Ladies and Gentlemen
Collaborating, Advancing and Navigating for our Future
1. First, thank you very much for inviting me to this event. It’s a very exciting event, because I’m sure all of you get the sense that there is change in the air. There is change in the way things are done, there is change in the economy, there’s change politically, which have a knock-on effect. But whatever it is, things are not staying still. Learning is the key to being able to navigate that change. And ISCA’s been doing very good work in this space.
2. As many of you may know, the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) was convened in 2016 to review Singapore’s economic strategies, and it recently released its recommendations. The topic of the report launched today is aligned with the CFE’s call for Singapore’s workforce to be inspired to learn throughout their lives and for businesses to be innovative and nimble. The world is in a period of change, with industries and jobs evolving rapidly. But I think that so long as we continue to collaborate with partners, advancing through learning and navigating through new markets, Singapore will be able to sail through the changes and be ready for the future. Singaporeans love their acronyms, so here’s one: Collaborating, Advancing, and Navigating, so CAN – can-do society, and that encapsulates our attitudes and challenges ahead. So let’s start with the first one – collaboration.
Collaborating with Partners
3. Collaborating with partners within and outside the accountancy sphere. That’s going to be important going forward. We see a wave of collaborations amongst accountancy professional bodies. This is something that is happening globally. Today sees one such collaboration, and I would like to congratulate ISCA on the signing of the reciprocal membership agreements or RMAs with The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), and The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), and we will soon witness that.
4. With the RMAs, individuals who have completed the Singapore CA Qualification and hold the Chartered Accountant of Singapore designation can now look forward to wider international recognition, and greater career mobility in key financial and business centres around the world. So kudos to ISCA and the Singapore Accountancy Commission, which developed the qualification, for making this happen.
5. Apart from the two RMAs, I also understand that ISCA will be signing Memoranda-of-Understanding (MOU) with ICAEW and ICAS, so that members of the three bodies can interact, collaborate and exchange ideas on best practices and innovation.
6. During the CFE discussions, the importance of having market knowledge of regional economies, skills in analytics and in other growth areas was discussed. So it really is important to have that determination to collaborate and innovate to gain knowledge and skills.
Advancing through Learning
7. Another way to be ready for the future is by advancing through learning. The education system in Singapore is undergoing change. I was happy to be part of that when I was with the Ministry of Education a couple of years back, before I joined the Ministry of Finance. It was really a very exciting period, because we were instituting quite a lot of changes in the way children learn, how our students learn, and the approach to pedagogy, and also the whole concept of what defines success. And there was a greater understanding that different people learn in different ways, and that different people have different talents.
8. The key to education is to bring out those different talents. Not try to squeeze everybody to a one-size-fits-all mould, but really to make the best of the different and unique talents that individuals have. These programmes that the Ministry of Education has been working on are really to enable students to better apply the theoretical knowledge that they learn in the classroom (applied learning), gain practical work experience, and understand where their passions lie. This is a win-win situation, as employers are also in a better position to identify, engage and hire the talent that they need. Our students are being encouraged to learn outside the classroom, through exchange programmes and internships, whether locally or overseas, and these experiences help mould the students, just as a potter moulds clay and creates a masterpiece.
9. These experiences will, we hope, hone the tenacity, grit and soft skills of students which will put them in good stead to be ready for their future as competent accounting professionals and leaders of the accountancy profession.
10. Advancing through learning is even more important for accounting professionals. An observation highlighted in the ISCA-ICAEW report is the need for accountants to possess intellectual curiosity and stay nimble in this environment. The Government can facilitate and enable opportunities for the profession. But it can’t replace the enterprising spirit, the desire for continuous learning, or the perseverance of the individual. So the onus is on individuals to embark on their own learning journeys. There are now modular courses, which help to provide professionals with more convenience and flexibility in their learning journeys. I would encourage professionals to continually upgrade and gain skills especially in growth areas such as risk management, internal audit and business valuation. Those are areas that have a lot of potential to grow. They also have high value-add, so these are areas which we hope accounting professionals will pay serious attention to, and move into.
11. As individuals seek to continuously learn and upgrade themselves, employers, too, play an important role in fostering lifelong learning in their organisations. Give them time off to go and get their learning done. I know there are billable hours to be met and there are things to be done, but let them learn because then they will be able to improve the value that they can offer and advance. Flexible work arrangements, for example, will help encourage employees to upgrade themselves. The CFE recommendations also called for trade associations to step forward to do more in helping workers to prepare for jobs of the future. Accountancy professional bodies can play a part by offering mentorship, networking and training opportunities.
12. During the CFE discussions, we also heard a lot of comments that there is room to grow the soft skills of our professionals for them to build stronger relationships with clients. Having technical skills is important, but professionals also need soft skills. To do so, I would like to encourage all of you here today to make use of all the networking and mentorship opportunities available.
Navigating new markets
13. Third, to be future-ready, navigating new markets to seize opportunities. The CFE calls for Singaporeans to be the “pioneers of the next generation”. One of the ways of doing so is to build a creative and entrepreneurial nation willing to take risks. An entrepreneurial nation needs enterprising professional accountants who possess business acumen, and are willing to step out of their comfort zone. I urge accountants to take the bull by the horns and actively pursue overseas exposure and opportunities working in emerging markets, in particular Asia, where there is high growth and hence, greater opportunities. When I say take risk, I don’t mean ethical risk by the way – I mean business risk. The ethical requirements of the profession must always remain the same and that must be of a high standard and high quality.
14. ISCA’s overseas study mission trips for progressive small and medium-sized accounting practices (SMPs) are commendable too. These trips allow Singapore SMPs to foster collaboration, share their knowledge, and network with potential ASEAN partner firms to explore collaboration and capture opportunities in the fast growing Asian market. I hope ISCA will continue its good work in supporting accounting firms to venture overseas.
15. Let me end with a quote by Mark Twain. He said; “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Through Collaborating with partners, Advancing through learning and Navigating through new markets, you CAN be ready for the future of professional learning and entrepreneurship.
16. Thank you very much.