Keynote Address By Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister In Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister For Finance And Transport, At The CASE "Our Money, Our Rights" Carnival13 Mar 2010
Mr Yeo Guat Kwang
President of CASE,
Mr Lim Biow Chuan
1st Vice President of CASE,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Opening on World Consumer Rights Day
1. I am very happy to be here to celebrate the World Consumer Rights Day and to launch this carnival. The World Consumer Rights Day was first observed internationally in 1983 as a time for promoting, protecting and respecting basic rights of all consumers.
2. Few of us probably know that this occasion originated from an impassioned declaration that former U.S President, John F. Kennedy, made to the Congress in 1962, in which he extolled basic rights of the American consumer and the need for government and civil action to protect this group.
3. Then, JFK was primarily concerned about the safety of food and prescriptive drugs. I quote from his message:
“The typical supermarket before World War II stocked about 1,500 separate food items...but today it carries over 6,000. Ninety percent of the prescriptions written today are for drugs that were unknown 20 years ago…the housewife is called upon to be an amateur electrician, mechanic, chemist, toxicologist, dietitian, and mathematician--but she is rarely furnished the information she needs to perform these tasks proficiently.”
4. Indeed, just like JFK’s supermarket, the man on the street can now shop for a staggering array of financial products off the shelf, from loans, mortgages, pensions to insurance and investments. For the layperson, many of these are complex and difficult to understand. Regulations need to be put in place to ensure that clear information and professional advice is provided to protect consumers’ interests and ensure they are fairly represented.
5. A 21st century version would definitely include an even longer list of expertise and knowledge that a consumer needs to be equipped with. In the context of the financial crisis, an increasingly important issue is consumer protection in the area of financial services. The theme for this year’s World Consumer Rights Day, “Our Money, Our Rights”, aims to highlight the need for access to stable, secure and fair financial services for consumers.
Financial Protection and Education in Singapore
6. In Singapore, following the default of several structured notes in the midst of the global financial crisis, MAS and the Government have stepped up safeguards for consumers. MAS has announced proposals to strengthen regulatory framework for sale and advisory processes. In addition, MAS has intensified its supervision of financial institutions in the sale of investment products. Where there are breaches or non-compliance with MAS rules and regulations, appropriate action will be taken.
7. Separately, the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act was amended in 2009 to include financial products and services such as insurance, loans and investments. This will provide consumers the option to seek redress and civil remedies under the Act.
8. However, regulatory measures must also come hand in hand with consumer education and awareness. Building on the MoneySENSE national financial education programme, MoneySENSE and various partners like CASE have been stepping up efforts to enhance financial literacy of consumers. This includes helping Singaporeans to understand common financial products, informing them on how to exercise their rights as consumers, and equipping them with knowledge to understand risks better and to manage their financial affairs.
9. MoneySENSE has also partnered NTUC and grassroots organisations to fund educational programmes to reach out to the public. I am also told that MoneySENSE has been partnering MediaCorp to organize weekly radio programmes: “Managing Your Money” on 93.8 and “????” on Capital 95.8, which are both quite well-received.
Personal Responsibility over Financial Safety
10. The Government and CASE can put in place necessary safeguards and facilitate information flow. But ultimately, it is our personal responsibility to plan the way we use our hard-earned money and to be in charge of our financial safety and destiny. Just as we put in effort to continually pick up new skills and knowledge so that we can do well in our jobs, we need to take time to learn how to manage our money wisely. The best first investment we can make is to first invest in our own understanding of money matters.
11. Let me share two practical tips to keep in mind:
- First, do be wary of get-rich-quick schemes. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Second, always invest time when making financial decisions, instead of being pressured into signing up by aggressive salespersons, or by on-the-spot free gifts and discounts. It is useful to get a second opinion or to do some research before committing to financial products. There are many resources provided by the Government as well as CASE, industry associations and community groups, which you should leverage.
12. While the topic is serious, the day ahead is a fun-filled one. I understand that the organisers have put together a creative programme for this financial education carnival for consumers from all walks of life to learn about money matters through interactive and fun activities.
13. I wish you a very enjoyable and educational day ahead, and do not forget to drink lots of water in this weather.