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Speech By Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister for Finance, At The Official Launch Of The Singapore Business Advisors And Consultants Council

08 Nov 2013

Mr George Huang, Chairman of Singapore Business Advisors and Consultants Council (SBACC),
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. I am delighted to join you this morning for the official launch of the Singapore Business Advisors and Consultants Council, or SBACC in short.

Our new phase of development

2. I believe SBACC can play an important and constructive role in helping Singapore-based companies, especially our SMEs, to meet the challenges of economic restructuring.

3. We all know why we are restructuring our economy. The declining growth of our workforce, and increasingly tight supply of land, together necessitate new strategies for businesses to stay competitive, and for workers to grow their incomes. We must aim for quality growth – growth that is achieved through increased productivity, and growth that all Singaporeans can benefit from. 

4. This means going for quality in every area – our products and services, the technologies behind them, our marketing and distribution strategies, and quality of manpower and management. Above all, it means building a culture of constant improvement and innovation throughout our society.

5. In particular, it is critical that our SMEs are onboard in this journey, not just our large local enterprises and MNCs. The outcome of Singapore’s economic restructuring must be a revitalised and vibrant SME sector. It must include a strong base of globally competitive SMEs, and be able to offer Singaporeans high quality jobs.

How business consultants can help our SMEs

6. However, given their constraints, smaller SMEs are typically focused on day-to-day operations, rather than rethinking their business models or processes, or developing strategies to stay competitive a decade from now.

7. External consultants and business advisors can play a useful role to plug these gaps, by sharing experience and expertise. They can help SMEs in diagnosing and solving their problems, identifying new business opportunities, introducing new technologies and acquiring new capabilities.

8. Often too, the positive impact of business advisors lasts beyond the initial project, as success in innovation often breeds the desire for more innovation and more forward thinking. Consultants are thus a catalyst and an important part of our ecosystem for innovation.

9. One example is Tan Seng Kee (TSK) Foods Pte Ltd, a food manufacturing company specialising in rice and noodle products. To better retain manpower in our tight labour market, TSK embarked on an HR consultancy project in April last year, with a focus on its older workers. It was a comprehensive effort, including automation on the shopfloor, and training for older workers to take on new roles.  But TSK also initiated further HR improvement projects on its own, once the consultancy was over. This included starting an internship programme for tertiary students to build a new pipeline of potential recruits, and investing in a training programme to strengthen the company’s corporate culture.

10. We want to see many more such success stories, where not only are the original project goals achieved, but the companies become more sharply aware of the benefits of constant improvements, and develop the capabilities to pursue them on their own.

SBACC’s role

11. SBACC’s task is to develop strength in consulting and to match consultants with companies. Its work will help assure companies of the quality and calibre of the consultants it has certified, and will enable them to identify suitable candidates with the right domain of expertise.

12. SBACC is off to a good start. It has secured an experienced and highly credible group of business and public sector leaders to serve on its governing council. It has also formed partnerships with a wide group of industry bodies, professional agencies and tertiary institutions to support the development of its certification frameworks. To date, about 600 consultants have been certified under SBACC’s main Practicing Management Consultant (PMC) certification scheme.

Broadening and deepening the consultancy sector

13. SBACC’s aim now is to broaden the pool of certified consultants under its main PMC certification scheme to a total of 2,500 within 3 years. It also wants to deepen this pool. SBACC is therefore working with its partners to develop specialised domain area certification frameworks in areas such as Financial Management (FM), Human Resource (HR), Intellectual Property (IP), Productivity and even Bilingual Chinese.

14. I am glad that SBACC is considering certification for “age management [1], which refers to effective management to meet the needs of mature workers. I encourage SBACC to work with our Institutes of Higher Learning to grow the pipeline of age management and ‘silver productivity’ consultants.

15. SBACC has been working closely with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) in particular to ensure that we have suitable courses that consultants can enrol in to obtain specialised domain area certification. WDA will also provide advisory services to SBACC to support the continual development of certified consultants through master classes, workshops and other platforms. I am therefore pleased that SBACC and WDA will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) today to formalise this collaboration.

16. SBACC also plans to obtain the ISO17024 international standard for personnel certification by 2015, to demonstrate the robustness and credibility of its certification processes. This will also help SBACC in benchmarking its frameworks against similar bodies in other countries and establishing mutual recognition agreements in future. These in turn would help to open up overseas markets to our certified consultants and business advisors.

17. Finally, SBACC has secured a two-year renewable contract with AIG Insurance to provide professional liability coverage for claims made against PMC-certified consultants. This is a first-of-its-kind for the management consultancy industry in Singapore.

Upholding ethical conduct in consulting

18. SBACC’s initiatives would, in short, develop professionalism in the consultant industry, and make it easier for firms to find and select the right consultant to meet their needs.

19. I am heartened too that SBACC has in place a professional code of conduct and ethics, and a process where SBACC will undertake appropriate actions against certified consultants found to have engaged in misconduct and unethical behaviour. SBACC is keen to work with the Government and the SME Centres to prevent the few black sheep from tarring the rest of the industry.

20. The growth in the number of consultants in recent years has had its own problems. (Counting the number of business and management consultancy firms alone, there has been a 9% increase over the last 3 years or a total of 7,400 firms[2]). The expansion has invariably led to varying levels of quality within the industry. There have also been varying levels of ethical conduct. For instance, a recent audit by IRAS found several fraudulent claims under the PIC scheme. Some of these cases involved consultants and vendors abetting businesses to inflate the value of their PIC expenditures and facilitating the fraudulent claims.

21. Fraudulent claims have fortunately comprised a very small proportion of all PIC claims audited. However, the Government takes a serious view of such cases and will take firm action against any errant parties, including bringing them to court. 

22. The consultant industry plays a useful role in helping businesses to upgrade and advising them on how they can take advantage of government schemes like the PIC as they do so. However, there have also been cases of consultants charging high fees merely to help businesses fill in their applications forms for government schemes.  For its part, the Government is committed to simplifying the application processes including the application forms themselves – this is in fact a continuous effort. Indeed, most SMEs handle their own applications for PIC – PIC tax deductions are claimed as part of their annual tax filing exercise[3].

23. If advice or assistance is required by businesses to fill in their applications, they can approach IRAS or the SME Centres who would be happy to assist. Nonetheless, those who also wish to tap on consultants to help with their applications should check the market rates for such services to ensure that they are charged a reasonable amount – just as they should do so for other business transactions.


24. Our new phase of development poses challenges for businesses, especially smaller SMEs, but it also means significant opportunity for the enterprising and innovative. Business advisors and consultants can do much in helping them make the transition to new levels of efficiency, especially in the use of manpower. 

25. SBACC in turn has a key role in helping the consulting industry to deliver even better results, to the benefit of our companies and our larger goals of economic restructuring and quality growth. The Government will continue to support SBACC in its efforts, and do everything it can to help SMEs through this transition.

[1] Age management includes seven areas: fair employment, re-employment, job redesign, performance management, flexible work arrangements, well-being programmes, and a multigenerational workforce.

[2] Today, there are about 7,400 business and management consultancy firms in Singapore, in areas such as human resources, business management, and accounting and auditing services.

[3] There is no need for businesses to separately apply for PIC Bonus as IRAS will compute the amount payable from the existing PIC claim process.