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Speech by Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister In Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and Transport, At Ernst And Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards Gala, 18 November 2009, 8:00 PM At Ritz-Carlton, Millenia

19 Nov 2009

Mr Jim Hassett,
Far East Area Managing Partner, Ernst & Young

Mr Ong Yew Huat,
Executive Chairman, Ernst and Young

Mr Steven Phan,
Country Managing Partner, Ernst and Young

Mr Wong Ngit Liong,
President, Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Singapore Academy

Ladies and Gentlemen and our entrepreneurs


I am pleased to join you this evening for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Gala 2009. Tonight, we honour our outstanding entrepreneurs who have shown great resilience and achieved success against a challenging economic backdrop

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

2.           It so happens that I have been interacting with many entrepreneurs, both in Singapore and in Zhejiang, recently. In trying to understand what makes a successful entrepreneur, I conclude that there are some common traits. First, they qualify as eternal optimists as they have a strong positive attitude even in the face of adversity. Second, they are compulsive innovators as they continuously question how they can improve a particular service or product, and thereby create new value. Third, they are consummate visionaries as they exhibit a willingness to think out of the box, beyond convention, and to try new things, while taking setbacks in their stride.

Entrepreneur of the Year Award Winners

3.           The winners for this year's award exhibit such traits. In 1985, Mr Arnaud Vaissié, co-founder, Chairman and Chief Executive of International SOS travelled halfway around the world from France to Singapore to start a company providing international standards of medical care and emergency assistance for the Asia Pacific region. Today, International SOS is the world's largest medical and security assistance company.

4.           The other award winner, Mr Richard Ong, is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Straits Asia Resources, which is a coal mining company listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. Beginning with Straits Asia's first coal project over ten years ago, Mr Ong oversaw the operations, accounting, customer service and marketing functions of the company. In 2007, he assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer, and has been instrumental in steadily increasing Straits Asia's production capacity and earnings for shareholders.

Supporting Entrepreneurship in Singapore

5.           Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) form the backbone of our economy. Hence, entrepreneurship plays a pivotal role in Singapore's economic growth. The Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) Subcommittee that I chair is looking at how we can provide a more conducive environment for our start-ups and SMEs, and to help them grow into globally competitive companies. Some of the areas that the Subcommittee are looking at include improving the access to financing, and strengthening the ability of SMEs to manage their businesses professionally as they grow.

Importance of Financial Management

6.           Entrepreneurship is commonly associated with the “art” of creating innovative ideas and value propositions. However, what is equally important is the “science” of proper financial management that is necessary to sustain and grow successful business ventures.

7.           Good financial management is key to the success of any enterprise, not just start-ups. Businesses need good financial information and advice so that they can make the right informed decisions. When businesses begin to grow and internationalise, they need to plan strategically, build strong capabilities in financial management across different jurisdictions, install sound internal controls and adopt appropriate risk management measures. There is thus a need for a spectrum of financial management competencies, from highly-trained and capable Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), to tax specialists and internal auditors to support our entrepreneurs.

Committee to Develop the Accountancy Sector

8.           In recognition of the increasingly important role that Singapore is playing as a host to entrepreneurial businesses and companies with regional and international headquarters responsibilities, the Committee to Develop the Accountancy Sector (CDAS) was appointed by the Minister for Finance last year to undertake a comprehensive review of the Singapore accountancy sector and profession.

Transforming Singapore into a leading global accountancy hub

9.           In carrying out a holistic review of the Singapore accountancy sector, CDAS conducted more than 70 meetings and focus group sessions to engage the various stakeholders. With these inputs, CDAS has mapped out a vision to fundamentally transform Singapore into a leading global accountancy hub.

10.       The three strategic thrusts underpinning the realisation of this vision are:

First, positioning Singapore as a leading Centre for accountancy talent, education, thought leadership and professional development;
Second, developing Singapore into a leading Centre for high value-adding professional accountancy services; and
Third, strengthening the Singapore accountancy sector's infrastructure and institutions.

11.       Let me highlight three of CDAS' recommendations that will help our entrepreneurs and enterprises, by enhancing the skills and capabilities of CFOs and accountants, and widening the talent pool, namely:

(a) Developing a post-graduate practice-based professional accountancy qualification;
(b) Developing a CFO certification programme based out of Singapore; and
(c) Setting up an Accountancy Sector Development Fund.

12.       Let me elaborate on each of these recommendations.

Developing a post-graduate practice-based professional accountancy qualification

13.       A cornerstone recommendation to develop Singapore as a centre for accountancy education and professional development is to develop a post-graduate practice-based professional accountancy qualification. This proposed qualification is part of an overall plan to develop talent for the accountancy sector and to deepen the professional expertise to support the growth of businesses. CDAS has identified three key characteristics which the Singapore qualification should have:

(a) Global recognition;
(b) International portability; and
(c) Pathway to facilitate the entry of graduates from non-accountancy disciplines into the profession.

14.       This will offer non-accounting trained professionals opportunities to pursue a second career in accountancy, better prepare fresh accounting graduates for sophisticated accountancy work, and provide Singapore-trained accountants with greater international mobility and recognition. The qualification will also serve as a “professional passport” opening up work opportunities in global capital markets and accounting jurisdictions for Singapore-trained accountants.

Developing a CFO certification programme based out of Singapore

The role of the CFO has also evolved - from that of a “scorek eeper” who monitors and reports the company’s results, to that of a strategic partner.

15.       I understand that CDAS’ focus group discussions with the CFO community as well as the relevant government agencies have indicated that there is a strong demand for highly skilled CFOs. Some of the skills required can be acquired through structured programmes and exchange of insights among peers in the CFO networks. CDAS has therefore recommended that a certification and professional development programme for CFOs be created and based out of Singapore.

Setting up an Accountancy Sector Development Fund

16.       In addition to widening the talent pool, CDAS is also recommending the setting up of an Accountancy Sector Development Fund. A key objective of the Fund is to deepen the sector's professional capabilities through investments in human capital development and building technical expertise.

Launching of Public Consultation

17.       I am pleased to announce that CDAS will be launching a public consultation of its proposed vision and recommendations for the accountancy sector today.

18.       Accountants, including CFOs and internal auditors, play a key role in helping entrepreneurs grow and expand their enterprises. I therefore encourage all of you to help shape the future direction of our accountancy sector by contributing your views on the recommendations put forward by CDAS, and in the process, further strengthen one of the key foundations of our business community.

19.       Ultimately, we want to build up a body of accountancy professionals with the requisite breadth of relevant experience and skills, the dexterity to adapt to fast-changing business conditions, and the integrity to uphold the high standards that would be crucial to Singapore's reputation as a trusted hub.


20.       To conclude, as we gather here to recognise and celebrate the winners, I think what is equally important is that budding entrepreneurs out there should take heart and not give up. Learn from the lessons that the winners will be sharing with you, manage your risks, and make the most of your opportunities. I am confident that with perseverance, a never-say-die attitude, and the high-quality support from our competent and qualified local accountants, our enterprises will be able to rise to even greater heights.

21.       Enjoy the rest of the evening. Thank you.