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Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Opening of PwC Singapore’s New Office, Marina One East Tower

11 May 2018

Mr Yeoh Oon Jin

Executive Chairman, PwC Singapore


PwC Partners and distinguished guests


Ladies and Gentlemen


Good morning


1       Heartiest congratulations to Oon Jin and your team, to your partners and clients for this tremendous success - 169 years of history and 20 years as a firm together as PwC Singapore. Let me share with you three thoughts from the three different hats that I wear.


2       First, as the Chairman of the Future Economy Council. Right next to my office is the Funan Mall. The oldest IT mall in Singapore. How does an IT mall respond to an IT age where e-commerce, the digital economy, is the thing? People don’t go to the mall to buy things anymore, you get things on the net, and what more a computer gadget. If you want to buy a computer, you just go and do it on the net.


3       So Funan, the IT mall, has been completely knocked down, and is being rebuilt. It is next to my office so I see the progress every day. In fact, there is a very nice centre, just at High Street, where they showcase what they are doing, and I must say it is fascinating. I was tempted to say, let me turn the Treasury building into something like that. I brought some of my young staff there and I said, “Let’s borrow a concept from the Japanese.” Japanese landscape has a concept called 借景 (shakkei). You “borrow” the landscape outside. So I said, “We are going to advertise to the whole public service, that The Treasury is the best place to work, because you have the best mall next to you. We can go watch a movie, we can go watch a concert, a play, you can shop, you can eat, you can do all the things. It is very interesting that a shopping mall is now turned into a lifestyle mall, an experience mall, and I hope we can have many more of such innovations.


4       So my first point is that, when we think about the workplace, and we talk about the future economy, it is really about the future workplace. The workplace is not just a desk and a table with a computer, and we do our work. The workplace is a collection of individuals with a shared sense of purpose, a shared mission. It is a space which allows for creative energies of all our people to come together, to think of big interesting ideas to get things done and to collaborate with one another and to challenge one another.


5       So, what does a workplace of the future looks like? I saw in the programme that later on, I will be taking a tour of your future workplace and I thought that this is really exciting, and I hope that we can do a lot more of this. So I’m looking forward to this and I’m sure you will be experimenting all sorts of things, and you’ll probably grow a new consultancy called the “Workplace of the Future” consultancy.


6       Now the second point I like to share is as Chairman of the National Research Foundation. As you know, I have just taken over as Chairman of the NRF and I am very excited about it, because if you look at the history of human progress, really it is a history of innovation. In particular, how science and technology is a great enabler of innovation. But today, when we talk about technology, the word that is most used is disruption. Some people may say, “Oh no, we are going to be disrupted, we are going to be displaced, and we humans are going to be out of a job.” But I really think that that is quite a negative way of thinking about it. What we should be thinking about is how does technology enable us to do more than we could possibly have done on our own.  


7       One of the very interesting ideas that have come out, which I thought was quite useful, is the difference between jobs and tasks. Jobs consist of many different tasks, tasks which can be done better by machines, or should be done by machines. But that also forces us to think about what are the tasks that humans are uniquely placed to do. Tasks which involve judgement and creativity, and in particular, with human interactions. How can we do that even better?


8       I think the future of work is an exciting future, and we should be thinking hard about how technology and human capacity can be combined in much more meaningful way, and how technology can enable humans to do far more than we can do. In particular, how technology can enable entire community of people, to contribute ideas to do things to take us even further. I think this is an exciting future and I hope that we work hard at doing this. And of course, as part of this, we will always have to pay attention to the risk management aspect of it, and in particular, cyber security. I am very happy that PwC is partnering our cyber security agency to train many of our young people on cyber security and training technologist for that.


9       Now my third message is as Minister for Finance.   Basically, if you go look around the world, it is not difficult for governments to say by edict or by new laws: we are going to increase taxes from X to Y, and so on.  


10     But I think the fundamental issue for me is what kind of society do we want to build? Do we want to build a society where we care about others and therefore we want to contribute more and we play our part to enable our fellow members of our society to do better, to live better, to learn better? Or do we want to do something because we fear the taxman will come after us if we don’t submit the returns and so on, and we end up with an army of people helping us to do our tax returns? And I think that is very fundamental. Do we care or do we fear? Do we do something out of our heart out of care, or do we do something out of great fear of the enforcers coming after us? I think it changes the nature of our society. We are a very young nation and I hope that we build that sense of care.


11     In that regard, I must congratulate PwC on your tremendous work in community building. Last year, PwC contributed over 6,200 hours on skills-based volunteering and almost 10,000 hours on general volunteering. And as Oon Jin mentioned earlier on, PwC has received the President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award as well as several other awards. This is really an extremely meaningful thing and I do encourage many more of our firms to do that. Since this is you 20th anniversary, I was thinking about PwC, what it stands for, and perhaps it stands for, “People Who Care.”


12     Heartiest congratulations on your new space, and I’m very happy to look around and to learn more about the workplace of the future you are creating here. Thank you very much.