Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, at the Official Launch of the Joint NTU-WEBANK Research Centre on FINTECH, on Thursday, 31 January 2019 at 10.30am, at NTU Nanyang Executive Centre, Auditorium31 Jan 2019
Professor Subra Suresh, President of NTU
Members of the NTU Board of Trustees
Mr David Ku, Chairman and CEO of WeBank,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- I am very happy to join you this morning for the launch of the joint research centre between NTU and WeBank.
- Lunar New Year is just around the corner, so I’d like to wish all of you “A Happy Chinese New Year” in advance, and good health and happiness in the Year of the Pig.
- Let me also start by extending my warmest congratulations to NTU and WeBank on this new joint research centre in FinTech.
- We are starting the new year with some uncertainties in the external environment. I’m sure all of you are reading the media, and can see what’s happening around the world. Despite the dark clouds over the horizon, Asia is the fastest growing region in the world. As Asia’s growth continues, and with a rapidly growing middle-class, the prospects for the financial sector, certainly over the medium to longer term, are positive.
- Within Asia, Singapore has established itself as a leading financial centre.We offer a pro-business environment, stable infrastructure and quality human capital.
- But as in many other industry sectors, the financial sector here, and also everywhere in the world, is going through a period of rapid change.In particular, technology is disrupting a whole range of functions in the financial services industry.
- FinTech is now the buzzword within the industry – it’s not just a backroom activity; it’s not just something confined to start-ups; but all the incumbent banks and financial institutions are embracing technology and fintech innovations. They have to do so; otherwise, they will not be able to keep up with the changes.
- That’s because new channels such as the internet, smartphones and social media are fundamentally changing the way financial institutions serve and interact with customers.
- From time to time, these rapid changes bring about existential angst. We worry whether robots will replace humans, and there will be no more jobs in the future. We worry over whether online will replace brick-and-mortar, and there will be no more banks in the future. I’m sure some of the bankers here think about that all the time. But I think it’s not a binary issue. It’s not either-or. The world ahead will be one where you need to bring together humans and machines, and find ways where better synergies can be obtained through that interaction of human knowledge as well as new technologies.
- There are many examples of how this blend of human knowledge and technological advancements is changing the game for the financial sector.
- For example, you have many financial advisors now working with machines, robots, robo-advisories, to provide investment advice. You have bank officers working hand-in-hand with chatbots, providing customer service. You have bank officers using AI and machine learning for fraud detection. You have banks offering omni-channel banking, so it is not just services offered through the branches, but across all digital channels (mobile, social and online). You have officers using blockchain for digital transactions. You have people using biometrics and other ways to strengthen cyber-security within their institutions. In all of these functions, technology, combined with human knowledge, is really bringing about fundamental changes, and all in all, it is an exciting time to be in finance because it is an area with tremendous potential.
- The way we think and engage in financial activities 20 years from now will certainly be very different from what it is today. But to maximize this potential, we need to have good science and technology. We also need strong R&D capabilities to keep advancing and pushing the boundaries of knowledge. So we are very happy with this collaboration between NTU and WeBank.
- It’s a collaboration that, as Professor Suresh highlighted earlier, brings together the complementary strengths of both parties – NTU’s deep research capabilities and the vibrant research ecosystem that it has built up, as well as WeBank’s domain expertise in finance, particularly in FinTech.
- While we are focused on technology, and while this is a research collaboration, we shouldn’t neglect the human dimension. We must always remember why we are doing all this – it’s not just to chase after technology, it’s not just to grow the business and maximise profits, it’s ultimately to serve humanity, to ensure that customers are provided with better services that will provide a better life.
- I think the whole industry in finance is very mindful of this. Financial services are ultimately built on trust – it’s not just about getting a transaction done, it’s not just about structuring the best deal, but it’s about building a relationship for the long-term.
- The reputation of finance took a hit after the 2009 Global Financial Crisis. This impacted the reputation of the industry as fairness and transparency were compromised.
- The industry is now on a journey towards building better trust and confidence with the public. Indeed, 10 years after the financial crisis, many things have changed. I certainly hope the research collaboration done here will help in this journey of creating better solutions for customers and enhancing consumers’ confidence and trust in finance. Finance can be a powerful force for good in society and we should all embrace this goal.
- On this note, I wish NTU and WeBank all the best in your collaboration, and I look forward to seeing impactful and beneficial outcomes from this partnership. Thank you very much.