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Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and Education, at The Virtual Launch of the Singapore Fintech Association Grants and Jobs Portal on 20 July 2020 at Nexia TS

20 Jul 2020
Mr Chia Hock Lai, President of SFA,
Mr Henry Tan, Group CEO & Chief Innovation Officer of Nexia TS,
Panel members,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

1. Thank you for inviting me to witness the collaboration between the Singapore Fintech Association and Nexia TS on the Innolab, and to launch the Grants and Jobs portal. It is a great privilege to be here with you today. 

2. These new collaborations are an important step forward. The current challenges have accelerated the need for us to transform, change, and reinvent ourselves for the future, so that we can emerge stronger. 

A. Opportunities in Challenging and Uncertain Times

3. These are challenging times. We are living and working in a period of great uncertainty. COVID-19 has severely impacted all sectors of the economy, and the FinTech industry has not been spared. Singaporeans have lost jobs, and we do expect more job losses. For businesses, we know that those in FinTech remain worried about sustaining their ongoing sales and collaboration with international partners, amidst project delays and travel disruptions. Some are worried about their operations, while future investments remain uncertain. 

4. But we must see these challenges as an unprecedented opportunity to reset our perspectives, our priorities, and our methods. All of these have to be reset. We must prepare ourselves not only to weather the current storm, but to embrace long-term structural change.

5. In particular, we are seeing real opportunities for FinTech firms to collaborate more deeply and sustainably with financial institutions, to boost prospects for the financial industry over the next few years. There is no better time to go digital. Now, more than ever, businesses have had to work together to innovate, release, and adapt to innovative solutions – we had seen the equivalent of five years of consumer and business digital adoption in just eight weeks when COVID-19 began. There is no going back, and we will have to continue to accelerate digital transformation for the finance sector, and prepare ourselves for the post-COVID-19 world.

B. Leading the Charge into Industry Change

6. In the five years prior to COVID-19, we had seen exponential growth in Singapore’s FinTech ecosystem. Domestically, the number of FinTech firms in 2015 has grown by more than 20 times. Over 1,000 companies offer a wide range of solutions in banking, insurance, wealth management, capital markets, crowdfunding, blockchain, cryptocurrency, AI and data analytics, and regtech. Singapore is also home to more than 40 innovation labs across our major banks, insurers, and technology companies. These labs are important touchpoints between corporates and FinTechs for new projects to develop.

7. Even with COVID-19, Singapore remains a centre of excellence for R&D. We provide a conducive regulatory environment for innovation projects and experiments, such as the MAS Regulatory Sandbox and the Sandbox Express, supported by world-class and inter-operable digital infrastructure like MyInfo and e-payments. With 33 cooperation agreements with our FinTech counterparts throughout the world, Singapore provides a springboard for innovative solutions to develop and internationalise. 

8. Singapore has also spearheaded recent international platforms.

a. For example, the API Exchange (APIX) was set up by MAS, the ASEAN Bankers’ Association, and the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group to support cross-border efforts between FinTech firms and financial institutions to integrate and test solutions via cloud-based architecture for financial innovation and inclusion.

b. The Business sans Borders (BsB) initiative by MAS and IMDA was the first integrated end-to-end connector of multiple platforms of its kind. It will continue to help SMEs with seamless trade, financial services, and innovation, by providing them access to a larger ecosystem of buyers and sellers, and to more logistics, financing, and digital solution providers. 

9. These have all contributed to a strong international value proposition, and have helped us to be recognised. Last year, FinTech investments in Singapore increased nearly six-fold year-on-year since 2015, reaching a record high of $1 billion. This year, even with COVID-19 and the challenges that this crisis of a generation has brought on, Singapore’s FinTech industry continued to attract investments of over $500 million in the first half of 2020. This is a testament to continued confidence in Singapore as a world-leading FinTech hub.

10. Given the vibrant ecosystem we have built up, Singapore’s FinTech firms are still well-positioned to partner our financial institutions and lead the charge towards digital transformation, especially as more businesses in our financial sector look to new digital solutions. 

11. I understand that some of you are already involved in leading the charge, with novel projects already underway. Given the renewed focus on safe distancing and on hygiene in the COVID-19 environment, some of these solutions have become even more relevant than ever.

a. Our banks have been introducing more remote and contactless banking solutions. DBS has introduced a comprehensive suite of “contact-free” trade financing digital solutions, to eliminate paper-based applications at trade counters. Since April, OCBC has been operating its virtual wealth advisory service, which allows customers to engage their advisors and transact their wealth products online. And this has paid off. More than 1,000 OCBC financial and wealth advisors have been contacting their clients via these virtual facilities.

b. Another example of remote financial services is MyCash, which is an online remittance and marketplace solution for migrant workers. This is the only remittance app in Singapore that caters to the Bangladeshi community, providing language support, inter-operability, and on-site assistance. Since launching in June, MyCash has facilitated remittance of more than $1.5 million Singapore dollars, for over 5,000 workers. 

c. Grab, NTUC Income, and Zhong An Technologies Insurance International have also joined hands to launch Southeast Asia’s first micro-insurance plan for Grab driver-partners in Singapore. This insurance plan will allow such drivers unprecedented flexibility to choose a low premium between $0.10 and $0.50 for critical illness protection, and accumulate the corresponding insurance coverage with each trip they complete.

12. These are all examples of how FinTechs can lean in and lead the charge to transform and adapt our businesses, to permanently improve the way we deliver essential services to Singaporeans. I am confident that we will see more of these ideas being shared and developed in the coming months. I hope that this will extend beyond COVID-19, and have a long-term impact on the way we work in the future. 

C. Supporting Innovation and Industry Development 

13. Of course, the industry will not be doing this alone. The Government will continue to partner with SFA, with FinTech firms and financial institutions, and with your stakeholders, to support innovation for the post-COVID-19 future. For those of you who are doing your part to develop and innovate for yourselves, the Government is committed to providing you with our strongest support.

14. Our four Budgets in 2020 have renewed the Government’s commitment to help workers seek and retain employment, and help our businesses emerge stronger after COVID-19. 

a. The Jobs Support Scheme, or JSS, will continue to provide 25% support for local wages, to help businesses with their costs until August 2020. 

b. We have also launched the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package in May, which will create close to 100,000 opportunities for our workers to be hired, to train, and to develop their skills. We will continue working with businesses to create around 25,000 jobs and 21,000 traineeships. I encourage more businesses to step forward with your openings in the coming months. 

15. We have set aside more than $500 million to support the digital transformation of businesses, including support for the adoption of e-payments, digital solutions, and digital capabilities. 

a. For example, IMDA, NEA, JTC, HDB, and ESG will ensure that more stallholders in hawker centres, wet markets, coffee shops, and industrial canteens are encouraged to use e-payments, and reduce handling of cash. This will not only attract new customers for service providers in the FinTech industry, but will boost the digital infrastructure that supports future projects.

16. On top of these, we have also provided customised and targeted support for the specific development of the FinTech industry. We are committed to ensure that no one will be left behind, as the whole economy transforms. 

17. In April, MAS introduced a $125 million COVID-19 package to sustain and strengthen capabilities in both the financial services and FinTech sectors, to allow companies to train and retain their workers, and ensure stronger overall growth when the economy recovers. The package will provide:

a. A training allowance grant for employers who send their local employees to upskill themselves through courses, on top of the significant subsidies of up to 95% for IBF-recognised courses. Your staff can expand their knowledge and prepare themselves for the post-COVID future through a wide range of finance and deep-tech courses. 

b. We will also provide a Digital Acceleration Grant (DAG) to help smaller financial institutions and FinTech firms improve operational resilience, process efficiency, risk management, and customer service. A number of you have already taken advantage of this, with strong take-up. As of June 2020, over 350 FinTechs and financial institutions have applied for the DAG. But I would like to encourage the rest of you to find out what you are missing from MAS. Do leverage this funding support to transform your businesses!

c. MAS will also provide six months’ free access to APIX. More than 200 Singapore FinTechs have signed up for APIX to showcase their APIs and access potential collaboration opportunities with financial institutions from around the world, without the need to meet face-to-face.

d. On top of this financial support, firms will also have access to a FinTech Compliance Readiness Framework and Digital Toolkit for FinTechs to expedite the onboarding process for their partnership with financial institutions, and promote more sustainable outsourcing relationships.

18. On top of this, we will also provide additional support to those building on the momentum of change, and collaborating with industry partners for innovation. 

a. For example, MAS, SFA, and AMTD Group have launched a $6 million FinTech Solidarity Grant, to help FinTech businesses fund their operations and retain employees related to projects or proof-of-concepts with financial institutions via the APIX platform, as well as to encourage FinTechs to continue to offer internships during this period. I understand that 206 FinTechs have recently been awarded the Business Sustenance Grant to help offset wages and salaries.

b. MAS has further launched a $1.75 million Global FinTech Innovation Challenge to seek innovative solutions that can help the financial industry to respond better to the COVID-19 pandemic, and sustainability and green-related challenges. 

19. We have also adapted our methods to establish virtual community engagement sessions and networking events, to ensure that the FinTech ecosystem remains vibrant. MAS launched the Green Shoots Series webinar to engage and support the FinTech community with practical advice and guidance during these challenging times. The webinars are attended by an average of about 500 participants, from around the world. MAS and ESG have also moved Deal Fridays online, to provide curated and targeted matchmaking sessions between investors and startups. 

20. I am also heartened to see that the industry itself has come together to provide support to one another. For example, Prudential is offering complimentary insurance to employees of FinTechs on APIX. Razer has launched a US$50 million COVID-19 support fund, to support FinTech companies. Amazon Web Services is also offering free AWS cloud credits to SFA members. 

21. As Mr Chia has mentioned, the SFA Grants and Jobs portal will make this entire network of Government and peer support more accessible. SFA has compiled a total of 50 different grants and initiatives available for FinTechs on the Grants portal. The Jobs portal currently has over 500 job postings, ranging from internships and full-time positions. In addition to tech roles, there are positions in digital marketing, business development, accounting and finance, and more. I strongly encourage you to find and leverage the support you need and the staff you can hire to continue adapting and transforming yourselves and your businesses for the post-COVID-19 future. 

D. Conclusion 

22. I would like to conclude by encouraging everyone to continue driving change and transformation in the finance sector. Despite current challenges, FinTech has an essential role in ensuring digital acceleration for stakeholders both in and beyond the financial industry. We should not miss this once-in-a-generation chance to transform, so that Singapore businesses can emerge stronger in the post-COVID-19 world, and remain viable for years to come. 

23. So I would like to once again thank SFA for the opportunity to witness this launch, and the collaboration between FinTech stakeholders. 

24. Thank you very much.