Insights from a one-on-one chat with Dr. Beh Swan Gin, Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board
Recently, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the 46th St. Gallen Symposium, a global gathering of global business leaders that takes place annually at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.
I attended the Symposium along with 100 Leaders of Tomorrow who were carefully selected from 300 universities and represented 80 nationalities. During the Symposium, I attended a small gathering over breakfast led by Dr. Beh Swan Gin, Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board. During this two-hour intellectually stimulating session, we discussed macro trends shaping Singapore’s economy. The piece below captures the essence of this discussion and will be useful for those interested in understanding the future of Singapore’s economy.
- Setting Global Standards with Smart Nation Vision: Singapore’s Smart Nation Vision aims to provide digital infrastructure and an environment of innovation to the next generation. Dr. Beh spoke about how the entire objective is to make lives of citizens better and connect households and citizens. He gave an apt example of this initiative: NuTonomy, a start-up spun off from a MIT and Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) in 2013 that wants to bring a fleet of driverless cars to act as public transport vehicles on the roads of Singapore. Currently testing autonomous vehicles in an area of Singapore known as One North, the company hopes that the cars can act as public taxis that help Singapore citizens to travel around the city, but without the cost of employing individual drivers. NuTonomy’s vehicles are also electric cars, meaning they produce far lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. This is just one of the numerous smart initiatives the Singapore government is executing over the next couple of years that is bound to set global standards for innovation and smart technology.
- Evolving Position of Singapore as Asia’s Top Finance Hub: For years Singapore has remained a gateway to Asia, with an agreeable business establishment and operation environment. The city promotes access to the burgeoning ASEAN region while featuring significant international linkages. However, Singapore faces stiff competition from its neighbor Hong Kong. Thanks to its relationship with China, Hong Kong presents valuable financial services and substantial business opportunities. Dr. Beh illustrated this trend through the evolution of the wealth-management industry in Singapore. The city’s thriving wealth-management industry faces challenges ahead. Singapore’s wealth management industry is growing more slowly than Hong Kong as the Hong Kong industry receives more money from Mainland China and offers a broader range of investments, from equities to art. It is evident that this evolving position of Singapore as Asia’s top finance hub will impact the economy in the years to come.
- Singapore Promoting ASEAN Growth: Dr. Beh discussed how the EDB is encouraging economic growth in the ASEAN region. Founded in 1967, ASEAN today encompasses ten dynamic markets: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. ASEAN is a major global hub of manufacturing and trade, as well as one of the fastest-growing consumer markets in the world. Interesting, all economies are at vastly different stages of development but Singapore is dedicated to promoting growth in the region. Dr. Beh illustrated this by sharing how in the past, Singapore would compete for interests of international corporations and investments. However, there is now a shift in the mindset of the ASEAN economic community. The EDB encourages companies to invest in the region and it seeks to deepen the community’s ties to capture an even greater share of global trade.
- Long-term Economic Challenges Facing Singapore’s Economy: Dr. Beh elaborated on the long-term economic challenges facing Singapore’s economy such as an Ageing Population. Between 1965 and 2015, Singapore’s population grew from 1.9 million to 5.5 million. However, the number of citizens aged 65 and above is increasing rapidly, as population growth slows. The size of this group of citizens doubled from 220,000 in 2000 to 440,000 in 2015, and is expected to increase to 900,000 by 2030. An ageing population will impact the Singaporean economy’s productivity.
About Dr. Beh Swan Gin:
Dr Beh was appointed Chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) on 1 December 2014. He also chairs the Boards of Directors of EDB Investments and EDBI. Dr Beh was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Law from 1 July 2012 to 30 November 2014. Prior to the Ministry of Law, he had been Managing Director of EDB from 1 August 2008 to 30 June 2012. He joined EDB in November 1992 and held various portfolios over the years including leadership roles in the development of Singapore’s Biomedical Sciences industry cluster, as well as overseas assignments in EDB’s North American operations.
In 2006 and 2007, Dr Beh also held concurrent appointments as the Executive Director of the Biomedical Research Council at the Agency for Science, Technology & Research, as well as the Director of the Ministry of Trade & Industry’s Energy Planning Division.
Dr Beh is a medical doctor by training and graduated from the National University of Singapore. He is also a Sloan Fellow with a Master of Science in Management from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and completed the Advanced Management Programme at the Harvard Business School.