Singapore’s reputation as a key location for trade and financial services is well established, but growth through innovation continues. We reached out to Amreeta Eng, Director at Enterprise Singapore, to hear about what’s next for the city state.
Human Capital Insider (HCI): Digitalisation is something that people are becoming increasingly aware of. What are your thoughts on disruptive technologies and related market trends?
Amreeta Eng (AE): Global commodity trading is experiencing behavioural shifts, with digitalisation transforming the way businesses are run. The wave of disruptive technologies – from the Internet of Things (IoT) to big-data analytics – has the potential to revolutionise production, supply chain management and commodity financing. The age-old practice of using paper documentation for global commerce is also evolving. As competition mounts and margins thin, market participants are starting to take greater notice of the efficiency gains brought about by digitalisation.
Enterprise Singapore plays a key role in supporting and developing Singapore as a leading global trade hub. We have noticed a gradual mindset shift among C-suite executives, who are becoming increasingly open to the use of digital solutions to transform and enhance business operations. These transformations include adopting technologies such as track-and-trace and IoT solutions to ensure quality and control from production to consumer, as well as advanced data analytics to uncover new areas of growth. Technologies are also increasingly being applied to address market inefficiencies and to deter fraud.
However, more can be done by traders to increase collaboration and build industry-wide platforms to solve common problems and take opportunities. This requires a participative environment in which industry leaders are receptive to adopting an open innovation approach that will allow stakeholders to explore co-developing solutions and find new ways to address old issues. The industry is moving in the right direction, and Enterprise Singapore is keen to work with like-minded partners to support these initiatives and platforms.
HCI: Singapore is well known as a key market hub. What makes it stand out as a location for commodities trading companies? What is your vision for the future of the city state’s role in both Asia-Pacific and global trade?
AE: Our vision for Singapore is and has always been to become a leading global trade hub, and this will not change with the advent of a digital economy. This clear mandate consistently features in the work that we do, from growing the pool of international trading companies in Singapore to the shaping of policies and regulations that ensure Singapore is a location conducive to trade.
Singapore offers various key attributes that benefit the international trading sector. One is the depth of our participant network, which includes not only the top producers and traders but also companies that offer financing, risk management and logistics solutions. We have an extensive network of industry participants in a single location including 80pc of the world’s leading commodity traders, more than 150 banks and around 5,000 logistics providers. Singapore was the top city for start-up talent in 2017, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report and Ranking by Startup Genome. Singapore’s extensive network creates an effective marketplace for trade origination, risk hedging and the co-creation of solutions.
Singapore is well-placed to encourage industry wide collaboration and an open innovation approach in the sector because it has a supportive government that actively facilitates collaboration between large and small companies, and the public and private sectors. We are developing the National Trade Platform, a one-stop information system that enables digital data exchange and connectivity between all key trade and logistics stakeholders.
Our trusted, neutral jurisdiction featuring strong rule of law, good governance and a robust dispute-resolution regime makes it an attractive location for digital innovation and solutions. These include e-marketplaces, big-data analytics and trade execution platforms using blockchain. Over the past two years, we have observed heightened interest in launching such initiatives from commodity traders and technology providers.
As various game-changing technologies emerge, Singapore will continue to work with businesses to build up the legal architecture, sketch out what-if scenarios and standardise how counterparties can transact with one another seamlessly.
HCI: Some companies are discussing how to attract talent with the skill sets needed for the markets’ digital future. Do you have advice for those preparing for this change?
AE: Attracting and developing a competent, diverse talent pool must be viewed as a key asset that companies need to continually invest in. Only then will companies be ‘future-proof’ in the next stage of their growth. I believe that many commodity firms share this view, and that they are big supporters of talent development.
To be ready for the digital future, management teams will first need to identify their as-is state, build a roadmap toward their goals and identify the skills required to complement this journey. They might choose to adopt different approaches, from upgrading employee skills to partnering with technology providers that can offer the required expertise. C-level executives might also want to enrich their understanding in areas such as cybersecurity, data science and blockchain before deciding how these can be applied to their businesses.
Some might say that traders are likely to find themselves increasingly dispensable with the advance of trading technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning. While we do anticipate that the nature of jobs will change, commodity trading is still primarily a relationship business, and an individual’s ability to take risks and react to political and social developments will continue to be critical. Rather than machines substituting people, the reality is that more can be achieved when the two work closely together.
Singapore’s commodity trading sector employs more than 15,000 professionals, and we continue to invest in talent development so that our workforce has the necessary skills for the future. For instance, Enterprise Singapore works with tertiary institutions such as the Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University to equip graduates and mid-career professionals with the latest skillsets and knowledge by offering international trading specialisations. We are also putting in place a skills framework for the trading sector, which identifies skills that our workforce must develop to stay relevant. With this, we believe that we can create good jobs and attract the right talent for the industry.
Amreeta Eng is Director of Trade and Business Services at Enterprise Singapore. She leads Singapore’s growth as a commodities trade hub by charting key growth strategies for the international trading sector and supporting key players in energy and chemicals and metals and minerals as they grow their trading operations from the city state.