By By Patrick Dewilde, Head of Markets and Securities Services, Asia Pacific ex-Japan, Han Kwee Juan, CEO Citibank Singapore Limited and Cheryl Chen, Head of Corporate Citizenship, Citi Singapore July 11, 2016 12:30 PM
As we launch the City Profiles, dedicated to highlighting Citi’s history in some of our key global markets, we speak with three Singapore-based Citi leaders to get their perspectives on Citi’s ongoing involvement with Singapore.
What is your favorite milestone from Citi’s history in Singapore and how do we continue to enable progress in the city today?
Patrick: My favorite milestone has to be 1999 when we were awarded the Qualifying Full Bank license. A few years after that, Singapore’s cultural center, the Esplanade also opened. This development showed that the city was advancing progress through greater cultural awareness and confidence. So the timing was propitious for us to receive our QFB license when the city was blossoming. Since then, our retail bank, commercial bank, investment bank and our markets businesses have all grown substantially.
We have heped to enable growth and progress in the city by identifying opportunities and making significant contributions. Singapore is small city and a small nation, but it has always had great aspirations. Thanks to a strong local educational system, a favorable central location in a booming region, and the strategic vision of the government, the business climate is extremely supportive. All that helps us to maintain and sustain Singapore as a regional hub, not just for Southeast Asia but for Asia as a whole.
Kwee Juan: My favorite milestone from Citi’s history in Singapore was when we incorporated Citibank Singapore as a local subsidiary of Citigroup. After the Singapore-United States Free Trade Agreement came into force on January 1st, 2004, we leveraged the opportunities from the FTA to expand our business.
A year later, we locally incorporated Citibank Singapore Limited. As a result, Citibank became the first foreign bank to be locally incorporated. That was a significant milestone for us as it was the first time that a foreign bank was able to compete on equal footing with the local banks in the consumer market. It also marked the beginning of strong growth for our consumer banking business here. We were able to provide a full suite of banking solutions to consumers in Singapore and grow into one of the Domestic Systemically Important Banks, which ultimately enabled us to play a responsible role in society – to help the citizens and residents of Singapore save for the future and fulfil their financial aspirations.
Today, the emphasis on the development of the Singapore FinTech industry is another new milestone in the banking and finance sector. We look forward to an exciting future here and in the region, both as a partner with local start-ups and as a source of solutions to our customers with our Mobile First strategy. Mobile First is providing the convenience of banking with Citi to both consumers and clients.
Cheryl: Citi has been in Singapore for more than a century, and we’ve thrived in tandem with Singapore’s transformation from a fishing village into a modern and sophisticated first world country. When we first established our operations in Singapore on 1 July 1902, we were known as the International Banking Corporation (IBC) and were the first American bank to establish a branch in Singapore. In the early twentieth century, Malayan rubber and tin were key exports for Singapore, which propelled the island city’s growth as an entrepot trading hub for the region, with IBC primarily involved in trade financing of export commodities.
With the rising affluence of consumers and the rapid growth of Singapore as a global financial center, we deepened our commitment to Singapore and incorporated Citibank Singapore Limited in 2005, which enabled us to expand our presence and product offerings here. Today, we’re one of the largest banking employers in the country, employing more than 9 thousand Citi colleagues. We are equally committed to our community investments, as we have distributed more than US$1million of grants to foster financial inclusion and youth economic opportunities across seven programs in 2016 alone.
What are some of the key opportunities in your market?
Patrick: Our strategy is to serve all our clients in the Asia Pacific region and provide them with relevant solutions that meet their needs. Singapore is an extremely well-connected city, with a high proportion of high-net worth individuals in residence while numerous companies maintain their regional headquarters here. As Singapore is also our regional headquarters, being a hub for the region helps us to deliver solutions to our local clients by leveraging our global network.
Kwee Juan: There are several key opportunities in our market.
1) Leveraging the power of technology. We are at the cusp of a wave of technology that will enable people to live, work and play as a seamless and continuous experience. This presents us with a key opportunity to serve our clients on the go, which will in turn enable us to build new products that will be at the touch of our clients’ fingertips whenever and wherever they want to use them.
2) Working with our partners. We want our customers to experience Citi’s products and solutions through our partners’ platforms as well, while at the same time building new channels to acquire new clients and customers.
3) Building on our Wealth Management Hub out of Singapore. Having Singapore as a hub will enable us to provide solutions not only for onshore but also offshore clients and customers, who see Singapore as an ideal location for managing their wealth.
Cheryl: The Singapore Government’s proactive approach to financial education through its MoneySense program dovetails perfectly with one of our core competencies, namely helping people develop a clearer understanding of how to manage their money. Since 2002, Citi Singapore has committed more than S$13.7 million to financial education and youth development programs organized in partnership with NGOs, government organizations and educational institutions. The programs funded through the Citi Foundation grants have benefited students, youths, teachers, mature women and the general public, and have reached more than 425,000 students attending more than 80% of local schools.
While working on the City Profiles project, did you learn anything surprising about the history of Singapore and Citi’s involvement there?
Patrick: I was surprised by the way Singapore keeps evolving while providing us with opportunities to grow as a business. When I was in Singapore in the early 2000s, it was a city with high aspirations, many of which failed to materialize as a result of the Asian Financial Crisis, which was a challenging environment for business to thrive in. It was heartening to see how since the recovery Singapore’s leaders succeeded in setting a vision while adapting to so many changes. Citi in Singapore also grew in tandem with the city, expanding its presence since 2005 to help our clients manage both the uncertainties and opportunities. Citi’s development in Singapore mirrors Singapore’s rise as a financial hub.
Kwee Juan: Many people would be surprised at the strong partnership we have built with the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) Corporation, a key provider of public transportation in the city. We are proud of our partnership with SMRT that allows Citi customers easy access to our banking services and enjoy the benefits of our co-branded card as part of their commuter experience.
In the last few years, e-commerce has played an increasingly important role in the development of the local economy. Supporting this development, in 2013 we facilitated RedMart’s fast growing e-commerce business through their online payment platform. By leveraging our accessible and leading-edge online payment support system RedMart was able to make inroads into the fast-growing $16 billion-a-year online grocery business. This partnership and others have since allowed us to offer new capabilities, products and services to consumers as they have become more widely available.
Cheryl: The City Profiles project gave me a longer-term view of the privilege that was extended to us through the provision of a banking license. That’s been an important part of the story of how we have leveraged that opportunity to serve as an integral part of Singapore’s economic and social development. Through grants from the Citi Foundation, we’ve also been able to make a difference by improving the lives of communities, families and individuals through partnerships with NGOs and Citi Volunteers.
Looking forward, what are you most excited about for Citi’s future in Singapore?
Patrick: A bank is a mirror image of the environment it operates in. In Singapore, we are privileged to live and work in an environment that is continuously blossoming, opening, and consistently constructive for both business and society. The favorable economic and social environment has, in turn, enabled us to grow our core business while taking some prudent risks. When I look at our future, I see an ongoing evolution parallel to the one we’ve experienced over the past ten years, as – just for example -- we added banking halls to train stations to provide additional conveniences and amenities to our clients and customers. Today, the nearest bank branch is a smart phone, which enables us to serve our clients with a seamless customer experience across a wide array of channels. This evolution is exciting, because while we can’t claim to know exactly where we will be 20 years down the road, given the quality and diversity of our people and our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, I’m confident that wherever Singapore goes, we will be there – perhaps even a few paces ahead.
Kwee Juan: I’m excited by the buzz in the industry as the Singapore Government continues to invest in promoting Singapore as a FinTech Hub in Asia. That means building and sustaining an environment that enables the financial sector to curate and create new solutions for the industry. The government’s approach is aligned with our Mobile First strategy to be a fully future-compatible bank. So I am sure that our ongoing investment in innovation for our digital platforms will enhance our customers’ experience.
Cheryl: In 2015, Singapore celebrated an important historical milestone: its Golden Jubilee and 50th anniversary as an independent nation. As a relatively young nation with few natural resources, Singapore’s citizens, residents and government have proven extraordinarily adept at facing the future and thriving from evolutionary economic, social and technological change. Citi is well-positioned in Singapore to continue to support the city’s growth as a financial center and hub for corporations as well as emerging affluent to ultra high net worth individuals and families to manage their wealth and financial lives. It’s been exciting and meaningful to play a key role in creating a more financially literate and inclusive society with our Citi Foundation’s grants to advance financial literacy and inclusion across a wide range of programs targeted at individuals, households and communities.
Please visit the full Singapore City Profile for more information.