20 Feb 2019

People - Community

Singapore Versus China: Working Between the Two Financial Sectors

Unquestionably, there’s a sea of difference between Singapore’s and China’s financial systems — with the former being a relatively free market and the latter being a “closed” and highly-regulated one. However, in a short span of a few years, we’ve been seeing this perception of the landscape shift rapidly. Hear from two Singaporean industry professionals, Norman Chia and Shermaine Chee, both members of our Overseas Singaporeans in Finance (OSF) group, on their experience and insights working in Shanghai, China.


OSF Group Members Shermaine and Norman


Singapore and China — each an established economic powerhouse in its own right, and the success of each financial sector backed by different merits.


Singapore has been recognised as one of the leading global financial centres, ranking behind only New York, London and Hong Kong in the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI). Shermaine, Head of the Foreign Direct Investment Advisory Unit at UOB Shanghai, explained that Singapore is known for its stable, transparent government, mature legal system and pro-business ecosystem. These factors have contributed to Singapore being a choice destination for many Fortune 500 companies to set up their global and regional treasury centres.


On the other hand, China has enjoyed an economic boom since it opened up its economy 40 years ago. From what Shermaine has observed, China has been moving towards a stabilising phase of its development, adding that “China has been continually experimenting and refining its fiscal policies and monetary regulations, with the objective of making [the country] more pro-business to both local and overseas companies.”


She believes that there’s much that both countries can learn from each other. Singapore can take on an appetite for risk, while China can tap on the former’s experience and insights on regulating an open market in the global playing field, and on keeping it vibrant and relevant in the midst of competition.


While differences are aplenty, a common one that stood out for Norman and Shermaine was the Chinese’s workplace practice of taking a siesta during working hours. Both recounted their surprise when they’d learnt that they’re encouraged to take a nap during lunch time, and that it is a taboo to schedule for meetings or calls during those hours. Shermaine was also amused to see how some of her colleagues bring their own foldable reclining chair to sleep on!


Aside from guiding businesses through such cultural nuances, Shermaine’s role is also to assist Chinese companies and investors with their expansion into the ASEAN region. In turn, she also actively assists Singapore enterprises to break into the Chinese market, providing insights into the business landscape and its financing environment.


Previously based in Shanghai as a Product Manager with NEX Group, Norman was part of a team that delivered a new FX trading platform for China’s RMB market. He has since returned to Singapore and is now the Director of Product Strategy and Head of APAC with BGC Partners. After returning home, he noticed that Singapore’s financial market now relies more on technology to run businesses. “Clients are more willing to embrace technology, and the government has also been encouraging more initiatives to digitise the financial market,” shared Norman.


Furthering this point, Shermaine also noted that the government’s recent involvement and push for the adoption of fintech was something inconceivable in the past. The Singapore government has set up regulatory sandboxes for developing fintech solutions by partnering with technology providers and other industry partners. “The most encouraging part was the inception of the Singapore Fintech Festival, which provided a platform for an exchange of talents and great ideas,” said Shermaine.


“The rapid rise of technology and artificial intelligence in the financial services industry is an irreversible trend,” she added. “Coupling this huge and vibrant market with highly-adoptive groups of consumers and technology users, I envision a lot of new entrances of companies and talents to the local finance community.”


Norman pointed out that the growth and development of the local fintech sector has already contributed thousands of jobs over just the past 2 years. In time to come, he wishes to see more fintech firms coming to Singapore to contribute towards building a robust community, which in turn, could lead to more homegrown fintech start-ups. He also hopes to see “more development in the pricing and matching engine space, so that more firms will be keen to choose Singapore as a base for their infrastructure and trading activities.”


Shermaine, on the other hand, believes that Singapore can leverage on our position as the financial hub of the ASEAN region. With the implementation of China’s Belt and Road initiative, ASEAN has become a hotbed for Chinese investors. The litmus test, she suggested, is if Singapore “can continue to position itself as a financial hub with a dependable legal system, attractive tax policies and an international trading center, where we can be a springboard for companies to expand into ASEAN.” That said, she is optimistic for Singapore to be more innovative in developing cross-border financial products and services, in order to secure us as a hub for the region.


Currently working overseas in the banking or finance sector or know of any Singaporeans doing so? Be a part of our sharing space at this
LinkedIn group, whether you’re a fresh graduate or a business owner! This LinkedIn group is a joint initiative by Overseas Singapore Unit, Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore.


You can also check out our earlier piece with OSF group members Andrew, Felicity, Joseph and Wee Ming.

If you are based in China or will be in the country on 13 April, head down to Singapore Day 2019 in Shanghai, where we will be bringing to you the sights, tastes and sounds of Singapore! Find out more at the Singapore Day website or Facebook page.