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Swiss business association keen to play a bigger role

"Singapore's central location, quality infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, and business-friendly fiscal measures are a major draw for Swiss businesses," says Mr Ludescher.

AS both Singapore and Switzerland place great value on human capital and local talent, developing them further offers an avenue for fruitful mutual cooperation, says Tom Ludescher, president of the Swiss Business Association (SBA) in Singapore.

"The average education is very high, so are the multi-lingual and cultural skills. This, in combination with the low level of corruption and high credibility of the governments, provides a truly trustful and powerful mix. With a university landscape of world reference in both countries, combined with highly motivated and engaged people with good work ethic, the base for existing and future talent is strong," explains Mr Ludescher.

"Striking evidence of this are the top ranks repeatedly taken by Switzerland and Singapore in global talent rankings, such as Insead's annually published index about the world's leading places for growing talent for today and tomorrow. So education is key on all levels."

Switzerland has, with its dual educational system, a strong track record in developing talent with a strong link to business, also thanks to the vocational training being deeply embedded across all industries. An intensified exchange in this regard can certainly serve as an inspiration for Singapore, the SBA chief notes. "And maybe one day Switzerland and Singapore will even consider implementing free movement of persons, including students, employees and entrepreneurs. This would be a big step towards an even-closer exchange of know-how and talent in both directions and allow our people to have a most educational and inspiring insight into each other's way of living and working."

The SBA is the Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. It has over 230 members, from startup companies and well-established SMEs to large multinationals, representing all major sectors of the Swiss economy from services including banking and finance, insurance and reinsurance, transport and logistics and wealth management to all kinds of high-tech industries.

The SBA offers its members a networking platform and facilitates doing business in Singapore through an active sharing of knowledge among its members. It is also actively engaging with local companies and entrepreneurs as well as with other chambers of commerce in Singapore and the region. "Last but not least, it fosters trade growth between Switzerland and Singapore," says Mr Ludescher.

The SBA president sees the business relations between Singapore and Switzerland as being close and mutually beneficial. "Singapore's central location, quality infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, and business-friendly fiscal measures are a major draw for Swiss businesses. In addition, the Singapore-Switzerland free trade agreement incentivises Swiss companies to select Singapore as a regional hub for their operations. Today, there are over 400 Swiss companies in Singapore, employing approximately 28,000 people in the country. Switzerland is among the top five investors in Singapore, demonstrating the continuous importance of Singapore as the key hub for Swiss companies in South-east Asia."

Singapore is Switzerland's largest trading partner in the Asean region. These close ties are also reflected in the active Swiss-Singaporean business community in Singapore. The Swiss-Singaporean relationship is, however, more than just a mutually beneficial collaboration. Switzerland and Singapore have become great friends over the past 50 years, and are a continuous source of inspiration for each other, he adds.

The SBA chief notes that the state visit of Swiss President Johann N Schneider-Ammann underlines the importance of Singaporean-Swiss partnership and friendship. "Switzerland and Singapore have a lot in common and share some important values, such as reliability, integrity and, most importantly, honouring one's word. These shared values, combined with a culture of continuous innovation, make Singapore and Switzerland attractive for foreign companies and investors, as can be seen from the top scores in international rankings on business friendliness and competitiveness. The long-term stability, predictability and credibility give comfort for local talent and industries to commit themselves to their homeland and attract foreign talent and foreign investors."

There are, however, threats to the success models of both Switzerland and Singapore as they are forced to defend their competitive advantage against an increasing number of competitors in the fight for talent and market share in the global services and high-tech markets.

"Both countries lack a critical size, making an international expansion of their business models the only way to go for reaching a critical mass and market size. The continuously increasing cost level in both countries can only be compensated by an increase in productivity to the same extent, forcing both countries to never stop improving and reinventing themselves. All these are challenges shared by Switzerland and Singapore alike, and it will be good to discuss among peers how to meet them, with a long-term view and strategy," points out Mr Ludescher.

An area that offers promise for further development of Swiss-Singapore business ties is the startups and particularly the tech industry which are highly relevant for the traditional services and high-tech industries that Switzerland and Singapore have been predominantly focusing on in recent years, according to the SBA chief. "We have seen a very positive trend and strong track record in successful startups in Switzerland as well as in Singapore lately and I do see here a lot of potential to collaborate closer in sharing ideas and talent for developing, running and regulating these exciting new industries."

The tech sector is certainly the most vibrant sector in Switzerland these days covering a very broad range of industries. "With their focus on the service and high-tech industries, Switzerland and Singapore are predestinated to take also the lead for any current and yet-to-come disruption trends in these industries. This disruption is mainly driven by fast-changing customer behaviours towards e-commercialisation and technical achievements, such as the Internet of Things or artificial intelligence, which can - among others - be used for creating robo-advisers for a broad range of services," says Mr Ludescher.

Switzerland has seen early movers and successful pioneers in many of these areas, also thanks to its strong technical universities like the ETH in Zurich and the EPFL in Lausanne.

"Today, Switzerland can be seen as an innovation hub for things like crowdlending (eg, Cashare), drone technology (eg, senseFly), health monitoring (eg, Dacadoo) or p2p insurance (eg, Versicherix) and many more. For Switzerland and Singapore, where the success of many of their business models is heavily dependent on trust and operational efficiency, the new technology has great potential also for a Swiss-Singaporean collaboration."

Looking ahead, the SBA chief says that the association will be stepping up its activities and increasing its interaction with other local trade associations and chambers.

"As was mentioned in the recent budget speech by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, the local trade associations and chambers are expected to play a more active role in Singapore in the coming years. The SBA will certainly contribute its part to this strategic ambition of Singapore and get even more actively engaged with its current and future members. The business environment becomes, for all companies in Singapore, more and more complex and it is therefore absolutely beneficial for everyone to work closer together, find industry-wide solutions and standards and by doing so, master and reduce some of that complexity."

He adds: "The activities of the SBA are based on various pillars, with networking and events being the most prominent. The focus of our networking is among members, with other local firms and professionals as well as with other chambers of commerce and associations. The scope of our events ranges from knowledge-sharing to member presentations to social and cultural events, building bridges between Switzerland and Singapore, on a professional as well as on a personal level.

"We definitely plan to foster and further grow the Swiss-Singaporean business ties by increasing the number of Singaporean firms in our member base and interacting more with Singaporean chambers and associations, particularly in the areas where we have strong shared interests, such as in the financial services, SME and tech industries."