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Over 400 Swiss companies doing business in Singapore
SWITZERLAND has a long tradition of doing business in Singapore for almost 200 years, and over 400 Swiss companies are present in Singapore today. Hence, the business ties and friendship between Singapore and Switzerland are extraordinarily strong and everlasting, says Tom Ludescher, chairman of SwissCham in Singapore.
Swiss companies employ approximately 28,000 people in Singapore. Most of them are Singaporeans. The key areas for Swiss companies in Singapore are the banking, transport and logistics, speciality chemicals, biotech, insurance/reinsurance and professional services industries.
Switzerland is among the top five investors in Singapore, which acts as the key hub for many Swiss companies in South-east Asia. Singapore is by far Switzerland's largest trading partner within the Asean region.
"Switzerland and Singapore also have a lot in common and share many important values, such as reliability, integrity and most importantly honouring one's word. The long-term stability, predictability and credibility of both countries give comfort to local talent and industries to commit themselves to their homeland and attract foreign talent and foreign investors," says Dr Ludescher.
As both countries lack a critical size, openness and international business models are crucial to both countries. These close ties and cultural and economic similarities are also reflected in the active Swiss-Singaporean business community in Singapore.
"We have seen a very positive trend and strong track record of successful startups in Switzerland as well as in Singapore lately, and I do see a lot of potential here to collaborate closely in sharing ideas and talent for developing, running and regulating these exciting new industries. Biotechnology, private banking, insurance, reinsurance, professional services or logistics industries - all these sectors are experiencing disruption along multiple dimensions," says Dr Ludescher.
As can be seen from the recent initiatives launched by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in the financial technology (fintech) area and the "regulatory sandbox" embracing fintech initiatives in a controlled yet lighter regulated environment, Singapore has become a leader and front runner in creating a regulatory framework which will help to develop a world leading fintech hub, he adds.
Swiss startups are actively expanding their international footprint and often choose Singapore for establishing their first presence in Asia. This is particularly relevant for the fintech and crypto industry, building up on the many similarities between Switzerland and Singapore as the leading private banking and crypto hubs in their regions.
The startup and particularly the tech industry are highly relevant for the traditional services and high-tech industries that Switzerland and Singapore have been predominantly focusing on in recent years. In Switzerland, the tech sector is certainly the most vibrant sector these days, says the head of SwissCham, which promotes Singapore and Switzerland business ties.
Some exciting examples of Swiss tech firms having recently opened up a presence in Singapore are Additiv, Appway, Netguardians, Squirro or Zuhlke Engineering in FinTech and Entsia in InsurTech. These young companies target tech-savvy Singaporeans but often also use Singapore as their regional hub to expand across the South-east Asian markets.
"With their focus on and strong track record in the service and high-tech industries, Switzerland and Singapore can cement their positions as world leading hubs for these sectors. This is by building up on their longstanding history as well as by being early adopters of exponential technologies with disruptive potential, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, blockchain, big data or the internet of things," says Dr Ludescher.
As the private sector body for promoting Swiss-Singapore business ties, SwissCham offers a range of networking activities and different types of events. The focus of the networking is among the members, with other local firms and professionals and with other chambers of commerce and associations in Singapore.
SwissCham has over 220 members, from startup companies and well-established small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to large multinationals, representing all major industries of the Swiss economy.
"The events we organise fall into three categories. Firstly, our know-how sharing events, address latest developments in science (eg the latest in dengue and zika research), technology (eg water and solar technologies), economy (eg labour laws and regulations) and politics (eg the Swiss-Singaporean relationship).
"Secondly, we co-host events with members offering them a platform to present their organisation and product or service offerings, and to network with other members and guests.
Thirdly, we organise several social and cultural events - such as our annual gala dinner - that are very popular among the Singaporean-Swiss business community," says Dr Ludescher.
SwissCham also offers its members a spectrum of services and membership benefits, all with a strong business and talent development focus. This includes, for instance, its annual collaboration with the St Gallen Institute in Asia, offering students from the University of St Gallen (HSG) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) business consulting projects with its members as a part of the students' courses to get a real business insight during their studies.
Dr Ludescher says that the SwissCham's goal is to promote Swiss excellence - as lived by Swiss companies worldwide. The unique combination of talent, paired with three Swiss characteristics - tradition, precision and innovation - is a major factor in the success of Swiss businesses worldwide.
"We believe Swiss and Singaporean companies in Singapore can learn and greatly benefit from the Swiss experience. Firstly, the long-standing Swiss traditions are very important. Try to imagine Swiss watchmaking without passing skills to the next generations - this has been done over centuries. Switzerland and its watches would never have become such strong global brands representing quality, reliability and innovation without this tradition.
"Secondly, it is the precision. Being on time for a meeting is considered a typical Swiss attitude, particularly here in Asia. However, many of us see more than an attitude in this - it is a gesture of mutual respect and appreciation. And thirdly, innovation, the main driver behind the success story of Swiss excellence. The Swiss culture of constant innovation not only lift the Swiss craftsmanship and service culture into its global leading position, it also repeatedly allowed Swiss businesses to master challenges such as the quartz crisis of 40 years ago; or more recently, digitalisation - where Swiss companies are at the forefront of embracing exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT) or blockchain, with facets of cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) attached."
Thirdly, the chamber advocates for its members' interests with the authorities in Switzerland and in Singapore (primarily through its standing seat in the board of governors of the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore), and with other business organisations through regular interactions in industry group meetings.
Finally, SwissCham offers a selective range of services and benefits to its members, including an online knowledge centre, on demand support for members with regards to business relevant topics such as access to relevant industry or market data, or regulatory or labour market aspects.
Making business better
Founded in 1988, the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Singapore (SwissCham) is a non-profit organisation that advocates Swiss business in Singapore through offering its members a networking platform with a broad range of events as well as selective services and benefits.
Its core activities are grouped into four main pillars. Firstly, a 360-degree networking platform for members, interested Singaporean companies and professionals, other chambers of commerce and Swiss organisations in Singapore. Secondly, a broad range of attractive events including member presentations, knowledge sharing or cultural and social events to get a better understanding of Singapore, its history and the resulting business and networking culture.
Reward and recognition
An exciting new initiative of SwissCham is the annual Swiss Business Award. Launched last year, the Swiss Business Award rewards and recognises Singapore-based companies for their efforts and initiatives in developing their workforce through "Excellence in People & Skills Development".
"Singapore and Switzerland's most valuable assets are not the deposits kept in the banks or the multi-billion dollar industrial plants. It's the human capital, the local talent. Well educated, multilingual, and with a good work ethic, Singaporeans are a major draw for Swiss companies to set up their regional hubs in Singapore," says Dr Ludescher.
Swiss companies have a longstanding tradition in people and skills development. Switzerland's dual-educational system, under which people choose between university education and an accredited apprenticeship on the job to become a specialist in one particular field, makes for a strong workforce.
"Strong industry training initiatives have substantially contributed to the skills clusters of world reference. This approach is most relevant to Singapore. It is our aim to celebrate those member companies or other Singapore-based companies with a strong leadership and excellence in people and skills development through attracting, training and developing talent in Singapore," says Dr Ludescher.
"This should give recognition and serve as a strong encouragement for companies to not only do good to their staff but also share their successes and lessons learned back with the business community and by doing this, create positive spill-over effects to other members."
The 10 nominations received this year for SwissCham's second Swiss Business Award honouring Excellence in People and Skills Development were evaluated by an independent jury, consisting of high ranking representatives from business and academia in Singapore.
"We were impressed by the variety of companies and different business activities being nominated for this year's Swiss Business Award. This alone underlines the importance and recognition of skills in today's business world. From food to fabrics, from banking services to security issues, from internet to logistics - the entries covered it all," says the SwissCham chief.
Among all the strong nominations received, there was one particularly standing out since the company fully embraced this approach of adapting the Swiss dual education model to the specific requirements and conditions of the gastronomy landscape in Singapore.
This year's winner of the SwissCham Business Award is Marché Mövenpick, a leading international gastronomy player of Swiss origin. It has been honoured for its dedication to the development of the local workforce by its integrative and comprehensive training concept. The Singapore-based company also works with local polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to provide internship opportunities to students.
"Strong industry training initiatives have substantially contributed to Switzerland's hospitality and gastronomy skills clusters of world reference, an approach which is most relevant to Singapore. Marché Mövenpick Restaurants Singapore is committed to implement Swiss gastronomy and vocational training know-how in Singapore for the benefit of the local workforce. Marché is committed to providing lifelong learning for its 300 staff and in nurturing future talents for the F&B industry," adds Dr Ludescher.