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Swiss investments in Singapore up S$22b

Foreign direct investment climbed to a record S$60.7 billion at end-2018, a 57% jump from the previous year.

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"Startups or SMEs, which want to strengthen their position in the Asean region, often choose Singapore for its economic stability and friendly environment. Many Swiss companies have regional offices here, for example Six, Julius Baer and Zuhlke." - Georg von Wattenwyl, chairman of SwissCham

REFLECTING the strong and ever growing business ties between Switzerland and Singapore, Swiss investments here have shot up by a robust S$22 billion. Latest data from Singapore's statistics department shows that foreign direct investment (FDI) from Switzerland into Singapore climbed to a record S$60.7 billion at the end of 2018 - the most recent year for which data is available. This was a huge 57 per cent jump over the Swiss FDI stock of S$38.7 billion at end-2017.

Switzerland is the ninth largest foreign investor in the Republic going by the latest official Singapore figures, says Georg von Wattenwyl, chairman of SwissCham, the Swiss chamber of commerce in Singapore, in an interview with The Business Times for the occasion of the Swiss National Day on Aug 1.

"The main areas of Swiss corporate presence in Singapore are the financial and insurance, wholesale and retail trade, as well as the production sectors. All major Swiss financial institutions and insurance companies are represented in Singapore. Trading companies, hotels and restaurants, logistics and the manufacturing industry are also well represented," he adds.

Swiss banks are mainly involved in private banking, with UBS and Credit Suisse being the largest Swiss employers in Singapore. Fintech, business services, pharmaceuticals and Medtech, logistics and ICT investments have grown in recent years. This is in line with Swiss companies leveraging Singapore's position as a hub into Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific.

Notable new Swiss investments in Singapore include the opening of an innovation centre dedicated to plant-based food by Bühler and Givaudan, a technology centre by Omya, a fragrance encapsulation centre by Givaudan, the V dining restaurant by V-Zug, a customer innovation centre by ABB, and stores by Vitra, Läderach and Bernina. In 2017, Zuhlke expanded into Asia with its first office in Singapore.

According to the Swiss embassy, there are around 400 Swiss companies operating in Singapore, and they employ about 25,000 people.

An interesting new development is that Swiss SMEs have started coming here. "Singapore is an attractive location for Swiss SMEs, considering the cluster of ecosystem players. Many Swiss companies have regional offices here, for example Six, Julius Baer, Zuhlke, etc. Singapore is also the access point to the Asean countries. Startups or SMEs, which want to strengthen their position in the Asean region, often choose Singapore for its economic stability and friendly environment," says Mr von Wattenwyl.

"The fintech and crypto industries are very attracted to Singapore. Switzerland and Singapore have a lot in common and are important finance and fintech hubs. For example, Connected DLT, Blockchain Valley Ventures and F10 recently set up a presence in Singapore," he adds.

Singapore is still an attractive location for Swiss companies despite the changing global economic and business dynamics, says the SwissCham chief. "Singapore has economic strengths and an international reputation built up over many decades. It is highly connected to the global flows of investment, trade, capital and people. Singapore has had a headstart preparing for the uncertainties ahead. It has learnt a great deal from the Sars crisis in 2003 and was prepared to face these challenges. It has been working hard to transform and deepen its capabilities."

Singapore has developed plans for its economy, investing heavily to upgrade workers through SkillsFuture, digitalising both the private and public sectors, and building innovation and R&D capabilities. It has been building up resilience in the economy and society, with schemes like the Job Support Scheme and Skills Package, he adds.

"Furthermore, Switzerland has a long tradition of doing business in Singapore. We have a lot in common: both are small states, multilingual, multicultural, powerful economies, and finance and technology hubs. I am confident that Singapore will remain an attractive location for Swiss companies, and that both countries will join forces in meeting these challenges," says Mr von Wattenwyl.

Asked how Swiss businesses in Singapore are coping with the Covid-19 situation, he says: "In these unprecedented times, all companies in Singapore, whether they are Swiss, international, or local, are seeking to adjust to the new normal. Given the big presence of Swiss companies in Singapore, we are obviously closely monitoring the Republic's efforts to provide a safe environment and to limit the economic damage. We believe that businesses are coping in different ways with the Covid-19 situation, for instance, by re-planning their business models, boosting digitalisation strategy and finding other opportunities for growth."

On its part, SwissCham has, since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, been regularly providing information for businesses on practices through its coronavirus advisory webpage. The covid-19 advisory guidelines share relevant information on workplace measures, business continuity plans, MOM's recommendations, and more. The SwissCham team managed to serve the community with innovative and exciting webinars as physical events were postponed or cancelled since April 2020.

In May, SwissCham organised a webinar on Covid-19 guidance for businesses in collaboration with Luther LLP. The legal experts provided an overview of the current support schemes available and possible strategies to adopt in order to manage the operational challenges. The chamber also provides an opportunity to members from specific industries to share their news and promotions through its monthly newsletter.

"In May 2020, we helped the food & beverage sector, which was dramatically affected by the Covid-19 situation. June's newsletter featured members from the retail industry, and the next one will help the hospitality sector. In the past months, we also encouraged our members to share their webinars, news, offers, and relevant resources on our platform more actively," says Mr von Wattenwyl.

Looking ahead, he adds: "As Singapore is treating the Covid-19 challenge with utmost priority and with success already, we have no doubt that the country will defend its unique position as a preferred place for investment and trade within Asean."

Meanwhile, as SwissCham scales up its activities it has strengthened its flagship annual SwissCham Business Excellence Award by adding a new category. The new Digital Transformation Award will be in addition to the People & Skills Development Award that was launched four years ago.

As the economic and business impact of Covid-19 evolves, there is strong reason to believe that digitalisation will further accelerate the disruption of established businesses in Asia and globally, says the SwissCham chief.

"This is the reason why the board has decided to introduce a new category around digitalisation. With the newly created Digital Transformation Award, the SwissCham wants to offer a platform to all organisations in Singapore to showcase their digitalisation efforts in the region," he adds.

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