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  • Think of Singapore and you might think of a bustling financial center.

  • Major manufacturing hub.

  • Thriving technology haven.

  • But when the coronavirus hit in early 2020, that image came to a standstill.

  • Singapore, like much of the world, was sucked into the throes of the pandemic,

  • forcing businesses to shutter and life to go on hold.

  • Staying closed was not an option for long, though.

  • As the Asia Pacific headquarters for many major corporations,

  • ensuring business continuity is critical.

  • I'm taking a look at how key industries are supporting that drive to revive the economy.

  • Even before the pandemic hit Singapore shores, the Southeast Asian island nation was positioning

  • itself as a strategic business hub, in a world increasingly fraught

  • with trade tensions and supply chain concerns.

  • But when a spike in Covid-19 cases led the country into an eight-week lockdown,

  • authorities moved quickly to cushion the impact, unveiling more than $73 billion in stimulus

  • as the country weathered its first recession since 2009.

  • Although the crisis hit the country hard, it has presented opportunities for manufacturing

  • and services firms, which are key components of Singapore's economy.

  • In 2019, the manufacturing sector alone contributed 20.9% of Singapore's nominal GDP.

  • The services industry, which includes sectors such as business, information and communications,

  • finance and insurance, made up close to 70%.

  • At the height of the pandemic, manufacturing was the only sector to grow,

  • led by demand for biomedical goods.

  • Multinational manufacturer 3M was among the companies to lead response efforts,

  • turning its manufacturing lines 24/7 and doubling its global production of N95 respirators.

  • We were able to leverage learnings from SARS.

  • And so, we made the conscious decision to invest in additional capacity

  • in preparation for the next pandemic.

  • In having that, it helped us a tremendous amount, to be able to respond very quickly.

  • In the first half of the year, the company produced over 800 million respirators globally,

  • including from its plant in Singapore, which was in the crosshairs

  • of a White House administration trying to prioritize supplies for the U.S. market.

  • During that period, Malaysia closed its borders due to the pandemic,

  • affecting 3M's Malaysian workers who commuted daily to Singapore.

  • The company had to work closely with Singaporean authorities to temporarily rehouse

  • its Malaysian staff in Singapore, as the border closure threatened to affect output.

  • With the movement control order circuit breaker, we had some of them make the conscious decision

  • which again, I think shows how our employees have stepped upto say,

  • 'I'm going to stay away from my home and my family and live in a hotel.'

  • And they've been living in a hotel since late-March and they're still here,

  • helping to keep our operations running.

  • As the economy reels from the pandemic, central banks have been working with private lenders

  • such as banks to roll out support.

  • That includes measures to ease cash flow constraints for the thousands of

  • small and medium-sized businesses, or SMEs, in the country.

  • As with any economy, you'll find the SMEs are always the foundation,

  • the bedrock, of every economy.

  • They, first and foremost, are responsible for a lot of the economic activities

  • of a country, and therefore they also employ many people.

  • SMEs account for 99% of businesses in Singapore and 72% of the workforce.

  • During the peak of the outbreak, DBSSoutheast Asia's largest bankprovided $3.5 billion

  • in temporary bridging loans to keep many of them going,

  • with an emphasis on vulnerable, micro-enterprises.

  • So all in all, about 8,600 loans have been approved, about $4.9 billion,

  • of which about 7,500 loansabout S$2 billionare for the micro and smaller SMEs.

  • The shifting economic landscape has also led many businesses to quickly adapt to new ways

  • of working, including moving much of their operations online.

  • That's something Microsoft has been helping with from its Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore,

  • through its products such as Azure cloud computing and Microsoft Teams.

  • We've seen two years of digital transformation in two months as a result of Covid.

  • While these developments happened out of necessity, Singapore has been investing heavily

  • in digitization efforts in the public and private sectors for years.

  • Accelerating the digitalization of these SMEs could lead to a faster economic recovery.

  • A recent survey of more than 1,400 SMEs in Asia Pacific found that many companies

  • are still in the early stages of their digital transformation or indifferent to it.

  • It is estimated that by 2024, the digital transformation

  • of small and medium-sized businesses in Asia Pacific could add $2.6 trillion

  • to $3.1 trillion to the region's GDPand that was before the pandemic.

  • I think across every industry we have seen a shift of focus.

  • In some cases, it might be more in keeping their data secure and getting it to the cloud.

  • In others, it may be more around collaborating and how do they keep

  • their employees and their customers connected?

  • And then in others, it's fundamental changes in their business models

  • so that they can actually prepare for the future.

  • And I don't think they will go back.

  • It's not just companies rebuilding for a new digital economy, either.

  • Those fundamental changes have also altered people's behaviors, prompting many of them

  • to look for new ways of conducting personal and professional business.

  • That means businesses have to empower employees to find new ways of working.

  • Teams usage went up by 500%, so just to show you the amount of

  • dependency for people to be able to continue to work together, it's huge.

  • And we've really had to work hard to get these things deployed quickly.

  • In some cases, over the course of 48 hours.

  • For DBS, that was a case of expanding its digital banking system to enable more people

  • to manage their finances remotely.

  • I have seen a 30% year-on-year increase in digibank adoption.

  • And as we look into the profiles of those, a reasonable percentage of those

  • were actually our senior citizens, 62 years and above.

  • So that has certainly changed.

  • The bank now has 3.4 million digital users, 29% of whom conduct their finances entirely online,

  • which it says indicates the transition toward a new economic landscape.

  • As we speak, we have about a million customers who are completely digital.

  • So, we can see that actually the foundation has been built.

  • This time was actually quite necessary or helpful to shift behaviors.

  • And actually, those behavioral shifts were quite natural and quite automatic.

  • But the work for businesses adapting in a new normal doesn't quite end there.

  • As Singapore's economy embarks on a path of recovery, companies also have an important

  • social role to play in bringing the community along with them.

  • We are going to have to be so agile and continue to work with local experts and government

  • to understand what is changing in the landscape.

  • Working with other multinationals, working with small and medium-sized enterprises to

  • really glean information that we can pull together and take action.

  • For Microsoft, that's a matter of using its pool of employment data, from its products

  • such as networking service LinkedIn, to help ready citizens for a new future.

  • The company has already pledged to provide free training to 25 million people this year,

  • to equip them with in-demand digital skills.

  • Ultimately, what we are trying to do is support people by identifying trends and knowing where

  • the next generation of roles and jobs will be.

  • Helping them to skill up in order to be ready for that.

  • And then helping them to make sure that they can find those roles and they can navigate

  • and be able to source what's next for them.

  • That plays into the bigger role of multinationals within society, according to DBS, which aims

  • to bring about more creative solutions in areas beyond its traditional remit.

  • That includes community projects, such as sourcing food from struggling F&B businesses

  • to provide 700,000 free meals to those in need.

  • It's one of several initiatives born out of a $7.6 million DBS Stronger Together Fund.

  • You can do community service, which is important.

  • But if we can also bring together, like in my case, I brought my SME customers along,

  • supported them while feeding those who needed to be fed, while rallying our people and our

  • customers and members of the public, to kind of, fulfill this purpose.

  • So this actually goes back to our DNA, right.

  • The reason we were started 50-odd years ago was to facilitate the development of Singapore.

  • So we started being called the Development Bank of Singapore.

  • So, as we play this important part, right, in the whole development of Singapore

  • from the third world to the first, what next?

  • I think this purpose continues to be in our DNA.

Think of Singapore and you might think of a bustling financial center.

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How big businesses in Singapore are managing the challenges of coronavirus | Make It International

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    Summer posted on 2020/08/24
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