Published Date: 25 August 2020

“Strengthening Financial Resilience Amid a Crisis” – Speech by Ms Abigail Ng, Executive Director, MAS, at the Financial Planning Association of Singapore Financial Planner Awards 2020 on 21 August 2020

Mr Noel Maye, CEO of the Financial Planning Standards Board Ltd (FPSB)
Mr Alfred Chia, President of the Financial Planning Association of Singapore (FPAS)
Council members of FPAS
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

1.     A very good morning to everyone. It is my pleasure to join you at the first-ever virtual Financial Planner Awards 2020. We come together today, in these extraordinary times, to celebrate financial advisory professionals who excel in their professional knowledge, financial planning skills, and who uphold best practices in their chosen field. My congratulations to all the Award winners.

MoneySense: Financial Well-being and Resilience
2.     MoneySense is Singapore’s financial education programme. It was launched in 2003 to help Singaporeans manage their money well and make sound financial decisions themselves. We try various ways to reach different segments of the population. For example, we have seen that the Institute for Financial Literacy’s free courses and seminars, including at workplaces, are well received by the working population. For students, we worked with the Ministry of Education to infuse financial literacy messages in the syllabus – such as in Math classes and enrichment activities. For individuals from lower-income families, we have started initiatives in partnership with philanthropic organisations and relevant agencies.

3.     In recent years, our focus has expanded beyond financial literacy, to financial well-being and financial resilience. So over several months in 2018 and last year, we held a series of roadshows as part of a campaign encouraging Singaporeans to take a 5-minute online Financial Health Check to identify possible gaps in their financial well-being. Where an individual felt he needed more guidance, he was able to receive free and unbiased guidance at Financial Health Clinics from industry volunteers, such as FPAS.

4.     Our aim was to activate Singaporeans’ awareness of their own financial well-being and nudge them into taking action to plug gaps. But prompting individuals to take timely and the right action is challenging, as financial advisory professionals like yourselves know.

5.     In this area, the financial advisory industry has been an important partner of ours. And I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank FPAS for your support of MoneySense initiatives through the years, be it in volunteering your time and expertise for the Financial Health Clinics, or sharing your knowledge regularly at MoneySense seminars, such as the World Investor Week townhalls.  We look forward to your continued support to engage Singaporeans. 

Industry Partnership in Unprecedented Times
6.     The COVID-19 pandemic has affected lives and livelihoods all over the world, impacting our professional, social, and financial environments. We have experienced this in Singapore as well, with individuals and businesses having to adapt swiftly to cope with the disruptions to our day-to-day activities. Apart from the on-going discussions on public health and economic issues, there have also been conversations on the impact the pandemic has on individuals’ emotional, mental, and financial well-being – both now, and in the longer term.

7.     To address these, MoneySense launched a campaign last week with the tagline “#stayunitedstayresilient”. We are encouraging Singaporeans to manage their finances prudently, giving guidance on how to cope with tighter cash flows, offering tips on how to minimise debt, and pointing them to avenues of help and support, should they need it. We also caution Singaporeans to be alert to scams that take advantage of the current circumstances. These resources and articles are in the new Financial Resilience section on the MoneySense website. To complement these resources, the Institute for Financial Literacy (IFL) is also running online Financial Resilience Seminars. These dialogue-style sessions provide an opportunity for more personalised outreach and guidance to enable participants to make appropriate financial decisions.

8.     I believe the financial resilience message would also resonate with you. The financial advisory industry has always had a key role to play in the financial well-being of individuals. This is even more so during times of crisis.

9.     Regulators internationally have been thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on retail investors, and working on possible measures to assist them, especially for vulnerable segments, such as the elderly or those from lower-income backgrounds. Some risks and challenges that consumers could face in the COVID-19 environment have been highlighted in other jurisdictions. For example, there have been misconduct issues, such as mis-selling, mislabelling, and misleading information disclosure on financial products.

10.     Regulators have also been emphasising giving financial advice that addresses individuals’ needs, taking into account any negative life events that have happened to them, so that they can manage their financial situations better. Some individuals will find themselves facing cashflow issues when support measures end. They may need help in understanding the options available to them, and in assessing their short-term and long-term needs when making financial decisions. There are also reports of investors engaging in speculative trading, given the volatile market. This is also where the financial advisory industry can step in to alert these investors to the risks of such actions and urge them to maintain a long-term perspective to investing.

11.     There is much that we can do together to help individuals during these times. On our part, MoneySense’s financial education and outreach initiatives offer Singaporeans information, guidance, and encouragement to take steps to improve their financial resilience. The financial advisory industry is the one that walks Singaporeans through the last mile in the journey to financial well-being by providing sound, sensible, and personalised advice that helps the consumer make informed decisions.

Leveraging New Opportunities and Managing Emerging Risks
12.     Now, I would just like to share a few observations about how the FA industry has responded to the fast-changing environment the past few months. COVID-19 has not only affected every one of us as individuals. It has also changed how we work and how businesses operate. Face-to-face interactions had to stop for a time, and are still reduced for now. Businesses have had to be agile in adapting to continue to meet consumers’ needs.

13.     The financial industry, in particular, has shown operational resilience by going digital. Financial institutions in Singapore have invested in digitalising customer touchpoints and business processes over the past one to two years, and these efforts have proven to be key in the industry being able to pivot quickly during this time. Consumers enjoyed uninterrupted access to financial services online even during the Circuit Breaker period. Now that we are in Phase 2, consumers have a wider range of platforms on which they can access financial services, which is especially helpful for groups that are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

14.     Most, if not all, FA firms now have the capability to allow their representatives to carry out the full sales and advisory process virtually. Many FA representatives have also grown more accustomed and have since experienced an increase in productivity and discovered new learning opportunities and ways to operate. For example, interviews can now be conducted online using videoconferencing tools. Some FA firms have started using digital tools to generate leads. Recruitment and training events are now no longer constrained by the capacity of a physical space. E-training has replaced the classroom setting, and trainees can now do bite-sized learning on the go.

15.     However, as with all new ways of doing business or conducting activities, new forms of risks will emerge. We are glad to note that FA firms have taken the initiative to implement safeguards to address new risks posed by virtual sales and advisory processes. One example of this is where clients are required to submit a selfie with a photo ID to authenticate themselves, when performing remote signing of forms.

16.     We encourage you to continue monitoring developments on the ground, keep on enhancing safeguards, and promoting good business practices. In tandem with the industry’s digital pivot, consumers have also become more comfortable transacting online. Banks, for example, have seen a surge in online transactions. We are now at an inflexion point where FA firms can accelerate the digitalisation journey to meet consumers’ expectations and needs. We encourage you to continue to push ahead in this.

17.     FPAS has an important role to play in reaching out to educate consumers, especially the less digitally-savvy, on how to access online channels for financial services safely. I look forward to MoneySense working with FPAS on this, and to many more years of partnership helping Singaporeans plan well for their future.

18.     It leaves me to once again congratulate all the Award winners, and to wish everyone good health, #stayunitedstayresilient. Thank you.