SINGAPORE: Fintechs, financial institutions tap govt support to digitally pivot, keep hiring.

As published on businesstimes.com.sg, Wednesday 10 June, 2020.

SOME 167 fintech firms and financial institutions have signed up for digitalisation grants, two months after the government rolled out a S$125 million support package for the industry.

Close to 4,700 industry professionals are also taking advantage of training allowances offered as part of the package, that cover up to 90 per cent of fees for courses accredited by the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF).

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which announced the package in April, has set aside almost three quarters of the funds, or S$90 million, for supporting workforce training and manpower costs, while the remaining S$35 million will go towards strengthening digitalisation and operational efforts.

Thus far, firms that have tapped the digital acceleration grant – which applies only to firms with not more than 200 employees – under its Institution Project track have done so primarily to offset cloud subscription fees, strengthen operational resilience, acquire data-related services, or enhance office productivity and customer engagement, the MAS said.

Under this track, the MAS will support up to 80 per cent of the firm’s qualifying expenses for the adoption of digital solutions. Of the 165 applications received under this track, 87 were submitted by fintechs and 78 by financial institutions.

Financial advising firm Endowus, for instance, has used the funds to adopt digital tools such as Zoom and Castr.io (a live-streaming solution) to host webinars, which has helped it reach new customers at a faster rate, according to chief executive Gregory Van.

“Through (online webinars), we have been able to acquire an average of 50 per cent new leads with each session, more than 32,000 views and a watch time of over 8,600 hours since we started in early March,” said Mr Van.

The MAS also received two applications under the digital acceleration grant’s Industry Pilot track, which supports collaborations among at least three smaller financial institutions – which the regulator defines as having not more than 200 employees – to customise digital solutions for implementation within their institutions.

One of these Industry Pilot projects involve five financial institutions working with Canopy, a data aggregation and visualisation platform, to collect data from multiple custodian banks in a comprehensive and consistent format.

With this partnership, institutions can redirect employees previously in charge of manual handling of data to take on more value-added tasks, such as data analysis and customer service.

“The current challenge is that banks deliver the information to external asset managers in different formats. As with all complex datasets, there are challenges to make the data complete and consistent. The industry pilot will focus on improving the data quality and processing speed so that the external asset managers can focus more time on managing the client investments instead of processing data,” said Canopy founder Tanmai Sharma.

Multi-family office L-Bridge Capital is one of the five financial institutions involved in this Industry Pilot. Its chief executive, Yenny Samad-Wong, said: “What this solution will mean to our firm is that our people will be able to spend less time generating customised reports and dedicate more time to navigating clients’ portfolio in such a volatile period.”

To upskill their staff, 36 financial institutions have also applied for MAS’s grants to sponsor 2,815 employees for IBF-accredited courses, while another 1,864 trainees are self-sponsoring their own training via these grants.

As at May 31, the MAS has also received 29 applications under the Finance Associate Management Scheme, in which MAS will double the salary support for financial institutions to hire fresh graduates or workers from other sectors who are Singapore citizens.

L-Bridge Capital is one of the applicants, and it hopes to make use of this scheme to boost its new management associate programme for fresh graduates.

Chionh Chye Kit, chief executive and co-founder of regulatory technology firm Cynopsis Solutions, commends the support package for its comprehensiveness. Cynopsis has acquired a S$120,000 digital acceleration grant, which has helped alleviate cost pressures, and has received enough subsidy to send over half of its staff for training.

“The training grant has allowed us to invest in our people at a time when most others might be cutting costs. The digital grant has been helpful also in that the MAS pays it out upfront, and whatever that’s unused will be returned to them later,” said Mr Chionh.

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