Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at SMBC Singapore’s 60th Anniversary on 5 December 2023.
Ambassador Hiroshi Ishikawa
Mr Makato Takashima, SMBC Chairman
Mr Akihiro Fukutome, SMBC President and CEO
Ladies and gentlemen
It is my pleasure to join you this evening to commemorate SMBC’s 60th anniversary in Singapore. Let me first express my deepest condolences on the passing of SMFG President and Group CEO Jun Ohta. Ohta-san was an esteemed leader who led SMFG in strengthening its presence in ASEAN and contributing to the multi-faceted cooperation between ASEAN and Japan.
SMBC, a key part of SMFG, has a rich and impressive history that dates back more than 400 years ago. From its roots as a domestic bank in Japan since 1876, it is now a global firm operating in 39 countries. SMBC first opened its doors for business in Singapore in 1963, two years before Singapore’s independence. It was a small team of about 30 employees, operating from an office in Cecil Street. At that time, Singapore’s financial sector was just a small part of our economy, contributing 5.1% of GDP. Today, our financial sector makes up 14% of Singapore’s GDP, while SMBC is the largest Japanese bank in Singapore, with more than 1,300 employees. SMBC’s Singapore office serves as the Asia Pacific regional HQ, covering 15 markets across the region including India and Australasia, with strong capabilities in corporate banking, infrastructure finance, and sustainable finance. In fact, the late Ohta-san himself spent some years working in Singapore, and spoke positively about how he benefitted from working with a diverse team.
SMBC’s presence and familiarity in the region means that you are well-placed to seize opportunities in Asia, and serve as a bridge for Japanese companies seeking to access new markets. Indeed there are many opportunities. ASEAN’s combined GDP is projected to hit US$10 trillion by 2030, with nearly 70% of ASEAN’s population turning middle class by then as well. Similarly, Japan is a bright spot within the region, with analysts forecasting healthy economic growth of 2% in 2023, compared to 0.5% to 1.1% elsewhere in Asia. Japan’s equity and real estate markets are also robust. When I visited Japan earlier this year, I met with many companies and institutions, and spoke to policymakers. I was impressed by the commitment to research and innovation, as well as deep capabilities in technology. There is much that Japan can offer and contribute to the region and the world. This is why I had suggested to Takashima-san, when we met in Tokyo earlier this year, that since SMBC services many innovative Japanese companies, SMBC could play a role in encouraging these companies to internationalise and explore new opportunities in the region! And Singapore would be happy to serve as a base for Japanese companies to grow in the region. This would be mutually beneficial, and befitting as we celebrate 50 years of ASEAN-Japan friendship.
In particular, I see sustainability and technology as two promising areas where we could foster deeper regional cooperation. I am happy to see that SMBC has been facilitating this, leveraging on your expertise and networks in the region. In the area of technology, SMBC set up its Asia Innovation Centre in Singapore in 2017, which develops innovative digital solutions, such as an end-to-end digital supply chain finance platform, that are rolled out to the wider region.This year, SMBC also founded the Asia Rising Fund, a US$200 million Corporate Venture Capital fund in Singapore, to invest in FinTech startups in the region. In the area of sustainability, SMBC is a regional leader in sustainable financing, and has been a key lending bank for green energy projects in the region. In Singapore, SMBC is financing our first hydrogen-ready plant. We also appreciate SMBC taking on a pivotal role in national initiatives such as MAS’ AI utility NovA!, which supports financial institutions to assess the sustainability performance of Singapore’s real estate sector; as well as the recently announced Transition Credits Coalition (or TRACTION), to identify barriers and solutions to develop transition credits as a viable market solution.
As growth areas, technology and sustainability require a strong talent pool. I am glad that SMBC has been an active participant in our Institute of Banking and Finance’s Technology in Finance Immersion Programme. This programme offers structured training and attachments to mid-career individuals, so they can be re-skilled for a tech career in the financial services sector. SMBC is also a founding partner of the Singapore Green Finance Centre (SGFC), our first Centre of Excellence for sustainable finance. Established in 2020, this Centre supports research, education and talent development in sustainable finance. As a founding partner, SMBC has contributed to the deepening of knowledge in sustainable finance through delivering seminars, contributing to research and providing advisory counsel to the SGFC Board.
SMBC has been a steadfast partner to Singapore over the past 60 years. We value our close relationship, and look forward to continue working with SMBC, to deepen the bank’s footprint in Singapore and across the region.
As Ambassador mentioned earlier, Japan and Singapore share an excellent relationship, with bilateral as well as regional cooperation in many areas. There is a lot of scope to explore new opportunities and do more together, including the intermediation of finance which SMBC and many Japanese banks in Singapore can enable.
So thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of your celebration. My heartiest congratulations on your 60th anniversary and I wish all of you many more good years ahead!
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