DPM Heng Swee Keat at the WMI Global-Asia Family Office Summit

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 12 September 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the WMI Global-Asia Family Office Summit on 12 September 2023. 

Mr Lim Chow Kiat and Ms Foo Mee Har,
Chairman and CEO of the Wealth Management Institute

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Good morning. I am delighted to join you this morning for the Global-Asia Family Office Summit. 

The community of family offices in Singapore has grown from just 400 in 2020, to more than 1,100 family offices today. I see familiar faces as well as newcomers – a very warm welcome to everyone. 

In Singapore, we place great value on community and community-building. 

In a few days, we will mark the 100th birth anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding prime minister. I am heartened to see many community-led events commemorating this.

Mr Lee and his fellow founders had deep conviction in building a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society. These values have been the foundation of Singapore’s progress, and anchor our efforts to continuously harness the strengths of our diverse people. 

Beyond Singapore, we seek to build good understanding and partnerships with our broader community – ASEAN, Asia and the world. So it is apt that this is a “Global-Asia” Summit!

I am therefore glad to see our family office community grow, and coming together regularly. Coming together provides the opportunity to make new connections, learn from one another, and hopefully do new things. 

Let me begin by talking about two distinctive expressions of community in Singapore, and its relevance to you as family offices operating here. 

Giving as a way of life

Singapore is an immigrant society. During the early colonial days, there were stark differences across the strata of society. This is where philanthropy in Singapore began. 
Initially, the successful merchants and businessmen formed clan groups or built places of worship, to form communities of support. 

Syed Omar bin Ali Aljunied, a wealthy trader, built the Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka to serve Malays, Jawi Peranakans, Indonesians and Arabs. 

Over time, the notion of philanthropy grew wider and more inclusive. Tan Kim Seng, a successful businessman, made a generous donation to develop Singapore’s first reservoir and waterworks, to give all residents access to clean water. 

A group of Chinese merchants set up the Thong Chai Medical Institution to provide free healthcare to all people, regardless of race, religion, and social status. 

And during the post-war period, Che Zahara’s Malay Women’s Welfare Association provided food and accommodation for women and children of different races and religions. 

In our audience today are families who have an established tradition of giving, and have generously contributed to many institutions and causes in Singapore.

But philanthropy in Singapore is not confined to the wealthy giving back to society. It is a way of life for all Singaporeans. 

For example, every Singaporean employee makes monthly contributions to their respective communities through the self-help groups funds, which support lower-income households and the less privileged. 

Our Community Chest has a SHARE programme, where employees can contribute monthly donations that is directly deducted from their wages. 

I am very heartened that the habit of giving is built at every level of our society, and even those with modest means actively give back.  

Philanthropy and giving, be it through monetary donations or volunteering time for a good cause, gives everyone a stake in building a better society. 

This is the broader point about philanthropy – it builds solidarity and strengthens cohesion across groups. In turn, these enable us to sustain a harmonious society, even amid diversity. 

Leaving something better behind

We can all appreciate how our acts of philanthropy support those around us here today. But equally important is our support and solidarity for those who are not yet here, those who are not yet born. I am speaking about our future generations. So let me now turn to the second expression of community in Singapore – our commitment to investing for the future, and for future generations. 

You would all be familiar with this, as your work is centred on sustaining financial success and creating legacies across generations. 

Singapore started out with the odds against us. Mr Lee Kuan Yew called us an “improbable, unlikely nation”. But through the leadership of Mr Lee and our founding fathers, as well as the gumption and hard work of our pioneer generation, Singapore defied the odds, overcame our challenges, and thrived.

We were fortunate that our founding fathers had the wisdom and discipline to build up our reserves even as we were rapidly developing and needs were numerous.

Beyond saving up, we also wanted to make good use of our reserves – thus the establishment of Temasek and GIC to steward our reserves. 

This far-sightedness has helped Singapore tide through crises, most notably the recent COVID pandemic. As the then-Finance Minister, I delivered five Budgets within a year, and went to the Elected President to seek her approval to unlock the reserves to save lives and livelihoods.

We drew down around $40 billion of our past reserves during the pandemic. This enabled us to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more quickly. 

Most countries also provided substantial financial support, but Singapore was one of the few that did not have to borrow a single cent. 

This is important, because we did not create a debt burden that had to be repaid by future generations. Our current generation inherited this contingent gift from our pioneer generation, which in turn safeguarded it for our future generations. 

This is an important principle of governance that Mr Lee and the founding generations set out for Singapore, and one which my colleagues and I in the government today are committed to abide by, for the generations to come. 

Our reserves are strategic assets that carry the commitment of past generations to the next, binding us together across generations. 

Singapore for Family Offices

I hope that what I’ve shared with you about Singapore’s values and history resonates with you, and strengthens your belief that Singapore is the right place for you to build and realise your legacies.

Besides our good governance, strong linkages and reliable infrastructure, which makes us conducive as a financial and economic centre, we have a rich tradition of philanthropy and giving.

As family offices, you seek to deploy capital in a manner that achieves financial and social impact, sustained across generations. 

This is something that we understand intimately, and have been practising for decades. 

We appreciate that family offices tend to take a more long-term and patient stance towards investments, which are especially helpful for funding innovation to address global challenges like climate change and ageing populations. 

We have seen good examples of family capital like SAN Pacific, Ritz Venture Capital and DGDW Pte Ltd, enabling Singapore-based startups like ACM Biolabs and SunnyStep to launch and scale. 

In particular, family offices can play a leading role in the green transition, and facilitating sustainable, inclusive growth. 

Asia will be a critical contributor to the global race to net zero. Within Southeast Asia, we need between US$1 to 3 trillion in investments to close the emission gap by 2030, but the current investment level is less than US$20 billion. 

Financing this gap will require creativity and collaboration across public and private capital, and this presents opportunities for family offices. 

In particular, those whose roots are in Asia will find it even more compelling to channel your resources and build your legacies in the region. 

As you seek to deploy wealth more purposefully, Singapore will be happy to partner you in growing your impact. 

First, you can tap on Singapore’s networks and linkages to deploy capital to productive sectors of the economy, address key challenges, and create an enduring impact. 

Our government agencies actively facilitate partnerships across the philanthropic ecosystem. 

MAS supported the launch of the Impact Philanthropy Partnership (IPP) by the WMI and the private banking industry in Singapore, to bring together high net worth individuals and families.

EDB has also been engaging both private foundations and international non-profit organisations, to facilitate partnerships and create impact through Singapore. 

We are also exploring how to develop a platform to catalyse blended finance in Asia. This platform will be a private-public partnership that marries different forms of capital – from development banks, philanthropies, family offices, banks, institutional investors – to finance marginally bankable green and transition infrastructure projects. 

Second, Singapore can serve as Asia’s centre for philanthropy – our conducive tax and regulatory frameworks can provide you a base from which to do good. 

We recently enhanced our tax incentives to encourage single family offices to deploy capital purposefully towards environmental and social causes, both in Singapore and overseas. 

In addition to the 250% tax deduction rate for qualifying donations to Institutions of Public Character and eligible institutions in Singapore, family offices can soon receive 100% tax deduction for overseas donations through qualifying local intermediaries. 

As blended finance is an important vehicle to bridge the financing gap for climate change mitigation, investments in blended finance structures and climate-related investments can now be considered eligible investments to meet conditions under our tax incentives. 

Besides tax frameworks, our Commissioner of Charities' Office works with partners and stakeholders to strengthen local charities’ capabilities and governance, including through the implementation of the Code of Governance for Charities. We want to provide assurance that you can confidently give to local charities and conduct philanthropic activities out of Singapore. 

Third, Singapore is building an ecosystem of talent and resources to support your growth and help you achieve social impact. 

For example, the MAS is working with the industry to create an online portal, which will allow donors to carry out due diligence on local and overseas charities and measure the impact of their contributions.

In addition, the MAS together with the Institute of Banking and Finance has published a set of technical skills and competencies that financial sector and family office professionals should possess, to provide philanthropy advisory services. Locals who attend training courses benchmarked against these skills and competencies can obtain co-funding support for their course fees.

The WMI, established two decades ago to build capabilities in wealth management, has expanded its offerings in recent years to support the growth of family offices and the philanthropy sector. 

The WMI trains family office executives, management and advisers, and conducts practical research with stakeholders like the Asia Philanthropy Circle and Asia Community Foundation, to serve and strengthen the family office ecosystem. 

Platforms like the Global Family Office Circle also help to build a strong community of family offices in Singapore, to galvanise action in common areas of interests. 

I am therefore delighted to hear about WMI’s latest initiative which Mee Har just shared – the Family Office Discovery Series – to orientate new family offices to Singapore’s rich ecosystem and the opportunities we offer. 

This will offer practical advice and best practices as you navigate our innovation and social impact communities, to understand how best to deploy your capital, and find causes that resonate with your values and beliefs. 

It will also help you link up with existing networks and connect with like-minded family offices to exchange best practices and foster collaboration. 


In conclusion, our hope is that more than just operating out of Singapore, you will sink your roots here and be a meaningful part of the Singapore community. 

For family offices and Singapore to thrive together, we must foster a sense of belonging and support you in integrating into Singapore. 

I started out telling you about why and how Singapore values community building:

From our pioneering philanthropists whose contributions uplifted society and strengthened social cohesion, to our commitment to investing for the future, and for future generations. 

I am excited to be here amongst the next generation of philanthropists and impact makers, keen to contribute and make a difference in Singapore, in Asia and around the world. 

I hope that we can build a fruitful and symbiotic relationship over time, where our strong ecosystem enables you to create impact and contribute meaningfully to Singapore, Asia and the world’s growth. 

In so doing, you will not just uplift many communities, but also inject fresh energy into the global development agenda and towards the outcomes articulated under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

This will be a long and arduous journey, but by walking alongside a strong community of like-minded partners, you can amplify and multiply your impact. 

Today’s Summit is an excellent platform that brings together many family offices, at differing points of your journeys, together. 

Wherever you may be from, I encourage you to connect with one another, share generously, and identify opportunities to collaborate, because collaboration will allow you to make an even bigger impact. 

I hope the Summit will bring fruitful insights, spark fresh connections, and catalyse new collaborations across our community. Thank you very much.