May 27, 2017


BECOMING a financial consultant opens a world of opportunities, and the options can be overwhelming. There are many financial advisory firms in Singapore with distinct cultures and philosophies. If you’re just starting out, or looking for a change, here are some considerations you should take into account:

Critical things to look for in a good financial advisory firm to work with

Whether a financial advisory firm is “good” depends just as much on your own aptitude and inclinations. Find what’s right for you, instead of just taking others’ opinions at face value. Here are key things to look for in your search for a potential financial advisory firm to work with:

  1. They should not come between you and the best interests of your clients
  2. Good career progression prospects
  3. Holistic benefits and growth opportunities – look beyond just a pay cheque
  4. Provides the right working culture and support you need
  5. Provides mentorship and guidance

If any of these five points resonate with you, perhaps it’s time to think about what Manulife FA has to offer you.


1. The financial advisory firm should not come between you and the best interests of your clients

A good financial advisory firm will never push you to sell financial products that don’t fit your client’s profile. They will always respect your decision to place your client first, so there’s no conflict of interest.

Manulife FA has a team of financial consultants who are always taught to find the best policies for their clients. Contrary to popular belief, Manulife FA financial consultants do not just advise on Manulife products – they will even recommend policies from other insurers (such as Aviva, Tokio Marine, NTUC Income, China Life and Swiss Life) if they offer a better fit with their clients’ needs.  Manulife FA also works with a range of other partners’ platforms such as iFast, FAME and Navigator.

With the flexibility of various product offerings and a range of available platforms, Manulife FA’s financial consultants are able to truly put their clients’ needs first, instead of being pressured to advance sales of products by a particular insurer. You can speak to Manulife FA directly for details on how their multi-insurer and multi-product model works.


2. Your financial advisory firm should provide good career progression prospects

A good financial advisory firm to work for is one that shows good career progression prospects. You should also feel empowered to step out of your comfort zone, enabling you to grow professionally and demonstrating qualities you may have, such as leadership potential. Following the same routine day-in and day-out can stifle your career development due to the lack of exposure in other areas.

For example, a good financial advisory firm will clearly communicate the different career stages that lie ahead in your professional journey. They will be upfront and candid when assessing your strengths, while ensuring that you’re aware of your blind spots or weaker abilities. Feedback from your bosses and peers should be constructive, empowering you to better yourself.  Regardless of what your ‘end game’ might be – from providing better solutions to your clients, to becoming your own branch director– you will need a good financial advisory firm that will reward your hard work and recognise your talents for what they’re worth. You should feel empowered to get to where you want to be.


3. Holistic benefits and growth opportunities – look for benefits beyond just a pay cheque

It’s important to see the bigger picture: the right financial advisory firm will allow you to achieve your full growth potential by providing you with the right opportunities. While commissions may seem attractive, these might not be sustainable in the long run or be subject to cuts. Good financial advisory firms should take longer-term considerations into account, such as ways to derive recurring income, so as to future-proof their financial consultants’ needs.

A diversified product mix also ensures that you won’t have to face the conundrum of only having a fixed number or type of products to sell, since there will always be alternatives you can rely on to find the best-fit product for your clients’ needs.

Providing training budgets and allocating the necessary resources to ensure you’re adequately equipped to help your clients reach their financial goals are also important.


4. Find a financial advisory firm that provides the right working culture and support you need

While there is no “correct” working culture or environment, it’s important to find a culture that fits you well. With 17 different branches among its group of over 600 financial consultants, Manulife FA offers a wide range of options – chances are you’ll be more likely to find a branch whose values and ideals coincide with yours.

Having the right support and sufficient resources are also important. Having a reliable and trustworthy partner for support provides assurance that your financial advisory firm has fundamentally secure backing, instead of being a random ‘fly-by-night’ operation. As part of its unique operating model, Manulife FA enjoys the corporate support of Manulife Singapore. As a large financial institution that has been in Singapore since 1980, Manulife Singapore is a key player in the local life insurance industry. Manulife FA’s financial consultants can therefore tap onto resources and support from Manulife Singapore, which otherwise wouldn’t be available at other financial advisory firms. Such support only goes to show how much importance Manulife FA places on empowering its financial consultants to provide the best possible client solutions and experience.


5. The financial advisory firm should provide mentorship and guidance

Most insurers will place new financial consultants under mentorship; this is quite routine and expected. However, here’s an important thing to remember about mentors:

Effective mentors are not just people who teach. They are people in whose presence you can learn.

It’s possible that the methods used by some mentorship programmes will not work for you. For example, some mentorships will have you start learning by ‘classroom-based’ learning: getting a theory-based basic understanding of what you’re meant to do, before gaining more practical exposure.

Other mentorships may be more focused on practical experience; you may be told to go out and talk to people first, and receive pointers on how to improve only afterward.

None of these methods are objectively “more correct” than another. But you need to ensure that the methods are working for you, and you’re in a financial advisory firm which actually teaches you what you need to know.

Sometimes it may take a bit of searching to find the right fit and what works for you – that’s perfectly normal. With 17 different branches under its wing, Manulife FA would be a good place to start your search.


This is an editorial series done in partnership with Manulife Financial Advisers.

Featured image From Pixabay user AlexanderStein.

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Someone using the Uber app while a taxi passes by

by Sharanya Pillai

PRIVATE-HIRE cars are now the rage on Singapore’s roads. Thanks to the likes of Uber and Grab, the number of chauffeur-driven private cars in Singapore is at an all-time high of over 40,000, The Straits Times reported yesterday (May 24). This is a 70-fold increase from 2013, when the ride-hailing disruptors first entered the scene. 

The taxi industry is facing stiff competition, given that the number of private-hire cars is now 1.5 times the number of taxis. The bulk of the increase comes from passenger cars that are converted into commercial ones via Grab and Uber. We look at the ways anyone can ride a car now:

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1. Economy and luxury cars

Ride-hailing apps Grab and Uber offer private rides on different price levels. Uber comes with the choice of UberX, regular economy cars, or UberExec, which offers models such as the Audi A3 and BMW 3-Series.

Similarly, GrabCar has two price ranges: Economy and Premium. For an extra $2, you can also hire a GrabFamily car, that comes with a booster seat for a child.

Both companies also offer SUVs that can seat up to six people.

2. Pool for a lower price

Sharing a ride isn’t just in vogue for late-night TV hosts, but also for budget-conscious customers. Uber rolled out the ride-sharing service UberPool last June, which matches passengers travelling along the same route, for a cheaper fare. Last year, one in every three UberX rides was pooled.

Not to be outdone by its rival, Grab launched a similar service, GrabShare, in December. One difference is that Grab only allows for two bookings to be pooled – minimising interruptions to the journey.

3. Get social with strangers

Grab’s social carpooling service GrabHitch lets customers share the ride with drivers heading to the same destination. Unlike the other services, GrabHitch is marketed as a “social” platform to meet new people, where customers are encouraged to take the front seat and talk to the drivers – not really for those who might prefer a quiet ride.

Another carpooling startup, RYDE, also markets itself as a social platform. Like GrabHitch, RYDE customers can choose their drivers, and the fee is determined based on distance. Prices are generally cheaper than regular taxis.

4. Getting the best deal

With the expanding number of choices, it can become difficult to determine which might be the most affordable or value-for-money option. British startup Karhoo was poised to help with that, by offering a ride-booking app that compares prices across all the competitors – but its Singapore office abruptly halted operations last year. For now, it seems like math skills and reading online reviews might be the best way for the budget-conscious.

With all the excitement over the disruption, it may seem like ride-hailing apps are the new royalty on the roads, it doesn’t seem like the traditional taxis are going away anytime soon. In its bid to take over SMRT’s taxi business, Grab faces obstacles in the form of concerns over the jobs of taxi drivers.

The ride-hailing apps may also need to rejig their business models to ensure stability, according to experts interviewed by The Straits Times. While Uber and Grab have tried to “out-discount” each other, offering promotions into the long-term is unsustainable, the experts said. Notably, Uber has been bleeding money at an alarming rate – which raises the question of whether the private car model is truly a profitable model.

But for now, as the incumbents and disruptors compete to dominate the roads, it looks like consumers can continue to benefit from the sweet deals arising.


Featured image from TMG file.

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by Danielle Goh & Sharanya Pillai

AS PATRONS of the Happy Hawkers coffee shop at Tampines Street 86 have their late-afternoon meals, child-like voices ring out in the background: “Excuse me, I’m helping with tray return.”

When customers obstruct the pathway, they are greeted with sad eyes.

The voices and facial expressions belong not to actual children, but two humanoid robots, each over 1.7 metres tall, manufactured by local company R Factory. As part of their daily duties, the nameless robots patrol the premises – about the size of a classroom – on wheels. One robot is reserved for Halal food, and the other for non-Halal food.

As businessman Mr Patrick Tan tucks into a bowl of ramen, one of the robots rolls along past him. Amused, he says: “These are just gimmicks. When we come to an eatery, what we want is just good food, a clean place and (being able to) make sure that we don’t get food poisoning.”

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The non-Halal food robot at the Happy Hawkers coffee shop in Tampines.

The Happy Hawkers outlet, run by Koufu, is one of two heartland coffee shops developed using innovative business models under the G’s Food Services Industry Transformation Map. The other is the FoodTastic coffee shop at Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1, run by Chang Cheng. Both outlets opened on Sunday (May 21).

But customers are having mixed feelings about the hi-tech trappings of the “productive” coffee shops.

A major feature of the coffee shops is the emphasis on making ordering more efficient, while encouraging customers to go cashless.

The Tampines outlet boasts touch-screen panels next to every stall for self-ordering and payment with cash or card. Customers are given a five per cent discount when they use cashless payment methods like NETS, credit or debit cards.

Few patrons actually used the panels, instead reciting their orders to the hawkers as usual. The hawkers themselves then stepped out of their shops to complete the order on the machines and show customers how to pay.

For housewife Ms Joanne Teo, the new system introduces too many intermediary steps. The 40-year-old ordered rice and mixed vegetables on the touch-screen panel, but said that the hawkers did not start preparing the dish until she realised that she had to pass them her receipt.

“It would be easier for me to just tell them what I want,” she said, adding that the elderly living in the rental flats nearby might struggle with using the system.

But some elderly that The Middle Ground (TMG) spoke to actually enjoy the new technology. Retiree Mr Bernard Loy, 60, is an avid user of Koufu’s Beat the Q app, which lets him browse the menu and order using his smartphone. Users also enjoy a ten per cent discount.

“The prices are reasonable with the app,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

Over at the Choa Chu Kang coffee shop, another senior had a different opinion. As she settled down at a table with her friends, 62-year-old Ms Judy Eu was visibly flustered, uttering “hen ma fan” or “very troublesome” in Mandarin.

Unlike the Tampines coffee shop, FoodTastic has six centralised self-ordering kiosks at the front of the outlet – similar to those at fast food chains. Most kiosks only accept card payment, some accept both cash and cards.

The interior does not consist of individual stalls, like a typical coffee shop, but instead has collection counters. While this greatly reduces manpower, it also means not being able to see the chicken hanging from the hook at a chicken rice stall, or hand-pick ingredients for yong tau foo, which Ms Eu resented.

She also found it difficult to use the touchscreen interface at the kiosk, saying that it was slow in response. “If I have special requests, like less ice in my drink, I also can’t (specify) it in the machine,” she added.

And it also gets a bit more complicated with ordering drinks. While it was a breeze to select an order of milo gao (concentrated milo) or milo xiu dai (milo with less sugar), there was no option to order a combination of milo gao xiu dai (concentrated milo with less sugar).

When TMG tried to make a special request on an order – mee goreng without bean sprouts – a member of the staff had to personally pass the message to the kitchen.

However, staff whom we spoke to were receptive towards the new technology. Ms Yong Mui Mui, 64, a part-time cleaner at FoodTastic said that a new automated tray return system, which has yet to come into operation, would ease her workload during peak hours.

A new cleaning robot also assists Ms Yong with nightly duties.

Similarly, Mr Ng Siew Boon, a worker at one of the Happy Hawker stalls, felt that the efforts are a “start” to becoming more efficient. “With this, we really can save on manpower in the future. It’s good to take the first step and not be afraid to try it out,” he said.

The Tampines outlet even has two extra robots that can be deployed if it gets more crowded, Mr Ng added.

This is not the first time that the G is encouraging coffee shops to become “smarter”. In 2014, food centres started introducing NETS FlashPay terminals to encourage cashless payment.

However, the reception was lukewarm. Some stall owners have stopped using FlashPay as the payment did not go through at times or that the device took up too much space in the stall, Channel NewsAsia reported in March.

It remains to be seen if the latest productivity drive – which came at a cost of $1 million for Chang Cheng and a 70 percent cost increase for Koufu – will bear fruit. For now, operators seem to bear the brunt of the costs, with customers interviewed at both food courts noting that prices remain affordable.

For many patrons like Mr Tan, the difference between a “productive” coffee shop and a typical one is not that visible yet – except for the “new and shiny” tray-bearing androids.

Even then, some things don’t really change. As Mr Tan finished his noodles, he eyed the robot – but a cleaner approached him first and cleared his tray for him.

Featured image by Danielle Goh.

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by Johannes Tjendro

THE notable thing about Mr M Ravi’s application that the recent amendment to the Elected Presidency (EP) scheme is unconstitutional is that not a single Member of Parliament (MP) raised this point during the two-day debate. Presumably, since they were sitting to discuss changing the Constitution, the thought did not enter their minds.

The closest that anyone got to was Workers’ Party’s Ms Sylvia Lim’s opinion that Parliament should not “arrogate to itself the right to decide such fundamental matters concerning the political system and state power” (Hansard 8 Nov 2016). She further suggested that the constitutional amendment on the Elected Presidency be put to a national referendum instead. She did not, however, provide a clear legal basis as to why a national referendum would make a more appropriate platform than Parliament.

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The Challenge

In a Facebook post dated May 22, Mr Ravi summed up his challenge as claiming that the amended EP scheme deprives citizens of their right to stand for public office. As a matter of fact, Section 45(1) of the Constitution does stipulate categories of people who are disqualified from running for office, such as those who are “declared to be of unsound mind”, “undischarged bankrupts”, or have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one year or more, or not less than $2,000.

But Mr Ravi also added that the amended EP scheme discriminates specifically on the ground of ethnicity. He is convinced that this renders the EP scheme amendment unconstitutional.

This places Mr Ravi’s challenge to the amended EP scheme in much broader terms than Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s challenge. Dr Tan objects to the Government’s counting of the five presidential terms that is needed to trigger a reserved election. He contends that the counting of five terms should start with Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who was the first elected president, in 1993, rather than from the term of Mr Wee Kim Wee, the first president vested with the powers of the elected presidency. He was in office when the elected presidency took effect in 1991.

Mr Ravi contends that the reserved presidential election violates Article 12 of the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination against Singapore citizens on the ground “of religion, race, descent, or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority”.

However, the EP amendment makes it clear in Section 19B(5) that a reserved election cannot be struck down “on the ground of inconsistency with Article 12”. Furthermore, Article 12 provides for exceptions so long as they are “expressly authorised by this Constitution”.

Hence, it does seem that the amended Elected Presidency is precluded from any constitutional challenge. Mr Ravi himself acknowledged this in a live video on Facebook yesterday (May 23): “I know they made one amendment in the Constitution… to exclude the judicial challenge on this.”

When TMG asked him about this, he said that he would address it in his court submission.

The Basic Structure Doctrine: Is Parliament above the Constitution?

Mr Ravi also evoked the Basic Structure Doctrine, which originated from a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that no constitutional amendment should “destroy the basic structure of the constitution”, with the help of Prof Andrew Harding of National University of Singapore (NUS), who is “a leading scholar in the fields of Asian legal studies and comparative constitutional law”.

It is noteworthy that the first articulation of the Basic Structure Doctrine in Singapore was rejected by the Singapore High Court in Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs [1989].

In 1987, Ms Teo was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), but was subsequently released following a successful judicial review in the Court of Appeal. She was then served with a new detention order signed by the President. A month later, Parliament enacted amendments to the Constitution and ISA. Ms Teo’s counsel argued that the Parliament had retrospectively usurped “judicial power exclusively vested in the judiciary, in breach of the separation of powers”.

Justice F.A. Chua ruled that, on the contrary, if Courts had the power to impose limitations on Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution, they would be “usurping Parliament’s legislative function contrary to Article 58 of the Constitution”. He further held that since Parliament gave the constitution, Parliament could also take it back.

Nevertheless, in 2012, the then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong delivered a lecture where he conveyed his belief that the Basic Structure Doctrine does apply to the Singapore Constitution. In his notion of the basic structure of the Constitution, he specifically included judicial power and the exercise thereof through judicial review, which is the means by which the courts check the illegality of legislative or executive acts.

Finally, while the High Court is bound by decisions made by the Court of Appeal, a High Court judge is not bound by decisions made by other High Court judges. On this note, he pointed out that the Court of Appeal, which upheld Justice Chua’s ruling, had declined to decide whether the High Court was correct to hold the basic structure doctrine inapplicable.

Ravi’s rant: A puppet President?

Mr Ravi went live on Facebook yesterday (May 23) to talk about his constitutional challenge against the EP scheme. Although his application was that it was unconstitutional for the presidential election to take into account race, he also lambasted other criteria for being unmeritocratic. He said that these criteria include being “wealthy” and having “$500 million or so”, being “well-connected”, and “being in certain institutions”.

He was perhaps referring to the private sector service requirement that says that presidential candidates must have served as the chief executive officer of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders’ equity for a minimum of three years. Alternatively, presidential candidates must fulfill the public sector service requirement.

He also veered into other matters such as the President being “a puppetry role”, especially judged by the fact that the President does not actually have the power to pardon death penalty cases. He recounted that he challenged this in court in 2010 only to find out that the President only has the said power “in theory”, but “in practice, it is actually the cabinet (who has it)”.

In October 2016, Mr Ravi was barred from applying for a practising certificate for two years by the Court of Three Judges — comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Tay Yong Kwang. The judges said that Mr Ravi, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006, had conducted himself “deplorably in relation to the judiciary, his clients and the profession as a whole”, including making “baseless, racially-charged allegations”.

Meanwhile, the hearing for Dr Tan’s challenge will likely be held in June, reported The Straits Times.


Featured image from Mr M Ravi’s Facebook page.

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By The Middle Ground

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday (May 23) that police and security services believe they know the identity of a suspected suicide bomber who killed 22 people, many of them children, at a concert in Manchester Monday (May 22) night.

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The Prime Minister, speaking outside her 10 Downing Street official residence, said the authorities were not ready to announce the identity of the attacker. She also said the attacker had carried out the attack alone but it was not yet clear if others had helped in the preparation. -REUTERS

Featured image is a screen grab from YouTube

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WHAT has technology really done to the dating scene?

Sure, it has helped singles reach out to a wider pool of potentials and given shy individuals a way to step out of their shells. A new set of challenges has arisen with the advent of online dating however.

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We spoke to the founder of Lunch Actually, Singapore’s largest and possibly oldest dating agency in Singapore, Ms Violet Lim, about the difficulties arising from the era of technology dating. One issue she pointed out was the sheer number of matches that dating apps provide singles with – so much so that dates don’t become special anymore.

Ms Violet Lim, CEO of Lunch Actually Group

Said the mother of two, “Because of the abundance of matches, singles nowadays do not value dates anymore and don’t feel the sense of urgency. They talk to multiple people at one time and arrange for dates with different people, it’s easy to lose interest and take the matches for granted.”

Technology has also resulted on “mini dates” through online chats such as WhatsApp. The problem with conversing online however, is that you can’t tell how a match is really like, and that might cause you to write him or her off prematurely if they appear boring or if they say something wrong, said Ms Lim.

Here are some other interesting insights into the largest dating agency in Singapore, which celebrates its 13th year in business this year.

1. How has the dating scene evolved these past 13 years?

Ms Lim: When we first started 13 years ago, there was a huge stigma attached to dating services. Many people had the impression that only “losers” – people who are not able to find someone on their own would go for such service. However, in the last decade, the perception has changed. In fact, some of my friends who used to be skeptical about dating services are now introducing their siblings or friends to join our service.

Over the years, it is evident that dating services serve a need for many singles out there. We are living in an era where people are used to outsourcing many aspects of their lives. For instance, when we are going on a holiday, we look for a travel agency; when we are looking for a job, we turn to a recruitment agency. It’s the same for many singles who are looking to find love. Rather than waiting for friends to introduce potential partners to them, many of them are now turning to a professional dating agency like Lunch Actually.

2. What are your most insightful observations about the dating scene in Singapore?

Ms Lim: WhatsApp has replaced phone calls as the most used communication tool between singles. While WhatsApp may be accessible and convenient, many singles have shared that it could also be a source of miscommunication, confusion and frustration. Unlike phone calls where you can hear the person’s voice and tonality, instant messaging apps are one-dimensional, and often one single sentence might mean A to the sender, but might be interpreted as B by the recipient. WhatsApp conversations could also be filters or “mini dates”. If one says something “wrong” or come across as “boring”, this could result in the single being “ghosted” or a planned date being cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

After each date that we arrange for our clients, we would ask them for their feedback and also if they were planning to go on a second date. For clients who say that they were not going on a second date with their match, when asked why, the reason is often – “no chemistry”. Many singles expect instant chemistry on the first date; many are looking for love at first sight. However, from what we have observed from our successful couples, it is often NOT love at first sight.

They had a good impression of each other, and continued to see each other for a second, third, fourth date. And from there, love blossoms. We always tell our clients to keep an open mind and have a positive attitude when going on first and subsequent dates. Rather than using the yardstick of how much you like the person to measure whether to go on a second date, we advise them to use the yardstick of whether you dislike the person. If you do not dislike the person, give the other person a chance. You are actually giving yourself a chance as well.

With the advance in technology and the number of mobile apps flooding the market, it has never been easier to meet other singles. At the same time, mobile dating apps also present a new set of challenges.

Because of the abundance of matches, dates are now seen as commodities. Compared to the past where each and every date is seen as important and precious, singles nowadays do not value dates as much. They are often chatting to multiple people online at any one time and are arranging simultaneous dates with different people.

Thus, it is easy to pick and choose, lose interest and take the matches for granted. Hence, the focus of all our services is to bring singles offline as quickly as possible. Like what one single has asked me, how do you know if someone is also dating others on the side? Well, the truth is, you will never know for sure. It is so easy to be messaging multiple people at the same time. However, he or she can only be seeing one person offline at any one time.

If the person is willing to invest most of his or her offline time with you, chances are, he or she is serious about you.

3. What are your most surprising revelations about the dating scene in Singapore?

Ms Lim: A survey we conducted last year with over 700 singles in Singapore revealed that while technology has helped singles to expand their social circle easily, it has also made dating more complicated. A total of 38 per cent of women, who are dating men they met from online dating platforms or dating apps, are unsure if the men are still dating other people. On the other hand, 36 per cent of men admitted to losing interest easily even before meeting the ladies after talking to them online. Therefore, they are not even giving their online match a chance to develop their connection offline.

Additionally, in relation to the increasing usage of mobile dating apps, many singles tend to misrepresent themselves in online dating as there is no verification that they are really who they say they are. This is echoed by the results of the Annual Dating Survey that we conducted with 2,000 singles in Southeast Asia late last year. When asked “Have you spent a long time chatting with someone online, only to be disappointed when you met the person in real life”, 60 per cent of women responded in the affirmative. Echoing the same sentiment, an overwhelming majority of 84 per cent of women felt that chemistry when chatting with a match online could not translate into the same chemistry when eventually meeting up offline. Lastly, 37 per cent of women also indicated that they felt that their online matches misrepresent themselves “all the time” or “most of the time”.

4. How has dating apps such as Tinder, CMB, Happn, Paktor, etc., affected Lunch Actually?

Ms Lim: And at the end of the day, there will always be new trends and new entrants to the market. I do not see the apps as competition, but as opportunities for us to also evolve and keep innovating. When we first launched esync (our online-offline dating platform), people in our team asked us why. With its lower price point, photos and so on, wouldn’t that be bad for us? Similarly with LunchClick, people feel the same way. LunchClick is free. However, at the end of the day, it educates people to outsource their dating life.

Having said that, I don’t think that the need for personal touch will diminish, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for singles. I think there will always be a need for different business models. Everyone is different and each single has different preferences. Some enjoy the convenience of a dating app where they can do everything within the app itself, but some would still prefer a personal service where they can interact with the dating consultant and enjoy the luxury of not having to do anything besides going on the date and meeting their match.

5. What have been your most memorable experiences?

Ms Lim: Probably when we signed up our first ever client. The first person who actually came to our office for a consultation was a friend of a friend after we spread the word around about what we do and our friends were also sharing about us to their single friends. That’s mainly how we got our earlier leads. So we did many role plays before that, and when the client actually came, the consultation took much longer than it usually does, and ultimately, the client said “Yes, I’ll sign up”.

Everybody was very excited and happy because that point was when it stopped becoming just a concept but something that is real, which someone was willing to put down money on.

Our most memorable set up was our first couple who got engaged.

Chris is a lawyer. When we first matched her up with Ben, she was furious. She didn’t understand why we would match her up with Ben, who is an entertainer (he does juggling, unicycling, etc.) As we had met up with both of them, we realised that they are very compatible, have many similar values as well as share a similar sense of humour. Furthermore, Ben is actually very well-educated, having a Masters from Oxford.

After much persuasion from our dating consultants, Chris reluctantly went on the date. In their own words, they got on like “house and fire”, and they got engaged within three months, and married within one year. They now are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters. We are very proud of this match as both of them would probably not have crossed paths if they had not met at Lunch Actually. And to cynics out there who might say that dating services take the romance out of dating, take it from Ben: “Love is love, no matter if you have met at a bus stop, a bar or a dating service!

6. Can you share any upcoming plans for Lunch Actually?

Ms Lim: We would like to expand into more markets in the region as well as offer more services to reach out to more singles. We would also continue to build on our positive company culture to grow and develop our Cupids and Transformers as we work together to hit our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of creating one million happy marriages!

7. Any advice for singles who are looking for love?

Ms Lim: Yes, of course!

Like everything in life, it’s all about the mindset. Are you open to meeting the right one, are you telling yourself every day that all the good men or good women are taken? If you do not believe that you can actually meet him or her, chances are you won’t.

Create opportunities and platforms to meet new people. Dating is a numbers game. If you are not even meeting 10 single men or women a year, what are the chances you will actually meet the one?

Love at first sight usually happens at the movies. After the first date, if you did not experience fireworks and instant chemistry, know that most married couples did not experience that when they first met their soulmate. Go on a second and a third date to get to know each other better. Give your date a chance, give yourself a chance. Give love a chance.


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 Featured image from TMG file.

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AT LEAST 22 people are dead, and over 50 injured after a blast at a concert in the English city of Manchester, where US singer Ariana Grande was performing. British police said that the incident is being treated as a terrorist incident.

According to Reuters, two US government security sources revealed that the incident is strongly suspected to be a suicide bombing. The Islamic State is known to encourage suicide bombers to choose soft targets, including concert venues.

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Chaos ensued at the Manchester Arena, as people scrambled out for safety. One concert-goer told Reuters: “It was a huge explosion — you could feel it in your chest. It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.”

A spokesperson for Ms Grande’s record label said that the singer is “okay”. Ms Grande later tweeted that she was “broken” and did not “have words”.

The blast is reminiscent of the Paris attacks in Nov 2015, where a concert at the Bataclan theatre was one of several targets. Three armed gunmen shot and killed over 90 people at the venue itself.

Britain is now on its second-highest security alert level of “severe”.



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WHILE Singapore has enjoyed haze-free air in May, the skies aren’t as blue on the other side. Thick smog hanging over cities has become the norm these days.

Pollution is becoming an increasingly deadly problem and the degree to which this issue is overlooked is unsettling. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported (Mar 6) that environmental risks, such as air pollution and unsafe water, take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years old every year. And this past week, many countries received grim reminders of just how severe the problem is.

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1. London, UK: No fresh air to go with your tea and crumpets

Image by Wikimedia Commons user George Tsiagalakis. 

Clean air is harder to come by in the United Kingdom (UK) than other comparable countries such as Sweden and the United States (US). In its World Health Statistics report (May 17), the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that people are 64 times as likely to die of air pollution than those in Sweden, the cleanest nation in the European Union (EU).

Traffic, power plants as well as oil and wood burning are just some of the factors that have contributed to the air pollution in the UK. The country has an average of 12.4 micrograms of fine particulate pollutants for each cubic metre of air.

WHO issued a statement urging national and international policymakers to be responsible for tackling this air crisis. Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, is also hopeful that the problem of air pollution can be resolved. “We are in the fortunate position of having the technology and resources to fix this problem. It’s time to use what we have to sort this problem out as a matter of urgency and clean up our filthy, poisonous air,” she said.


2. Henderson Island, The Pacific Ocean: Remote island full of trash

Image by Flickr user Justin Dolske. CC BY-SA 2.0.

For an uninhabited place, Henderson Island has “the highest density of plastic” that research scientist Jennifer Lavers has ever seen. According to a study published by Ms Lavers and her team on Monday (May 15), 17.6 tons of debris occupy the shores of the remote island. This is also the same amount of plastic produced by the rest of the world in 1.98 seconds.

The island, which was a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1998, had more than 53,000 pieces of man-made debris in 2015. Most of these things were “everyday consumer goods” such as bottles, cigarette lighters and fishing equipment.

Remote islands such as Henderson have become collection points for the world’s waste. With the accumulation of trash over the years, there is no doubt that this number has increased in 2017.


3. Lumbini, Nepal: Air for the enlightened soul? Not anymore

Image by Flickr user Carlos Adampol Galindo. CC BY-SA 2.0.

In yet another case of historic sites being plagued by pollution, on May 10, scientists and officials have warned that Buddha’s birthplace, a Lumbini World heritage site, faces a serious threat from air pollution. It is located in a pollution hotspot.

While the WHO’s safe limit for the pollutant is 25 micrograms per cubic metre, the Nepal government has set the national standard at significantly higher at 40. Locals and tourists are bearing the brunt of the low air qualities which comes as a result of the growing industrialisation surrounding the sacred site.


4. Jerusalem, Israel: Cross-border environmental woes

Jerusalem seen from the Mount of Olives. Image by Flickr user Dan. CC BY-SA 2.0

Water pollution in Israel is a cross-border environmental crisis. The strained relations between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority are making it difficult for authorities to implement viable solutions to tackle water pollution. On Tuesday (May 16), Israel state comptroller Joseph Shapiro slammed the government for its failure in addressing “Israel’s most serious ecological hazard”. Problematic spots include the Kidron, Hebron rivers and pollution from rivers in Gaza. The Gaza strip has been under the de-facto Hamas government since 2012. It has been the site of deadly clashes between Israel and Gaza.

“Such widespread pollution not only damages the groundwater of Israel and its neighbours, but also harms public health and quality of life,” noted Mr Shapira in this year’s annual report. The Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC) was set up in 1995 as part of the Oslo II accord. It was discontinued for several years, before it was eventually revived this year. Mr Shapira said that the low involvement of the Israeli government and local water corporations, resulted in delays and failure to reduce the level of water pollution.

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry emphasised the need for cooperation with the Palestinian authorities to reduce the threat of water pollution. “The ministry is convinced that only concerted government action and significant investment in appropriate infrastructure will improve the environmental situation in the future.”

5. Yangon, Myanmar: Canary in the coal plant

Image by Pixabay user Pavlofox. CC0.

Closer to home, Myanmar’s plans to expand its coal-fired power plants runs the risk of endangering the lives of at least a quarter of a million people in the next decade, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reported on Thursday (May 4). The Burmese government faces a catch-22 as these power plants, as harmful as they are, provide electricity to more than 50 million people by 2030.

Currently, less than a third of its population have access to electricity through a dilapidated power grid, which is prone to breaking down. The country’s energy dilemma not only affects its citizens but also foreign investors.

The extra pollution from these growing power plant networks are likely to kill 280,000 people with an increase in the risk of heart attacks, breathing problems and lung infections. “These plans do not take into account the human health costs when making choices about the country’s energy future,” said Lauri Millyvirta, Senior Global Campaigner from Greenpeace.


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by Hasan Jafri

CHINA’S reported snub of Singapore by not inviting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) meeting in Beijing last week is being blown out of proportion. Keyboard warriors have rung alarm bells that relations have hit rock-bottom; politicians and analysts have advocated a shift in Singapore’s position to mend fences.

Are bilateral relations strained? Yes, they have been for more than a year now. Are they broken and heading over a cliff, as some claim? Absolutely not. Neither Beijing and clearly not Singapore wants an escalation. There is no war of words at the leadership level, no withdrawal or downgrading of diplomatic ties, no international campaign to discredit Singapore, no economic sanctions or barriers and the People’s Liberation Army is not coming anywhere near Singapore. Differences between two friends manifest occasionally – and sometimes irritatingly.

So, chill.

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Beijing knows Singapore can be prickly and it also knows that the cost of escalation could be high. Why? Because there is interdependence. China is Singapore’s third biggest trading partner and a source of many jobs here at home. China is an emerging power, one with which Singapore has cultivated a deep, multifaceted relationship.

Will Singapore miss out on BRI because of a little friction? Reports playing up PM Lee’s absence from the meeting overshadowed the presence of a delegation from Singapore in attendance, led by National Development Minister and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong. That can hardly forbear the exclusion of Singapore from the BRI, but does point to some friction between the nations. Cooperation, officially, is still strong.

Take a few examples, beyond the BRI. For China, Singapore is a key offshore RMB trading and clearing centre which China needs because Tokyo, the other major hub, can’t be tasked with its long-term strategic objective of turning the RMB into a global reserve currency. Two, China is a recipient of more than a $100 billion in foreign investment from Singapore. Singapore has benefited but so has China, gaining expertise, global connectivity and intellectual property, some of which it can now export to developing countries under the BRI.

This flow of financial resources, expertise and know-how is not disrupted. In fact, former DPM Wong Kan Seng – whom the Chinese respect – was at the World Cities Summit Mayor’s Forum in Suzhou. While Singapore may not be seen as an active participant in the BRI or court China for investments, it is deeply involved in upgrading China’s western region, which is critical for the BRI to succeed.

To be sure, the relationship is strained, primarily around the issues of relations with Taiwan and the South China Sea (SCS) dispute. Singapore has taken a strong position on the SCS issue as a non-claimant state but one that has a strong political interest in maintaining Asean unity when it is under strain and to protect its economic interest to ensure sea lanes remain unhindered.

That position is for protecting Singapore’s interests, not one at the behest of the US, as some have argued.

If Singapore had bent to the US over the years, there would be a permanent military base in Changi and there would be a treaty-level relationship like the US has with Japan, Australia or New Zealand. If Singapore didn’t sell out to the US, why should we sell out to the Chinese? It’s strategic balance – tough to execute but necessary because the cost of “alignment” for Singapore is too high a price to pay.

It is different scenario for others. Some of our neighbours court China because they need the investments and the deeper political ties as they also do not have the deep international economic, political and military ties that Singapore has. They have their own interests, different from Singapore’s. In fact, if Singapore were to bend, some in the same countries would conveniently sneer: See, Chinese Singapore sold itself to the motherland. Singapore is not dependent on China and can afford to take an independent line, articulating and advocating its own interests – sometimes forcefully.

So why all this fuss? It is to influence public opinion, a drip-drip-drip strategy to force Singapore to bend. Highlight that PM Lee was not invited but ignore that he was in China only last September at the invitation of the Chinese for the G20 annual meeting. Highlight the Taiwan issue but ignore that the Chinese and the Taiwanese met face-to-face – in Singapore.

There are times when states disagree – and this is one of those moments. But this is not a disaster. If anything, this is a time to continue engaging even more frequently from a position of strength.

Hasan Jafri is a regional political risk analyst.


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by Sharanya Pillai

IN THE aftermath of Changi Airport Group’s (CAG) response to the fire at Terminal 2 (T2), the report card is mixed.

There was some praise for CAG’s response. Aviation experts approved of the move to shut down the entire terminal, even though the the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said that the fire, which was in a room storing air-conditioning equipment, was “small”. While some have pinpointed the airport’s open design as a contributing factor to the spread of the smoke, another expert conceded that the “benefits of an open design outweigh the fire problems”.

Meanwhile, the SCDF was lauded by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for dealing with two other fires on the same day, in Punggol Field and a Woodlands condominium.

So far, so good. CAG, however, is still battling flames over its communications strategy, with some people noting that passengers could have been notified earlier, and the transfer of passengers from T2 to T3 managed better. CAG has acknowledged the delay, but a few questions also remain, such as how exactly the fire started and whether it could have been prevented.

As more details trickle in, we look at some key numbers about the incident.

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30 minutes was how long it took for an evacuation to be ordered by the chief of the Airport Emergency Service after the fire was detected.

15,000 is the estimated number of people, including airport staff, evacuated from T2.

40 is the number of T2 flights affected.

1,000 is the estimated number of people stranded on the tarmac, and

4 hours is how long they were stuck there before being transferred to T3.

1 hour was how long the SCDF took to put out the fire.

1 hour lapsed between the detection of the fire and CAG posting social media updates on Facebook and Twitter about the situation.

Another hour later, CAG announced on social media that T2 flights will be moved to T3.

7 is the number of people provided with medical assistance. Three were taken to Changi General Hospital for smoke inhalation, while four were treated at the airport clinic.

3 is the number of units damaged in T2. Restaurants Chutney Mary and Nando’s on the third floor suffered water damage from the sprinklers while an office on the fifth floor was flooded.

8 hours 50 mins was approximately how long T2 was shut down for.

Some 24 hours after the scare, the world’s best airport is up and running again, with the exception of the damaged eateries. CAG said that it is continuing investigations with the authorities.



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