June 23, 2017

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by Danielle Goh

GAZELLES. Adaptable, fast and incredibly rare.

But these gazelles are not the four- legged animals native to Africa. It’s a term for fast growing and profitable startups. With a 20 per cent increase of profits each year, these startups are highly sought after. Their natural habitat is an ecosystem of cutting-edge research, plucky investors and initiatives by the G.

Only 8.1 per cent of startups in Singapore are gazelles, making them an endangered species here. “While the number of startups have increased, and more have received government support, not enough are becoming successful gazelles,” explained Dr Wong Poh Kam, Director of NUS Enterprise, in an interview with The Middle Ground.

Companies like Razer and gaming giant Garena are examples of gazelles from Singapore. Founded in 2009, Garena has amassed annual profits of US$200 million, evolving into one of Southeast Asia’s biggest startups.

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Before 2010, startups in Singapore were hardly a buzzword, but now they are the talk of the town.

You’ve heard of Smart Nation, and of ministers hammering on about the need for innovation and to transform our economy. In fact, the G has been steadily building initiatives to further develop the startup scene in Singapore. Helmed by Finance minister, Heng Swee Keat, the newly revamped Future Economy Council will implement proposals by the Committee of the Future Economy (CFE) to fund more research and help startups build networks overseas.

With more investors and funding from the G, the number of startups have doubled between 2004 and 2015, showed the findings of a recent study by NUS Enterprise. In the study, younger startups surveyed were companies that were founded after 2010 and mature startups were companies that have been around before 2010.

Dr Wong Poh Kam, director of NUS Enterprise speaking at Innovfest Unbound 2017. Image from NUS Enterprise

The main thrust of the research is that while efforts have paid off in creating a thriving startup ecosystem, few make the leap to become gazelles.

We break down the key developments in Singapore’s startup scene and what it could mean for the future:

1. Increased number of new startups

Startups in Singapore rank first in business churn when compared with other countries, higher than UK and the US.

What this means is that many new startups are set up, and those that don’t succeed exit.

A high business churn generally bodes well for startups. “It’s a dynamic that attracts new players. This suggests that there’s more entry into the startup scene in Singapore, and it could be an indicator that it’s growing,” said Dr Wong.

The booming numbers of startups here can be attributed in part to an improving infrastructure and ecosystem. Yet, the results are not as great as they should be. Not enough startups are becoming successful, and gazelles continue to be far and few.

 

Diagram of different types of High-tech startups in Singapore. Image by NUS Enterprise Study

 

2. Highly innovative and better protected

Younger startups are more innovative than mature startups. And many have introduced new products and services to the world. The NUS Enterprise Study also found that those who dedicate resources to research and developing tech tend to have higher profits.

While more companies own Intellectual Property (IP), a huge jump from 19.6 per cent in 2010, to 49.5 per cent in 2016, still only less than half of startups in Singapore have their own IP.

Having IP is an asset to startups, as innovations are protected. A strong IP also helps investors to be confident that the products of startups are truly unique and new.

Both young and mature gazelles in Singapore list a dependence on major customers as one of their top concerns for 2016. Dr Wong sees this as a result of some gazelles not having a strong IP.

“The large customer, knowing that you are highly dependent on them, may squeeze you on price by threatening to switch if you don’t meet their demand. It will be less of a concern if you, the supplier has strong technology or IP that is not easy for other competitors to replicate.”

3. More cha-ching from the G and investors

Roboy, an advanced robot developed at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the University of Zurich. Image by Wikimedia user Adrian Baer

Younger startups benefit from more government support schemes and venture investments than their predecessors. This is a good thing. However, these resources must be directed toward ideas that can be competitive in the global market.

For Dr Wong, deep tech is the way forward. Think Artificial Intelligence (AI), DNA sequencing and supercomputers.

“This may require looking at reallocating funding support. Although there are higher risks and higher returns, deep technology is more likely to succeed in the global market,” said Dr Wong.

For more gazelles to be created, both startups and investors must be willing to take risks, and be invested in ideas that can change the world. The G may have already got the memo, as Dr Yaccob Ibrahim, Minister for communications and information, announced the launch of AI.SG at Innovfest Unbound 2017. This initiative will bring together investors, government agencies, startups and universities to advance AI research and development. The National Research Foundation (NRF) will invest up to US$107 million in the project.

4. Younger and more equipped

Founders of startups are getting younger. About 62 per cent are 39 and below, and increasingly more founders are female, up from 5.9 per cent in 2010, to 10.6 per cent in 2016. The majority of founders are also trained in technical disciplines and have work experience.

University programmes like NTUitive and NUS Enterprise help entrepreneurs in their first forays into the startup scene. They provide support for aspiring founders, and aim to transform research into commercially viable products. NUS Overseas Colleges links students with startups from around the world, with opportunities to work in Silicon Valley, Israel, Beijing and Stockholm.

What’s exciting is that these programmes have the potential to link breakthrough research with startups.

5. Many are expanding across borders

More startups are outward looking: over 50 per cent have branches overseas, and 72 per cent derive their income from international customers. For startups to grow, they need to tap into global networks and markets.

“Singapore’s domestic market is too small, if firms want to grow, you need to get regional and global,” said Dr Wong.

Some startups like Ascent Solutions have been global ever since it started and almost all of its business is international. Six years ago, it launched a GPS tracking solution for companies transporting cargo in Africa and now it is dominating the market there.

What is clear is that although the startup ecosystem is teeming with more innovative companies, more gazelles are needed.

It’s difficult to become a gazelle because a startup must be both quick to grow, and also profitable. While there are many fast growing or growth-seeking firms, they must take risks that can sometimes cost them gravely. Cautionary tales abound: Redmart, once the largest online grocery in Singapore, had substantial amounts of VC funding, but it ran out of cash before achieving profitability. Investors quickly pulled out. It was then sold to Lazada at an estimated price between US$30 million to US$40 million, a much lower value than before.

Yet there have been some who successfully make the transition: Razer, an American gaming company jointly founded by Singaporean entrepreneur Mr Tan Min Liang and Mr Robert Krakoff, who is an American, is what Dr Wong terms as a super-gazelle.

“Both startups and investors need to take risks for startups to make the transition to become gazelles.” said Dr Wong. “It may be risky, but if there is a breakthrough product, the startup can achieve success.”

 

Featured image by Wikimedia Commons user Susan Adams. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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by George Khoo

I saw the signs a couple of months before my daughter’s wedding. The year running up to this point had been rough. I was feeling upset, tired, irritable and angry almost every day. I teared up easily and was constantly thinking negative thoughts, sometimes even suicidal ones.

Even though I was so tired most days, I wasn’t able to sleep properly, often waking up in the wee hours of the morning. How I felt added to my fatigue, frustration, hopelessness, guilt and feelings of worthlessness.

While the truth that I was clinically depressed started to sink in, I was probably still in denial and hoped that with time, rest and exercise, things would improve. However, it just got worse and the low moods and negative thoughts persisted.

Part of the reason for not seeking help early was because I’m from the medical profession. I felt that admitting that I needed help would not reflect well on me – a healthcare provider who’s not even able to care for himself.

 

How did it get this bad?

It wasn’t the volume of work that affected me most but the issues in my relationships. I have always tried to live peacefully with my fellow man and it’s not in my nature to confront others. However, the leadership roles I’ve taken up at work and in my church have increasingly put me into situations that require confrontation.

I had patients that year that I expected would be grateful to me but turned around to question me on the wisdom of the recommendations I had made with their best interests at heart. I had a colleague who was pushing me to pursue something I was not comfortable with. And I had to confront people who had made wrong choices and required disciplinary action. Meanwhile, in church, a man told me to my face that he wanted me to step down as a church leader.

The worst was when a leader at work, unhappy with a policy I was trying to revise, accused me of being more interested in systems and policies than in caring for patients. I had spent sleepless nights worrying for my patients and trying to get them good healthcare and while what the leader said was absurd, it really hurt to hear him say that to me.

All of this played into my feelings of worthlessness and frustration, causing me to feel even more irritable and upset than I already was.

 

An unusual sense of loss

At some point, however, I realised that these were not the only causes for what I was feeling. It dawned on me that a big factor was the prospect of ‘losing’ my precious daughter once she gets married. That year, we must have attended close to 10 other weddings and I dreaded going to them because they just reminded me that soon, I was to give away my own daughter. Each wedding became more and more difficult to attend and the worst was the one two weeks before her wedding. I teared throughout the wedding thinking of what it was going to be like on that day!

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I was unable to make sense of how depressed this made me feel until I read Unmasking Male Depression by Archibald D. Hart:

“Then there was the time when my first daughter was going to be married. I found myself quite depressed a few months before the wedding. Finally, it dawned on me that my little girl was saying goodbye to me in favour of a young man who was not part of me. Like it or not, being excited for my daughter was not enough to overcome my sense of sadness. I was facing a loss that could never be replaced. There were those who said to me, “You’re not losing a daughter but gaining a son-in-law.” What a ridiculous idea! What I was losing could not be counterbalanced by what I was gaining. Every father of a daughter knows that a son-in-law does not equal a daughter!”

Coming across that passage was like hitting the jackpot (not that I play). Finally, someone understood how I was feeling – he had been through the same thing and knew how I felt.

 

Getting help

I finally plucked up the courage to make an appointment with a psychiatrist to confirm my own suspicion. I needed to know for sure, to be fair to my family and my loved ones. In any case, I had reached a point where not much else mattered and I wasn’t bothered about the stigma associated with taking anti-depressants 

I had reached a point where not much else mattered and I wasn’t bothered about the stigma associated with taking anti-depressants

I was put on Lexapro (escitalopram) and during my review, three and half months after my first appointment, my psychiatrist doubled my dosage. I was definitely feeling better in terms of having less frequent thoughts of hopelessness and a stop to the suicidal thoughts but I was not “walking on clouds”. About a week later, I distinctly remember waking up one morning and thinking: “Oh, this is what it feels to be normal?” That morning, after many months of feeling down, moody and negative, I felt that burden lift. My medication was working well.

The other thing that helped me greatly was reading the Bible and other Christian literature on depression and burnout. I found them to be great in creating self-awareness and for self-therapy.

 

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”Psalm 27:13-14

“Despite being a dedicated gospel-hearted Christian who preached grace, the truth is that I was dangerously close to living a gospel of works, not grace.” – Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout

“The surprising truth is that the person who pauses long enough to refresh his soul along the way actually becomes more alert, more alive, more efficient.” – W. Phillip Keller, Strength of Soul

 

The other main factor on my road to recovery was the tremendous support given to me by my beloved wife and family. At the end of our family holiday, six weeks before my daughter’s wedding, I decided to be open with them at the airport while waiting for our flight back to Singapore. I am thankful that they took it very well and were very encouraging.

My wife, who knew my struggles all throughout, was a pillar of strength when my whole world was crumbling emotionally. She is not only my best confidante and my best friend, she also makes me laugh and reminded me to rest. She was ever patient with me when I was negative and moody and even scratches my back to help me sleep! God gave her the strength and grace to put up with me.

It’s been a two and a half year journey and while my psychiatrist has encouraged me to try weaning off the Lexapro, I realise that as long as I am in my current role, in church and at work, it would not be possible. I have tried weaning it off but have had to go back on my medication rather quickly. Nonetheless, my dosage has halved and my recovery has been steady.

Having been through the worst periods has helped me to be more disciplined about taking regular breaks. Now, I take a week off every three to four months and am intentional about observing the weekly Sabbath as a time of rest from work. As the writer Christopher Ash puts it in Zeal without Burnout, “God needs no day off. But I am not God, and I do.”

 

Stigma

I have chosen to be open about the fact that I am still on anti-depressants because there is a need to remove the stigma associated with it. In Singapore and in this part of the world, to be on anti-depressants is still very much taboo. Thankfully, I work in a Christian organization that fully understands and supports my stand. However, other employers may not be as understanding and that is probably one of the main reasons why people do not speak up – the fear of losing their jobs or not getting one should they be honest.

While it is probably too idealistic to expect no discrimination at all, I hope that we can help employers be open to accepting applicants with a history of mental illness but are stable on medication. They should be at least considered in the same way as those with other chronic illnesses such as hypertension or diabetes. As long as they are capable of performing the tasks and do not pose a danger to themselves or others, they should be given equal opportunities.

“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; 
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. – Psalm 16:6

 

Dr George Khoo is a general practitioner in his late 50’s and serves as the Medical Advisor for a Christian organisation. George is married to Mabel and has two grown up children, both happily married. George and Mabel have a newborn grandchild and are expecting a second within the next few weeks.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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L-R: Ms Charis Low, Mr Edmund Chen, Mr Mervyn Hoe

by Ryan Ong

SINGAPORE is a country of opportunities; but opportunity also means tough competition. It takes more than just talent or working hard to succeed. We spoke to some of Manulife Financial Advisers’ (Manulife FA) top financial consultants, and some shared qualities emerged.

In this article, we spoke to three successful young Singaporeans, financial consultants Mervyn Hoe, Charis Low, and Edmund Chen from Manulife FA. Be it ensuring the financial stability of the clients in their care, or gaining a place in the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), these top Manulife FA financial consultants display similar traits that took them to the top.

While their roads are different and uncommon, they all lead in the direction of extraordinary success. The key factors that set them apart are:

 

Success Factor 1: Thinking beyond paper qualifications

Ms Charis Low, Manulife financial advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.

Ms Charis Low, who was a Singapore Airlines cabin crew stewardess, graduated with a Degree in Business Marketing. Becoming a financial consultant would seem like an unlikely career trajectory; nonetheless, in the two years since she joined Manulife FA, Ms Low has already become part of the noted Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) circle.

Ms Low believes education has to be backed with the willingness to step out from one’s comfort zone: “Qualifications do matter, in Singapore’s competitive environment; but it’s not the only way to success. There are life lessons that you don’t learn in any school, outside of lectures and books.”

Mr Edmund Chen, another leading financial consultant who became part of the prestigious Court of the Table (CoT) in his first year with Manulife FA, had a more “traditional” background. He began his career in financial planning as far back as 2007, with a degree in Banking and Finance from SIM. He also believes the right qualifications mean little without persistence, and the willingness to keep learning.

“Having a degree is beneficial, as it gets you into many job openings. However, I strongly believe that that is not the only way to get opportunities in life. Being intellectual without having the right attitude will not bring you far,” he said.

“The hard truth is that a degree doesn’t necessarily result in higher earnings.”

“The hard truth is that a degree doesn’t necessarily result in higher earnings.”

“Self-discipline and persistence are imperative qualities to success. And in today’s competitive world, regardless of your line of work, lifelong learning is paramount for building a successful career.”

Mr Mervyn Hoe, another entry into the MDRT, graduated from NUS with a background in Material Science and Engineering. He only got started as a financial consultant when he helped fill out an empty spot at an orientation camp (and even then, he only sold pet insurance at the start). Today he’s a successful financial consultant at Manulife FA, and he values the ability to connect as much as he does a degree: “Academic qualifications are important in Singapore, especially if you want to climb the corporate ladder,” Mr Hoe says, “And I’m quite happy I graduated with a Bachelor in Applied Science. But the ability to meet friends in University was just as important.”

“In NUS you can meet people from all different faculties and disciplines; and it’s important to build good networks. You need to the ability to build friendships and get along with people, as you never know when you’ll need their help later.”

 

Success Factor 2: Knowing when to keep going, and when to quit

A common quality among the successful is their seemingly perfect timing – they know when to stay invested in something, and when it’s time to try something different.

For Mr Chen and Ms Low, persistence has to be balanced with the costs they’re facing.

“It’s a mistake to give up prematurely – nothing worth doing comes easy, and the middle of the road to success is always messy. But persistence doesn’t mean being to obstinate either,” said Mr Chen.

“We should evaluate the positive trends we see in our efforts. If there are none, and the price of restarting or trying a different approach would be more cost-effective, then perhaps it’s time to cut losses and move on to a new method.”

Ms Low considers the consequence of failure, when it comes to pushing on. While she agrees persistence is important, she takes the view that: “There is no right and wrong in making such decisions; you just have to weigh up the consequences of further failure. Can you manage those consequences? If your instincts and gut feel say you cannot, you should try something different.”

Mr Hoe also suggests that you need to draw a line, when it comes to work and family: “Draw a line and don’t overwork. Don’t forget about your loved ones.”

“Draw a line and don’t overwork. Don’t forget about your loved ones.”

“If you get too into your job, your job will control you, and you won’t be happy. I don’t work on weekends, even if on weekdays I have no choice and have to sacrifice time with my children.”

Ms Low also draws a clear line on when to stop. “Don’t sacrifice your health”, she said, “Because without it, you can’t do anything. And don’t sacrifice your principles.”

 

Success Factor 3: Setting separate and targeted goals for work and life

Mr Mervyn Hoe, Manulife financial advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.

Mr Hoe separates his work and personal goals: “For work, I set a new goal every year after a conversation with my boss. We set the targets to reach, as well as milestones that are broken into specific days, weeks, and months; that’s the way I’ve worked for the past six years.”

“For personal goals, I have three children and aim to spend sufficient quality time with them. I set goals to spend time to teach them and play with them, and for myself I set goals to exercise daily and learn God’s word.”

Ms Low divides her goals along broadly similar lines, although family, career, and financial goals are separated. Each goal is specific and measured: “For family goals, I set a minimum of one family trip per year, and one family dinner per week. For career goals I got into the MDRT last year, and the current one is to set up my own team. Financially, I focus on saving $150,000 a year at minimum.”

For Mr Chen, effective goal setting goes beyond the self. Success comes from also ensuring you bring others with you: “My goal is to help grow the branch, improve the personal growth of newer colleagues, and assist my clients in growing their wealth. My personal goals are to achieve financial independence, and to enjoy life to its fullest.”

However, Mr Chen acknowledges that motivation is important in reaching those goals, and one source of motivation remains: “Having the desire to contribute to and draw inspiration from others.”

 

Success Factor 4: Cultivating a sense of empathy

Life inevitably brings confrontations and disappointment. What creates exceptional people is the ability to face such situations, and defuse them with empathy.

Mr Chen actively reminds himself to cultivate this behaviour, saying: “I am very adaptable and independent, and I can act in ways that sometimes seem aloof or uncaring. So I make it a point to go out of my way, to be as sensitive as possible; to have more open communications with people around me.”

“We will face awkward or difficult conversations. We have to understand where the other person is coming from, and understand their point of view. Most people are quick to talk, but it’s important to listen,” said Ms Low.

“Most people are quick to talk, but it’s important to listen.”

However, this doesn’t mean agreeing with everything: “There are times when I’ve had to say no to my bosses as well, because of things that clash with my principles.”

Mr Hoe says besides having empathy, the key is finding solutions amidst the tension: “Every now and then I need to tell someone their insurance claim is denied, or that they do not have the right coverage. But even then it’s important to focus on helping them, and keep looking for alternatives.”

 

Success Factor 5: Being disciplined in routines

Mr Edmund Chen, Manulife Financial Advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.

As any NS man who has been on a route march can tell you, rhythm and repetition do wonders to combat fatigue. Having productive routines can help to steady your mind, and keep you focused.

Mr Chen is a big believer in discipline, of which routine is a part.

“I have a practice of waking up four hours prior to my work schedule. I include a daily run, to train my endurance and give me the capacity to keep focused with a sharp mind,” he said.

“My other routine is giving my wife a goodbye kiss in the morning, before I leave for work; and then a kiss when I return. My family, especially my wife, is a pillar of support that makes my career successful.”

“I make it a routine to spend quality time with my children, to know about their day. Engaging them through play is important- carrying them, spinning them around. Before I end my night I catch up with my wife, have a Milo and some cookies, and allow myself a short television session after the children turn in.”

Mr Hoe has a fixed schedule.In the morning, I send my children to school, and I then go jogging and do whatever marketing I need. From noon I start work, and I begin the work day by thinking of client profiles and working out the plans they can use,” he said

“Routines help, and I follow them day by day. They also give my children a sense of comfort.”

Ms Low keeps a routine that prepares her at the start of the day, and winds down toward the end: “I wake up at 9am for breakfast with my husband. I read the newspapers, create the day’s to-do list, and then keep updated (usually on investment or Forex-related issues).”

“At the end of the day I do sports; I exercise two to three times a week. Then I spend time with my husband, maybe enjoy a movie together.”

 

Looking ahead with Manulife FA

Many of these success factors are straightforward and easy to understand. But it takes effort and discipline to cultivate them, and it’s an everyday process, as these Manulife FA financial consultants have shown.

But the sooner you begin, the sooner success itself becomes a habit.

 

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

Featured image by Mohamad Aidil.  

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by Brenda Tan

ON LABOUR Day, I received a WhatsApp message from a friend whose daughter takes the same school bus as my 11-year-old girl. Her daughter had told her that Ah Girl was watching a clip from the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” – and was concerned.

“13 Reasons Why” is a television series based on a story written by Jay Asher, in which the teen protagonist who commits suicide leaves behind 13 tape recordings on why she ended her life. Each tape implicated a person whom she blamed for her choice to kill herself.

It seems an intriguing and well-constructed piece of fiction, except that when translated into a highly-publicised teen drama series, alarm bells begin ringing for parents and the international mental health community.  They understand how easily a Hollywood treatment of such a complex issue as suicide may glamorise suicide instead.

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A couple of days before receiving that WhatApp message about “13 Reasons Why”, a parent in my 9-year-old son’s class parents’ WhatsApp chat group shared a news article about the “Blue Whale Suicide Challenge”. The report, which was picked up by other major news media, linked the deaths of 130 teenagers in Russia to playing the “Blue Whale Challenge”, in which youths followed the commands of a game-master in ever-escalating acts of danger, culminating in their own suicide. Although fact-checking site Snopes.com said that the claims are unconfirmed, it’s nonetheless of concern that our young people may be susceptible to such sinister suggestions which put so little value on life.

The concerns of parents here were enough for the Education ministry to post a comprehensive advisory on schoolbag.sg regarding suicide games in the online media and how parents should handle it.

Of course, our concerns and fears for our children’s mental health is not new. No one doubts that our high-stress and exam-oriented school culture can easily create a tragic situation where failing to meet parents’ and the school’s expectations may cause yet another student to contemplate suicide. It only remains for parents and school counsellors to be vigilant when dealing with our children, to take note of their behaviour and well-being, and to create an environment where our children can feel safe enough to share their feelings of insecurity with us.

I read the news about the Blue Whale Challenge, I immediately shared the story with the kids and we had a chat about the implications of this challenge. I asked them what they thought of the challenge and how similar or different this challenge was to other internet viral challenges like the ALS ‘Ice Bucket’ Challenge and the more dangerous ‘Cinnamon’ Challenge. We talked about our responses to such challenges and dares, and what separates cowardice and bravery.

For my 18-year-old son, however, I had to be a little more subtle and a whole lot more ‘clueless’. “What’s this Blue Whale Challenge hah?” I asked him – and had him explain it to me. My “Why are they like that?” question encouraged him to give his views on the people who participated in the challenge and the game convener. It’s really good to know that he’s up-to-date with current affairs and, more importantly, to be assured that he places a high value on life.

I had to be a bit careful about talking about “13 Reasons Why” with Ah Girl though, because I didn’t want it to affect her relationship which her friend who had told her mother about her viewing the clip.

It turned out Ah Girl was watching a YouTube video on a friend’s smartphone (because her mobile doesn’t have data roaming), and the Netflix video ad for the series had to play in full before she could watch her TED-Ed video.

I asked her what she knew about “13 Reasons Why” and she shared that she knew it was an M18 show about a girl’s suicide, but she wasn’t interested to watch a show like that. Her younger Di-di, aged 9, chimed in to say that he also saw the ad for the series when he surfed YouTube, but won’t watch it “because it doesn’t have a funny part!”.

“Is there a difference between watching ’13 Reasons Why’ and ‘Star Wars’?” I asked.

“One is real, but the other is not,” the boy replied.

“Actually, both are not real,” I corrected, even though I knew what he meant. “They are both stories written by people and made into movies.”

I felt that it was important for my kids to see the difference between fact and fiction. If they mistook a fantasy for reality, it would create the basis for their behaviours and actions. This is why it is highly unlikely that playing ‘Counterstrike’ would turn Kor Kor into a terrorist, or watching ‘Star Wars’ would turn Di-di into a Sith Lord, even if we did encounter quite a number of these cosplay characters over the Star Wars Weekend at Gardens by the Bay.

However, if my kids believed that Hannah Baker’s suicide story is real, they may just simplify suicide as an option for revenge and justice from beyond the grave, and an action worth carrying out when they encounter difficult times.

Therein lies the true danger of headline news like the unverified ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ and the concerns about ’13 Reasons Why’. Both suicide-focussed stories cut too close to the divide between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy. For vulnerable youths seeking attention or help, these stories may provide an unanticipated call to action that we are not prepared for.

We can’t stop them from watching such videos and clips all the time, but we can start talking to them about the value of life and steer them into healthy pursuits. This is in the hope that the suicide option will never cross their minds as a way to overcome what problems they face. They must know that life is very much worth living whatever the fantasy or fiction might portray.

 

 

Featured image by Google user Pixabay. CCO.

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by Daniel Yap

THE focus of insurers has traditionally been on offering customers financial protection against unexpected life events such as illnesses. With good risk management and underwriting processes in place, it is generally sustainable for insurers to continue offering compelling insurance products that meet their customers’ protection needs.

But in this age of great convenience enabled by technology and with the ever-expanding food choices, it is becoming increasingly challenging for insurers to support the growing financial needs of their customers as a result of their unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

An insurer ultimately has a stake in its customers’ health, and they need to find a way to influence their customers’ lifestyle choices in order to stay ahead of the spiralling healthcare costs and ensure their long term sustainability.

How then can an insurer encourage healthy behaviours?

The human mind is wired to miscalculate decisions about long- and short-term gains (we explained it all here), like eating healthy or driving safely, are stymied by hyperbolic discounting and other types of short-term thinking. No Claim Discount for motor insurance, for example, don’t always account for the risks that others take since you only lose your discount after an accident occurs.

Discount programmes that some companies offer for healthy lifestyle choices are common, but these compete with other discount programmes from retailers or dining clubs that are designed to tempt you in the opposite direction.

But what if there was a more effective way to motivate healthy behaviours? AIA Vitality, for example, is one such attempt to help each party get the most out of their insurance – customers who upkeep a healthy lifestyle receive a variety of rewards as well as premium discounts, while those who have been less healthy would be motivated to move towards the same direction. The insurance company, on the other hand, can continue to offer customers adequate protection at affordable premiums.

The key is how AIA Vitality leverages science and technology to drive positive behavioural change by employing comprehensive tools to assess each member’s health and make tailored recommendations to help them become healthier. It also makes use of the principles of behavioural science and rewards members who are on track to becoming healthier.

The problem of hyperbolic discounting is also addressed more effectively – people tempted to veg on the sofa are given a very realistic weekly activity challenge (such as clocking 7,500 steps a day or checking in at the gym) to meet for a reward of a $5 voucher, which alone more than offsets the $3-a-month cost of being on the programme. The company partners with supermarket chain Cold Storage to offer cash back rewards worth up to $160 each month for healthy food items. Add to that a range of discounts and tie-ups with healthy partners and you have a much more holistic approach for tackling unhealthy living.

But why would an insurer give you $5 a week and more for something that you only pay $3 a month for? That’s because this method has proven to be a win-win for all – a study on Vitality members found that those who engaged in the programme were less likely to fall sick or be hospitalised for prolonged illnesses, resulting in an overall 14 per cent lower cost per hospitalised patient.

Those who ranked higher in the Vitality programme which divides members into Bronze, Silver and Gold statuses, saw a lower mortality rate in practically every age group. It’s a data-driven system that has been fine-tuned to benefit all participants.

Everyone gets what they want – customers enjoy rewards when they meet their health goals and pay less for their insurance as they become healthier. AIA Singapore, on the other hand, gains from healthier customers who will help to ensure that insurance remains affordable for all.

The end result is a more effective model than simply offering financial protection- by driving behavioural and lifestyle change, insurers like AIA Singapore are now able to keep their customers healthier, lower premium costs and stay sustainable in the long run: what the company calls “shared value for health”.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.

AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.

by Sharanya Pillai

WHEN it comes to building their love nest, it seems like young Singaporean couples prefer the tried and tested – even if it is more expensive.

Last year, one in five first-time HDB buyers opted for resale flats over new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, The Straits Times reported yesterday (May 3).  This is nearly twice the number of buyers who did so in 2012.

Thus far, HDB has reserved 95 per cent of BTO flats for first-time buyers. Heavily subsidised, these flats are often considered the most financially prudent option for first timers, especially since they come with a fresh 99-year lease, experts told The Middle Ground.

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But a desire for familiarity and a shorter waiting time are driving more young Singaporeans to the resale market, noted OrangeTee’s head of research and consultancy Wong Xian Yang.

This trend is set to continue, with stable prices in the resale market and more subsidies from the G, Mr Wong added. This year’s Budget, for instance, raised the CPF Housing Grant for resale flats for first timer couples, allowing them to enjoy up to $110,000 in total subsidies. Meanwhile, the supply of potential resale flats in 2016 was also 80 per cent more than the previous year.

“Since 2013, HDB resale prices have come down by about 10 per cent. People are more confident that the prices [have] stabilised and should not correct further. And so with more grants, many feel that resale prices are at affordable levels at the market rate,” he said.

Seems straightforward enough – why spend three years waiting for a BTO, when you might be able to move into a furnished flat with less hassle and more subsidies?

But there are more trade-offs to mull over. If you want to know what’s in this for you, here are the key factors to consider:

1. Do you want a ‘forever’ home or a stepping stone?

BTO flats come with 99-year leases, meaning that the flat can last a lifetime. But that hasn’t stopped young couples from paying more for resale flats with shorter leases, even at the risk of outliving their homes.

This trend prompted Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong to warn against assuming that all old flats will be covered by Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) – which allows owners to move to a new home with a fresh 99-year lease, along with monetary benefits.

Those who purchase old resale flats may also face difficulties trying to sell it off in future, reckons ERA Senior Division Director Alex Lim. “The demand pool for these flats among the next group of potential buyers is smaller, because younger buyers are already eliminated. So that is something to bear in mind,” he said.

OrangeTee’s Mr Wong agreed that the move has its risks: “Some couples may speculate that the value of an old flat will keep going up. But of course, there are always uncertainties.”

Ultimately, it depends on buyers’ long-term plans for the flat – whether they see it as more of a place to settle in for a few generations, as an investment to earn good returns on, or just to live in it before moving into more high-end property.

2. Postcode envy: Are some locations better than others?

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Units at the Pinnacle@Duxton became eligible for resale last year
Source: Photo by Shaun Danker

If location is a priority, the resale market offers more options than others. This is probably one of the biggest draws for young couples, who often want to live near good schools, and sometimes even upmarket locations, said PropNex Key Executive Officer Lim Yong Hock.

Units at the Pinnacle@Duxton, which just became eligible for resale last year, is especially popular among couples with higher income.

For the majority of young families that are “just starting out in life”, living close to their parents is a key consideration, Mr Lim added. Filial piety aside, first-timers are also drawn by a $20,000 Proximity Housing Grant (PHG) for buying a resale flat near their parents. The scheme, implemented in 2015, could be another “pull factor” towards the resale market, he said.

But the locations of new BTO projects may bring back some first-timers, Mr Wong noted. While earlier projects were in far-flung, newer estates like Punggol, the latest batch of BTO flats are in mature estates, like Kallang, Bedok and the Bidadari development in Toa Payoh. With more of these developments, demand trends could change again.

ERA’s Mr Lim sees more young clients attracted to BTO flats because of lifestyle factors: “The millennials go for BTOs because the flats are new and the community is new. Everyone is of the same age group. They’re looking for something brand new and affordable, and that’s the ultimate appeal of BTOs.”

3. Money over matter

Ultimately, for those starting out in life, finances are front and centre. While BTOs are generally the cheaper option, due to zero Cash Over Valuation, resale flats are becoming just as affordable thanks to the latest slew of G grants.

Effective from Feb 2017, the cap for CPF housing grants for resale flats was raised from $30,000 to $50,000 for first-time families buying four-room or smaller flats, and to $40,000 for those buying flats with five rooms or more. Other existing incentives include the Additional Housing Grant, which provides up to $40,000, and the $20,000 PHG. With these perks, the price gap between BTO and resale flats has narrowed.

But this is not necessarily the case in popular mature estates, like Bishan, Queenstown and Clementi. Resale prices there remain steep, such as those in Clementi, which have crossed the million-dollar mark. While it is easy to be swayed by news reports of price trends, Mr Wong advises young Singaporeans to do their homework and monitor the data for themselves closely.

A 2015 survey by the MND, for instance found that Singaporeans tend to overestimate the price of BTO flats. “The younger generation of buyers is very tech-savvy, so they can easily check out the HDB website to know the latest prices, and avoid these mistakes,” he said.

Meanwhile, PropNex’ Mr Lim thinks that families on a tight budget would generally be better off opting for a BTO instead. “My advice for any young couple would still be go back to the affordability. You may find a very good location, but at the end of the day, you have to slog your life away to pay the instalments.”

“Is it necessary? In life, there are also other important things, like making sure you can start your family.”

 

Featured image by Flickr user Erwin SooCC BY 2.0.

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A new Central Greenway will provide a direct and seamless connection from Pasir Ris Town Centre to Pasir Ris Park Source: HDB

by Daniel Yap

THE plans for remaking the heartlands of Woodlands, Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris have just been announced. Based on the feedback of some 400 residents and stakeholders from the towns, the plans are an indication of the aspirations of the community, and pose a question to the rest of the nation: how do we engage with each other within our built environment?

In the end, it is not just features and infrastructure, but how people – residents – interact that defines the soul of a city. What do the latest changes say about the way we want to engage in community?

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We’re going local

A little more heartlands, a little less Orchard Road. Neighbourhood centres in Pasir Ris, for example, will be enhanced with the aim of having amenities closer to home. This means less time spent travelling and more time spent in the immediate neighbourhood, and providing opportunities for local interaction.

The enhancement of comprehensive amenities at each town centre is also expected to boost local engagement and make each town self-sufficient. There is thus no need to travel across the country unless you’re looking for something specific.

A new Town Plaza in Woodlands Central will serve as a vibrant public space for residents.
Source: HDB

The character and heritage of each revamped town have also been deliberately preserved or commemorated in each plan. Toa Payoh will stay wedded to it’s iconic Ring Road, and its pedestrian walkways lined with HDB shops will not be giving way to malls – Toa Payoh has always eschewed big malls in favour of more local retail flavour. Both Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris will have heritage sites beside the town centre that tell of the town’s history. Woodlands will get a “discovery playground” that also showcases its development.

It is an opportunity to take pride in each town and its unique institutions – icons, people or features that have been around for decades. It gives character and distinction to each town and shifts the focus away from thinking of Singapore as a single physical place.

We embrace diversity

A place you can call home needs to offer something for everyone. There is a deliberate attempt to inject diversity into each town. Multi-generational facilities, “silver zones”, and a range of amenities can appeal to different interests, but one big part of the plan is to introduce more new housing units to older towns, which are likely to be bought up by younger families.

When a whole new town springs up, like Punggol, it gets filled mostly by younger families applying for their first build-to-order flats. In 20 or 30 years, these families grow as a generation and in order to inject diversity, different demographics have to be added in.

Think of mature towns like Toa Payoh, or “young family” towns like Punggol. This will cut down on the pressures of extreme local undersupply of childcare places, or very high demand in one area for elder-care facilities. It makes amenities easier to plan for, and nobody will feel left out.

Walk, cycle, or scoot

You can be sure that exercise has become fashionable when people clamour for cycling paths more than they beg for additional bus stops. That, and the burgeoning flocks of spandex-clad cyclists we see on the roads these days. The emphasis of the latest town plans has been to enhance walking and cycling facilities as a means of intra-town travel, especially with each town becoming more self-sufficient. There is less of a focus on longer-distance travel, which will be centred around MRT stations and regional centres.

Town centres will be planned with more pedestrianisation in mind. Woodlands will get a “social corridor”, interspersed with community spaces, stretching across the town from east to west, which branches out into a comprehensive network of cycling paths.

Even Toa Payoh’s ring road will be upgraded for pedestrians and runners, and the old town will be retrofitted with biking infrastructure and “silver zones” that will help the elderly get around more safely.

The growth of bike sharing companies also sets the stage for increased use of cycling as a transport option, and the bike connectivity between individual blocks and MRT stations will be a major aim of any upgrade.

We want to be green

Greening the towns has been a major theme across latest developments. Take some time to appreciate nature, get active outdoors, and please stop polluting the environment.

A seamless central greenway (with cycling paths, of course) will connect the Pasir Ris town centre with Pasir Ris Park and 8.2 km of “Nature Ways” spotted with small parks will be added along major thoroughfares. Toa Payoh will have seven “pocket parks” added along its 4km ring road.

The pocket park in front of Block 157 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh will feature landscaped spaces with plants and furniture inspired by popular motifs in the town.
Source: HDB

Woodlands too will get a green upgrade: the 1.9-kilometre WoodsVista Gallery with dedicated cycling and pedestrian paths that link Woodlands MRT to the coast.

We want to spend time with people

Who says Singaporeans are a private lot who shy away from interactions with neighbours? If it were so, people would have asked HDB to install traffic lights in the floor, and free wi-fi throughout the entire length of Pasir Ris Drive 1 so that they can get around in full “phombie” mode, ignoring everyone and everything around them.

Instead, requests by residents for the development of local community spaces like parks and town plazas are calls for more opportunities for interacting with family, friends or neighbours. A new concept of community nodes has created earmarked spaces for art installations, community gardens, reading corners, or community cafés. Sound good?

But they are only going to be as good as how we use them. The heart of any town is its people, and if residents don’t want to engage with one another, then the “kampung spirit”, will not grow. Take ownership of your neighbourhood, or leave it as it is – the outcome is up to you.

 

Want to have a say in how your town develops? The Remaking Our Heartland proposals for Woodlands (beside Woodlands MRT until April 30), Toa Payoh (HDB Hub Atrium until May 7) and Pasir Ris (beside Pasir Ris MRT until May 14) will be on display for residents to give feedback on. You can also see the proposals and give feedback online at HDB InfoWEB (http://www.hdb.gov.sg/ROH). 

This article is done in partnership with the Housing & Development Board.

 

Featured image courtesy of HDB.

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by Ryan Ong

A LOT of Singaporeans think Financial Advisers (FA) only sell insurance, but that isn’t all they do in this day and age. While insurance is part of the financial planning they do, most FAs take a holistic long-term view. Many prefer to work at building lifelong relationships, helping their clients all the way to retirement; and that means they need to do more than sell policies. Here are some other things you can get them to do for you:
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What exactly is a Financial Adviser (FA)?

In Singapore, FAs are licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) under the Financial Advisers Act.  Depending on the qualifications they’ve received (FAs do plenty of tests and exams to qualify), different FAs are authorised to offer different types of financial products, and dispense different types of financial advice. Insurance policies are just one aspect of their work.

Most FAs can also do the following:


1. Compare insurance products to give you the best s
olution for your needs

It might surprise you to learn that some FAs don’t just sell products from one insurer. Because insurance is just one facet of what they do for you, some FAs are willing to compare different policies for you depending on your lifestyle needs and affordability to suit your needs and get a better deal.

Some Manulife FAs, for example, will compare different insurance policies to make sure you get the right products within your budget. They can end up recommending or selling policies from other insurers, if they feel it’s a better fit for your portfolio*.

This isn’t to say FAs who work with specific insurers are bad; they are just more focused on helping certain demographics. But if you’d feel better with an adviser who will compare across the industry for you, know that there are many who will.

(*That’s why a lot of new FAs, who often seek to help families and friends as their first clients, tend to end up with the Manulife Financial Advisers; it lets them pick from a wider range of options, to deal with the individual cases that they’re intimately familiar with).

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2. Help with your retirement planning

For most Singaporeans, retirement planning is quite straightforward (just decide who gets the house, the car, and nominate someone to get your remaining CPF monies).

However, FAs would be around to help if your legacy planning is more complicated. For example, if you pass away unexpectedly and your 15-year-old child is to inherit the house. Or if you own a business, which is to be inherited by two or more children; and you want to establish rules on whether and when that business can be broken up and sold.

Most FAs know the proper safeguards when handling retirement planning, and can at least refer you to the most appropriate and cost-effective experts to help.

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3. Check up on other investments you’re considering

Different FAs will, depending on their network and qualifications, offer different depths of service. However, all of them understand how to build your portfolio for retirement or other purposes. They will know the right level of risk, and whether a given asset fits your portfolio.

This makes FAs a useful source of advice, if you are considering different investment opportunities. For example, if you want to invest money to help your children open their own café, your FA can determine how this will impact your portfolio, and make changes accordingly (or frankly advise you against it, if that’s what must be done).

FAs can also research alternative investments you’re considering, such as gold exchange-traded funds or property investments, and determine if they are viable additions to your portfolio.

Due to their extensive involvement in the finance industry, FAs are also more aware of potential scams, or entities on the MAS watch list (these entities often rebrand themselves to confuse the public).

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4. Continuously rebalance your portfolio to fit life’s changing circumstances

Proper retirement planning is not done in a single session. You’ll need to rebalance your portfolio (the various assets that make up your wealth) on a regular basis.

One example of this is age: As you get older, your portfolio should shift from growing your wealth to protecting it. This means exchanging riskier, high return assets, such as equities, to safer assets like Singapore Savings Bonds, or even simple fixed deposits.

Also, your changing financial situation can require quick, drastic changes. If you’re suddenly retrenched, for example, you may need to change your insurance policy to something with lower premiums.

You can get your FA to do formulaic and calendar based rebalancing, to deal with these.

Formulaic rebalancing means your FA can recommend changes to the assets in your portfolio, when they no longer meet a planned asset allocation (this happens as a result of changing values among various assets, from stocks to cash).

Calendar based rebalancing is often done annually or semi-annually. Your FA will rebalance your portfolio, will deal with your changing age, along with new needs such as sending your children to university, or buying a new house.


5. O
ne-stop value-added information source

What are the implications to your housing loan when the American Federal Reserve imposes an interest rate hike? What does it mean for Singapore Savings Bonds when the Singapore Government Securities Yield falls?

If you don’t have the time to find out, your FA is a quick source. Besides being able to explain how current events are going to impact your portfolio (or your wallet), FAs are the most common intermediary between the finance industry and the lay person. They’re a good way to get smart about fluctuations in the market, and to better understand the financial world.

In personal finance, bad decisions often come from a lack of understanding; FAs explain situations, which reduces drastic mistakes like selling off your assets in a panic.

If something in the news alarms you, be sure to call them before you react.

 

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

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Mahita Vas

IN OCTOBER 2015, my husband and I contacted one of the participating insurance agencies about signing up for the Integrated Shield Plan (IP). We were keen on a better coverage than what was offered on our MediShield Life plans. Within days, we heard that my husband’s application had been approved. Mine was rejected, but the agent said she would appeal. Less than a week later, I was told the appeal was also rejected. No other option was offered.

I tried all the other agencies. At that time there were five – AIA, Aviva, Great Eastern, NTUC Income and Prudential. I was rejected by all of them. Great Eastern told me not to bother applying because my application would definitely be rejected.

Disheartened, I pointed out that I was fit and healthy. I exercised regularly and was careful about what I ate. Neither a smoker nor a drinker. Minimum eight hours sleep. But the answers were all the same – nope. Not approved.

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All because I share one thing in common with these people – Catherine Zeta-Jones, Graham Greene, Winston Churchill, Nina Simone, Lee Joon, Demi Lovato, Carrie Fisher and Eason Chan. The list goes on: Mel Gibson, Stephen Fry, Edgar Allan Poe, Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Winehouse, Vincent Van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig van Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Florence Nightingale. The list does go on but I’ll stop here.

They are amongst the greatest artists, musicians, performers, writers and thinkers who ever lived. I cannot, dare not, compare myself to any of these leaders in their respective fields, being nowhere nearly as accomplished as any of them. Great as their achievements have been, they are also, first and foremost, people. Just like me. And like about 2 per cent of the world’s population, including Singapore’s.

People with a dreadful illness once known as manic depressive illness, now known as bipolar disorder. An illness marked by extreme mood swings, where patients go from feeling overly happy to feeling empty. Bipolar disorder is indiscriminate, incurable and requires lifelong medication. With diligent medication and visits to the doctor, it is possible for patients to function as normally as anyone.

When I appealed to the insurance companies, I provided them with a doctor’s report from the Institute of Mental Health, which stated that I was compliant with medication and in full remission. Still, my appeals were rejected. I questioned the discrimination – after all, they could simply provide exclusions for any psychiatric treatment or injuries arising from my condition, for instance, injuries sustained in a failed suicide attempt. Some of the agencies raised the issue of two other minor and common ailments but when challenged, agreed that without bipolar disorder, I would get an IP with exclusions for those ailments. The rejection was blamed squarely on bipolar disorder.

Discrimination forces people to keep fighting for equitable treatment. So, on a friend’s advice, I went to see my MP at a Meet-The-People Session armed with an appeal letter, along with all the rejection letters. I didn’t get to meet my MP but his team of volunteers who looked into my case were very helpful. They said it was unlikely that any of the international agencies would bother about a letter from an MP, and advised focusing on NTUC Income as it was my best chance. I left feeling hopeful because my MP was none other than Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Several weeks later, I received a letter which said this, among the usual official phrases:

“We hope you understand that it is our duty to underwrite each case according to our underwriting guidelines consistently so as to be fair to the others who contribute to the risk pool.”

Please help me understand how I could be at a greater risk than someone who drinks and smokes heavily and may even be obese? Risk of what, exactly?

Followed by this:

“Moving forward, we are willing to assess your coverage in future, when you have fully recovered and have been discharged from your follow up for your bipolar disorder condition without the need for medication.”

Brilliant. The day I am discharged from my follow up, when I no longer need medication, will be the day I die. Bipolar disorder is incurable.

Mental illness has no known comorbidity with physical illness. By rejecting my application and appeals, these insurance companies are deliberately denying me coverage for illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, all of which have no relation to my mental state.

I made a random check with the overseas offices of two of the international insurance agencies which rejected my application. All offered critical illness plans for psychiatric patients, though with exclusions. Some plans offered supplementary coverage for psychiatric care. So why exclude psychiatric patients in Singapore? Because they can?

If I could bring Isaac Newton, Beethoven or Charles Dickens back to this future, living in Singapore and requiring an IP, I wonder if these companies would deny them coverage.

I also wonder why NTUC Income thought it fit to use me, specifically my condition, on their first Future Peek campaign, and yet think I am unworthy of their insurance policy. Use my condition for marketing but spit me out when I want to buy an IP. Such hypocrisy.

NTUC Income’s website states “Insurance Made Simple, Made Honest, Made Different” and with great emphasis, “People. First”.  I wonder what they really mean by those claims.

 

Mahita Vas is the author of ‘Praying To The Goddess Of Mercy: A Memoir Of Mood Swings’. She spends her time on advocating mental health issues and pursuing personal interests including reading and writing.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Mr Zainudin Nordin, President of the Football Association of Singapore; marking StarHub's appointment as official broadcaster and principal sponsor of the LionsXII in 2012.Image by HealthSX at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

by Bertha Henson

THERE’S something to be said about having free and open elections: It allows questions to be aired in the expectation that answers will be given.

I am not a football fan but the saga surrounding the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) upcoming April 29 elections has been riveting. Some might say that challenger Mr Bill Ng’s questions regarding a $500,000 donation he (or his Tiong Bahru FC) made was a distraction and that more attention should be paid to the plans of both teams that are contesting the election.

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I don’t think so.

What it shows is that an electoral process brings more scrutiny and urges more transparency from office-holders and those vying for the job. So world football governing body Fifa finally realised that for decades, the FAS was breaking the rules by having officers appointed by the G. After seven years on the job, Mr Zainudin Nordin has stepped down to pave the way for elections. FAS is usually headed by an MP, and the past list included those who have made it into ministerial ranks such as Mr Mah Bow Tan and Mr Ho Peng Kee.

Doubtless, the FAS is a tough organisation to manage given its myriad clubs, tournaments, programmes as well as the attention paid to it by people at the grassroots. That the G has a hand in its running isn’t surprising since it gives out grants to sports bodies, that is, taxpayers’ money of more than $2 million annually to FAS. Its other major donor is the Tote Board, which used to disburse some $25 million to the FAS annually, but which will now do so through Sport Singapore (SportSg).

Members of the public who are interested in the management of FAS can turn to its annual reports but in the main, the concern is about crowd turn-out, football rankings and whether goals of the football kind are being delivered given the resources poured into the sport. It takes an electoral process to bring matters out in the open, whether among those with a stake or the community at large. Of course, like all elections, there will be agendas and strategies, like rubbishing the old to make way for the new.

Now the FAS is embroiled in controversy with questions raised over the past year about its handling of money, including donations. There have been particularly feisty exchanges between Mr Ng and the FAS through the person of General Secretary Winston Lee over what happened three years ago. To put it bluntly, they are accusing each other of lying.

So what are the issues involved?

The key point is whether Mr Ng knew where the $500,000 donation was going to go. He claims it was for local football but it went to the Asean Football Federation (AFF). There’s no question that the AFF received the money – although it fumbled about whether the money was from the FAS or Mr Ng’s Tiong Bahru FC. The FAS has a paper trail, including a letter setting out the terms of the donation, which Mr Ng, rather improbably said was drafted by the FAS and which he was somehow made to sign.

In any case, even if the money had always been intended for AFF, the question is why such a big sum, which is about half the income of an S-League club, should go to outside entities at a time of a struggling football scene here.

Another issue is whether the sum was properly recorded somewhere. So far, not a single person in past councils has come out to say he had knowledge of the sum. What’s worse is that most people evinced surprise.

Then comes the question of why Mr Ng chose to raise the matter now instead of three years ago. Is this an election gambit to allege improprieties in the FAS which he, a challenger, will want to clean up?

In the middle of it all is the deafening silence of ex-chief Zainudin, which the FAS said was the person who solicited the donation. Mr Ng, however, denied this and pointed his finger at Mr Lee.

Mr Zainudin must know by now that he would have to say something lest gossip and misinformation fill in the blanks, thereby impugning his reputation. To say nothing because he is not standing for the upcoming election is a bad excuse for something that happened during his tenure.

Which brings me back to the point of having democratic elections. They are complicated and fussy affairs and there might even be those who say that such “disagreements” should be dealt with behind closed-doors so as not to give Singapore football a bad name. If so, they forget that it was “closed-doors” which gave rise to the current controversy.

To a spectator, the FAS looks like the Augean stables. It might be better for the challengers to discuss sweeping and mopping up operations first, before moving on to pronouncing grand visions. SportSg has ordered FAS to give a full account of the donation. Hopefully, it will be done before the elections so that there will be more clarity.

Good luck to Singapore football.