June 22, 2017

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MICROSOFT unveiled the Xbox One X at E3 on Sunday, June 11. Can the new, powerful console grab market share back from Playstation? Watch Microsoft’s press announcement here.

Broadcast for the first time in 4K UHD on Mixer, Xbox showcased a record 42 games in its briefing including 22 with console exclusivity from creators large and small. It will be available in Singapore and other selected markets from Nov 7 and will retail for $499, 449 pounds, 499 euros, CA$599 and AU$649.

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Xbox One X was designed to be the best console to create and play games on, putting the greatest graphic fidelity in the hands of the world’s best game creators to create true 4K games. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer underscored that every game will play great across the Xbox One family, and Xbox One X also makes your existing library even better, with better textures, smoother frame rates and faster load times.

Xbox One is the only console system designed to play the best games of the past, present and future. The Xbox One games and accessories you already own are compatible with Xbox One X, so if you’re an Xbox gamer, chances are you already have a library of games that will look and play better on Xbox One X.

Spencer announced that Xbox will expand the Xbox One backward compatibility library of nearly 400 popular Xbox 360 games to include original Xbox classics, starting with fan favourite “Crimson Skies”. Xbox also revealed that “Gears of War 4,” “Forza Horizon 3,” “Minecraft,” “Resident Evil 7,” “Final Fantasy 15,” “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands,” “Rocket League” and dozens of other popular Xbox One games will receive free updates to take full advantage of the power of Xbox One X. A host of these titles will be enhanced to run in true 4K, and many will be available at the Xbox One X launch.

Video provided by Microsoft Corp.

 

Featured image is a screen grab from the video provided by Microsoft Corp.

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by Danielle Goh

ALL the cheese lovers in Singapore rejoice. The rest of you, we understand you may not be too enthusiastic.

The newly revamped LiHo has a range of cheese milk teas, and a $1.90 topping of cheese to go with any drink. RTG Holdings decided not to continue the Gong Cha franchise here, after its Taiwanese business partners sold the company to Gong Cha Korea. By Monday (Jun 5), all 80 Gong Cha outlets will be replaced with LiHo. It’s new name means “How are you?” in Hokkien.

Some additions to the menu are the cheese milk tea, smoothies, and vitagen drinks. Gong Cha fans need not fear, as trademark flavours such as Oolong Milk Tea, and Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M still remains on the new LiHo menu. There are also more ways to drink your milk tea: A small opening with a heart-shaped lid helps to get to the top layer, and comes in handy for hot drinks. Also, drinks come in medium and large sizes.

NOTE: Gong Cha has clarified that Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range actually consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping. We apologise for the error.

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TMG went down to LiHo at Paragon and Cineleisure to try the controversial cheese teas, other new flavours, and also the more ‘conventional’ milk teas. We’ve rated each drink, and picked out the best and worst ones:

 

1. Cheese Guan Yin with cheese topping, Large. $7

So for this drink I went crazy with the cheese… It was a bit of a splurge, but worth it.

Fans of Gong Cha will be happy to know that the cheese had a light foamy texture, similar to the Gong Cha milk topping. The cheese was like a creamy version of a Japanese cheesecake. Mixed with a light brew of oolong tea, the slightly savoury cheese topping blended well with the drink. The cheese was not too overbearing, and the different layers in the drink made for a colourful taste palette. It took a while getting used to the blend of savoury with the slight bitterness of the oolong tea.

For cheese lovers, don’t forget to drink it to the end for the last bits of cheesy goodness!

Verdict: Yes, it lives up to the hype. 9 out of 10

 

2. Cheese Jing Syuan tea, with white pearl topping, Medium. $4.80

The cheese and Jing Syuan tea is an unexpected pairing.

It’s like salted egg yolk on a bailey’s ice cream, unique together, but also completely okay without the other. The savoury cheese was a surprisingly satisfying counter to the sweetness of the Jing Syuan tea though. This one didn’t blend as well as the Cheese Guan Yin, so the cheese layer remained at the top. So this was like drinking the Jing Syuan tea, but also eating a slab of cheesecake, separately. After stirring more vigorously, the cheese still didn’t quite mix with the tea, so I felt like I was drinking regular Jing Syuan tea. It was not as good as the Cheese Guan Yin in my opinion.

Verdict: Surprisingly good, but can be better blended. 7 out of 10

 

3. Yam Milk with custard pudding topping, Medium. $4.30

This was so good…

It’s a tough fight between the yam milk and the Cheese Guan Yin for first place. I was glad to have taken the staff’s suggestion to have the custard pudding topping. It added a caramelised sweetness, and the soft, milky texture of the pudding complemented the yam perfectly. The concentration of yam was just right, and it made the drink appetising. This drink reminded me of my favourite mango pudding, it could double up as dessert any time! I finished the drink very quickly.

Also the pretty purple colour is a plus.

Verdict: Perfect mix. 10 out of 10

 

4. Classic Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M, Medium. $4.20

Ah, the classic milk tea. Basically an improved version of Gong Cha’s Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3J. Slight difference is that Gong Cha has more of a smooth texture, while for LiHo there’s a stronger brew of tea, and it’s a little more milky. The mixture of black pearl, pudding and jelly is bubble tea heaven.

Verdict: It’s classic for a reason. 8 out of 10

 

5. Choc-A-Milk + OREO, Medium. $4.20

I had to walk to Cineleisure for this one, because it was sold out at LiHo’s Paragon branch. According to the staff, this drink is a best-seller. But after drinking it, I think that most of the credit goes to the Oreos. There’s a generous portion of crumbled Oreo bits at the top of the drink, but it doesn’t really go well with the chocolate milk tea. After a while, I felt that I was drinking diluted chocolate milk, but with the occasional Oreo crunch. It was quite a disappointment. Maybe it would work better as a smoothie…

Verdict: Does not taste as good as it sounds. 5 out of 10

 

6. Vitagen ‘n’ Peach, Medium. $4.00

Tastes just like normal Vitagen, and it’s very, very, very sweet. Sadly, nothing really special about this drink. I couldn’t taste much of the peach, and as if the Vitagen was not sweet enough, there’s sugar liquid at the bottom. Feels like they bought bottles of Vitagen and just poured it in; If I wanted Vitagen, I would rather just go to Sheng Siong.

Verdict: Excuse me while I reel from sugar overdose… 3 out of 10

 

7. Golden Yuzu Juice + Golden Ai Yu, Medium. $3.70

Here’s a healthier option if you need a pick-me-up drink for the day. It was really refreshing, a great thirst-quencher on a hot and humid day! The sourness of the yuzu hits you very quickly, with a sharp aftertaste. Some yuzu slices are mixed in with the drink, so it’s peel fresh. The jelly helps to break the sourness with its honeyed sweetness. Only downside to this is that the jelly is a gigantic chunk. Was a little annoying because it’s too big to drink with the straw, so I had to keep mashing it.

Verdict: Don’t be jelly, try this. 7 out of 10

 

Well, at this point I’ve been convinced: Cheese does go with milk tea. Top favourites are the Cheese Guan Yin and the Yam Milk with custard pudding; I’ll gladly go for a second cup.

 

Note: Previously, the article mentioned that Gong Cha’s Oolong Milk Tea remains on the new LiHo menu. This is incorrect, as Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping.

 

Featured image by TMG.

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by Danielle Goh

PINK-HAIRED illustrator Ms Rachta Lin, 30, asks me to wait for her to finish a drawing that a teenage fan requested for. “Just give me 15 minutes, then after we can start the interview!” she said as she looked up and smiled, before quickly picking up her pen to draw.

The star-struck teen sits in front of her, watching her sketch his favourite anime character. I can see what she is drawing too, because a camera is capturing the process live on a monitor.

At the corner of her desk, a red book catches my eye. On its cover, a green eyed blonde haired girl, brandishing a sword, is surrounded with red roses. “That’s my art book, it’s a little like an open diary, it’s inspired by my travels last year,” said Ms Lin as I picked it up and flipped through the pages of sketches and prints.

When Ms Lin was five, she fell in love with a Japanese anime she watched on television, and decided that she wanted to draw the characters she saw on screen. She tries to explain to me more about the show that first got her into anime. “It’s a little bit like Sailor moon, but much older,” she laughs.

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Armed with a degree in Visual Communication Arts at Assumption University in Bangkok, she worked with companies like Blizzard Entertainment and Wacom, but decided to leave the corporate world to be a full-time freelance illustrator. Ms Lin is supported by fans on Patreon, an online site where people can contribute funds toward projects by their favourite artist.

Her art book, Rachta Lin: Artist’s journey of 2016 was self-published and funded by her fans on Kickstarter. Within two days 60 backers pledged a total of $6,337. “Well I’m happy that I have such a strong support there. It definitely helps me to do exactly what I want to do. I was a little nervous because it was my first time starting a crowdfunding project, but it turned out great!” said Ms Lin.

 

Art fairs no longer just for the hipsters

With more artists creating, it’s no surprise that art fairs like Doujin market and the Singapore Art Book Fair (SABF) have been growing in scale. Doujin Market, or Doujima for short, features mainly pop culture inspired art and fan art, taking cues from Marvel, Japanese anime and game design.

Organised by The Neo Tokyo Project, Doujima is supported by NAC, and sponsored by companies such as Kaiju Den and Wacom. When it first started in 2011, there were 22 artist tables and a thousand attendees. This year, it had 170 artist tables, over a dozen corporate exhibitors and 17,000 attendees. The event, held at Suntec Convention Centre from May 6 to 7 this year, featured many student creators and independent artists.

Ms Rachta Lin drawing for a fan

SABF, organised by BooksActually, was held from April 27 to 30 this year at Gillman Barracks. While there was a drop in attendance this year, from 7,000 to around 4,000, there was an increase in sales. “This is good news. Surprisingly, we had a massive surge in sales for almost all the exhibitors. You are easily looking at eight exhibitors that more or less sold out by the last day, and almost all the other vendors had cleared at least three quarters of their stocks,” said Mr Kenny Leck, the owner of independent bookstore BooksActually and its publishing arm Math Paper Press. The event brought together the works of artists and writers from Singapore, Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. It featured an eclectic mix of comics, design merchandise, zines, books, and photography catalogues.

Mr Leck felt that the venue was the key factor that caused a drop in attendance this year. While last year SABF was at the epicentre of the city, in Marina Bay Sands, this year it was at Gillman Barracks, a ten minute walk from Labrador MRT station. As for the increased sales, Mr Leck attributes it to “better curated content” and “providing the quality” that made visitors buy more.

What do art fairs add to the illustration scene in Singapore?

BooksActually was initially supposed to have a booth at Doujima, however it had to pull out at the last minute as not enough staff could make it for the event. For Mr Leck, art fairs help artists to showcase their works and engage with a wider audience here. “Doujima and SABF, allows the individual content creators, and publishers like ourselves an avenue to showcase the works, and also engage with the audience, who effectively are potentially our customers,” said Mr Leck.

Doujima brought together key industry stakeholders such as gaming companies, art studios and independent art galleries. Talks by experienced artists and networking sessions were organised to help young artists further develop their career in illustration. “We’ve supported efforts by young artists to develop work in genres like visual novels and games,” said Mr Jason Koh, account director of The Neo Tokyo Project.

From the fringe to pop-culture

Doujima was packed. But the throngs streaming into the exhibition hall were a far cry from the inaugural event in 2014, which welcomed 1,000 visitors to the upper floors of SCAPE. How did Doujima become so popular? For starters, Mr Koh pointed out that more youths are pursuing their illustration interests in schools, studios and subsequently their future careers.

TMG spoke to a group of student creators at their booths at Doujima, currently studying game art design courses in Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Ms Ivette Chua, 21, together with two other schoolmates, set up a booth to sell their own food inspired keychain designs and fan art posters. “I want to work with a gaming or animation company for experience first,” said Ms Chua, on her future career plans.

Many of the artists that TMG spoke to had their own online stores, or websites featuring their artwork portfolio. “Doujin Market has a large proportion of student creators and independent artists, many of whom have unparalleled popularity and a sizeable following online,” said Mr Koh. Mr Joseph Foo, 28, who goes by the artist name Strobolights, markets his artworks on social media, particularly on Instagram. Artists like Mr Foo and Ms Rachta Lin found that social media is an important tool to connect with fans and to expand their audience.

“Stakeholders and policy makers must also recognise that they can no longer look at art with the same lens, and that in order to tap into a young, yet vocal and digitally savvy audience to help revitalise Singapore’s arts scene, they need to stop thinking traditionally,” added Mr Koh.

 

Some challenges remain

While there have been efforts by industry stakeholders to support the illustration scene here, some artists are still finding it hard to hold down stable work.

Ms Sarah Isabel Tan, 29, a freelance artist from Singapore, makes a series of pastel, palm-sized cat figurines called Darumaos, and has self-published her sketchbooks. While she has an online business selling her artwork, she is on the lookout for work with a more stable income. After studying animation at NYP, she took up jobs with Warner Brothers, and some gaming companies in Singapore. But Ms Tan told TMG that most of her previous jobs were short term projects, aside from her work online. “I have had something like five jobs over the span of my working career, aside from freelance and nothing really lasted very long, usually due to either a volatile working environment or poorly managed cash flow,” said Ms Tan.

Ms Tan’s series of self-designed Darumaos

“I guess the biggest problem for me right now is being a sustainable artist. Having a long term job. I have friends who are successful freelancers as they have found their market but I don’t think I’ve really found mine yet,” she added.

For young artists just starting out, Mr Ng Kian Chuan, 32, manager of Collateral Damage Studios, an art studio with courses for illustration, comics and animation, noticed that many struggled with the lack of business know-how.

“For a lot of artists it’s the lack of business knowledge. They may know how to draw, but even that alone is not enough. Some artists don’t know how to price their works, they think that it’s alright to sell their works for a lower price, and they don’t know the market rate. This would be unsustainable in the long run,” said Mr Ng.

 

A growing market here

Recently, the graphic novel has taken a front seat in Singapore’s literary circles. Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Link to our review here) was nominated in six categories at the prestigious 2017 Eisner Awards. Published in 2015 by Epigram Books, it sold 9,000 copies in Singapore, and just last year, it was awarded the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction.

It is clear to Mr Kenny Leck that more artists are creating now. Math Paper Press has published works like The Resident Tourist, an eight part ongoing autobiographical comic series by Troy Chin; The Unsavoury Alphabet, an illustrated crime diary story by Gene Whitlock; and Fatman and Superchub, a comic strip by Stephanie Ho. “There has been a supply of content in recent years. In the past, famed filmmaker Eric Khoo was originally working on his illustration work, dabbling in comic drawings but never got round publishing it. The market for locally produced content of this nature was almost non-existent at that time,” said Mr Leck.

Illustrators are also branching out to different industries. Some have ventured into the gaming industry to design characters and artwork. Ubisoft Singapore had a hand at designing the artwork in Assassin’s Creed, an action-fantasy video-game series. Kaiju Den is exploring new technologies like virtual reality (VR) with their newly released title on PlayStation, Stratos Fantasea. At Doujima, Kaiju Den invited attendees to test and experience this first hand.

Kaiju Den’s VR testing of Stratos Fantasea at Doujima

The G has also actively supported art events like Doujima and SABF. “Doujima is funded by the National Arts Council (NAC) and many sponsors, so it shows that the government supports art events like this, which is very encouraging,” said Ms Charlotte Lee from The Neo Tokyo Project.

Moving forward, Mr Koh believes that a “robust publishing infrastructure” and “more private and public funding” will help give creators a leg up. But Mr Edmund Wee, the CEO of Epigram Books said that the growth in publishing is still too slow. “The publishing and art scene in Singapore has improved, but it has not been improving fast enough,” said Mr Wee. He pointed out the National Literary Reading Writing Survey in 2015, which he found that two in five people preferred the internet and social media to reading, and that only one in four readers had read books by Singaporean writers. “Look at the survey that NAC did in 2015, that only one in four people are reading Singaporean literature. We don’t have a flourishing reading culture. That means that in the past 20 years, it was not encouraged,” said Mr Wee.

“We need a system overhaul. Start with the schools, encourage students to read Singaporean literature, graphic novels, comics, all types of books. It also requires some government intervention, and of course help from the grassroots,” he added.

Rachta’s pink hair might stand out in a crowd, but the growing throng at her booth quickly obscures her from view as the crowds stream in. Three hours into Doujima’s first day, and already the long concourse at Suntec City convention centre isn’t big enough for everyone trying to enter. Queues form. Has this fringe begun to turn mainstream?

 

Featured image from The Neo Tokyo Project.

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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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AN ADVERTORIAL

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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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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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.

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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