Singapore is the financial heart of the ASEAN region, home to financial companies that support businesses across south-east Asia. Until now, the region has enjoyed average year-on-year growth of 5 per cent since 1998 – making it a phenomenal place to do business.
Covid-19 has stalled growth globally, with restrictions on travel and quarantines in place. Yet the ASEAN region appears to be reaching a plateau in terms of new cases and is leading the way through to the other side of the pandemic – the rebuilding phase.
“Most of the large suppliers are starting again and producing for customers,” says Girolamo Benedetti, general manager at Intesa Sanpaolo Singapore. “I don’t see 2020 as the best year of the decade, but if we maintain a meticulous and vigilant approach to the virus, it is possible the second half of the year for the ASEAN market may turn out to be better than the first.”
The pandemic’s impact on GDP will be global. Yet once it has passed, the fundamentals of Singapore as a financial hub will remain. Singapore topped the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking for nine consecutive years before being bumped down one spot last year (which is still highly favourable).
Its attractions for big business are numerous: the country enjoys low taxation and a stable government, as well as being a leader in the development and adoption of digital technology. “Singapore is a hub in terms of digitalisation and the digital economy: it is a step ahead. That gives a lot of opportunities to corporates who want to invest,” says Benedetti.
Intesa Sanpaolo has been in Singapore since 1984 and the office acts as the bank’s base for other ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam).
Moreover Singapore works closely with the Hong Kong hub to develop relationships with leading Indian customers within more capital-intensive sectors as energy and infrastructure. The team offers direct knowledge of the local market to support the opening of subsidiaries by foreign multinationals, provide project financing and help companies looking to set up import and export routes.
From the Singapore office, Benedetti and his team steer clients through the region’s new opportunities while also providing information on well-worn routes to success. Benedetti gives as an example the growing middle class – a solid trend from which Italian companies can see returns if they invest in distribution networks to reach this market.