FBC board member Jani Valtonen blogs about First impressions in Singapore

New to South East Asia, first impressions

I moved to Singapore in October 2018, and the time has simply, and very stereotypically, just flown. It is very energizing to be in the middle of the region where business is booming. You are not suffering from the “doom and gloom” mentality that has been quite present at least in Finland, although the growth has been picking up lately. It is also very eye-opening experience for me personally, to try to understand the scale of the region and readjust my thinking about it as well as to try to learn and understand the new cultures. I know that some say that Singapore is “Asia lite”, but it has still been a huge step for me. I think the importance of China and the rest of Asia is only going to continue its rapid growth, and it is a huge opportunity to be experiencing it from here, for which I am grateful.

Nordic companies in the region

Many Nordic companies are active in the region. Some have been here for a long time and many more are turning their heads towards it and starting to increase their focus on the region’s vast potential. Many companies that I have got to known have a high level of expertise in their field and world-class product quality, but competition is still very hard. Nordic companies are not only facing though pricing from their competition but also a challenge in educating the customers to understand and value all the qualities of their products, like lifecycle costs and environmentally friendliness. I have a feeling that although history has been to look for the cheapest price and products that only solve the needed requirements, there seems to be change coming in the trends. In my mind this creates openings for the Nordic knowhow.

Singapore – a central node and active with start-ups

Singapore has been dubbed to be the unofficial capital of South-East Asia, and there is no question why this has been so. It is geographically very centrally located and has been both important financial and business hub for years. Today it is a very central node in the whole SEA ecosystem. This is also why many companies have their APAC or SEA operations based here. It is also a spot to look at when considering where to centralize your operations.

It is my first-impression that the Singapore government is pro-business and that they clearly have a plan to further develop Singapore in its current path. Nowhere else can this be seen more clearly than with the start-ups. The governmental initiatives together with all the events and seminars that are hosted here have created special activity in Singapore. Of course, many cities and nations are competing to be the one favoured by start-ups, but not many of them are ready to discuss or create legal sandboxes to test new disruptive business models and ideas.

This also goes for all business done in the region, that governments are targeting the investments and trying to create jobs. This is something that you hear from the sales activities done by Nordic corporations. It also seems that as a part of the sales story, you should not only focus on the first-class product you are offering but the environmental and social benefits that the solutions also brings.

Global threats shadowing highly interlinked trade

We live nowadays in a highly interlinked global economy, especially here in South East Asia, where many countries are dependent on foreign trade. Some are still quite domestically focused and, in that sense, safer.  Many would still be badly affected by negative developments in global economy. Globalization with digitalization has not been without pain, and we are now facing backlashes in form of more protectionist and nationalistic policies and opinions. Trade wars added with the unpredictable effects from the climate change are threats to the whole system, but these are still simultaneously creating opportunities for some countries to attract investments as well as some industries to promote their greener solutions.

In this challenging world we live in, it is good to see that some are still on the side of openness and cooperation. The excellent example of this is the fresh EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. It creates possibilities to share necessary capital, know-how and solutions for economies to be more effective and hopefully also more environmentally friendly in the future. This is also an opportunity for many Nordic corporations to lead by example and do business at the same time.  

Jani Valtonen is a new member of the FBC Board and he moved to Singapore last year. He is an expert in international trade and financial markets working in Nordea Singapore and serving both institutional and corporate clients in the region as well as covering for the Nordics during the Asian business hours.