As one of the most competitive economies in the world, Singapore continues to build on its strong financial system, market efficiency and macroeconomic stability. The city-state has been ranked fourth out of 64 economies in the 2023 World Competitiveness Ranking by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), based on economic performance, government and business efficiency, as well as infrastructure. Although it slipped a rank from the previous year, Singapore remains the most competitive economy in Asia, ahead of Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In the wake of a rapid economic rebound from the pandemic in 2022, Singapore’s economy registered a 0.4% year-on-year growth in the first quarter of 2023. This growth, albeit moderating from the previous quarter’s 2.1% expansion, signifies the nation’s resilience. In the second quarter of 2023, the economy expanded by 0.5% year-on-year, mainly supported by the transportation and storage, other services, and information and communications sectors, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).
Like many economies, Singapore is not immune to the challenges posed by the slowing global economy and geopolitical tensions, coupled with tightening financial conditions. The MTI anticipates the nation’s GDP for 2023 to fall within the range of 0.5% to 1.5% as external demand remains subdued.
Despite this muted growth forecast, bright spots remain as some sectors are showing signs of recovery. The growth outlook for aviation- and tourism-related sectors such as air transport and accommodation remains positive, given the ongoing recovery in international air travel and inbound tourism. Consumer-facing sectors such as retail trade and food and beverage services are also expected to continue to expand, bolstered by resilient labor market conditions and the resurgence of inbound tourism.
Global Expansion Through Singapore
As a leading trade center, Singapore consistently attracts foreign investment due to its global connectivity, pro-business environment, exceptional infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce. Singapore stands out as the preferred destination for multinational corporations seeking to put down roots in the region.
Among them is SHEIN, the global fashion and lifestyle juggernaut with 11,000 employees based in key centers around the world including Singapore, the U.S. and Ireland. SHEIN’s global expansion is being led out of Singapore due to its strong governance and access to key markets in the region, among others. “SHEIN’s decision to be headquartered in Singapore is a testament to our belief in its vibrant ecosystem and alignment with our global vision,” says Leonard Lin, SHEIN’s Global Head of Public Affairs and Singapore General Manager. “Our commitment to Singapore goes beyond our business operations, and is also reflected in our continuous efforts toward engaging with the community, nurturing local talent, and fostering a sustainable fashion ecosystem right here in the heart of Asia.”
A Vibrant Fintech Landscape
Meanwhile, Singapore’s fintech sector has expanded significantly, backed by a strong regulatory environment and digital infrastructure. The Monetary Authority of Singapore has recently announced a fresh round of funding over the next three years to boost the sector. The S$150-million (US$111 million) funding program aims to accelerate fintech innovation, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and regulatory technology (regtech).
The thriving fintech sector, showcased through events such as the annual Singapore Fintech Festival, cements the city’s role as a prime hub for fintech innovation. The diverse range of fintech entities, coupled with abundant venture capital investment opportunities spanning various funding stages, further solidifies Singapore’s position as the preferred destination for foreign fintechs seeking ASEAN market expansion and global recognition.
Take for instance, Surfin Meta, a Singapore-based fintech founded in 2017 with a mission to drive financial inclusion in emerging markets. The company selected Singapore as its base to better serve the markets in the region. It made a notable entry into Indonesia in 2018 with an online personal loan platform, and rapidly expanded its operations to Vietnam, Mexico and the Philippines in the same year. Today, Surfin Meta operates in 10 markets, serving 35 million unbanked and underserved users.
Wealth Management Excellence
The growth in global wealth in recent decades has contributed to the rise of family offices around the world. Many wealthy families are turning to professionally run family offices to help them manage their wealth and secure their legacies. As a global financial hub, Singapore has benefited from this trend, with some 1,100 single-family offices established in the country at the end of 2022.
Bank of Singapore, the private banking subsidiary of OCBC, has emerged as a major player in the family office segment in Singapore, managing more than a quarter of the 700 single-family offices established in Singapore at the end of 2021.
“Singapore’s status as an international financial center is key to its allure. With excellent global connectivity, a deep pool of skilled professionals in wealth management and a supportive tax environment, it serves as the ideal gateway to regional investment opportunities,” says Robin Heng, Bank of Singapore’s Global Market Head for Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and Indochina.
The bank has a dedicated Family Office Advisory team that focuses on understanding clients’ needs and tailoring plans accordingly. As demand continues to grow for family offices in Asia, Bank of Singapore aims to enhance its offerings and expand its footprint in the wealth management space.
Prospects in Real Estate
Singapore’s growing number of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) has spurred activity in the real estate sector. Strata-titled offices and conservation shophouses stand out as attractive investments for HNWIs and family offices.
Homegrown boutique agency Brilliance Capital has emerged as a strong player in this segment, offering tailored real estate investment services for wealthy families, institutional investors and publicly listed companies from around the region. The firm, led by Executive Director Sammi Lim, has chalked up an impressive list of transactions since its inception three years ago, including the sale of a suburban mall for S$220 million (US$162.3 million), among others.
Despite the prevailing market uncertainties, Lim believes that Singapore’s strong fundamentals and resilience will position it favorably against its regional peers. She anticipates that well-funded institutions, family offices and HNWIs with longer-term investment horizons will remain active in the market.
Looking ahead, Singapore’s journey as a competitive economic powerhouse continues to unfold. Despite global challenges, the nation’s commitment to innovation, diversification and adaptability fuels optimism for sustained growth.