Singapore: Staying The Course

The city-state keeps its focus firmly on the horizon as it helps businesses navigate the impact of Covid-19 and positions itself for long-term success.

More than six months after the Covid-19 virus first emerged, the global economy continues to feel the effects of this unprecedented healthcare crisis. Countries that had appeared to have the pandemic under control are now facing second and third waves of infections. Meanwhile, businesses continue to suffer heavy losses due to safe distancing and travel restrictions.

Singapore has not been spared the fallout, and its ability to navigate difficult conditions is once again on show during this difficult period. The government has rolled out a series of five budget packages worth about S$100 billion (US$73 billion) to support businesses and workers who have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Besides cushioning the economy from the near-term shocks, policymakers have kept their eyes firmly on the horizon as they persevere with the country’s longer-term transformation. Whether it’s supporting local companies in their efforts to restructure their operations for the digital era, to spread their wings abroad, or to upgrade their workers’ skills, Singapore is once again positioning itself for success in the long run.

Nimble Response

Covid-19 has also highlighted the need for businesses to react quickly to a fast-changing landscape. With consumer needs shifting rapidly due to the pandemic, companies will need to leverage innovation to develop offerings that are relevant to their customers.

Painting solutions specialist Nippon Paint, for instance, is ramping up its investments in research and development during this time to deliver valuable customer-centric solutions. One key initiative in this effort involves the development of painting products that inhibit the growth of viruses on surfaces.

Nippon Paint is supporting communities that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic in other ways—from cash injections to donations of antiviral coatings to hospitals. In China, for instance, the company has donated 2 million yuan (US$290,000) to the Red Cross in Xianning city, Hubei province.

There are others who see interest in their company-led solutions amid the crisis. For example, in the insurance sector, Covid-19 has prompted consumers to review their need for financial protection. According to Swiss Re’s Covid-19 Consumer Survey, more than a quarter of the 6,000 respondents surveyed across 10 markets in Asia-Pacific are worried about how they will come out of the pandemic financially, and many are prioritizing insurance as a “must have” during this time.

Long-Term Focus

Furthermore, the pandemic is threatening efforts of business leaders to deal with longer-term issues such as climate risk. Global property insurance leader FM Global notes that Covid-19 has the potential to compound the impact of natural catastrophes due to restrictions on movement and essential services.

A survey conducted by the firm before the pandemic found at least 34% of Asia-Pacific executives thought their organization is significantly exposed to climate risk, while 57% of Asia-Pacific respondents said addressing climate risk was a high priority in their company.

The Singapore government has shown its commitment to climate action, even as it deals with more immediate problems. In February, it announced measures in its annual budget to promote sustainable living and to support the use of electric vehicles.

This persistent focus on the long term has helped Singapore overcome uncertainties time and again since its independence 55 years ago, and positioned the country to emerge stronger after each crisis.

Swiss Re: Charting A New Course For Insurance In Asia

Data analytics and new technologies lead the Zurich firm’s approach to helping insurers understand the needs of their customers across the region.

Russell Higginbotham, CEO of Swiss Re Asia

Since the opening of its Singapore representative office in 1968, Swiss Re’s presence in the city-state has grown in tandem with the country’s post-independence rise as a global business and financial hub. The Zurich-based reinsurance leader established its first formal office here in 1975, before designating Singapore as its Asia headquarters in 2018, housing about 300 employees.

“We have had a long association with Singapore. Today it is at the center of Asia, where we have been operating for over 150 years,” says Russell Higginbotham, CEO of Swiss Re Asia, who moved to Singapore to take up his current role in July last year.

Swiss Re had its first insurance contract in Asia in 1913, and opened its maiden office in the region in the 1950s. Looking ahead, Asia-Pacific is expected to be a key growth driver in the group’s global portfolio, as the region’s fundamentals remain largely intact despite the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Delivering Solutions for a New Normal

Swiss Re’s business is comprised of three core pillars: its bread-and-butter reinsurance business, the transactions segment that is related to helping companies better manage their capital, and the newest solutions arm that leverages data and technology to help insurers anticipate and protect against the risks they face.

Data-driven solutions is the smallest but fastest-growing business among the three pillars, and reflects Swiss Re’s goal of remaining relevant to its clients amid a fast-changing landscape marked by disruption.

“Solutions is the most exciting part of our business, and revolves a lot around data and technology. It’s very dynamic, but it’s something that we think is going to be a big part of the future,” says Higginbotham.

By leveraging the growing volume of data generated by its clients, insurers are able to better serve the companies at each stage of their journey. With data, an insurer can recognize when a customer is likely to want a life insurance product, and approach them at the right time with a relevant offering.

“You start to understand customers better through the data that you get on them, enabling you to design products that are more appropriate to their needs. You are also able to approach them at a time when they actually need the product, whether they’re moving house, getting married or having a child,” explains Higginbotham.

Swiss Re’s Hong Kong office in Central Plaza
Swiss Re’s Bangalore office

Data also makes the process of buying a policy more seamless by helping to automate the underwriting process. And as more data becomes available, Higginbotham envisions a time when underwriting practices will be largely automated using analytics tools.

Finally, data can play a role in continuing to engage the customer once they have bought a policy. By gathering data through wearable and other mobile devices, insurers can provide their customers with useful information—such as their driving or lifestyle habits—that can improve their life expectancies.

“We’ve done business for over 100 years in many countries around the world. And our job is to be able to bring the insights we have gathered through technology to our clients, the insurers,” says Higginbotham.

Swiss Re’s office in Bangalore

Leveraging Collaboration

A large part of Swiss Re’s strategy for developing data-driven solutions involves collaborating with leading players in various industries. For instance, the group has tied up with Microsoft to develop a solution that offers insurers a broader understanding of risks and their ripple effect on society, governments and economies.

Powered by Microsoft’s automotive data capabilities, for instance, Swiss Re will be able to develop a much deeper analysis of automotive risks, such as a car’s safety performance when using the latest driving assistance technologies. By providing data-driven insights from this type of intelligence, Swiss Re can help insurers design innovative motor-insurance products, such as pay-as-you-drive covers.

In a similar vein, Swiss Re has also worked with BMW to access data from vehicles’ Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to accurately assess risk pricing models. ADAS come with features such as a lane departure warning, active park distance control and sensors to slow or stop vehicles to avoid a collision. The technology has the potential to reduce the frequency of motor accidents by up to 25%, and cut car insurance premiums by US$20 billion by the end of 2020, according to research by Swiss Re and HERE Technologies, an automative tech firm.

“Cars today are extremely sophisticated instruments that generate data that you can use as part of your underwriting process. This helps you to make your products and your propositions more attractive to customers, and also more tailored to their needs,” says Higginbotham.

A Silver Lining in the Crisis

Like most industries, the insurance sector has not been spared from the fallout from Covid-19. However, the healthcare crisis has prompted consumers to be more aware of their need for adequate and relevant insurance products.

According to Swiss Re’s Covid-19 Consumer Survey conducted across 10 Asia-Pacific markets in the first half of 2020, over a quarter of the 6,000 respondents said they are worried about how they will come out of the pandemic financially, and many are prioritizing insurance as a “must have” at this time.

“From the survey, we can see that there is a priority to keep insurance policies in times of extreme stress like Covid-19,” says Higginbotham. “So people are less likely to lapse or to cancel their insurance, which is a good thing.”

Looking ahead, he is optimistic that Singapore will rebound strongly from the current crisis and continue to play an important role in driving the growth of Swiss Re’s businesses in Asia-Pacific.

“I am hopeful that given the progressive, calm and structured nature of how the current situation has been handled in Singapore, that the nation and the economy will bounce back positively, and hopefully quickly,” he adds.

Nippon Paint: Taking Up The Fight Against Coronaviruses

Asia’s No. 1 paint company uses technology to help protect against viruses and bacteria.

Nippon Paint, the largest paint company in Asia by sales, is firmly positioned at the vanguard of innovation. It has a long history of developing first-of-a-kind products in response to pressing community and environmental needs.

In 2013, Nippon Paint released VirusGuard in Singapore—an interior paint created to protect surfaces against viruses amid then-spiking H1N1 and hand, food and mouth disease epidemics—followed by sales in Malaysia two years later.

In 2008, Nippon Paint launched SolaReflect, a solar reflective exterior paint, in Singapore and Malaysia. This innovative “cool paint” reflects infrared rays of sunlight away from building surfaces to lower indoor temperatures and save energy. While the product was not an instant bestseller, with the unstoppable rise of climate activism and government requirements for green buildings, it is now attracting a groundswell of interest from the public and private sectors.

Two years ago, Nippon Paint launched Infinite Air in China. It was the first eco-friendly paint in the market made with certified renewable raw materials, such as sustainable palm oil and Scandinavian wood residue.

In 2020, a year that has been dominated by Covid-19, Nippon Paint has tackled what is arguably humanity’s greatest current threat head-on with the development and launch of VirusGuard+ in Singapore. The company says it is the first antiviral paint to be proven effective against human coronaviruses, and fast-tracked its market launch.

Copper Ion Technology and Strokes of Genius

VirusGuard+ uses an old remedy in a brand new way. The antimicrobial property of copper is well established in science and medicine. For centuries, copper has been used by holistic medical practitioners to help wounds heal faster. More recently, scientific studies have supported its use for surface areas in hospital wards and operating theaters to decrease the risk of pathogen transmission.

In developing VirusGuard+, Nippon Paint drew on the best available technologies. The final product was formulated with advanced Corning Guardiant™ technology, which encapsulates active copper ions in a glass ceramic powder. When coronaviruses come into contact with a wall that has been painted with VirusGuard+, the copper ions penetrate viruses’ outermost capsid protein layers and fragment their genetic material so that they are unable to reproduce themselves, effectively killing them.

While the immediate relevance of VirusGuard+ is plain to see, the paint also heralds potentially significant benefits for disease prevention in the years to come. Epidemiologists have warned more pandemics will follow Covid-19. Forewarned is forearmed, and VirusGuard+ will be one more weapon that can be deployed when the next outbreak occurs.

Orchestrated Local Responses to a Global Problem

In addition to the launch of VirusGuard+ in Singapore, Nippon Paint has rolled out a range of new products across Asia in response to Covid-19.

An antimicrobial paint that features advanced silver ion technology was launched in Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Anti-Virus Kids Paint, which eliminates almost 100% of feline calicivirus, a highly contagious virus that causes upper respiratory infections, was introduced in China earlier this year.

In Japan, Nippon Paint signed an agreement with the University of Tokyo to collaborate on the research and development of antiviral paints to suppress the spread of coronaviruses for use during the current pandemic and in the event of future outbreaks.

Antiviral paint donation by Nippon Paint China to coronavirus-designated hospitals.
Nippon Paint Japan and the University of Tokyo sign a research collaboration agreement.

Giving What is Needed Most, Where it is Needed Most

Around Asia, Nippon Paint South East Asia (NIPSEA) Group companies are not only launching new products to respond to current and emerging needs, but are offering help in other ways, such as cash contributions and the donation of antiviral paints to hospitals.

“It is often said that the only constant in life is change. The year 2020 made that painfully apparent. Now more than ever, it is clear that corporations must rally together not just for profit but for the common good of people, who are, after all, our customers. Nippon Paint will continue to invest heavily in research and development, to create paints that serve people in ways that were unimaginable even in my lifetime.”

– Wee Siew Kim, CEO of NIPSEA Group

In China, Nippon Paint gave 2 million yuan (US$290,000) to the Red Cross in Xianning city, Hubei province, to support the local fight against Covid-19. In partnership with multinational materials supplier Corning Incorporated, it donated 5 million yuan (US$723,000) in antiviral paints to cover 120,000 square meters in coronavirus-designated hospitals. Nippon Paint also provided paint products, including putty and primer, to cover 10,000 square meters of exterior walls in the fast-tracked Zhuhai Xiaotangshan hospital construction project.

In Bangkok, Nippon Paint contributed antiviral paints to Sirindhorn Hospital and Lerdsin Hospital.

“It is often said that the only constant in life is change. The year 2020 made that painfully apparent. Now more than ever, it is clear that corporations must rally together not just for profit but for the common good of people, who are, after all, our customers. Nippon Paint will continue to invest heavily in research and development, to create paints that serve people in ways that were unimaginable even in my lifetime,” says Wee Siew Kim, CEO of NIPSEA Group.

Paints Can Do So Much

With the launch of VirusGuard+, NIPSEA Group has shown that paint can do so much more than beautify walls. In the future, decoration may be a secondary benefit of paint, behind more noble purposes such as disease prevention and climate-change mitigation. That’s not to say Nippon Paint is taking its eye off the ball of consumer trends. In almost every market in which it operates in Asia, it remains the leading paint manufacturer across the commercial, industrial and consumer sectors.

About NIPSEA Group

As a total painting solutions specialist, NIPSEA Group aims to beautify urban landscapes while creating superior products to enhance people’s lives. With more than 70 NIPSEA companies spread throughout Asia, it understands the local needs of its customers.

Headquartered in Singapore, NIPSEA Group has more than 22,000 employees and 82 manufacturing facilities and operations across 18 geographical locations, serving all aspects of the business, from production to customer satisfaction. Within the group, each company embraces diversity and operates synergistically, pooling resources and sharing ideas for the benefit of both its customers and its stakeholders.

Business Leaders Must Retain Focus As Asia's Riskscape Evolves

The region’s executives are forward thinking when it comes to climate risk, but there is more work to be done, says property insurer FM Global.

Disaster events don’t wait for an invitation. Real world property damage and related costs have led to an increasing awareness of climate risk in Asia-Pacific. As economic recovery takes the forefront, it is vital that businesses continue to protect themselves from the ever-present risk of natural catastrophes.

While Asia-Pacific business leaders recognize the need to address the adverse financial impacts of climate risk, there remains work to do, according to a recent survey of several hundred CEOs and chief financial officers of the world’s largest companies by global property insurance leader, FM Global.

The survey, conducted pre-pandemic, found that at least 34% of Asia-Pacific executives believe their organization is significantly exposed to climate risk, and 57% of Asia-Pacific respondents said addressing climate risk was a high priority in their company. In this respect, Asia-Pacific-based companies scored higher than their peers in Europe and the U.S.

The higher level of awareness and preparedness in Asia-Pacific is unsurprising given the increasing number of climate-related catastrophes in the region since 2018, where bush fires, typhoons, floods and droughts have wreaked financial havoc.

Business leaders are right to be concerned. Asia-Pacific’s evolving riskscape is becoming more complex with each year. In 2018, almost half of the 281 natural disasters worldwide occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, including eight out of the 10 deadliest. Indonesia alone was struck by two tsunamis and one earthquake in quick succession while Japan, perhaps the most disaster-prepared country globally, experienced unprecedented flooding, followed by an anomalous heatwave.

Today, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to exacerbate the impact of natural catastrophes. While not directly impacting property and infrastructure as do earthquakes, floods or wind events, the pandemic has the potential to compound the impact of climate risks due to the restrictions on movement and essential services.

The good news is that there is a clear shift in thinking toward increasing focus on loss prevention strategies to mitigate potential climate risk to property and infrastructure. The survey found that business leaders predict an increase in their responsibilities, with most agreeing that executive management will be accountable for adverse financial impacts on their business due to climate events.

The challenge facing Asia-Pacific’s business leaders is to retain this focus during the Covid-19 recovery period, when bottom lines are strained. To stay the course, there are four steps that business leaders can take in this evolving riskscape: increase capital allocation, enhance disaster recovery and business continuity plans, invest in property loss prevention measures, and reassess their supply chain risk management strategy.

Companies should allocate more capital to reduce the financial risk related to potential natural disasters, and have the ability to factor in uninsured costs to avoid volatile balance sheets. Based on FM Global data, for every US$1 spent to protect structures from wind- and flood-related damages, the estimated property loss and disruption exposures decrease by an average of US$105. It follows that businesses that take this path tend to produce a significant return on investment.

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