Singapore’s «circuit breaker» – a curb of all non-essential businesses and activities, and heightened social distancing – has dramatically changed the daily routine for professionals in the financial services sector, many of whom are now working from home (WFH). This series compiled by finews.asia takes a glimpse into how they are coping during the city’s lockdown.
For a long time, Singapore was considered a leader in coronavirus containment. However, a marked increase in new cases in recent weeks, which constantly reach new highs, has prompted the government to take drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus – the latest of which, introduced Tuesday evening, makes it compulsory to wear a mask when stepping out of one’s place of residence.
With workplaces forced to shut until May 4 in the earliest scenario, non-essential businesses have had to either cease operations or do what they can to function virtually, with staff working from home.
(Daily life has come to a standstill, with most businesses shut during the «circuit breaker» until May 4)
The changes in work life brought about by the «circuit breaker» mean that firms that have been digitalizing or leveraging digital tools are already seeing their benefits as they can continue to operate in this environment, Jean-Rémi Bernard, general manager of Insurance Market Life, tells finews.asia.
The digital platform, formed last year with the merger of Singapore online broker and comparison site Insurance Market and My-Insurer’s life insurance business line, helps independent financial advisors by providing the infrastructure, licensed environment and added services to sell life products.
Jean-Rémi Bernard, Singapore has been at the forefront of Covid-19 prevention. Is its recent lockdown a setback of this virus containment policy so far?
Indeed Singapore was a blueprint for how to tackle effectively the epidemic: test, trace, isolate (and treat if needed). It allowed us here to enjoy a fair latitude of mobility when compared to the drastic lockdowns implemented elsewhere. The population and businesses showed a great deal of compliance and social responsibility to make the measures operative.
Unfortunately, recent clusters of contagion where the origin could not be traced have forced the Singapore government to tighten the measures to put the spread under control. While the measures are more restrictive, we are still not in the total confinement context that has plagued the lives of people in China or Europe.
What are your current hurdles to working smoothly?
At Insurance Market Life, we are a nimble and lean organization and natively, our business processes leverage many digital tools to communicate to our clients and prospects. But even so, we still rely on meeting our customers face to face to explain our recommendations and build the strong relationships that are at the core of our business values, which is currently limited due to the «circuit breaker.»
How do you communicate with your clients now?
Adapting to using more video conference tools is not that easy for many of our clients but now that everyone is in the same boat of working from home, we find that there has been a shift in mindsets and generally a much broader acceptance of that communication channel. We also use the mobile app features to exchange news and communicate with our clients.
How long can you ride out such a situation?
Our operations are very lean. We do not have large lease commitments or many support staff. Our operating costs are really light so we can survive the diminished business activity rather easily, provided it does not extend significantly beyond the second half of this year.
Do you think Singapore as a financial center will lose its importance/attractiveness due to the corona crisis?
This crisis is global so there is not a relativity effect similar to a more localized disruption, like the Hong Kong protests that badly affected the territory, in contrast to the peaceful and stable environment that Singapore was offering. This time every country is feeling the pain almost at the same time.
(Pedestrians are few and far between, especially in the city center)
Singapore is showing transparent, calm and decisive leadership to adapt to the evolving context, quickly establishing financial measures to support its people and business, and demonstrate resilience and efficient business continuity; consequently, when the health crisis is behind us and the global economy clogs start turning again, Singapore has every reason to remain that attractive financial center and continue to build upon its proven image of stability.
Jean-Rémi Bernard is the general manager of Insurance Market Life. He joined the firm in 2019, bringing 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, particularly in building and scaling digital solutions. He was previously at Axa Partners Asia, where he was regional chief information officer, based in Singapore, where he was responsible for IT Services, Solutions, and Security in seven markets