More questions than answers
All the indications are that Singapore is losing economic ground to immediate regional neighbours and – a bigger, more distant threat – Hong Kong and mainland China to the north. The financial authorities and some investment bankers deny that there is a problem, or at least one that can’t be solved, but ideas for a change of direction are thin on the ground.
In April, one of Europe's most senior bankers flew into Singapore. After meeting his own people he sat down for lunch with Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore's deputy prime minister and finance minister. After the usual round of pleasantries, Lee hit the banker with the two all-important questions now facing Singapore.
First, would he be bringing more investment banking capabilities into Singapore, so boosting its presence in the country and the region? "He asked us in a very roundabout manner where we saw our business evolving but we knew what he meant," says a banker present at the lunch. "So we said, if you are asking where do we think the next US$150 million of revenue opportunity for this bank is we would have to say China."
According to the banker, Lee was shocked by the amount. He actually asked the bankers if they really thought it was going to be so big.