Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education at the MOU Signing Ceremony Between Paypal, Polytechnics and ITE, at Suntec Convention Centre

Published Date: 15 February 2019 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr David Stock, CEO of PayPal Pte Ltd

Ms Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath, Chargé d’affaires, U.S. Embassy in Singapore


Ladies and Gentlemen

1. I am happy to join you today to witness the MOU signing for the PayPal FinTech Program.

2. PayPal is one of the earliest brand names of the digital economy. Three years ago, we discussed with PayPal about how we could possibly transform our tertiary landscape. Today, our students spend their time, both on campus and in the industry, as compared to just spending it on campus in the past. This is what SkillsFuture is all about – to apply skills acquired in school in the workplace. Knowledge is losing its premium, and what still carries a premium is skills and the ability to transform things into something useful. We need to continue renewing our education system, and I thank PayPal for being a valued partner. I remember years ago, when e-commerce just came on stream, I used it to buy vinyl records. The first problem was the quality of the records, and whether something in ‘mint’ condition was indeed ‘mint’. The other problem was the worry over security of the payment – whether it was safe to key in my credit card details over the Internet. The answer is of course no.

3. Then PayPal came along, and it became one of the first e-payment brand names that I trusted. I could register my credit card, and use it to buy things over the Internet and pay with a few clicks. I remember I bought an autographed record by Howard Jones from someone in the UK. I paid through PayPal, a princely sum of one pence. The record arrived a couple of weeks later through the mail, with a note saying ‘Please keep it well.’

4. Today, PayPal is much more than a payment company. Singapore is proud to be hosting the PayPal Innovation Lab in our little island city state, where you conduct Research and Development (R&D) in a vast array of FinTech-related areas, and attract all levels of talents.

5. You are of course not the only technology company that has decided to use Singapore as a centre for innovation and R&D. Alibaba, Google, Siemens, Dyson, HP have concluded the same.

6. They have chosen Singapore for various reasons, including our stable environment; connectivity to Asia and the rest of the world; our network of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs); an immediate hinterland in Southeast Asia of over 600 million people; a well-educated workforce who is talented, numerate, and diligent; a welcoming attitude to top international talent; robust intellectual property regime which we have built up over the last 15 years, starting from the time when we signed the FTA with the U.S.; and a strong commitment to invest in R&D. Most importantly, it is a nice place to live in – safe, friendly people, systems that work, good and affordable food, with many fun places to go to.

7. This wave of innovation, from MNCs, technology companies like PayPal, or home grown start-ups, is the driving force for our economic transformation. Innovation is at the centre of many things we do now in Singapore.

8. In a few days, the Finance Minister will be delivering his Budget speech. One of its focus is to help enterprises transform and benefit from innovation. Some years ago, we tightened our foreign manpower intake, to shift decisively away from relying on manpower for growth to a productivity and innovation-driven growth model. The Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020, or RIE 2020, demonstrates our long term commitment to promote R&D.

9. Our Government agencies are re-examining processes, to try to put the citizen at the centre and use technology to deliver the most convenient services to him or her – through a programme called Moments of Life.

10. Our education system is also taking a student-centric approach, to provide multiple pathways to develop students of different strengths to their fullest potential. We can do this through industry partnerships. We are working with the unions and industries, to help workers learn for life, upgrade, and reskill to participate in an innovative economy, through a national programme called SkillsFuture.

11. We have seen how universities can shape the future of cities, which is why our universities are playing a big part in innovation. They are drawing in top research talent from all over the world, teaching students research skills, involving students in entrepreneurship and start-ups, and setting up incubators. Today, one of our universities’ key priorities is to translate research into innovation and enterprises.

12. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, which I am a Board Member of, has just been voted Central Bank of the Year by the London-based journal Central Banking. One of the reason is its standout efforts in pioneering FinTech solutions. Last year, it launched the Industry Transformation Map for the financial sector, with a strong focus on innovation, development of FinTech and skills upgrading.

13. It is also promoting the use of Artificial Intelligence and data analytics in the financial industry through incentive grants, and re-designing its regulatory approaches, including the use of regulatory sandboxes, to keep up with technology and encourage innovation. In an initiative called Project Ubin, it is using Distributed Ledger Technology to pilot a new way for cross border payments and settlement of assets.

14. Our annual FinTech Festival has turned out to be the largest in the world, with strong participation from financial service providers of all sizes. What we learnt is that FinTech, and for that matter the digital economy, is not just about start-ups, but an eco-system of both big global incumbents and small and dynamic new entrants. They are partnering, serving and competing with one another. Hence, Singapore is leveraging the established local financial institutions to build the FinTech industry.

15. In e-payment particularly, we took a different approach compared to many countries. We deliberately did not allow one or two players to dominate the landscape from the outset, as we felt that while this brings convenience to consumers in the short term, it may curb innovation in the long run. Instead, we allow multiple e-payment methods to flourish and develop in Singapore.

16. At the same time, we have been enhancing the backend infrastructure to ensure that it is open and accessible, so as to allow inter-operability between different e-payment modes and make it even more convenient for consumers in the longer term. So today, we use a standard QR Code, the SGQR, which is compatible to all e-payment modes. In time, we will allow suitable e-wallets to have direct access to FAST, the backend infrastructure that runs real time bank account transfers. Such e-wallets will then be inter-operable with bank accounts.

17. This is a key principle in our approach to e-payments: many choices, but an interoperable system.

18. The most important part of our innovation and FinTech push is the development of talent. Here, our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) need to work closely with technology companies, in order to learn the latest technology and their applications. For instance, as part of PayPal’s R&D programme, Master and PhD students from local universities work with PayPal’s subject matter experts to conduct research into their problem sets and develop solutions.

19. Today, PayPal is stepping up further, to work with our polytechnics and ITE to equip our students with foundational technical know-how in e-payments through the PayPal FinTech Program. Under the programme, our students will apply PayPal’s payment solutions in their industry projects or internships, and gain some hands-on experience with e-payment technologies. The programme will also cover topics such as risk and fraud management, and payment security, which are important features of a trusted and reliable e-payment system.

20. The programme will be gradually rolled out through a train-the-trainer concept, where PayPal will transfer their expertise to our polytechnic and ITE lecturers. The programme will start with Singapore Polytechnic and ITE this year, before it is rolled out to more than 1,700 students across the schools of Infocomm Technology, Business or Engineering in all polytechnics and ITE over the next three years.

21. This initiative will benefit our FinTech industry, by developing our talent pool. It will also add value to education, as it allows lessons and learning to come to life. I thank PayPal for your faith in and support for Singapore, and look forward to growing our partnership in the years to come. Thank you.

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