2016 business prospects: Boon or bane?

Hans Hanegraaf

Country Executive ABN Amro Bank NV Singapore and

Chief Executive Officer of ABN Amro Private Banking Asia & Middle East

WE believe the fear of global recession is overdone, as the Fed is expected to hold rate hikes and central banks worldwide continue to support growth, with plenty of fiscal and monetary policy levers available. We are also confident that Singapore's economy will remain resilient and sustainable.

Against this background, ABN Amro's views are that investors can consider rebuilding their equity holdings with selective investments in sectors with defensive characteristics, such as healthcare and information technology. We are also of the view that investors can consider maintaining a diversified investment portfolio that can withstand short-term volatility, yet be flexible in capitalising on emerging opportunities in 2016.

John Bittleston

Founder & Chair

Terrific Mentors International Pte Ltd

IT'S a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. At times of anxiety about the world's economic outlook, people turn to mentors to help them re-focus their lives. 2016 is already showing itself as such a time and will continue to do so. Every downturn has opportunities but you have to be swift to take advantage of them. Such uncertainty also makes demands on leaders that they may not have encountered before. Coaches are then in more demand to point the way to creative new solutions.

We will help more people in 2016 than in any previous year since 1998.

Paul Henaghan


EMC Southeast Asia

2016 will see businesses across all industries intensifying their digital transformation agenda. In tandem with the government's efforts to leverage technology to address national challenges and drive economic growth, technology players will heighten their focus on solutions and services that help businesses modernise, automate and transform into a digital enterprise.

Driven by the growth of cloud, mobility and big data, this business transition will be more vast and far reaching than ever before and will require innovation throughout the organisation. Demand for faster, deeper predictive and actionable insights will see a major increase, driving companies to modernise their IT environment in order to remain competitive.

Seah Kian Peng

Chief Executive Officer (Singapore)

NTUC Fairprice Co-Operative Ltd

ALL indicators depict a economic slowdown this year amid adjustments in global markets. The retail landscape like other industries is facing many headwinds which will not disappear. Retailers will thus have to evolve with disruptors looming to challenge industry practices in addition to challenges imposed by manpower needs and changing consumers' habits.

During such uncertain climates, austerity measures typically take precedence over social objectives. However, at FairPrice, our social focus remains core. In fact, FairPrice's social mission becomes more pronounced as we strive to bring greater value to the community by keeping prices of daily necessities affordable, implementing measures to help customers stretch their dollar and empowering the community through philanthropy and volunteerism.

Lee Fook Chiew

Chief Executive Officer

Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants

EARLIER this year, the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) revealed the findings for the Pre-Budget Survey 2016, which gathered the business outlook of the Chartered Accountants of Singapore and the business community at large. The economic outlook for 2016 appears bleak, with 41 per cent of the respondents having a pessimistic view, compared with 22 per cent in 2015. Revenue and operating margins are expected to decrease, while cost-related issues and the lack of skilled labour remain the top business concerns of 2016.

Despite the dampened business outlook, the ASEAN Economic Community will bring about freer movement of goods, services and skilled labour. This will set the stage for growth opportunities for the accountancy profession in the longer term.

Mark Micallef

Area Vice President

Citrix ASEAN

WITH the establishment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the ASEAN Economic Community, 2016 is set to be an exciting year for businesses here. As digital transformation continues on an upward trajectory, large and small organisations alike are turning to technology as a key enabler of productivity, agility and innovation.

Organisations need to harness the full power of technology and look for new ways to deliver personalised experiences to customers and end-users, else risk being disrupted by their competition. Those that do will find they are more resilient against economic shocks and in a better position to grow their business.

Florence Ng

Managing Director


Straits Talent Private Limited

2016 promises to be a challenging year all round, regardless of industry. We are in the people business and given the finite pool of talent, we will not be short of mandates. However, these mandates will be extremely challenging. Our seat belts are fastened and we do expect a bumpy ride.

We believe that amid all the turbulence, there will be pockets of opportunity. We remain focused on delivering consistent quality work and on building our track record for the long haul. It is also an opportune time to step up on training & development, work process improvement and to continue to give back to the community.

John Keung



WHILE Singapore's built environment sector faced some headwinds in 2015, overall construction demand this year is expected to remain high, supported by a strong pipeline of major public infrastructure projects. Firms should continue to reinvent themselves to stay competitive and embrace productivity and innovation for continued growth.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has been encouraging local firms to change the way they build, in particular moving as much on-site construction work to off-site prefabrication. Firms can apply for the Construction Productivity and Capability Fund to adopt productive technology, embrace lean construction and upgrade their workforce. Local employees can also pursue lifelong learning through SkillsFuture initiatives.

Nirvik Singh

Chairman & CEO

Grey Group Asia Pacific

WITH the slowdown in China, there will be a change in the purchasing behaviour of various businesses - more cost-focused and possibly risk averse. Singapore is susceptible to a knock-on effect because of the strong trade, investment and tourism links. But not all is doom and gloom in Asia-Pacific.

Singapore's Smart Nation programme which is harnessing technology to the fullest has already begun. Reuters also reported that businesses in Thailand are setting aside bigger budgets for digital advertising. New breakthroughs in technology will also bring about innovation and efficiency in analysing data and producing relevant creative content. The year 2016 will be a challenging one but it will also find most businesses focusing on and leveraging off the innovation landscape.

Robin C Lee

Group COO

Bok Seng Group

IT'S definitely not going to be a walk in the park. Right off the gate there wasn't any positive business news to start off the year. It's impossible to predict how the world economy is going to pan out as the economic fundamentals have become quite grossly distorted.

Thankfully, Singapore still stands on concrete ground, thanks to foresighted preparatory efforts in past years by our government in ensuring economic sustainability. In spite of the dreary outlook for 2016, we remain resolute on keeping our operations lean and productive: Quicken and deploy more resources and people to establish and grow businesses in the enlarging regional markets while also taking advantage of consolidation opportunities that have started to surface.

Daniel Soh

Managing Partner

Leadership Advisory Inc

TAKING the long view and looking beyond the ups and downs of short-term economic cycles, most of our clients are already planning ahead in 2016 with a more proactive approach to ensure competitiveness.

The availability of a strong pipeline of second layer of leaders is critical, as it enables companies to emerge out of any crisis quickly. Hence companies continue to invest in building leaders across the region and the demand for Asia leadership talents remains strong.

Global firms are also placing increasing value for leadership talents who can think globally, but remain close to the ground. Demand is there for individuals who can use influence rather than control to get things done.

Laletha Nithiyanandan

Managing Director

Behavioural Consulting Group and

Head of Association of Professional Staffing Companies

AS the head of Association of Professional Staffing Companies or APSCo (a professional staffing industry association in Asia), I feel our industry is still doing well as there is always demand for good talent. Employers are using the current situation to skill up their talent pool.

This year is likely to be a volatile year for business as a whole; it's a period of adjustment. This is also the case in the recruiting business. I see this as a good opportunity for businesses to take stock, redesign themselves in line with new technology and find new ways to engage with the talent community.

Vick Aggarwala


Supreme Components Int'l Pte Ltd

"GLOCAL" consumer demand has reduced considerably. Investors are very cautious about future investments. We foresee real challenging times for 18 months in our industry.

Arvind Agarwalla


FACT Software International Pte Ltd

AS speculation about oil prices and Donald Trump kept bankers and politicians busy in 2015, we expect further momentum on these fronts this year.

In these tumultuous times, we are looking at a spectacular year in the FACT Group. We are adding the HRM module this year, fully integrated into our ERP+CRM offering.

Our existing customers are excited about increasing efficiency. In addition, our new customer acquisitions grow when the economy undergoes a churn. We are aggressively looking at fresh hires to proactively service our large customer base this year. The best is yet to be.

Dhirendra Shantilal

Board Director


THE human resources and talent management industry is exceptionally resilient. As economic conditions in Singapore are expected to be challenging in the year ahead, companies will require the very best talent in order to grow, adapt and survive.

While companies will be cautious in their hiring needs and keeping in mind the labour shortage, the search for the right talent will be competitive and intense, especially in the junior and middle management levels. What we will see is companies looking to optimise their teams, reviewing how best to increase their employees' productivity and filling key vacancies to bring in value and skill.

Loh Hoon Sun

Managing Director

Phillip Securities

WE have enjoyed good economic growth for many decades. The economies of most countries, including Singapore, are now more mature. Coupled with an ageing population in many countries, we can expect to have slow growth and low inflation in the years ahead.

Businesses have gone through tough times in recent years, worsened lately by declining oil prices. The current business sentiment is very gloomy and bearish. This stage is traditionally near the end of a bear cycle. Singapore Airlines has started to hire more staff, a good sign. I believe we should see faint signs of a slow economic recovery later this year.

Tan Chong Huat

Managing Partner

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing

THE 2016 outlook for legal and professional services is bright despite the uncertainties caused by falling commodity prices and China's economic slowdown. There are tremendous prospects in the region as well as those arising from technology and socio-economic changes. Our active presence in ASEAN has kept us busy since the beginning of the year. Chinese funds are looking at M&A activities outside of China, Indonesia recently eased foreign investment restrictions, and Vietnam is now one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Opportunities abound in the life sciences, technology, and cleantech industries.

Our presence and network across the region and globally position us to help clients achieve their ambitions in Asia. We remain committed to delivering international capabilities locally and will continue to focus on serving clients' needs in Asia and beyond. As a services firm, we shall continue to automate and innovate as a de-rigeur, and train and develop our leaders and teams to meet business goals and the strategic focus of the organisation.

Lim Soon Hock

Managing Director

Plan-B Icag Pte Ltd

THE media has reported that 2016 will be more difficult. My business, offering corporate advisory services, caters to both good and bad times.

Singapore's economy should diversify into more high level consultancy services. This can tap our talent pool, built from a world-class educational system. There is no reason why we cannot create clones of McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, etc, that can compete on the world stage. Talent from our accomplished civil service can complement that from the private sector. Consultancy services can minimise Singapore's exposure to the vicissitudes of the global economy and be a boon to local businesses.

Albert Phuay Yong Hen

Group CEO and Chairman

Excelpoint Technology Ltd

DESPITE apparent uncertainties in the economic outlook for 2016, the arrival of the Internet of Things (IoT), alongside new developments in consumer technology, will shine some bright spots for the electronics and semiconductor industry. The strength in smartphones and tablets demand, especially seen in emerging markets, will contribute to a rise in our electronic component distribution business.

Another unneglectable occurrence is the ongoing consolidation of technology giants, which will continue to reshape the semiconductor landscape, providing opportunities for those ready to mine them. In addition, with the engineering and research and development segment entering the spotlight in Singapore with aims to increase investments in these sectors, I remain optimistic on the outlook for this industry.

Annie Yap


AYP Associates

AS science and technology advances, the employment trend is changing as well. Many are concerned with the employment prospects for 2016, as they wish to be employed in a company that allows for growth in both career prospects and salary. In addition, there seems to be a slowdown in growth coupled with the cutting of manpower in certain industries. AYP Group has prepared to face this and has done market research and gained better understanding of the employer's needs.

Growth in industries such as information technology and healthcare is expected. Hence, we could explore more possibilities with the online and digital industries. In addition, itemised payslips to employees are made mandatory for all in 2016. This is a major opportunity for us to help companies without proper procedures in their payroll system.

Tirupathi Karthik


Napier Healthcare Solutions

THE International Monetary Fund may expect the global economy to grow by only 3.4 per cent in 2016, but some of the same factors holding it back - such as societal ageing worldwide - are leading to higher healthcare expenditures, including on healthcare IT. Reports indicate global healthcare spending could grow by more than 6 per cent over the next decade, driven by elder care and increase in chronic ailments.

Our technology supports the government's intermediate and long-term care roadmap, which comprehensively addresses these objectives. Private hospitals too are increasing their investments in such technology. In addition, in USA, another of our major markets, healthcare facilities in responding to cost and regulatory pressures are turning to technology to become more efficient, deliver better patient outcomes and charge less for their services. Most certainly, the healthcare IT industry appears to be in the pink of health!

Shinji Tada

Managing Director, ASEAN

Brother International Singapore

AS a whole, the economy has slowed down and there are signs that it will stay that way for a while more. The retail scene, in particular, has been hard hit and spending across the board has been cut in many aspects.

In times like these, we've expanded our focus and our strategy is to help small to medium businesses in their pursuit of success because we feel that with the right support, they would have the potential to grow to become big businesses too.

Rohit Dadwal

Managing Director

Mobile Marketing Association, Asia Pacific

AS mobile's growth in Asia continues unabated, users are likely to demand ever more immersive experiences that are novel, yet relevant and intuitive. At the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, new technologies like virtual reality and thermal imaging were unveiled, demonstrating the mobile industry's continued investment in innovation.

This presents an opportunity for businesses to integrate mobile in more creative forms in their marketing and engagement strategies. Notably, spending on mobile video advertising is expected to race ahead, as brands produce videos for Instagram and Snapchat. Advanced location technology will also link m-commerce and physical retail experience more closely.

Gery Messer

Managing Director, Asia Pacific


WHILE the economic outlook indicates impending roadblocks in achieving growth, there remains a silver lining for the IT industry. Businesses have increasingly been rolling out their digital transformation initiatives, revolutionising the way we work through leveraging advanced technologies to enable rapid innovation in the industry.

In particular, we forecast a promising prevalence of hybrid IT, which encompasses a good mix of both in-house and IT outsourcing that will enable enterprises to optimise their resources more efficiently and drive revenues.

Chua I-Pin

Managing Director, South East Asia

Polycom Asia Pacific

GROWTH risks are mitigated for Polycom as a business, as we do not let up on operational efficiencies while driving towards our growth targets. We encourage flexible working to boost productivity among our employees. In the current economic climate, enterprises that invest in technology to boost productivity and collaboration have a higher chance of remaining agile, productive and effective. Implementing flexible working initiatives helps keep employees loyal to enterprises.

We constantly leverage on video conferencing to supplement external training. Collaboration tools also supplement important engagements with our customers and partners globally. Eventually, this results in sustaining competitiveness and relevance for our business.

Rosalynn Tay


Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore, and Dentsu Singapore

THE Dentsu Aegis Network continues to have positive momentum in our business. Through our unique operating model that is different from the other networks, we continue to create greater value for our clients.

However, we do expect a general softness in budgets. This is where we come in by helping them innovate through our convergent approach. We are the new age network designed to provide business solutions. We have had enduring relationships with our clients and remain committed to do so in 2016 and beyond.

Tan Mui Huat

President and CEO, Asia

International SOS

DESPITE an uncertain economy, workforce mobility and diversity will continue to rise. This significantly shapes what we do at International SOS, which is assisting multinationals, governments and NGOs in protecting their mobile employees. Against the backdrop of continued risks such as natural disasters, pandemic diseases (eg, Zika) and terror threats, we see a growing awareness among companies about travel risk management.

More organisations are approaching us to help them develop preventive and business continuity programmes. For instance, when the earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015, our clients could confirm within minutes if they had employees in the country, and communicate with them immediately from our online travel risk management tool, TravelTracker. More organisations are making prevention a priority as they realise how adopting these programmes has brought measurable cost savings to their businesses.

Todd Arthur

Managing Director

Hotel Reservation Service, Asia Pacific

THE outlook for the business travel industry remains relatively buoyant. Executives still need to travel in order to drive top-line growth, which is especially important in a downturn. Where we do expect to see an impact is in our customers' focus on the bottom line. This involves reviewing sourcing arrangements and travel and expense budgets, in order to drive cost savings and process efficiencies.

In a landscape where hotels are improving their competitive positioning through market share, Hotel Reservation Service has adapted by providing end-to-end hotel solutions, increasing its portfolio and quality of hotels offered to meet customers' demand for value.

Alfie Othman

Executive Director

Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise

THE slowdown is a reflection of the global economic volatility, which nevertheless comes at a time when there is greater recognition that even amid such uncertainties, businesses can and do generate tremendous social impact.

Social enterprises naturally have to grapple with economic challenges to remain sustainable, but their guiding vision of success is their capacity to generate social impact. To meet this objective in today's challenging environment and attain success, social enterprises would need to work closely together with partners and other supporters.

Melissa Kwee

Chief Executive

National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre

IN challenging times, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre is aware of how the business of giving may be affected. However, tough times also translate into more apparent needs and a greater potential availability of talent to serve the community. Giving a helping hand is not dependent on our financial means or ability. It is a gift anyone can offer.

Globally, though corporate donations tend to fall, individual giving of money, time and skills tends to be resilient during recession.

Ronald Lee

Managing Director

PrimeStaff Management Services Pte Ltd

WE are in the business of recruitment and human resource consulting. With the dimmer economic outlook, companies are likely to scale back expansion plans, resulting possibly in a hiring freeze.

Therefore, we anticipate reduced demand for recruitment services. We do, however, expect companies to focus more time and resources on the overall human capital aspects of talent development, job redesigning, exploring new innovations, etc.

That said, in the wake of retrenchments that have already begun, we know that there will be a greater demand for outplacement and career transition services, and we have boosted our capabilities to answer those needs.

Foreseeing slower growth in Singapore, we have also opened an office in China last year and we expect more growth to come from there.

Michelle Lim

Managing Director

Reed Exhibitions

THE global economic slowdown has indeed dampened Singapore's outlook for 2016. Due to declining oil prices, oversupply and sluggish demand, marine, workboat & offshore professionals are going through challenging times in the industry. That said, industry professionals should take advantage of the slowdown to rethink their resources and strategy, and therein lies an opportunity for us.

One good platform for the industry to come together and re-strategise for the future is at the Asia Pacific Maritime exhibition. Shipping analysts and heavyweights will be present to shed some light on the various opportunities and steps organisations can take. The exhibition ground also provides the industry plenty of opportunities to network and look for new business leads as well as reunite with old friends.

Yeoh Oon Jin

Executive Chairman

PwC Singapore

We foresee business/investment activities declining across most industries and impacting the level of demand from us due to the weaker outlook and conservative GDP growth estimates. However, the more optimistic businesses are radically re-looking at their existing business and operating models as well as the market and business segment coverage and investing selectively to seize market opportunities.

At PwC, our strategy, deals and restructuring services are benefitting from the additional demands of these businesses. We also continue to focus on infrastructure projects, in line with the One Belt One Road and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank's (AIIB) initiatives. Amidst conserving capital and resources to weather any long term downturn, we remain optimistic of Asia's long term prospects and continue to invest in specialist talents and capabilities to support our clients to stay ahead of the game. Our capabilities are strengthened through tapping on new opportunities within the digital space, cyber and analytics. Against this backdrop, we hope to continue to grow our services despite the uncertainties.

This article was first published on March 7, 2016.
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