CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Tim Charlton, Singapore

Gabriel Seow, BDO, on the emerging trends in Asian finance

The latest member of the Asian Banking and Finance Awards judging panel shares his expertise in this exclusive interview.

Gabriel has more than 14 years of experience in financial auditing; including nine years focused specifically on the financial services industry. Working across both Singapore and Switzerland, his clients include some of Singapore’s leading banks and securities companies, as well as some of the largest international private banks based in Geneva.

Gabriel Seow has joined the Asian Banking and Finance Awards judging panel for 2020, lending his expertise to review the more than 500 submissions in this year’s presentation. He also sat down with our editorial team for this exclusive interview.

Can you share with us your work experience or any backstory that has contributed to your professional career?

My accountancy career begins with PwC in Singapore after graduating from the Singapore Management University in 2005. I was one the first batch of accountancy students graduated from the newly inaugurated university. At PwC, I was involved in statutory audit work for various banks and financial institutions in Singapore as well as financial centres overseas. I also had the opportunity to work at PwC in Switzerland performing financial and regulatory audits for some of the largest international private banks, family offices and fund management companies. In 2019, I decided to leave to join BDO in Singapore, to be part of the firm’s Financial Services Group.
Since the beginning of my career, I am fortunate and grateful to received coaching and professional guidance from the partners and colleagues who have helped shape my professional developments and career. In particular, the stint in Switzerland has provided me with invaluable experience and insights into the workings of the financial industry in a country rich on wealth management. I genuinely treasure the connections and the networks built over the years, and hopefully in the years to come.

What are the emerging trends that will define the financial services industry for the years to come?
Having reviewed the submissions for the Asian, Banking and Finance Awards, it is clear from the submissions that the role of digitalisation is critical to establish connections within the ASEAN region. The key is really to assess whether the digitalisation process is the solution to a pain-point or be integrated as part of the entity’s DNA to bring to the next level of competence.

Broadly, there are two trends, which in itself is not new but has evolved in the last decade that will define the financial services industry. The first trend will be liquidity. The leading service of the financial services industry is the allocation of liquidity, at the right time, at the right place, to the right recipient. From history, the form of liquidity, from copper coins to paper bills and now transfers via SWIFT has accelerated the ability of liquidity of funds to flow. The way funds change hands will change, be it over smartphones or using blockchain to facilitate the transactions without centralised servers. Still, in the end, the key is to ensure that the liquidity is established in the right manner.

The second will be the human experience. Technology is not supposed to replace the human factor, but to enhance the human experience. In particular, in the area of digitalisation and automation, it is important not to lose the human experience.

Banking is seen as emblematic of Switzerland. The thing that impresses me the most is the level of service that you will receive as a customer. Each customer is treated with the appropriate level of customer service. Technology can help in taking care of the pain-points of the service offering, be it administration, or back-end, so that the softer aspects of banking, customer service, can be given to the customers.

How important was the financial sector’s response in keeping economies afloat during this crisis? What would be the ideal setup so that banks, neobanks, and more importantly, the consumers, can prosper altogether?

In the immediate term, the financial sector in the ASEAN region needs to provide funding or access to credit to allow companies and individuals to manage cash flow during this crisis using whatever funding or credit infrastructure that is available.

The type of support will vary from region to region, as we have seen in the submissions for the awards. In countries where access to banking are not readily available in remote areas, mobile banking may be considered to reach out to those needing instant credit. In terms of setup; there is no one size fits all. The two main aspects are to have the ability to utilise existing platforms to have this access to funding as well as simple and clear communication on how the platform is used.

For the folks at BDO, what are your plans for the business moving forward, and what can your clients expect?

We will continue to build our capabilities in financial services, leveraging on the knowledge and expertise of the BDO network around the world, providing the best solutions and exceptional service to our clients. We intend to be the trusted advisor in the financial services industry, developing our people, helping our clients with their business issues and responding to their needs.

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