Companies need to adapt business models for opportunities, sustainable growth: Deloitte leader

This comes amidst the expected moderation in growth for the Singapore economy this year.

Jiak See Ng is the leader of Deloitte Asia Pacific's Financial Advisory practice, where she develops and drives the business in areas that include mergers and acquisitions (M&A), economics and commercial advisory, infrastructure, forensics, investments and restructuring. 

She has 30 years of extensive experience in advising clients on M&A, fundraising, IPO and growth strategy, across a spectrum of industries. 

Ng also champions Deloitte’s Women in Leadership programme, where she mentors female Deloitte professionals across the Asia Pacific to nourish the next generation of leaders.

Looking into the expected slowdown of Singapore’s economic growth for this year, Ng pointed out certain trends today that present opportunities for organisations, particularly in the areas of sustainability and ESG, responsible investing, and social impact.

“We can expect businesses to look towards restructuring, refinancing, and recycling their capital to capture these opportunities to remain competitive and to grow their business in these volatile times,” she said.

She added that companies must be ready to adapt their business models to seize the opportunities available and ensure sustainable growth in spite of such situations.

As part of the esteemed judges for this year’s Singapore Business Review Awards, Ng sat down with SBR to talk more about the trends and challenges that faced the city-state’s business landscape, the rising trend of ESG and sustainability, and how budding professionals can succeed in the Financial Advisory space.

What do you think are some of the main challenges that Singapore’s business landscape faced for the past year? How can industry leaders and key business figures address them this year?

Today’s business environment is a volatile one, made uncertain by factors that include rising interest rates, geopolitical instability, the situation in Russia-Ukraine, and the ongoing COVID-19 recovery. These factors have impacted businesses in terms of, amongst others, severe supply chain disruptions, shifts in customer behaviours, rapid digitalisation, and changes to the way we work. 

To address these challenges, industry leaders and key business figures can take several actions. 

Making smart and calculated investments towards digital transformation, including upgrading technology and infrastructure, providing training to employees, and creating new digital products and services, can help businesses remain competitive in the marketplace and adapt to changing customer behaviour. 

As remote working becomes increasingly in demand, businesses should relook their talent strategies to incorporate more flexibility around ways of work. This is to ensure that they can hire and retain the best talent in this talent-war and changing work environment. 

To circumvent supply chain issues, businesses can diversify their business models to reduce reliance on a single market or industry.

Collaboration is also key. Collaborating with the public sector and with other businesses, especially those in the same ecosystem, can create new opportunities and add value for customers. 

Given the expected slowdown in this year’s economic growth, what should companies change or adapt in their business models to stay ahead?

In the face of an economic slowdown, companies need to adapt their business models to seize the opportunities available and ensure sustainable growth. 

As we look ahead, there are certain trends that present opportunities, particularly in the areas of sustainability or ESG, responsible investing and social impact. 

We can expect businesses to look towards restructuring, refinancing, and recycling their capital to capture these opportunities to remain competitive and to grow their business in these volatile times. 

Additionally, in this climate of increasing interest rates, it is important for every company to manage their working capital, improve liquidity, reduce deployed capital, strengthen their balance sheet, and realign their supply chain. 

Businesses need to be prepared to take on more heat – regulatory scrutiny is expected to increase and stakeholders’ expectations of ESG responsibility will only intensify. 

As many industries begin to employ ESG and sustainability programmes, how do you think businesses in Singapore can promote these amongst their stakeholders? How can they maintain these initiatives?

Open communication is a key method. Being transparent to stakeholders, which include employees, customers, investors, and the wider community, goes a long way to raising awareness and promoting the companies’ sustainability efforts. This can involve providing regular updates on progress, sharing best practices, and showcasing success stories. In addition, companies could also highlight areas where they have faced challenges or setbacks in their sustainability efforts. Being honest about the obstacles they have encountered and the steps they are taking to overcome them can help build credibility and trust with stakeholders. 

To ensure that sustainability initiatives are integrated into all aspects of the business, companies could consider appointing a sustainability officer or team to oversee and coordinate their efforts. 

Stakeholders should feel engaged; if they do, it increases the likelihood of them supporting the companies’ ESG and sustainability initiatives. Engagement can be in the form of dialogue sessions through forums, in-person events and workshops, or social media. 

Embedding sustainability into business operations and setting measurable goals will also demonstrate a commitment to long-term sustainability and accountability to stakeholders. 

To go a step further, companies should look into implementing sustainability reporting. This would provide a standardised framework to disclose ESG information to stakeholders, which will improve transparency, accountability, and comparability across industries. In fact, regulators around the world are now requiring companies to do some form of ESG and sustainability disclosures as part of their corporate governance reporting. 

What will be your key performance indicators in measuring businesses’ growth and success this year? What do you think will be some of the challenges in attaining these metrics?

The KPIs are not new. They include revenue growth, the ability to acquire and retain customers, holding competitive market share, employee engagement and satisfaction, and ESG performance. 

The challenges businesses may encounter in attaining these KPIs include the aforementioned economic uncertainties, supply chain disruptions, evolving consumer behaviour and changes in the way we work. Additionally, measuring ESG performance can be challenging as there is no standardised framework for ESG reporting, and stakeholders may have varying expectations. 

What advice can you give to aspiring professionals in the financial advisory landscape? What relevant skills or qualities should they have to succeed?

Having the ability to adapt and a hunger for continuous learning are important in today’s times, where market conditions, regulations and client needs are constantly changing. 

Apart from technical and subject-matter knowledge, professionals must also possess soft skills such as being a good listener and communicator in order to be sensitive to clients’ needs and to offer solutions that will suit different situations clients may face. In addition, it is crucial to build trusted relationships with your clients and team members. Being one step ahead and anticipating the needs and concerns of clients can help you provide more personalised and effective advice. Taking the time to build these relationships is essential, as clients are more likely to trust someone they know, and feel comfortable with. Additionally, having trust among team members can lead to better collaboration and a more positive work environment. Ultimately, having a trusted relationship with clients and the team is key to success. 

Coming back from last year’s awards programme, what innovations or key factors are you looking for in this year’s entries?

I will be looking for companies that are future-forward, with business models and strategies that look ahead with the future in mind. This includes businesses that have adopted cutting-edge technologies or have developed new, sustainable practices to improve their operations. I am also interested in companies that have successfully pivoted their business models in response to changing market conditions or disruptions. In addition, I will be looking for entries that demonstrate a commitment to building strong relationships with their customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

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