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Open source is critical to the competitiveness of Singapore’s financial services industry

By Pierluigi Cau

It’s no exaggeration to say that financial services are critical to Singapore’s future prosperity. The country has long punched above its weight in the global  financial services industry, serving as a strategic operational base for a huge number of major international organisations to do business throughout Asia. As a result, the sector is responsible for approximately 200,000 jobs and accounts for around 10% of Singapore’s GDP each year. 

Singapore is rightly proud of its financial heritage and has lofty ambitions for the future. The Monetary Authority of Singapore has a stated mission “to develop and promote Singapore as a regional and international financial centre.” Realising that ambition, however, hinges on Singapore’s ability to innovate its financial services industry at speed—and the industry is facing a perfect storm of obstacles. 
 
Digital transformation is driving fierce competition 
The global financial services industry is undergoing rapid digital transformation as expectations for digital services surge and initiatives like open banking gain traction. Consequently, organisations that can harness technology to adapt fastest and carve out a competitive differentiator stand to gain the most. And at a regional level, Singapore is facing increasing competition from the likes of Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul to serve as strategic headquarters for Asia operations. 
 
Open source offers a clear path to prosperity 
Open source represents a golden opportunity for Singapore to not just defend its status, but to extend its influence in the global financial services industry. That’s because open-source, when used effectively, can accelerate the speed of innovation, boost collaboration, enhance security, optimise software reliability and – inevitably – improve the quality of services.  
 
Realising this, Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) is already championing open source and supporting important initiatives like establishing the Asian Institute of Digital Finance, which will help drive education, research, and entrepreneurship in digital finance across the region.  
 
However, there is so much more that financial services institutions themselves can do to unleash its potential and spur innovation from within. While a handful of major institutions like DBS Bank have embraced open source with open arms, and there is a growing acceptance of the power it provides, financial services institutions are still not taking full advantage of its capabilities – not just in Singapore, but around the world.
 
For evidence of this, look no further than the Fintech Open Source Foundation's (FINOS) recent 2021 State of Open Source in Financial Services survey, which surveyed financial services technology leaders from around the world on their open source usage and concerns. Despite 80% of respondents reporting innovation as a key reason for financial services institutions to engage in open source, 75% said their businesses are not “open source first” or admitted they did not know. Furthermore, just eight per cent of those questioned said their organisation had implemented policies to encourage open source contribution to date. 
 
The report’s main finding was that while the financial services industry has been a long-time consumer of open-source software, it has not been at the core of financial services industry business models and technology strategies. As a result, financial services institutions have not unlocked the true extent of open source’s transformative power, despite it being widely recognised as a vehicle for innovation. In fact, research from Red Hat revealed that 82% of IT leaders believe open source is used by the most innovative companies, and 81% agree that open source provides flexibility to customise solutions to meet company needs. Open source’s ability to accelerate innovation cannot be fully tapped unless it is supported by a deep understanding of its strategic role and a business-wide culture of collaboration and shared values.
 
Singapore has an opportunity to buck the trend. Fully embedding open source into the fabric of Singaporean financial services institutions can accelerate innovation and unleash a new wave of growth. In doing so, Singapore will be well placed to overcome the challenges it faces in outpacing its competition, helping realise its ambitions for the sector – and boosting national competitiveness in the process. 

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Pierluigi Cau is Director of Solutions Engineering APAC, at GitHub, where he leads the solutions engineering teams across the region. Pierluigi is passionate about building products and fostering high performing, collaborative teams. Prior to joining GitHub, Pierluigi drove technology initiatives, leading several global developer teams at Scandinavian digital media holding, Schibsted Media Group. During his tenure, Pierluigi was instrumental in driving product development and deployment projects, and his experience also includes stints at Mesosphere and Negative Labs.

A strong advocate of DevSecOps adoption as a way to foster secure innovation, Pierluigi is also passionate about open source software and working with developers to drive team productivity. In his spare time, he enjoys travelling and he is a music lover, having founded Upitup Records in 2003, an independent electronic music label providing free electronic music.

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