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Guest of Honour Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, Mr Heng Swee Keat.
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Engaged City University

Celebrating five new cohorts of financial leaders

Published on 5 December 2023

Financial services are a key sector of Singapore’s economy, contributing around 14 per cent of our GDP and employing nearly 190,000 workers. It is also a highly competitive and fluid sector – financial crises add to its volatility, while geopolitical risks and technology can create massive challenges.

At the same time, every challenge can also present an opportunity – but it is critical to have good leadership for the financial sector.

This is one of the key motivations that led to the creation of the Asian Financial Leaders Programme (AFLP), jointly developed by SMU and Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI) and backed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

On 24 October 2023, five cohorts of 128 business leaders celebrated their graduation from AFLP, joining an illustrious alumni of business leaders in financial institutions such as Standard Chartered Singapore, United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB), DBS, Maybank EQT Partners Asia Pte Ltd, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and many more.

Since its inception in 2015, the AFLP has prepared 324 C-suite executives for leading financial institutions in Asia. Eight runs of the AFLP have been conducted, with the ninth intake having just started their course in November 2023.

Attending the event as the Guest-of-Honour was Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat. This was also the first time that AFLP has held a graduation dinner since 2019 due to COVID-19 restrictions during the pandemic.

Preparing senior-level talent in Asia’s financial sector

AFLP was established to grow a pipeline of senior-level talent in Asia’s financial sector to assume leadership positions and handle the growing complexity of Asia’s financial industry and is regarded as the flagship programme for developing financial leaders in the region.

“The AFLP is well positioned with distinguished experts and top faculty from SMU and our partner universities,” explained Associate Professor John Sequeira, the Academic Director of the AFLP and an Associate Professor of Finance (Practice) at SMU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business during the event. “[It aims] to equip participants with the knowledge and skills they will need to face these challenges, as well as navigate new and unchartered territory in this dynamic global financial ecosystem.”

Over the course of the programme, participants have the opportunity to engage in dialogue sessions with key financial-industry leaders and attend overseas modules in world-renowned institutions where they can interact with global thought leaders, eminent practitioners, and regulators.

As part of these modules, they also visit well-known companies like Netflix, Tesla, Tokopedia and Xiaomi, to give them a better understanding of their operations.

Mr Eric Lim, who is the Chief Sustainability Officer of UOB, says: “Past participants had shared that they had benefitted tremendously from the new learnings, broadening of perspectives and deep friendships they forged during the programme. I must say it was all that and more.” He was part of the fifth cohort that was celebrating its graduation at this 2023 graduation event.

Marking the next leg of graduates’ professional journeys

Mr Heng urged the new graduates to see graduation as a starting point, rather than a finishing line, calling the AFLP “merely the basic fitness training”. He called on them to continue taking charge of their own growth and development, and help others grow by contributing to the various networks that they are part of.

“Developing talent is a leadership responsibility; I am certain that in our own career journeys, we would have benefitted from a mentor or a boss who went the extra mile,” he said.

“Nurture the young talent in your companies and encourage them to step out of their comfort zones. Given the many shared challenges that the financial sector faces, there is plenty of room to collaborate with one another, share good practices, and pursue opportunities at scale.”

“Let us continue to build on this good work on this virtuous cycle, to strengthen our financial sector, deepen our local bench strength, and offer good leadership that serves not just Singapore, but the region and the world.