A story of Malaysia and Singapore reflected by their coinage


Today is an important day for Malaysians, marking the creation of the Federation of Malaya back in 1957. Six years later, on this same day, North Borneo and Singapore would gain their freedom, leading to an Independent Malaysia on 16th September 1963. I therefore thought it a good time to reflect on how value transfer changed over time, to support the aspirations of its people. Life in this vibrant region dates back over 1.83 million years. As in other parts of the world barter prevailed, but as the southwest monsoon created important trade routes for the Archipelago, linking India and Arab lands of the West with China, barter and cowries soon gave way to the use of gold dust, silver and tin as payment.

Things changed soon after, with conversion to Islam in the 14th century. By the 15th century numerous states were issuing their own coins, generally conforming to Islamic standards. Thus the history of money for the people of what would come to be known as Malaysia and Singapore grew in sophistication centuries ago, with the octagonal gold kupangs, tin jokohs, silver tangas and other exotic, beautifully crafted coins.



Coins with “Malaysia” on them first made their appearance only in 1967. The smaller denomination sen coins (1,5,10, 20) were followed by the 50 sens, all featuring the parliament building and crescent and star emblem.


The 1 Ringgit coin was issued two years later, followed by the 5 Ringgitt coin in 1971, both made of copper-nickel. The term “ringgit” actually means “jagged”, and was probably inspired by the serrated edges of Spanish dollars that were in use during the Portugese colonial era. Sens and Ringgitts (100 sens) replaced the dollars and cents that previously carried images of Victoria in 1845 and George VI in 1939 – The new coins reflected the ambition and hope of new beginnings.



August 1965 also marks Singapore’s independence and by 1967 Singaporeans were using their own coinage, with the 1 cent and the $1 carrying an image of their mythical beast, the Merlion.

On the tenth anniversary of Singapore a bright new silver $10 coin bore the triumphant image of a ship, indicating the importance of the country to world trade.


South-East Asia

As the “centre of gravity” shifts towards Asia, South-East Asia continues to build thriving new communities and a unique culture. A bright new 5-dollar coin commemorates South-East Asia’s 4-yearly Games where Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines participate.

Today both Singapore and Malaysia have a critical role to play in Southeast Asia, Asia and the world. Both are at the forefront of money going digital at the heart of Asia and are important Islamic banking centres. Their progress is synonymous with our progress in our complex, intertwined global economy. So we take time off today to wish our friends in each country congratulations and the very best for a bright and prosperous future, filled not just with money but with innovation, health and happiness.




Outlook for Global Bank Strategies in the face of historic disruption – Part 2

Goldman Sachs recently forecasts that $4.7 trillion traditional financial services revenue could be at risk from disruption. As new entrants, supported by a $12 billion investment in Fintech, disrupt existing business models, using new technology fuelled strategies, I thought we could reflect on what counter strategies banks might adopt that could help and not hinder.

This blog builds on my previous one, “Global Bank Disruption and Potential Counter Strategies” where I share highlights from my interview with Penny Hembrow of CGI.

In what is arguably the greatest period of disruption in the history of money, I set out to understand possible counter-strategies being considered by global banks, through  interviews with leading experts and study of recent bank roadmaps and publications from European institutions and bank associations.

Weighty customer and client expectations

In retail banking recent surveys indicate an overwhelming change in customer expectations, as they seek to maximise convenience and satisfaction in the rapidly changing digital economy. Similarly large corporate client expectations have also changed.

This is creating significant disruption in both consumer and corporate financial services, driving banks to seriously set out strategies for transformation, modernization and innovation, in order to avoid being commoditised as new entrants carve away valuable chunks of what would traditionally be bank business.

So what are the global banks doing about this?

Could there be a one-size-fits-all solution?

Transaction banking in particular has important relevance for global banks as it helps lower the cost of capital, leverage client base and improve return on equity. Now increased competition and a change in corporate expectations creates an imperative for innovation in services to make them faster, cheaper, more convenient and of course, ubiquitous.

As transaction banking gets further impacted, it seems to me that a "one size fits all" approach may not work. I understand from what experts tell me, and my own work in this area that transaction banking does not enjoy as high levels of standardization as other areas of banking do.

Now new trends in real-time payments and increased interest in new technologies such as blockchain are also adding to the roadmap of global banks such as RBS, BBVA and others, to simultaneously meet new needs from consumers and corporates.


A host of competitors, way beyond traditional

Global banks are no longer simply competing with each other.

In each part of their business, they face new entrants, relatively unencumbered and with much less to lose - freeing them to make choices that may not be open to the banks.

For instance in the foreign exchange business, new international payments providers are employing increasingly sophisticated strategies. Increased need for low-cost cross border payments is driving new types of solutions in each part of the world, but achieving ubiquity had so far proved elusive.

At the same time that consumers and small businesses are turning to P2P lenders and crowd funding marketplaces, corporates are looking at what could save costs to cope with additional pressure on their own business models.

Now as real-time payment systems gain adoption, this is for the first time solving first mile and last mile issues across emerging and developed markets in a way that gives serious pause for thought.

If disruption is the problem, can blockchain be the solution?

With respect to payments, bank roadmaps indicate that Ripple and blockchain are under investigation with a range of leading global financial services organisations who hope these could be significant game changers.

Just as consumer expectations have changed, corporate business is also vulnerable to various peer-to-peer solutions. 

However if banks are to implement blockchain, they must find a way to do so that maintains transaction privacy and meets a host of transactional requirements, but more importantly manages onerous responsibilities to do with money-laundering.

Imperative for banks to validly reposition on trust

Recent publications from European banking associations suggest that banks carve out a niche for themselves by offering identity related services that percolate through all layers of the service architecture, while allowing new OTT entrants to play only on the surface layers.

Banks arguably have a good understanding of our true identities. Experts I discussed this issue with felt that banks have an opportunity to better reposition themselves by treating KYC as a strategic opportunity rather than a regulatory burden, and finding ways for consumers to protect themselves against cyber security and identity loss, or better manage their finances.

If banks are to better utilise customer data, they must first of all restructure their data to transcend current silos.  As hard as it may seem for them to free the data from silo representations, what may be harder still is not angering clients and consumers in the way they use data they possess.

Outlook for 2015-2016

Too much seems to have already been said about bank disruption. The task at hand now is positive action, making lean budgets stretch across legacy maintenance and innovative projects.

My research indicates that banking disruption right now is distinctly different, regionally and based on the nature of banks as well as other criteria. So for instance, it could be dangerous to make presumptions about Asian banking based on what we see in Europe/US. Banks in Singapore seem to have embraced FinTech phenomenon, with banks and tech companies collaborating to find was to reduce cost and use technology as an enabler. Could FinTech be the platform that helps Asian banks find top spots in the banking scene?

According to a recent statement from CEO Piyush Gupta, DBS is spending billions of dollars digitising the bank, with less than 10% in frontend apps. In the same article Anju Patwardhan of Standard Chartered makes a good point on how banks can leverage regional trends, and developments across ASEAN and Asia. 

In my view, using disruptive change as a lever for growth will need the very best management skills, within both banks and regulators in order to achieve balance under highly sensitive circumstances, and ensure actions taken continue to rebuild and safeguard client and consumer trust along the way.

What's your view on disruption to global banks? Do you see potential counter-strategies at work and how successful are they, in your part of the world?

Singapore, a catalyst for lower cash usage in India and Southeast Asia

We share highlights from our recently published reports on the Indian and Singapore markets. We have planned various events around the Terrapin conference in Singapore from 21-25 April. Join us to help make our very first Road-Show a success.

We believe some of the more interesting bits of our research on Singapore related to the role the country can play in catalysing non-cash payments in South-East Asia, and indeed, within the wider Asia Pacific region. Let me explain why.

As I write this blog, our team is currently chatting with the Aam Admi in India ( the common man, not the political party, though they too have a way of creeping into most conversations now that elections are on).


As I made my way, still wide-eyed from the experience of our wonderful new Mumbai airport, and the speed with which I was bundled out of customs,  I saw a huge glass building with StarHub emblazoned on it. I fell to wondering what exactly StarHub was doing in India. imageAs their stated aim (quoting from their website today)  “will always be focused on providing every home and every business in Singapore with world-class services”, why such a big presence in India? I learnt that not only is StarHub the No. 2 mobile operator in Singapore, but it also has a variety of other interests (TV, Roaming services and more), in a number of other countries, including India. For that matter, so does the SingTel Group , that includes the No. 1 operator in Singapore, and a great many other Singaporean companies.


Understanding what Singapore based groups are currently achieving in the 4.2 billion+ Asia-Pacific market is, to my mind, even more important than what they are doing in their home market of 5 million. That is why we do touch on this, in addition to covering the Singapore payments scene. Big changes are underway, from core system changes such as FAST (immediate funds transfer platform), to the very latest interoperable mobile payment services that are trying to tempt Singaporeans to throw away their much used travel cards, and also serve the millions of tourists who annually visit the country.

We are especially eager to share our insights, as the research we carried out this year in Indonesia, India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and other countries, turned up a wide range of opportunities for providers that are based in Singapore.


From the 21st to the 25th of April (next week), our team will camp in Singapore for our very first road-show including various events at which we will share highlights of our research. The Asia Pacific (APAC) region has leap-frogged the West in terms of rate of growth of mobile-enabled services. The tech-savvy markets are ready and waiting for services that will help them to achieve their ambitious goals.

Our team in India politely inform me that some of the services I use in the UK may be slightly older versions of what they use here. Yesterday, a 78 year old Indian gentleman proved to have greater affinity and prowess regarding the latest technology for communications than many I’ve met in Europe. Housewives I chatted with categorically and in no uncertain terms, welcome the time-saving new services and I can see massive changes on the cards for India this year - And earlier this year I saw similar signs when we chatted with people in Indonesia.

My quick summary on what I see from our work this week in India, one of the fastest growing markets in the world: To get the services right, providers must understand the Indian context and tailor their service accordingly. ARPU of mobile services is very low, costs are expected to be brought down to match this. People will not pay for what they don’t want – so the package of services must be carefully planned, with easy opt-in, opt-out.

Missed call – A part of the Indian service cycle

One of our interviewees gave us a great example of a company that detected and used a market practice, to exactly appeal to the Indian user. A common practice is for cab drivers to call back to the office when they need to talk, and immediately hang up (missed call). The supervisor is the one with the unlimited talk plan and she will be alerted and call back the cabbie to issue instructions.

This has now become part of many business processes, and is widely known as a missed call. One smart Indian marketing company, Tata Sky TV actually offers their Missed Call Service (MCS) as a way to request their sales team to call back prospective customers or existing subscribers who want to add on a package.

My point is that one can’t expect to bring a service and plant it intact into these growing markets. What is the equivalent of the missed call, that can make the difference between success and failure for your new mobile payment services?

A role for Singapore?

Providers in Singapore are geographically, technologically and culturally well placed to understand and create services to cater to the trends in some of these rapidly growing markets such as India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. However choice of the market, type of service and customisation of offer for each of these markets becomes all-important. Financial and payment services are at very different maturity levels – expect some of the services you use at home to get “leap-frogged”, and get ready to observe and learn, before planning major projects.

Let’s talk!

If you are part of the great APAC mobile money revolution, come and chat with us so we can learn more about you, what you plan to do and what is holding you back.

We’ll have special promotions on, in case you like what you see and want to pick up some of our reports, subscribe to our premium portal and/or obtain targeted analysis that directly answers your questions. We are keen for you to enjoy what our customers say they liked most – Targeted answers to your most pressing questions, through our unique “Ecosystem Tour - Show and Tell” service ….

So much so that we’ll give you a FREE 15 minute slot to take your question and provide you a response from our continually updated portal  that covers close to 3,500 player profiles, and 1,900 initiatives, 78 different products and services , across 283 markets world-wide. We’d also like to hear your story – what you achieved, what your ambitions are, and how we may be of help.

Just drop me a line at coak@shiftthought.com and we can discuss what event may suit you best. Please be quick though, as we have limited slots and they’re filling fast!

Digital Money: A new business model for Switzerland

Mon, Mar 24, 2014 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM GMT

Shift Thought is working with the UKTI (United Kingdom Trade & Investment) to present some country-level options for balancing risk and innovation, while creating sustainable consumer services for the future.


In this webinar, Charmaine Oak, the Digital Money Practice Lead at the UK-based management consultancy, Shift Thought, will discuss some of the recent innovations in payments and remittances services. She will provide insights from recent Shift Thought research on Switzerland, UK, Singapore and other markets around the world.

This will focus on opportunities for UK-based companies to prepare for requirements common to countries such as UK and Switzerland that are seeking to innovate for the future.

Shift Thought tracks innovations across a wide range of services they term as Digital Money. Shift Thought believes that balancing innovation within an overall framework of regulation is of paramount importance. This helps to create sustainable long term growth, both of individual organisations as well as for a country as a whole.

Mistakenly some people tend to confuse this with Bitcoin, which is only one form, of one of the many dimensions across which innovation is possible. Bitcoin is a decentralised crypto-currency that represents one kind of disruption. It is positioned as a potential way to do low cost transfers, but governments and central banks have expressed concerns regarding potential risks to consumers, as well as on fundamentals surrounding the operations.

This webinar touches on the much broader possibilities for innovation in payments and remittances. It aims to enhance the level of co-operation between UK Financial Service and Payments providers and the Swiss ecosystem.

It will do this by offering insights into the changes affecting the Swiss market and the ways in which countries such as Switzerland are approaching a range of innovative financial services.

The presenter will cover areas such as:

  • Creating a sustainable context that balances innovation and risk, to create services that build reputation
  • How could Switzerland use its unquestionable strengths to create such innovations that consumers really want?
  • What opportunities might British businesses draw from the transformation in the financial services approach in Switzerland?

This webinar will be of interest to audience in the Swiss financial services sector as well as to UK businesses who wish to cater to the needs of the Swiss financial sector.

However, the innovation and risk balancing theme addressed is likely to be of broader interest to regulators and payment professionals across the world, and in particular in countries such as Switzerland that are also in the process of creating enabling environments for financial services of the future.


Further details and registration is available at Digital Money: a new business model for Switzerland.


Background reading: See our previous blogs, What is digital money? and   Bitcoin - Fan it or Ban it? , and also browse for more about the different virtual currencies and get an understanding of other such initiatives at Bicoin Search Results.