Written by Anshuman Daga and Yantultra Ngwe
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Dealer makers, fund managers and chief executives flock to Singapore for a slew of high-profile conferences this month, as the city-state polishes its credentials as a major global financial hub.
While COVID restrictions continue to hamper large in-person gatherings in rival financial hub Hong Kong, Singapore has mostly returned to pre-pandemic life with the relaxation of indoor mask rules last month.
Business is booming – hotel room rates are more than a decade higher, conference venues have been booked for weeks and restaurants are packed.
“We’ve had a funny two years locked up and isolated from our peers, so in-person conferences feel like a small step back into normalcy and a huge step back in humanity,” Rachel Lau, managing partner of Southeast Asia investment firm RHL Ventures.
The first of these events starting on Monday is SuperReturn Asia, an annual private equity and venture capital conference taking place in Singapore for the first time instead of in Hong Kong as usual.
About 1,000 executives from more than 40 countries are expected to participate over four days – a record for the event which compares to around 800 in 2019. Delegates pay up to £4,000 ($4,600) to attend.
“We have been planning this event for several months,” said Dorothy Kelso, Global Head of SuperReturn, adding that the opportunity to meet physically in Asia was in high demand among the international community.
Other conferences in Singapore this month include the Milken Institute Asia Summit run by US billionaire Michael Milken, the Forbes Global CEO Conference and Token2049, a crypto event that will also be held in the city for the first time.
The conferences, which provide networking opportunities with investors from India and China as well as sovereign wealth funds, will be attended by executives from investment giants such as Carlisle Group (Nasdaq :), Pimco and Franklin Templeton.
Also attending will be Indian and Southeast Asian startups, as well as representatives from crypto exchanges OKX and FTX.
The recovery in conference activity in Singapore puts it on a par with New York, where major business gatherings have resumed. London has also largely returned to its pre-pandemic levels of in-person gatherings in recent months, although smaller events are more common than large, multi-day conferences.
Singapore vs Hong Kong
Singapore is also set to see a boom in tourism with F1 night racing resuming at the end of September after a two-year hiatus. Other major tourist draws organized include the Maroon 5 and Guns N’ Roses concerts in November.
“Singapore has come back strong,” said Curtis Chen, former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank and Asia Fellow at the Milken Institute.
Singapore has long been in a fierce competition with Hong Kong to become the number one financial center in Asia as both cities are keen to attract global banks as well as wealth and asset managers.
But the strict coronavirus restrictions in Hong Kong have hurt its economy and its standing as a financial centre. It is one of the few places in the world that still requires incoming travelers to quarantine.
Its restrictions have only added to the exodus of financial and business talent in recent years as Beijing has begun to exercise more control over Hong Kong’s government and limit freedoms – all of which have worked in Singapore’s favour.
“With Hong Kong increasingly connected to mainland China both economically and politically, Singapore is able to differentiate itself more as the arbiter of its own destiny and as the center of major international events,” Chen said.
Wealthy families, especially from China, and ultra-rich individuals have set up hundreds of so-called “family offices”, to take advantage of Singapore’s generous tax incentives and stable political system.
Singapore authorities have just unveiled new rules for work visas to lure executives who earn at least 30,000 Singapore dollars ($21,300) a month, hoping to attract global ‘rainmakers’.
(1 dollar = 1.4083 Singapore dollars)