As a veteran banker, Mr Lim Sim Seng knows quite a bit about how to “Make Banking Joyful” – the title of a book with his management theories. Now, he intends to spread the same joy in the Built Environment (BE) sector.
In one of his first engagement sessions with industry players since becoming Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Chairman in April 2021, he recalled sitting down with developers and contractors and asking them what requests they had.
There was plenty, and he replied by telling them directly “what can be done”, “what we (BCA) are considering” and “what cannot be done”. Such frank discussions are quintessential Mr Lim, who is known in the banking fraternity as Sim Lim.
His purpose in eliciting honest feedback is simple. “I want to challenge the way we do things today,” said the DBS Bank group head of consumer banking and wealth management, who presented how the local bank tapped on technology at this year’s BuildSG Leadership Engagement and Development (LEAD) Summit, an annual meeting of the industry’s leaders.
Drawing from his extensive experience over the past 40 years in banks and boisterous dealing rooms from Tokyo to New York, he seeks to apply some principles from banking to building, or the BE world. The 63-year-old offers three tips.
1. Be a technology company doing building
The emergence of financial technology, or fintech, has been a huge disruptor to the banking sector – a form of competition that has spurred his DBS team to pioneer many digital banking initiatives.
“We are a technology company doing banking,” he explained. Similarly, he believes every BE firm here “has to be a technology company doing building”.
Such a mindset requires organisations to not only think innovatively, but to also think big – and beyond the shores of Singapore.
“If you only think of Singapore as your market, you may be apprehensive about taking these big bets (on technology),” he said. “But you have to think, we’re going outside of Singapore to do more work, so that you can get more bang for your buck when making these investments.”
One way he envisions the tech conversation to gather momentum in the BE sector is through partnerships. BCA’s Built Environment Technology Alliance (BETA), a programme office which works closely with government agencies, academia and industry stakeholders to catalyse innovation, is vital for the industry to foster a more collaborative culture.
Some Singapore BE firms have made their mark overseas with their cutting-edge innovation. An example is BE consulting firm Surbana Jurong, which has implemented its Smart City solutions in African cities. Supported by BCA’s green building initiatives here, local companies such as architectural firm RSP have also exported their expertise overseas.
Mr Lim on a panel discussion at this year’s BuildSG LEAD Summit about building up an innovative ecosystem in the BE sector and the key innovations that will change the industry in the near future.
2. Make life easier for the consumer
As a consummate consumer banker, Mr Lim aims to make banking joyful by ensuring a seamless and fuss-free experience for more than 5 million DBS customers in Singapore. He believes this applies equally in the BE industry.
He is well aware of how excessive bureaucratic measures in the financial industry can stifle productivity. In the same vein, he tries to ensure that BCA is carrying out its regulatory role well while supporting productivity.
This is why service improvements resonate greatly with him. He highlighted BCA’s upcoming CORENET X as a critical project. The one-stop integrated digital platform, expected to be launched by end-2023, will redefine the process of regulatory submissions to relevant government agencies – enabling industry players to submit plans to various agencies simultaneously instead of separately.
“Being customer-centric can apply in any industry,” he said, adding that initiatives such as CORENET X can “make building joyful”.
3. Collaborate and challenge the status quo
From growing up in a Malaysian kampung (village) to becoming a banking luminary in the world’s biggest financial capitals, Mr Lim recognises that forging close partnerships is vital for success.
He hopes to replicate such collaborations in the BE sector. One challenge for BCA, however, is being both an industry regulator and developer at the same time – something he calls an “oxymoron”.
On one hand, BCA has to be a “policeman”. On the other hand, it has to “push the envelope”. The key to playing both roles well is to build rapport and trust between BCA and the industry, and his engagement sessions with industry players are but a starting point.
It is on such strong public-private partnership bonds that truly great things can be achieved. “My hope for the sector is that we take the lead in innovation,” said Mr Lim, who also highlighted the need to reduce reliance on foreign manpower in the BE sector.
“We really have to be more productive and cannot just do ‘same old, same old’. I don’t know the answer yet, but I know status quo is not an option.”
Keen to discover more insights from industry leaders? Join BCA’s LEAD programmes with events like the LEAD Summit and BuildSG Leadership Forum, as well as knowledge-building initiatives such as the LEAD Case Development Initiative and the Horizon Programme which seeks to develop the next generation of BE leaders.