SINGAPORE (Sept 20): While a majority of Singaporeans view the city state’s financial services sector as more trustworthy than a decade ago, many are cautious towards less familiar sub-industries and new & emerging digital financial services companies.

This is according to the inaugural 2018 Financial Services Reputation Index, launched today by MHP Communications and ORC International, which surveyed over 4,000 adults across China, Hong Kong, India and Singapore in August this year.

In particular, the survey found that 90% of respondents in Singapore and India rated the reputation of the financial services industry as good, compared to 82% and 84% in Hong Kong and China, respectively, sharing this positive sentiment.

In a press release on Thursday, MHP and ORC International says the index’s findings provide an “overwhelmingly positive snapshot of perceptions in Asia” – which is in marked contrast to sentiment in the UK, where just 53% of respondents were positive when polled in Feb this year.

81% of respondents based in Singapore agreed that the sector had become more trustworthy in the past decade. 75% attributed this to increased regulation aimed at protecting consumers, while another 52% stated that increased competition had improved practices.

The index also revealed that nine in 10 Singaporeans viewed local banks positively with DBS, OCBC, UOB, POSB and Citibank named as the five most trusted financial brands in Singapore. An equal proportion of the country’s respondents believe local payments systems companies have a good reputation.

This enthusiasm among Singaporeans however falters when it comes to industries which consumers have less understanding of, including asset management (63%), venture capital (60%) and private equity, the last of which came in at the bottom with 57%.

Notably, while 32% of people polled in China and India stated that new and emerging digital financial services companies are more trustworthy than traditional companies, this figure drops to just 13% in Singapore and even lower to 8% in Hong Kong.

Data security remains the main concern for those surveyed in Singapore, with 24% of respondents worried about their data being stolen. MHP and ORC International say they find this unsurprising given the number of high-profile data breaches in the country.

The survey also found that the top three most important criteria among Singaporeans when choosing a financial services company were whether the organisation operates responsibly (66%), is a good employer (65%), and has a good CEO (62%).

Emma Smith, MHP Communications, CEO, Asia Pacific, says the index’s findings show a “dramatic turnaround” on perceptions of Asia’s financial services industry, ten years on from the global financial crisis.

“The crisis was not felt as acutely in Asia and the region was able to rebound quickly, spurred by the massive growth engine of China, strong macroeconomic fundamentals and favourable demographic drivers,” recalls Smith.  

“Like their global peers, as reputation catapulted to the top of the CEO agenda, financial services companies in Asia have reassessed their purpose, their relationship with customers and their role in the community,” she adds.