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Building the Next Generation of Future-Ready Talents

Back in 1992, the Sunway College was just one institution. That one institution has since grown to become Sunway University, having established no less than four Sunway Colleges around Malaysia as a pre-university and professional courses institution of repute and opened up Sunway International School Kuala Lumpur and Johor to cater to the demand for high quality secondary education.

Today, there are 17 institutions under the Sunway Education Group (SEG) and at the helm of it is Chief Executive Officer, Professor Elizabeth Lee.

“What I do stems from my passion for education and I believe there’s still a lot to do! Nurturing young minds is an important job and a satisfying one too, especially when you see your students grow and mature into responsible citizens who try and do their part in helping others and making their world better.

“It gives me great joy when my former students and our alumni return and contribute to the further development of the institution as well as the next generation of students,” Lee tells BusinessToday.

SEG’s success she says is the collective effort of so many people at the SEG, driven by leader and founder, Jeffrey Cheah, whose leadership led to the foundation of multiple collaborations with Harvard University, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of California, Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Other partnerships include with Lancaster University, Victoria University and Le Cordon Bleu.

Lee also attributed the success achieved by SEG to the talent it has invested in from all backgrounds, genders and expertise from Malaysia and around the world. “Talent diversity is key in order to continually develop, grow and thrive. And we are constantly looking for young talent to ensure continued success of the SEG,” she says.

The Ever-Changing Education Landscape

“The Malaysian education system is very exciting, believe me. Along the way, there have been some hits and misses, but I believe Malaysia is still a great destination for all learners and we have great potential moving forward,” Lee highlights.

SEG is looking to nurture future entrepreneurs through its updated curriculum and additional programmes made available through the Sunway Innovation Labs (Sunway iLabs) and Alibaba GET (Global eCommerce Talent).

“Post-pandemic, we need to have graduates who not only seek employment, but who can help create jobs instead.” 

In 2013 and 2015, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education launched their own Malaysia Education Blueprints for schools and higher education, respectively, which sought to change the education ecosystem through teaching reform, more community and parental involvement, less emphasis on exams, incorporation of technologies, greater emphasis on TVET, enculturing entrepreneurship and making Malaysia an international education hub.

Recent incidents however have also changed the education landscape. With Covid-19, teaching and learning not only changed in Malaysia but globally as well. To enable students to continue in their education, education institutions switched to an alternative mode of online and dual mode learning.

As part of the change, SEG adopted hybrid teaching and learning across all their institutions, allowing students to continue their learning either online or face-to-face, wherever they are throughout the world.

In fully embracing new technology and new ways of learning, SEG continued to provide innovative education pathways. Last year, SEG launched 42KL, part of the worldwide phenomenon Ecole 42, which is a revolutionary model of learning, different from the conventional institutions of higher learning.

“We believe that the future of education is multi-dimensional and one that fully utilises the resources and technologies available in this 4th Industrial Revolution,” Lee says. 

While the pandemic has been a cause of concern for the education landscape, Lee urges all education stakeholders, from governments to private sector, communities, school and institutions of higher education to ensure that no one is left behind. 

Inculcating and Achieving the UNSDGs

“Education is empowerment. We only have this one planet and in pursuit of greater productivity towards a more comfortable lifestyle, we have unfortunately overused our natural resources, jeopardising our flora and fauna.

“If we do not do something, we might no longer have a home. As such, it is crucial to ensure the younger generations are aware of what is at stake and chart a better and more sustainable path for humanity,” Lee tells BusinessToday. 

Of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), Sunway has placed focus and continuous work to fulfil three of them, zero hunger, quality education and partnership for goals.

The Jeffrey Cheah Foundation (JCF) which owns the Sunway Education Group, making it the largest non-profit social enterprise education conglomerate in the country has handed out over RM500 million in scholarships to deserving students.

What’s Next? 

“Of course, at its core, we must continue to fulfil our duty to provide the highest quality of education in terms of curriculum and delivery. We will continue educating and enhancing the lives of the masses through education by promoting equity and inclusiveness.

“We are also committed to ensuring future talents are ready for a digital and technology driven world as well as to nurture socially responsible future generations who are empowered to care for the environment and ensure sustainable living,” Lee says optimistically.

However, in achieving their goals, the chief executive urges for the need to step up research efforts as it is also a major thrust for her and her team in Sunway University. 

Aside from that, SEG is also looking to continuously expand on micro-credentials.

“Post pandemic, many in the workforce will have to be re-trained or upskilled to ensure they stay relevant and be up-to-date according to the shifts in the job environment,” she added.

“I hope to look back one day, and see my students succeed and thrive in the world out there. Everything we do here is for them, and we join in the joy of the good they achieve. I also hope to see them give back to society, celebrate differences, be civic minded citizens, and become caretakers of our world,” Lee concludes

Richard Teo: A Flair For Leadership And Property

With presence dating back to 1997, the Teladan Setia Group is a property developer with an established portfolio of landed, low-rise and high-rise residential properties in Malacca. The Group’s milestones in the industry have also received positive market acceptance.

Having taken over from his father, the late Datuk Teo Poh Boon, Richard Teo, the Managing Director of Teladan Setia has led the company as a visionary leader who pushed boundaries and brought the company to new horizons.

In a conversation with BusinessToday, Richard shares his thoughts on 2020 and what it meant to lead his company through a storm and the transitions that took place.

An early start

“It was never my intention to follow my father’s footstep. I was sent to Singapore to study and I went on to graduate overseas and worked as a software engineer. 2 years into the role, my father asked me to come back and help as he needed someone he could trust to run operations,” he says.

The software engineer turned property developer thought the break from the software field would only last a year or two. But it was after working in the industry, his interest turned to the property market completely.

“Malacca was a small town when I came here during 1997 but in the year, 2008, the city was awarded the world UNESCO heritage site and that immediately put it on the map. Tourists started flocking in and along with it came purchasing powers.

The locals went into F&B and hospitality and this eventually also grew the locals’ purchasing power and they started to look for more properties to buy,” he highlights.

 “While landed property development was and still is our bread and butter, venturing into high-rise was a natural progression for us. No doubt, it was an uphill task when we first started as locals favoured landed properties more. So to succeed, we worked extra hard to ensure our design, location and pricing were all on point to sway home buyers. Despite the challenges, we were adamant to add high-rise into our portfolio early on because we believe Malacca would eventually grow into the city KL and Johor is today where land would become limited and expensive. Looking back, we are glad we did those projects as things are starting to turn in our favour on that front as locals are more receptive to high-rise properties,” he says.

In 2011, the Group ventured into their first high-rise on their prime land in Taman Sentosa in the city. The project was well-received by the locals and sold out quickly.

While most Malacca residents prefer landed properties, Richard says high rise buildings must be built in town areas so locals purchasing it could opt to either make it their home, rent the property or turn it into a homestay.

During the initial Movement Control Order (MCO), the city saw boutique hotels close and with a shortage of hotels in the city, it was Airbnb segment that supported the arrival of domestic tourists after domestic borders were open again.

A people’s leader

“2020 was unexpectedly challenging for us with the COVID-19 pandemic and the MCO. I think I’ve grown to be a better leader over the past year, learning how to command confidence and motivate my staff during periods of uncertainty. These valuable lessons will stick with me forever,” Richard says.

“I feel that a company’s best asset is actually its people and to me this is important. I alone cannot get everything done but with the support of my staff, we are able to achieve big things. Thus, retrenchment or pay cuts did not cross my mind at all. Now more than ever, their welfares need to be taken care of. Once this is over, we will be able to continue growing together,” Richard says.

Having been with his senior management for more than 10 years, Teladan Setia has experienced minimal turnover rate and Richard’s leadership has only created an environment that his staff look forward to working with him.

Overcoming challenges and building trusts

While the property sector faced unprecedented challenges, to Richard, the crisis was one he knew he could overcome. “Since our inception in 1997, we have come out of each economic downturn stronger. We are confident that there will not be any exceptions this time around as our business remains resilient with a healthy financial footing. We believe every crisis presents new opportunities.”

“Our focus now is to resume our business momentum. The new circumstance has prompted us to adopt fresh approaches to tackle the shift in consumer behaviour. One of the many initiatives was incorporating digitalisation to our promotional activities. Customers are now able to virtually view our new projects in the comfort of their homes. This has helped in keeping client engagement intact.”   

“Ultimately, we believe what sets us apart is our presence of over 2 decades here and we have grown along with the locals. In 1997, when we sold our first house to a couple, it was received very positively. Soon word of the mouth did its job, and we continued to deliver quality houses, establishing a track record,” he tells BusinessToday.

“It’s the trust and reputation that we have established with the locals that got us here, and I believe it to be the very thing that will bring us even further.”

And with the reintroduction of Home Ownership Campaign announced in the recent Budget 2021, Richard believes buyers will get to enjoy even more incentives. For his portfolio of high-rise buildings, the Managing Director says they continue to receive interest from investors outside Malacca.

Teladan Setia’s seaside project, Bali Residences serviced apartment is seen as a reliable investment particularly as a homestay for tourists to enjoy during holiday seasons. The project is set to complete in 2021.

“By the end of the year, we will launch the Taman Bertam Heights project which is a gated and guarded development. As the purchasing power of Malaccans rises, they look for houses with security and added facilities such as swimming pools and gymnasiums. In the past, we have completed small developments of similar style. Premised on that, we believe it is time to expand this concept to a grander scale. Taman Bertam Heights is set to be one of the largest gated and guarded developments in Melaka,” Richard says.

“We are also completing the Taman Desa Bertam project with phases 2 and 3 slated to be finished in 2022,” he shares.

Richard attributes these decisions to the growth of Malacca and with tourism set to be a key driver to boost the industry, he foresees that demand for houses will further increase.

Mobility, stability & affordability

Experts and leaders in the property segment share their thoughts and directions for the market as 2021 sets in with a raging virus

The Coronavirus triggered major shifts in almost every sector in the country and the property segment was no exception to the changes that took place.

Development and construction saw a brief pause due to the lockdown regulations that was imposed to curb the space and the domestic and international border closures impacted property buying and rental. And after a year filled with challenges and turbulence, the market started observing recovery only to once again face a reimposed Movement Control Order in early January this year.

BusinessToday speaks to experts and leaders in the property market on what is in store for the property market in 2021 as the virus rages on and players in the market continue to innovate to stay ahead.  

“Following the stamp duty exemptions announced by Putrajaya during Budget 2021, we anticipate more consumers will be searching for homes in the subsale market. The generous discount offered will prompt many to continue their search for the perfect home this year,” Shylendra Nathan, General Manager of iProperty.com Malaysia Sdn Bhd says.

The stamp duty exemptions announced during the Budget 2021 tabling for first time homebuyers is valid until 2025. A home buyer who purchases a home priced up to RM500,000 will get to enjoy cash savings amounting to RM12,500.

Another factor he says that this has sparked interest in property purchases, especially among middle and upper class households is the support provided by the government in the form of easy financing through the progressive reduction of Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) rate to its current 1.75 percent, which is the lowest value in over 15 years.

Nathan is also predicting for further reduction in the OPR in Q1 this year.

The property site has also seen organic searches for subsale property listings on an upward recovery of +41 percent  by the end of the first week ofJune 2020 following the implementation of the CMCO. “Unique visits for subsale property listings on iProperty.com.my experienced an upward recovery of 85% by Dec last year,” Nathan says.

Commenting on the trend for the year, Vincent Lim, Managing Partner of The Property Guys foresees that purchasing homes would do better as opposed to rentals due primarily to the Home Ownership Campaign (HOC), resulting in full stamp duty exemptions for first time home buyers from now until 2025.

Vincent Lim, Managing Partner of The Property Guys

“Developers will continue to churn out all sorts of schemes to encourage renting and purchasing of any sort such as rent-to-own, zero down payment and high discount rebates for instance. Office spaces will also continue to see a decline as corporate tenants will start to realise the plethora of cheaper options out there.

However, I’m rather uncertain about shopping malls as it highly depends on restrictions posed by the government as a result of the pandemic,” Lim tells BusinessToday.

The Managing Partner also foresee that auction properties and firesales will end up saving businesses while developers will be adding more value to their offerings. He also highlights that fully furnished designer homes will become increasingly popular to help buyers complete their home ownership journey to ease their burdens further.

Property developer, Mah Sing Group is cautiously optimistic that demand for their property projects will be able to continue to attract the home buyers’ interest driven by their strategic location, attractive price points and packages, as well as innovative design and layout.

“In line with better economic outlook in 2021, demand under the property market is recovering as purchasing power from households improves gradually and we believe affordably priced properties at strategic locations will still be well sought after,” Mah Sing Founder and Group Managing Director, Leong Hoy Kum says.

Mah Sing Founder and Group Managing Director, Leong Hoy Kum

Mah Sing’s internal findings reveal that many have come to realise the importance of owning a property, especially properties with strategic locations with ready amenities.

To this end, the Group recently introduced their HOME with Mah Sing Campaign where it is premised on the concept of everything ‘originates’ from home. The campaign allows anyone to own a home – with payment-free for up to four years and will run until March 31, with Mah Sing also throwing in various incentives and savings aimed at easing the path towards home ownership, such as low booking fees starting from RM500, free stamp duty and legal fees.

Commenting on the HOC and the full stamp duty exemptions, IDEAS senior fellow, Carmelo Ferlito says while the initiatives can support the market, he however do not see the measures to radically change the trends that are in place.

“We do have to distinguish between long-term trends and short-term effects. The Malaysian property market is experiencing a decade long cycle and now this cycle is in its downtrend, as witnessed by the constant cooling down of prices,” he tells BusinessToday.

As for this year, Ferlito sees the continuing of the stabilisation process which is typical of the last stage of a business cycle. Therefore, prices will keep cooling down and transactions will remain more or less stable, after the post-lockdown physiological rebound.

“Consider that in Q3-2020, we recorded +7.4% in transaction volume (q-o-q) but -2.4% in transaction volume (q-o-q). This means that we had more transactions but of lower average price. The average value of transaction in Q3-2020 was around RM 380,000, while it was almost RM 420,000 in Q3-2019,” he added.

This anyhow is an improvement from the dramatic figures of H12020 which was -27 percent in volume and -31 percent in value. He believes focus should be placed on the cyclical trends rather than on the short-term signals.

A virtual norm ahead

“The new norm that took place in 2020 will become an existing norm that everyone is already used to, virtual tours, online meetings, e-commerce and deliveries. Hence everyone will be expecting better and more convenient products and services this year,” Lim points out.

He is also optimistic that virtual tours for rental properties will likely be increasingly more popular as people become more comfortable with a digital lifestyle.

Joining in, Nathan says as most consumers have gotten used to the new norm and should still be able to scout online for properties they are interested to purchase or rent in 2021. However an ongoing challenge, he highlights, is the approval of home loans. Although the interest rate is at an all-time low, many aspiring home buyers still find it tough to secure a loan.

Shylendra Nathan, General Manager of iProperty.com Malaysia

According to the latest Bank Negara figures in Dec 2020, the home loan approval rate is at only 35.2 percent. Consumers are encourage to evaluate their financial capability and ensure their target property is within their income bracket and debt profile.

However, with recent news of vaccinations set to take place in March, Nathan says the news will boost confidence among homebuyers.

“The positive update will provide most with a sense of relief and safety, thus encouraging them to process with their day-to-day activities. Consumer confidence will definitely contribute towards higher housing demand. Investor too will be more optimistic about the future, which will encourage further movement in the local property market,”  he says.

Ferlito on the other hand is remaining prudent on the vaccine. “It was just announced and a  new virus mutation has appeared. Side effects are yet to be fully understood.

So, while I preached to avoid panic amid the Covid-19/MCO crisis, at the same time I preach to avoid euphoria for the vaccine. Let’s analyse all the trade-offs in place and take sound decisions based on sound analyses,” he urges.

Mobility over stability

Even with the reintroduction of the Home Ownership Campaign, Lim says the rental market below RM2,000 will remain the same regardless as there will be a constant supply of young adults and students who are not ready to buy a house.

“The same goes to anything above RM4,000, because this price range is mostly to suit the expats and foreign tenants. The rental market between RM2,000 to RM4,000 will be affected because this batch of income earners will be tempted to buy their first home to take full advantage of the benefits, together will the current record low interest rate. Hence, we have to give more values to our tenants in order to maintain our business,” Lim stresses.

Ferlito agrees with Lim, highlighting that rental will probably become the preferred choice for younger generations which, despite the outbreak, will promptly restore their preference for internal and international mobility.

“With a growing number of people preferring mobility over stability, the rental market will play a growing role in Malaysia in the near future.”

Still room for affordable products?

“I believe that, for political reasons, in the past years, the debate on the affordable segment has overemphasised the need for affordable homes. Despite the past political debate, home-ownership is pretty high in Malaysia, around 77% and it is normal that there is less demand for middle and lower income homes, while high-end units remain attractive for investment purpose,” Ferlito tells BusinessToday.

He also shares that with over 16,000 high-rise overhang units, 57 percent of the units are priced below RM500,000 and with 8,607 terraced houses unit overhang, 61 percent of the units are priced below RM500,000.

Similarly, the IDEAS Senior Fellow also says that the economic crisis does not play in favour of investment from middle and lower income groups, which are more financially at risk and at the same time may want to recur to the secondary market. He foresees these trend to stay in 2021.

Additionally, property developer, Mah Sing Group says they are well aware that the financial difficulties and constraints in getting the appropriate financings have been major hurdles and these have heightened particularly during the outbreak period.

As such, the Group is planning to continue their focus on offering affordable range of products near city centres with good accessibility and ready amenities such as M Luna and M Adora that have seen encouraging demand, as affordability remains as one of the key concerns for the industry.

“Our wide product mix with successful project launches within the affordable segment and right location focus where demand remains resilient, has laid down a strong foundation for Mah Sing to reach greater heights,” Leong says.

This can be related where for example, under the HOME With Mah Sing Campaign, buyers have the option of choosing a sales package which offers a payment-free period of up to 4 years (the exact payment-free tenure differs for each participating project). Depending on the project, this payment-free period comes into play during construction, or upon VP.

The Group says their latest campaign is designed to look into specific pain points in customers’ home ownership journey. “This as the campaign is rested on three pillars or key concerns namely financial (financing issues, cash-flow, return on investment), uncertainty (job & pay security, economic recession, property market price & supply), and product (quality & features, pricing & affordability package, reputation & track record),” Leong tells BusinessToday.

Bringing innovation and sustainability to the startup ecosystem

According to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020, Malaysia ranked 11th as the Top 100 Emerging Ecosystem, with an ecosystem valuation of RM 63.5 billion. The study further rated Malaysia as an ideal startup location, citing low prices, high quality of life and expertise, coupled with strong government support as primary reasons for entrepreneurs to either start or move their companies to Malaysia.

Playing an equally important role in building the ecosystem, the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC), an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation malaysia ( MOSTI ) is tasked to empower technology startups and social innovators while developing a vibrant and sustainable entrepreneurship ecosystem.

“MaGIC’s DNA is in creativity and innovation. With a proven track record in the tech startup ecosystem to accelerate the realisation of the country’s innovation policy agency, our mandate also extends to social innovations in line with MOSTI’s agenda to spur wealth creation through innovation,” says Dzuleira Abu Bakar, Chief Executive Officer of MaGIC. Since its inception in 2014, MaGIC has achieved a value creation RM409 million, has organised 294 programmes, accelerated 189 startups and created 690 jobs.

National Technology And Innovation Sandbox

The National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) is an initiative mooted to cater for the needs of technology startups in Malaysia. NTIS is also known as the the national solution co-ordination centre that allows innovators and startups to stress-test their products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms in a secure and live environment, with some relaxations from all or selected regulatory requirements.

“NTIS also aims to provide a structured framework for the latest innovations to be tested in a controlled environment for innovators, researchers and product developers. The test will run at a suitable facilitation provided by NTIS partners both from the government and private sectors,” says Dzuleira.

NTIS will facilitate startups operating in heavily regulated industries and technology verticals such as healthcare, drone operations, agriculture, communication, mobility and so on. We have to recognise that technology and innovation, in which case tech startups are usually ahead of their time and operate in grey areas. Regulations and laws unfortunately do not move at the same speed. Hence the conundrum we are in as far as regulating tech & innovation is concerned.

NTIS Funding Schemes

“Through NTIS, we will assist drone powered solution companies by working with regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority Malaysia (CAAM) to ease and streamline permit applications especially in situations where drone operations pose lower risk,” she adds on.

The CEO further highlights the positive impact that has come from drones in the logistics and healthcare segment. With better case studies and adaptive regulations that promote innovation, she says MaGIC is confident that NTIS will help Malaysia achieve its goal to become a frontrunner in DroneTech.

However, Dzuleira has also highlighted some of the challenges the agency faces in delivering these initiatives. Along with regulatory red tape, the lack of participation from private sectors, high dependency on foreign talent for high-tech solutions and low commercialisation rate after R&D stage has prevented the initiatives from achieving their most.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and the Movement Control Order has also made these challenges more pronounced,” says Dzuleira.

Public-Private Partnerships

As part of their efforts in enhancing social innovation, MaGIC seeks to increase partnerships across the ecosystem value chain. “We look at agencies under MOSTI and across ministries and find many ecosystem players who are ideal partners such as Agensi Inovasi Malaysia, Cradle Fund, MDV and MAVCAP to help achieve inclusive and sustainable growth in SPV 2030 and SDG 2030,” Dzuleira tells BusinessToday.

“In NTIS, we have the Innovation Acceleration Network partners which consists mainly of investors and corporates from the private sector. Their involvement and participation within NTIS are essential and important to bridge the gap between government and private sector and to increase private investments,” she adds on.

 MaGIC has reached out to approximately 31 corporate partners who are acting as supporters and enablers by giving industry inputs. These partners further assist in product and solution commercial viability.

Keeping Malaysians Connected and At Heart

BusinessToday speaks to Idham Nawawi, Celcom’s Chief Executive Officer on his journey with the company, the changes the telco player has undergone and what is in store for the company

One of the oldest and most recognised mobile telecommunications provider in the country, Celcom, is a brand that has been bridging communications and advancing multimedia services for Malaysians for decades. Known for its wide coverage nationwide, the telco has almost 13 million users and owns over 11,000 network sites covering 2G, 3G, 4G, making Celcom one of the leading broadband network providers in the country. Leading the company in the past two years is Idham Nawawi, who very much like the brand itself is no stranger in the industry. With experiences spanning over two decades in both Malaysia and Indonesia, the former Axiata Group Chief Corporate Officer is currently the engineer behind the telco’s revamp efforts and its future direction.

A NEW JOURNEY

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“We do things beyond short term prospects, and sometimes we take the longer-term view route,”

“Time just flies, it just shows how fast paced the industry is. The journey has definitely been both challenging and exciting,” Idham recalls as September marks the completion of two years since he took the wheels. “Celcom as a 32-year-old company has its own culture and my responsibility is to turn into a more sustainable company for the next 3 decades,” he says. As part of his efforts to revamp the company, Idham introduced the Celcom Compass. “What it does is it helps to build an institution with a soul. Companies can get very technical and very mechanical but with the Celcom Compass, we can introduce a new set of values.

“I wanted to achieve a balance in what Celcom is all about,” he says. Celcom’s aim is all about advancing societies, Idham says, who also comments that while the company hopes to continue impacting the lives of its customers positively, it also keeps in the mind the need to become a high performance company.

“We have got shareholders and strategic partners who expect to prosper by working with us.” While the company has had a streak of being a high-performance player in the past, Idham says the company has also hit a couple of roadblocks recently. Despite that, the CEO says it is the long-term view that matters to him. “We do things beyond short term prospects, and sometimes we take the longer-term view route,” he says. Operating in a highly competitive field and with consumer behaviour changing every day, Idham tells BusinessToday, that the challenges he faces daily comes not just locally but also internationally.

“Malaysia can be described as a hyper-competitive field. There are so many more players today, its more than what the 32 million population market can sustain,” Idham says. Competition is not the only challenge Idham faces, regulatory changes are also impacting some of the decisions he make. Celcom is among the country’s three biggest cellular service providers, joined by Maxis Bhd and DiGi.Com Bhd. According to a report by The Edge Financial Daily, TA Securitis analyst Wilson Loo stated that the telco giants have continued to cede market share to small players in the last year.

“This is not a short journey to shape this 32-year-old company, we have had our challenges but we want to get established as fast as we could,” Idham tells BusinessToday, further highlighting that introducing agility in the company has been one of the more important aspects of his journey when he first started in Celcom. “We have to keep in mind that the market doesn’t remain constant,” he says.

A PEOPLE’S TELCO

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“Celcom will leave no one behind and is committed to stand together with Malaysians.”

“When the MCO was implemented, it was a test to see how ready we were as an organisation. I was proud with the way we adapted and moved,” Idham shares. The Movement Control Order (MCO) implemented on March 18 had impacted businesses nationwide, resulting in a temporary three months slowdown but with Celcom being one of the country’s largest mobile communication provider, the show had to go on.

“At the time, I had three priorities. The safety of our people, how do we make sure the network is not disrupted and as a responsible organisation, how do we keep providing service to Malaysians nationwide,” the chief executive officer tells BusinessToday. “We changed the way we work, monitor and manage the demand geographically in order to make the network continued uninterrupted.”

The telco remained committed in supporting Malaysians throughout the pandemic. For a start, it ensured everyone remained connected by providing free SIM cards to returning Malaysians who are required to undergo the 14-day mandatory quarantine. The prepaid packs were pre-loaded with 1GB data and 10GB access to Facebook, Instagram, and Games Walla.

“Celcom will leave no one behind and is committed to stand together with Malaysians,” Idham assured during the period. “I am also quite pleased by how we took care of our employees. The network engineering team and customer service team braced through those difficult periods to continue ensuring Malaysians stayed connected,” Idham further highlights.

The telco had also helped hospitals when the healthcare industry needed communication services. Frontliners were also awarded free data and free calls as part of the telco’s recognition of their sacrifice. The telco also extended the much-needed aid to students and the B40 group nationwide, staying through to its motto of prioritising people.

JENDELA

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The Jalinan Digital Negara (JENDELA) or also known as the National Digital Network is a collective effort by industry players and Putrajaya to set ambitious aspirations for Malaysians to have quality access to digital connectivity. The national aspirations it hoped to achieve includes 100 percent 4G coverage, Gigabit access fixed broadband and more than 100 Mbps mobile broadband. It also aims to set the foundation for 5G.

Supporting the launch of JENDELA, the National Digital Infrastructure Lab Report (NDIL) highlighted that the national aspirations will be achieved via a phased approach and the priority is to maximise the existing resources and infrastructure. As of 2020, the plan has achieved 91.8 percent of 4G coverage with 25Mbps mobile speed and more than 4 million premises have passed. Phase of the plan which is currently taking place from 2020 till 2022 hopes to achieve 96.9 percent 4G coverage.

“JENDELA came out of the lab that Celcom was part of. There were a lot of debates and we identified the gaps in certain areas. The challenge here now is achieving the last 10% coverage,” Idham says. The telco veteran goes on to share that achieving that target might be a lot harder than it seems.

“We need to set the right expectation because shutting down 3G completely has to be done carefully to minimise impact to users. There are still customers using 3G as the network is widely used for voice messages as well as machine-to-machine application which mostly involves household meter reading,” Idham stressed, further staying on that these part of the process that needs to be thought through. “While it is costly to ensure complete wireless coverage for the last 2 percent, Idham says there are other technologies that telcos can bring over to ensure connectivity.

“We also have to ensure that when the 4G coverage is completed nationwide, consumers have to have the right device to keep up with the changes made,” Idham urged. Speaking further on the telco’s preparation for 5G, Idham tells BusinessToday while JENDELA’s plan is to ensure a 100% 4G coverage, 5G has not been abandoned.

“It will be a very important of our future moving forward. Covid-19 has showed us that. Now, with the rise of hybrid classrooms and SMEs adopting digitalisation, 5G is more important than ever,” he says.

“The way we consume network is going to be very different when 5G gets rolled out. While many assume 5G will fuel innovations to do with AR/VR, automation, and robotics, it may also give birth to different ideas which I’m not sure what it might turn out to be,” Idham says. However, the telco veteran also opines that given the limited availability of devices and applications, it is yet the right time to commercialise 5G and it could be costly for network infrastructure service providers to do so at an earlier stage. “There is currently no mass production of 5G equipment and limited content suitable for 5G usage that is being released to boost demand for the technology,” he was quoted by The Edge Markets.

FROM ONE HOMEGROWN BUSINESS TO ANOTHER

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While the pandemic may seem as a catalyst for Celcom to come with innovative ways to help SMEs, the telco has previously showcased its commitment towards SME owners.

One of the more common observations during the pandemic and MCO were the rise in digital adoptions among SMEs. Business owners nationwide saw the need to digitalise to be more sustainable in the future. And playing an important role in helping them, Celcom offered SMEs nationwide its, Celcom Business Suite. As MDEC’s technology solutions partner, Celcom obtained a business digitalisation grant to finance 50 percent of the digital kit’s subscription fee, amounting to RM 5,000. “We introduced it a couple weeks back and the interest has been overwhelming. We are also reaching out to business association to expand our reach and I want this to be a success,” Idham aspires.

Additionally, the telco’s campaign, “Celcom Business: Reimagine SME for Tomorrow”, is part of its efforts to accelerate digital adoption among local SMEs. The campaign will run until year-end and will see Celcom partner with 13 partners, which will include MDEC, SME Corp, and Bank Simpanan Nasional. While the pandemic may seem as a catalyst for Celcom to come with innovative ways to help SMEs, the telco has previously showcased its commitment towards SME owners.

In January this year, the telco partnered with Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd with the objective of helping SME owners grow and manage their businesses better with a combination of connectivity and banking solutions. The Celcom Business Suite for Retail which was launched at the time was adapted to the needs of retailers.

KEEPING MALAYSIANS CLOSE AT HEART

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“Celcom is everywhere. It’s part of Malaysians’ lives and it touches them from the moment they are awake and even as they travel overseas, we are there to keep them connected,”

“Celcom is everywhere. It’s part of Malaysians’ lives and it touches them from the moment they are awake and even as they travel overseas, we are there to keep them connected,” Idham proudly claims. Establishing that Malaysians will always be at Celcom’s core, Idham says he is looking forward to seeing what is in store with for the telco in the next three decades as it continues to move forward. “We are constantly finding a way to impact the lives of Malaysians in the long term and as homegrown Malaysian company run by innovative Malaysians, it’s our responsibility in ensuring that happens,” Idham concludes.

For more information, click here.

TM ONE strengthens enterprises and public sectors’ digital resilience with end-to-end cloud infrastructure

By Sharon Chang

As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.

We have been caught off-guard by the unprecedented pandemic. However, Covid-19 can be looked at as a game changer to accelerate digital transformation of our nation. Until two months ago, the actual transformation has been rather slow for many. Now, companies are speeding up the adoption — which was either in discussions for years or put on hold — as they see digital readiness is no longer a choice, but a must.

Both organisations, in the private or public sectors, must rethink their strategies to invest in more integrated digital infrastructure to manage current disruptions and stay relevant in the future.

Viewing it in a wider context, the use of technology has seen a rapid uptick during the Movement Control Order (MCO). Many digital solutions have been innovated and are energising an ecosystem which were in a transitional stage of transformation. We have seen business behaviours reshaped, consumer activities shifted to online platforms, social and conducting business done across online conferencing tools.

By using robust connectivity, complemented by the most effective digital infrastructure, TM ONE is playing the role in providing the most effective platform to help drive Malaysia’s digital strategy forward.

Equipped with newly launched comprehensive digital solutions, TM ONE, the enterprise and public sector business solutions arm of Telekom Malaysia Berhad, is determined to help businesses rapidly adapt and continue operations in these challenging times. As an enabler of the Digital Malaysia, TM ONE is wellpositioned to enable the ecosystem for digital society, digital business, and digital government.

In an exclusive interview with Ahmad Taufek Omar, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of TM ONE, the leader explains why with every crisis there comes an opportunity.

Without a doubt, technology played a key role during the MCO in keeping us connected and safe, Ahmad Taufek points out. We have witnessed an increase in cloud adoption as businesses leverage on the power of cloud to stay in operation and connected.

At TM ONE, we aspire to spearhead the digital transformation for the nation but as it turns out, the pandemic has accelerated many of our initiatives,” Ahmad Taufek says. When the government enforced the first MCO in March, I threw a challenge to the team to come up with a digital solution to help businesses during the pandemic.

Hence, towards the end of March, they launched TM ONE Cloud α (Cloud Alpha), the key enabler of the digital transformation for Malaysian businesses and public sectors. Its objective is to help organisations to reduce information technology infrastructure complexities towards cloud adoption and particularly to boost their resilience amidst the challenging times.

Ahmad Taufek Omar, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of TM ONE

Forging resilience through optimisation and technology-driven strategies is crucial across industries”

Cloud Alpha’s robust and r e s i l i e n t infrastructure is hosted in our highly secured, Tier III certified, and global standards compliant data centres within Malaysia.

“We want to ensure our customers are able to fulfil their data residency requirements, and ultimately, data sovereignty,” Ahmad Taufek explains, adding that customers then will have peace of mind, allowing them to focus on their business.

In a response to a question, the CEO also points out the key factor that differentiates Cloud α from other cloud services is the comprehensive offerings, and multi-cloud offerings that provide flexibility to complement multiple deployment models customer’s cloud adoption strategy and business objectives.

Case in point was when our valued customer needed a scalable solution as a stop-gap measure for the temporary surge on their website. Cloud α was deployed as the solution and within one week, from capacity planning to deployment to testing, the government’s backend system was put in place to support the wave.

As with the recent collaboration with Huawei, it will enable TM ONE to offer an additonal array of cloud computing services under the umbrella of Cloud α. With the additional of Huawei and existing collaborations with other other hyperscale cloud providers such as Microsoft, AWS and VMware, will further strengthen TM ONE’s positon as Cloud Aggregator and to become the leading Cloud Services Provider in the country.

“It is another testament of TM’s promise and prominent role as the enabler of Digital Malaysia aspirations.”

According to Ahmad Taufek this partnership will enable them to accelerate the digital services and solutions to the nation, forging ahead as the only Malaysian-owned end-to end cloud infrastructure service provider.

This adds another milestone for TM ONE as they now have full cloud capability as a core offering to capture growth in Malaysia, which is expected to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 27 percent in the next five years.

In May, when the government announced the extension of the conditional movement control order (CMCO), it meant that more Malaysians are beginning to return to work. This has raised its own set of questions, primarily on how businesses can ensure a safe work environment for its employees.

One such solution has presented itself. TM ONE, unveiled their smart digital health screening solution – TM ONE Predictive Analytics Screening Solution, or ONE PASS. It works by screening the body temperature of individuals as they enter business premises.

It is a purely local product developed by their own software designers, software architects and coders.

“ONE PASS is aimed at providing business continuity for organisations to declare their building as a ‘safe zone’ to work by implementing state-of-the-art health screening solutions,” Ahmad Taufek elaborates.

ONE PASS is a non-contact connected solution with three main digital service features such as visitor management, thermal sensors, and monitoring and contact tracing. The real-time digital solution includes an employee and visitor management app for selfdeclaration assessment and deployment of thermal cameras and sensors to check body temperatures prior to entering a building.

“We leveraged on the opportunity to launch two key products which are beneficial to the nation while working at home, Ahmad Taufek remarks proudly.

“In essence this is congruent to TM ONE’s actual plans, where our role is towards the nation’s digitalisation process.”

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IS KEY TO SURVIVAL

In this Covid-19 period, digital transformation is no longer an option for businesses. It has become a necessity for operational efficiency and business survival.

International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that by 2020, cloud-based IT spending will reach up to 60 percent on IT infrastructure and 60 to 70 percent on all software, services and technology, whereas Global Data estimated Malaysia’s spending on cloud computing is RM10 billion.

The CEO is optimistic and remains committed. “TM ONE’s role as part of TM Group is to deliver a Digital Malaysia, hence the pandemic has allowed us to really show our support for the country and its entire ecosystem.”

“Malaysia is on the right track towards digital transformation, and Digital Malaysia sums up what we are as a developed nation,” Ahmad Taufek says positively.

On another note, the CEO tells Business Today that some businesses are not able to embrace the transformation coherently. Previously, digitalisation was largely seen as IT driven and required high investment. Technology moves so fast but not all companies are able to keep up in terms of the financial capability. Hence, because of this, they become irrelevant very quickly.

And, digital transformation requires agility and speed. There is a saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If the culture of the organisation does not embrace agility, business leaders will find that their digital transformation strategy will falter.

Ahmad Taufek explains that for businesses to embrace a coherent transformation, firstly they must be customer-centric. It is always customers first – creating the best experience for them. It applies to all business strategies as well as digitalisation.

Secondly, business leaders must ensure that people strategy evolves to support their business transformation. When the whole team has a common objective, the journey will be smoother, and things will fall into the right places.

And finally, you must have strong collaborative partners, Ahmad Taufek emphasises. Trusted partnerships with other players in the technology ecosystem will help your customers achieve their digital journey.

Nevertheless, TM ONE is part of TM Group, and each line of business within the Group, has its very own part to play in driving transformation and helping Malaysian companies transform digitally.

“We remain committed to play our part in improving the ecosystem. TM ONE is the only local player with its own state-of-the-art core Data Centres and Cloud infrastructure with full data residency, locality and sovereignty in Malaysia. Our twin core data centres are located in Cyberjaya and Iskandar Puteri respectively,” Ahmad Taufek says with conviction.

With these digital infrastructures and services, TM ONE offers a comprehensive data residency and locality in Malaysia. Holistically, they are an ideal cloud services provider for the nation.

Regarding why businesses should no longer be hesitant on their transformation journey, the CEO says it is the only means of staying relevant in these trying times.

“We have the capabilities to support them,” Ahmad Taufek affirms. If they turn to us from an infrastructure standpoint, TM ONE has the network, software, and platform and most importantly, full data sovereignty, but if it is from an advisory perspective, we have the expertise from top solution consultants.

“Our role as a responsible organisation is to support businesses to elevate to an era of digitalisation”

Furthermore, TM ONE, also working is with the Government to support local small and medium businesses (SMEs) so that they #stayinbusiness in these challenging times.

“We are offering some free services for businesses to leverage, according to their specific needs. Hopefully, they will get a perspective of where they want to head towards by adopting the necessary applications for digitalisation in their business,” Ahmad Taufek says.

WEATHERING THE COVID-19 STORM

To some extent, during the MCO, the use of technology has already been proven to enable many business operations and social connectivity to remain in place. However, the increased deployment of technologies will also speed our path in the post-Covid world.

Undoubtedly, Ahmad Taufek stresses that during any crisis, telecommunication is one of the critical sectors, and at TM ONE their role is to ensure business continuity for their customers to stay in operation.

“It is business as usual. We are committed and ever ready to serve our customers in these trying times,” he states. The team’s responsiveness to address the demands of our customers and our scalable offerings have helped many businesses and public sectors to stay connected, stay in business and stay served.

Understandably during this time, businesses are pulling the handbrakes and accessing the overall expenditure of their business for survival. Hence, to convince the market to spend, Ahmad Taufek says they must ensure the services they offer are well managed and serviced.

“We are here for long-term.”

THE ADVENT OF IR4.0

This is the biggest objective for the TM Group, according to Ahmad Taufek. “We fully support TM in the Group’s role as a national telecommunications infrastructure provider of Malaysia’s Digital Nation aspirations.”

TM Group will continue to lay the foundation for Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0) and roll out 5G nationwide if it is awarded to us – serving a more digital society and lifestyle, digital businesses and industry verticals, as well as digital Government – to enable a Digital Malaysia.

“We fully engage ourselves around key industry verticals, and with the team and industry experts to enable us to gain a deep understanding of industry needs to exploit the market quicker,” Ahmad Taufek points out.

“We believe in long term partnerships and customer-centricity.”

Ahmad Taufek also shares that TM ONE will continuously develop and deliver digital solutions enabled by Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

“Through our end-to-end digital solutions, we will fulfil the dynamic needs of the various industries in today’s hyper-connected ecosystem,” he says.

STEERING AHEAD

Now, acceleration is key. “We are focused on taking transformation forward for every one of our customers, buoyed by our digital solutions, Ahmad Taufek says with commitment.

“Our role is to enable a reliable hyperconnected ecosystem, one which will empower Malaysia’s enterprise and public sectors to realise the full potential of their digital opportunities through our end-to-end digital solutions and industry experts, he adds.

“We are fully committed to combat this pandemic, to help industries, and the nation move forward – stronger than ever before!”

The digital enabler’s approach opens the avenue for growth in a post-MCO landscape and helps to build resilience for future upheavals.

“At TM ONE, we want to provide technologies which will further assist businesses and organisations to bounce back safely and responsibly to revive our economy,” Ahmad Taufek concludes.

 

Hubris among International school operators

The current Covid-19 induced societal, health and economic disruption has resulted in potentially fundamental radical changes in how we live and work moving forward. This has caused tremendous economic dislocation and we are possibly on the threshold of a global depression that could be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Despite the gloomy macro and microeconomic picture, one sector of business seems to have their heads in the sand – International schools.

But before we examine that phenomena, let’s take a look at the industry.

ISC Research’s Market Intelligence Report for Malaysia, the total number of English-medium international schools in the country have increased by 75 percent since 2012, and student enrolments have also gone up by 87 percent. A further 12 new international schools opened in the 2018/19 academic year. There are now approximately 80,000 students studying in international schools.

Approximately 80 percent of students attending international schools today are the children of local families who hope their kids can get an English centric education and a leg up in the future.

Since the MCO started 2 months ago, schools have been going on full e-learning mode to varying degrees of sophistication depending on how prepared they are with relevant e-learning tools.

E-learning is ready for prime-time but it is not, and never will be a substitute for face-to-face learning. Global experts have been advocating blended learning for years which is the combination of face-to-face learning, 2-way learning online via video conferencing tools as well as online lectures, webinars, podcasts and other digitised material.

Online learning cuts the cost of delivery while at the same time increases retention and engagement among students. The costs of these solutions can be quite affordable. For example, www.kidslearning.asia only costs USD60 per annum (about RM 20+ per month)!

However, it is not a substitute for face-to-face learning provided by the school environment.

International schools however seem to feel that they are performing their roles as per normal and are shockingly choosing to continue charging parents normal fees with token discounts of 5 to 15 percent being offered!

In essence, they are trying to make this a net revenue neutral exercise for them!

If schools are closed, essentially, they save money on running costs of the buildings and facilities in areas such as utilities, cleaning and security staff (which is normally outsourced).

From a service delivery perspective, however, the parents (who are the customers of the school) are shortchanged. Not only do they have to supervise their own kids, the quality of education is lower and absolutely no access to normal facilities and interaction which normally an international school provides.

In the corporate world, no vendor will dare charge customers the same fees while delivering lower quality of services. Essentially, they would be setting themselves up to lose customers or worse still, open themselves up to lawsuits.

Schools are also able to act in an arbitrary manner because parents have to pay deposits prior to children entering the schools and therefore, if at least a term’s notice is not given, the deposit is forfeited. So, essentially for most parents, pulling the kids out of school is not an option and hence, they are at the mercy of the school.

What these schools don’t realise is the threat of being out of touch with the market, as well as  potential disruptions to their business model by alternative providers such as homeschooling which is a viable alternative product, if they blend it with e-learning.

After all, the MCO has been a game changer for how we work, live and study.

In an article in the Edge Financial Daily in 2018, Eduseeds Sdn Bhd founding chairman Kevin Gan Muk Chun, said that “There are easily more than 100 [homeschooling] centres in the Klang Valley alone.” Eduseeds is a home-grown virtual curriculum provider for private learning or homeschooling centres.

Gan, who manages five such homeschooling centres in the Klang Valley( at that time), is among a growing number of educators benefiting from parents clamouring for cheaper and more effective educational alternatives to what they perceive as a poor national school system and the high cost of international  schools.

Industry players report that, on average; homeschooling centres enjoy a profit margin of between 20 percent and 40 percent. Across the Klang Valley, homeschooling centres’ monthly fees range from RM700 to RM2,500 per month.

“If my centre can make a 35 percent profit from a monthly fee of RM1,300 per student, how much more profit do you think a RM2,000 fee could command?” a homeschooling centre operator said in the Edge article.

So, what is the middle ground here for the schools and parents, particularly for the majority of middle-class parents who make tremendous sacrifices in order to send their kids to international schools?

My daughter studies at UCSI International in Subang Jaya. Parents across the board have requested a reduction in fees. I proposed something which I felt was logical and fair to both the school as a business and to parents which is to split the fees by timeline and service delivery in the following manner:

  1. Pre-MCO it should be 100 percent of fees payable as full service was rendered by the school.
  2. During MCO, it should be based on the number of hours of online teaching delivered versus what is normally delivered via regular school hours. A reduction in fees should be calculated based on service delivery, with some quantum of discount added on for the fact it is only e-learning.
  3. No miscellaneous fees should be charged, given that no facilities are being used.

The school’s response was a feeble one, that is, their business rental is not being reduced!

And, to top it off – NO DISCOUNT on fees, but payment deadline extended for one month!

The Ministry of Education as the regulator, should come out with a clear policy that is fair to parents. Otherwise the schools will continue to do as they please.

Minister, this is an opportunity to display decisive leadership, protect voters and set yourself apart from discussions about drinking warm water to neutralise covid-19, Doremon, Tik Tok and wearing of Hazmat suits!

By Brian Fernandez


Brian Fernandez is a former business presenter at BFM and at MoneyFM in Singapore. He heads Talent Search International, a regional executive search company and in January launched 360learning.asia, an e-learning business.

Editor’s Note: MCO extends

By Sharon Chang

It’s Friday again, the week just zoomed past despite having to confined to my small unit typing away on my keyboard. Anyways, hoped you have had a smooth week and Happy Ramadan to all our Muslim readers out there.

Looks like we’re going to get another big test to persevere and sustain – both individual and businesses – with the movement control order (MCO) at the tail-end of the third phase and moving into the fourth.

Surprisingly, we’ve got a ton of news today to close off the week.

With the oil price dip being the largest in history, Business Today explores what that could mean to the Malaysian economy. MIER has also released their annual report job indicating that job losses are projected to decline from 2.41 million to 1.46 million if the MCO keep extending.

UOB Kay Hian fears that the extended MCO will create an economically monumental hollowing-out effect which plunders the economy, and reverse reinvestment decisions of both local and foreign investors.

The foreign research house also warned that the long MCO period will be destructive to post-MCO consumption recovery trends as consumers fear job losses and salary cuts. Business failures and consolidations will manifest in the months to come as a slow post-MCO consumption recovery will wilt entrepreneurs’ optimism.

With the coronavirus mowing down bottom lines worldwide, Netflix, the entertainment streaming giant, said 15.8 million more people had subscribed from January to March, as billions were confined to their homes to help stem the spread of Covid-19.

But, sad to say most other business sectors were singing the blues, however.

Dutch brewer Heineken said its net profit was down by more than two-thirds, or 68.5 percent. French hotel giant Accor reported that sales fell by 17 percent as it closed two-thirds of its 5,000 establishments worldwide.

And on the local front, our country’s airline industry faces an estimated USD3.32 billion loss in revenue, affecting some 169,700 jobs.

Lastly, let’s end the note on a lighter side.

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development at long last opened their mouth to clarify the issue regarding the government-funded RM100 Covid-19 food baskets.

According to the Ministry’s minister, Rina Harun, the food items in the bundle cost RM35, and the remainder RM65 is for delivery charges.

Wow, I would’nt pay RM65 for delivery charges. That’s my two cents worth. Would you?  Let me know your thoughts.

Have a good weekend!

 

 

Digital Transformation in Covid-19 era

Photo credit: Pixabay

In an email interview with Business Today, Azlan Ahmad, Head of Sales, Start Up & Small Business, Sage Asia, shares his insights on digital transformation measures SMEs need to undertake in the short and medium term to win this tide.

By Sharon Chang

“Because of this pandemic, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia have finally woken up, realising digital transformation is a priority.”

It’s apparent the SMEs have been hard hit by the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Many face declining sales, challenges in production, issues caused by supply chain disruptions and the inability to physically engage with customers.

Nonetheless, it is also clear that the SMEs most prepared for this climate have begun their journey into digital transformation some time ago, with the pandemic acting as a catalyst for acceleration.

“However, for businesses that have been caught off guard,” Azlan says in a emailed response to questions from Business Today, there are key steps that can help them adapt to the current climate and navigate the post Covid-19 era.

“It is time to explore online collaborative software and virtual conferencing as a culture.

“A commitment from all stakeholders to prioritise these efforts are pivotal,” he says, adding that by embracing digital communication both internally and with customers ensures the business will run continuously at optimum engagement levels, while keeping intact both the business identity and employer branding, despite the current distancing.

The Magic of Personal Touch

He also adds that it is imperative to adopt the magic of personal touch. Even amongst all the technological advancements and collaboration tools in the market, do not forget that the staff and customers are above all, people.

Develop robust work from home and customer relations measures that prioritise video conferencing and calls over just email communication.

“In this unprecedented time, the entire nation is lacking the social interaction that they are accustomed to, making that personal touch all the more important,” Azlan remarks.

Whilst this period may have kept many of us on a roll and busy working harder to get results, stop and make exclusive time for people, it will pay off.

E-learning as a Staple

In response to questions, he says, “Many schools and training centres are already offering virtual learning options in view of the current situation, hence it is essential that businesses leverage this period to pick up digital skills and software knowledge to future proof the business.

“Upskill employees in areas of digital transformation – adopt e-learning as a staple. This is the time to prepare for what lies ahead.”

Engage with Virtual Events

In addition, he says that companies should begin to convert any workshops, conferences or seminars into virtual platforms. It is likely the public will be advised to practice social distancing for a longer period even after the movement control order (MCO) is lifted.

“Leverage platforms that are user friendly and allows ease of engagement with the viewers and vice versa,” Azlan adds.

Automate for Improved Productivity

Under this current circumstance, he also points out that many businesses are facing the looming prospect of reduced productivity or even staff retrenchment.

It is vital that all functions are working efficiently to ensure maximum output with the key focus to improve productivity and reduce time wasted on repetitive administrative work.

“Leverage on software which can automatically repeat recurring entries periodically, this will drastically cut down on manual entries,” Azlan explains.

The ability to automate tasks is an important aspect of digital transformation.

Access Government Grants

Azlan adds that the government has rolled out many initiatives, such as the SME Digitisation Initiative which allows qualifying SMEs to apply for 50 percent matching grants of up to RM5,000 to acquire Accounting/ERP systems, Point of Sales systems, Payroll and others.

“Companies should take advantage of this but, find out and choose the technology and software which are affiliated with the grants.”

Yet, Azlan emphasises that at the end of the day, it’s about a community sharing of expertise and knowledge to ensure businesses can overcome this disruption.

Companies that fail to adopt and accelerate digital transformation as a core concept, will find it increasingly difficult to stay competitive both amidst and post-Covid-19.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to last for months if not years, and in line with SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp) target to digitalise all SMEs by 2024, there hasn’t been a better time to make the shift.

Whilst the agency has intensified efforts to assist SMEs in adopting digital technologies since last year, there has been no greater push than that presented by this pandemic.

The shift has taken its course and the conversation is not about if your business will digitally transform but when and how.

“The economy needs all its players to rise up in order for it to bounce back from this colossal episode,” Azlan concludes.

______________________________________________________________________

In an effort to ensure SMEs have easy access to the kind of information they may need to ride the disruption, the team at Sage has put together the Coronavirus Hub. This hub is an online platform with practical, straightforward advice on tackling the challenges businesses are facing, quick access to solutions that enable businesses to operate remotely and useful resources from government and official sources to help organisations navigate the evolving situation.

Azlan Ahmad, Head of Sales, Start Up & Small Business, Sage Asia

Azlan Ahmad, as  the head of the SSB  (Startup & Small Business) business at Sage is responsible for looking into the needs of this segment, managing and growing all SSB product lines across Asia, and work in close collaboration with marketing, product development, partner operations and Customer Success team.

SC’s game changing funding options for SMEs

By Sharon Chang

The coronavirus is predominantly a global tragedy, not only affecting hundreds of thousands of people, but also having a growing impact on the world economy.

Businesses in Malaysia have plummeted tremendously which led the Securities Commission (SC) to come up with further relief options for companies in its commitment to ensure continued access to fundraising.

Datuk Syed Zaid bin Syed Jaffar Albar, Chairman of Securities Commission Malaysia

The SC chairman Datuk Syed Zaid Albar said during a virtual conference on the SC Annual Report 2019, that proactive measures are required to facilitate greater access to funding in order to maintain confidence and ensure long-term recovery of the market.

In response to the increased interest by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to tap into alternative funding channels, the commission lifted the funding limit on equity crowdfunding (ECF) platforms to RM10 million, and allowed ECF and peer-to-peer financing (P2P) platforms to operationalise secondary trading with immediate effect.

“The raising of the limit to RM10 million will also enable bigger companies to use ECF for fund raising,” Dr V. Sivapalan, Co-Founder and Senior Partner of Scaleup Malaysia Accelerator and Co-Founder of Proficeo Consultants tells Business Today, adding that startups can also utilise this as a substitute for Series A fund raising especially if venture capitalists (VCs) become more cautious

According to Syed Zaid, there is still demand from issuers to raise funds, but investors are hesitant. Hence, to  address this the government’s Co-Investment Fund (MyCIF), administered by the SC, has increased its funding matching ratio from 1:4 to 1:2 for eligible ECF and P2P campaigns.

This means that the ECF issuers/promoters will need to raise less money from external investors to reach their funding targets.

However, this will run from now until September 30, 2020.

Sivapalan applauds the SC’s positive announcement, he says that the MyCIF ratio increase is excellent as it decreases the risk of ECF investors while assisting issuers in speeding up their fund raising.

“This is a vey proactive policy approach especially during this period where conditions remain volatile, he says.

Lastly, Sivapalan tells Business Today that he hopes the secondary trading of ECF shares which was proposed earlier but has yet to be executed, will be expedited as it will provide liquidity for ECF investors.

The SC assured investors that the Malaysian capital market remained fundamentally strong and was functioning in an orderly manner.

“Over the years, Malaysia has withstood many crises and the SC has worked closely with the industry to strengthen the capital markets and address systemic weaknesses.”

 

Investment management helps protect and grow wealth during turbulent times

Phot credit: Pexels

Ronnie Tan, Chief Executive Officer of GAX MD, shares with Business Today in an email interview, how investment management helps reposition investment portfolios and reassure investors during market volatility.

By Sharon Chang

The finances of individuals and companies will be at crossroads in the coming months due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 has an unprecedented impact on markets, driving volatility to a point where meaningful changes is made in asset valuation daily.

While we reckon that investors will likely hope their investments can continue to serve them as a trusted store of value and means of wealth preservation, as we continue to spiral uncontrollably into uncertainties.

Ronnie Tan, CEO of GAX MD

In a response to email questions, Tan says, it is important to note that this is not the first nor would it be the last market dip we may face in our lifetime.

Nevertheless, it is a good opportunity to get investments strategies in check.

The right kind of investments

There are investors holding different types of investment portfolios.

“Firstly, if you are one of those conservative investors who have suffered sharp losses recently, what you can do now is start setting aside your required emergency funds, then, later, leverage on your excess fund and plan out a long-term investment goal,” Tan advises.

He also points out that it is important to practice dollar cost averaging by starting small and invest gradually with a fixed amount regularly.

“Furthermore, always ensure your investment is well diversified.”

Time in the market is more important than timing the market

Investment strategies to adopt must best fit the investors’ risk profile; like a discipline investment methodology with well diversification of assets (comprising equities, bonds, treasury bills, gold/commodities, REITS), supported by portfolio rebalancing and optimisation driven by smart innovation.

While, also complemented by a team of professional portfolio managers who are competent to do what is best for their clients based on the investor’s risk appetite, investment horizon, income and assets – which can be tailored to the investor’s requirements whether in a bullish or bearish market.

Then, there are the value investors, Tan says, who see quality blue chips at great value to invest.

“While it might be an attractive short-term strategy to buy stocks in oil & gas, airline industry, hotel and travel-related companies whose shares have plummeted recently, it will not be wise to make hasty updates or to predict the market performance for clients, Tan explains, because the impact of the coronavirus on the economy and on the capabilities of companies has added so much uncertainties and volatilities to the market.”

Trading halts due to triggered circuit breakers seem to be the norm at this juncture, with the number of new coronavirus cases globally is just as volatile.

“And it is precisely during this economic climate where there are so much uncertainties, investment managers should advise their clients to participate in passive investment according to their risk profile via exchange-traded funds (ETFs) instruments that are well diversified over multiple asset classes.”

Photo credit: Pixabay

Recently, the local FTSE Bursa Malaysia Kuala Lumpur Composite Index (FBMKLCI) was down by about 18 percent, while S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) have each plummeted by about 30 percent in its year to date (YTD) performance.

Hence, it is more evident than before that now is the best time to start investing early.

Although there may be a lot of doubt and fear in the market, there are also opportunities.

However, one common mistake that many investors do is wager and try to time the market.

Instead, they should have a mindset towards a long-term investment strategy and practice diversification, Tan says.

And lastly for investors who have a bigger risk appetite – an aggressive investor – higher risk leads towards higher gains. Investment managers should give their clients the option to have multiple functional portfolios by customising them according to their preference.

According to Tan, there are three functional portfolios in MYTHEO, GAX MD’s digital investment management service which are Growth (equity-centric), Income (bond-centric) and Inflation Hedge (real asset-centric) which investors can choose from to best suit their appetite.

“MYTHEO uses an algorithm based on AI and sound investment strategies to automatically create, maintain and optimise an investment portfolio to help investors grow their wealth,” he explains.

The goal of the Growth portfolio is to obtain high returns on a long-term basis in line with the global equity market. In order to achieve this, the portfolio invests in assets with a high long-term rate of return, like stocks.

Meanwhile, the income portfolio is mainly composed of fixed-income ETFs which is designed to achieve relatively stable and steady returns with much-protected downside risks –  recommended for people who are retired or do not want to take extra risks of the sudden decrease in assets while obtaining stable income at low risk.

And as for the Inflation Hedge portfolio, it is designed to match and exceed the Malaysian inflation rate. For this purpose, the portfolio focuses on investing in asset classes that tend to do well in high inflationary environment such commodity (Gold, Metal and Agriculture), Infrastructure, Real Estate and Inflation Hedge Bonds.

Hence, it is recommended for people who have already built up substantial value of assets and want to prevent the asset value from eroding due to inflation.

Tan points out that the aggressive investors who have high-risk appetite and longer investment periods should put more weightage on the Growth portfolio which is made up of diversified equity ETFs that yield higher returns.

While the aim is high returns, the Growth portfolio construction process does not rely on trying to forecast the returns of individual companies which is very difficult to do accurately.

In addition, the Growth portfolio uses optimisation techniques to minimise risk (i.e. return volatility).

In this way, aggressive investors can in a way have the best of both worlds.

___________________________________________________________________

GAX MD was granted a Capital Markets Services license by the Securities Commission Malaysia to carry out the regulated activities of fund management in relation to digital investment management.

Digital investment management is a fund management business which incorporates innovative technologies into discretionary portfolio management services.

Celebrate the upcoming festive season at home with Shangri-La

In accordance with the extended Movement Control Order (MCO), Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur are offering guests to have Iftar dishes delivered to the comfort of their own home or office from April 23 to May 23.

Shangri-La’s culinary team has put together three different Iftar sets to choose from throughout the fasting month.

“The Horizon” includes Malay Kuih Muih, Tunisia Dates, Ulam-Ulaman Kampung (Local Salad with Chili Dip), Daging Masak Rendang Pedas (Beef in Malay Herbs and Dry Coconut Sauce), Ayam Kapitan Berkentang (Chicken Kapitan with Potatoes), Kari Kepala Ikan (Fish Head Curry with Lady Finger and Eggplant), and Dhall Cha Sayur (Lentil Stew with Mixed Vegetables and Spices). The set is completed with Steamed Rice, Sliced Tropical Fruits and Cheesecake.

The set is priced at RM60 nett per person

The second offering by Shangri-La is “The Horizon”. This set includes Malay Kuih Muih, Tunisia Dates, Ulam-Ulaman Kampung (Local Salad with Chili Dip), Daging Masak Rendang Pedas (Beef in Malay Herbs and Dry Coconut Sauce), Ayam Kapitan Berkentang (Chicken Kapitan with Potatoes), Kari Kepala Ikan (Fish Head Curry with Lady Finger and Eggplant), and Dhall Cha Sayur (Lentil Stew with Mixed Vegetables and Spices). The set is completed with Steamed Rice, Sliced Tropical Fruits and Cheesecake.

The set is priced at RM60 nett per person

The third set being the “The Shangri-La” set, contains Malay Kuih Muih, Tunisia Dates, Ulam-Ulaman Kampung (Local Salad with Chili Dip), Daging Masak Rendang Pedas (Beef in Malay Herbs and Dry Coconut Sauce), Ayam Kapitan Berkentang (Chicken Kapitan with Potatoes), Kari Kepala Ikan (Fish Head Curry with Lady Finger and Eggplant), Dhall Cha Sayur (Lentil Stew with Mixed Vegetables and Spices) and Nasi Biryani Kambing (Lamb Shank with Biryani Rice). The set is completed with Steamed Rice, Sliced Tropical Fruits, Cheesecake and Chocolate Cake.

It is priced at RM80 nett per person.

Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur is also offering Hari Raya Hampers which comes in three different content customisation.

The Raya Delight, Lebaran Treasure and Aidilfitri Platinum hampers are priced at RM688, RM888 and RM1,288 respectively. The overall look and feel of the hampers are designed to capture the essence of Hari Raya, suitable as a gift for family and friends.  Minimum two day pre-order time is required for the hampers.

When place the booking, do take note that a minimum order for three persons is applicable for all Ramadhan delivery sets, available from 10am to 4pm.

Guests can also call +603 2074 3900 or WhatsApp +6019 390 2257 to in order to place their orders. Orders can also be completed through Shangri-La Specials Mobile App.

Shangri-La will also be offering delivery services for the orders made, with respective delivery fees charged according to the distance. Alternatively, self-pickup is also available at the Concierge Counter, Lobby.

 

The brunt on the hospitality industry during this pandemic

Business Today speaks to Jason Chong, chief executive officer & co-founder of Cornerstone Partners Group (CPG), on the impact to the hotel industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures to cope with the situation.

By Sharon Chang

The hospitality and tourism industries have taken a brutal beating with tourist arrivals coming to a halt since the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented.

Though it’s true that such occurrences are hard to predict – the ‘black swan’ event – they cause catastrophic consequences.

Now, as the pandemic has spread to major global tourism markets, the hotel industry is at risk of experiencing a business downturn from lower levels of global and regional travel.

Jason Chong, CEO & co-founder of Cornerstone Partners Group (CPG)

“This pandemic and travellers’ behaviour are expected to set Malaysia’s tourist arrivals back by two decades to less than the 10.22 million recorded in 2000,” Chong says, adding that the tourism industry will not pick up even after the MCO is lifted because this global pandemic will deter tourists coming in from other countries.

People will be wary of travelling and as most countries have stopped their citizens from travelling, the industry will continue to suffer.

According to Chong, the hotel industry will be so badly affected to the extent that it’s something most of us will not experience during our lifetime.

Despite the hotel business being listed as an “essential service”, there are two defining aspects of the MCO’s effect on hotels: firstly, restrictions imposed on hotels from taking in domestic guests, and secondly, the freeze on inbound international travellers.

“These two aspects can be viewed as somewhat oxymoronic, as domestic guests aren’t allowed to check-in and there aren’t any international guests arriving, thus making it difficult for hoteliers to keep their workers gainfully employed,” Chong explains.

According to the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), business volumes across hotels in Malaysia have dwindled to a third, year-on-year, while Smith Travel Research (STR) claims they see unprecedented historical low levels of occupancy. External factors contributing to this are travel bans imposed by many countries as well as traveller sentiments.

Chong also says that on an operational perspective, some hotels have temporarily closed to weather out the pandemic, while others are trudging along with single digit occupancies. There are even some hoteliers who volunteer their hotels as quarantine stations for returning Malaysians.

“The low guests’ volume has severely disrupted cashflow for both the property management operating level and the investment company in terms of servicing financial obligations, he adds.

“To mitigate the financials, lay-offs, pay cuts and other payroll reduction measures have inexorably been announced at some hotels. But the cleaning and sanitisation costs have increased to upkeep the hygiene of the hotels.”

In the instance of CPG, Chong says the company is fortunate to have their presence in three distinct countries, with access to many financial affiliates to allocate and reroute their resources and capital where it’s most required.

“Our regional coverage has also allowed us a diverse perspective on the virus’ impact on hotels. The ability to compare data on social practices, consumer sentiment, the virus’ effects through these regions, and different national and specific hotel strategies applied does give us a bit of an upper hand in tackling the reduced business volumes.” he remarks lightly.

Chong tells Business Today that while the industry is reeling from the brunt of Covid-19’s short-term effects, they believe that this pandemic will change the course of the industry and will create a lasting impact.

“Travel patterns and cost management methods will evolve, and this serves as an opportunity for us to look at things we’ve taken for granted in the past, and reposition ourselves,” he opines.

Sustenance to survival

In response to questions on how long the industry can sustain before drastic changes or measures need to be taken, Chong says it depends on the maturity of the property.

“Most hotels in Malaysia should have sufficient working capital on the property to sustain for around two months. With prudent cost management and mitigation initiatives, I would believe, like other hotel owners, we should be able to weather out at least 3 months of reduced business, he says.

“Nonetheless, bearing in mind that salaries constitute the single largest fixed cost of any hotel, every hotel owner is working tirelessly to preserve liquidity. Even a significant amount of capital reserves may not be sufficient if there’s an imminent delay to recover.”

Recovery

The road to recovery can be long – hopefully not, but the bulk of the tourists’ receipts will be from domestic travellers. Malaysians will likely be travelling locally for the time being.

Chong says the domestic tourism is easier to predict, as he thinks the industry can expect an influx of domestic guests within 3 months after the MCO is lifted, which is also in line with MAH’s prediction, the 3rd quarter of this year.

“This is partly due to Malaysia’s competent management of the outbreak.”

On global travel, he mirrors the thoughts of economists. If there is a salient and viable containment “solution” to the virus, it may take possibly anywhere between 6 months to a year.

While we applaud the Government’s initiatives to the hospitality sector such as the wage subsidy programme and the special relief fund, but according to Chong, the special relief fund is limited to RM1,000,000, which unfortunately isn’t particularly helpful to the larger convention hotels.

While MAH has lauded a higher wage subsidy and MATTA having urged the government for a longer period beyond the 3 months, Chong believes a tailored approach may be more appropriate.

“Hotels are resource intensive businesses, and no two hotels are alike.”

Take the wage subsidy programme for example, the limit is capped at 200 employees, which may be more than sufficient for budget and small-scale hotels, but totally inadequate for larger hotels or resorts with higher room counts and facilities.

Furthermore, the cap on RM4,000 qualifying salary only benefits the rank and file of the property, and may exclude supervisory & management personnel, which contribute to a significant and necessary portion of the payroll.

“As one of the most direly hit industries, I would advocate for any hospitality targeted stimulus to be catered to those who really need the support, fully scalable to the size of the hotel, and for the recovery strategy to be systemically forward looking, Chong stresses.

“There should be a semi-assured light at the end of the tunnel.”

Strategies moving forward

At the property level for our Malaysian hotels, domestic guests are the priority for the immediate future.

Hotels should craft strategies towards that effect.

“We have to realise, travel habits have indubitably changed, guests will place higher emphasis on hygiene and prevention, and we have to ensure our hotels are able to adapt to our client’s dispositions,” Chong points out.

Covid-19’s impact would dictate travel patterns as well, such as less Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) but more staycations and self-contained resort experiences.

“Therefore, we are taking the opportunity to reassess our products’ positioning and would not rule out repositioning after market stabilises.”

In a way, the reduced business volume is forcing the industry to take a good hard look at itself, and as a result, neoteric cost mitigation exercises are now being implemented.

“While we have always fostered a close relationship with our management and brand partners, but in times of crisis, we’ve forged even closer ties and work hand-in-hand with them in bolstering the business,” Chong shares.

Therefore, Chong says the company is pleased and appreciative to their associates such as InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Hilton for taking drastic immediate steps to curb spending and preserve liquidity.

“On a corporate level, as a group, we have been on a sharp growth/acquisition phase for the past half-decade, focusing on new developments, he adds.

“However, our near-term strategies, given the economic outlook may involve risk-adverse acquisitions of operating assets with proven track records or hedging products with potentially lower but secured yields, we expect favourable deals to be slowly seeping into the market in the near future.”

Even prior to the pandemic, CPG has foreseen a potential market downturn, and hedged into mixed developments such as the announced CPG Tower in Melbourne.

“The company, as a group, is and will be hospitality centric, but we are studying other real estate asset classes as well, with diversification as a strategy,” Chong concludes.

There is much to be said on the buoyancy of the hotel industry, evidenced by how we overcame a range of past crises.

Having said that strategy developed at this point has to be centred around resiliency. Nonetheless, no strategy developed by an individual organisation can survive on its own, we will require both global and national cohesive efforts to surpass this challenge.

MATTA: should’nt the government protect the travelling public too?

Photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) is concerned with the disclosure by the Malaysian Aviation Commission (MAVCOM) that it had given leeway to airlines in providing refunds to customers due to challenges faced by commercial carriers following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Airlines operating in Malaysia indicated approximately 13.6 million seats were cancelled, which literally means hundreds of millions of consumers’ hard-earned dollars are stuck with the airlines including more than the 100 foreign airlines currently operating in Malaysia.

Datuk Tan Kok Liang, MATTA President

In a statement, MATTA President Datuk Tan Kok Liang said that MAVCOM’s function is also to provide a mechanism for protection of consumers.

“If so, the Commission ought to ensure that consumers (which include travel agents who act on behalf of consumers) get their due refunds without delay or offer equitable proposals acceptable to ticket holders,” Tan remarked.

He said that the least MAVCOM can do is to accept this extraordinary challenge and provide a timeline plus a mechanism for refunds and provide options and solutions both to airlines and consumers.

“Ticket holders need to be given an option on monies back or any alternative solutions acceptable to the consumer,” Tan said, adding that regulators in the US and EU have generally instructed airlines to refund ticket holders their monies.

“By allowing airlines to dictate terms at its commercial discretion especially during this time of crisis is poor supervision and governance.”

Henceforth, MAVCOM should consider the drastic impact to consumers if any of the airlines were to go into liquidation.

What good will be the value of the vouchers and points then?

“Has MAVCOM taken all of these factors into account?” Tan asked.

In a related context, under the IATA Billing Settlement Plan (BSP), travel agents must provide financial security in the form of Bank Guarantee (BG) or Default Insurance Program (DIP) in order to sell tickets. Similarly, IATA should now insist that airlines provide financial security to protect travel agents and passengers should the airlines close.

MAVCOM should be aware of IATA’s Passenger Agency Conference Resolutions in which airlines are being protected from the failures of travel agents but not otherwise (i.e. travel agents are not protected should an airline fail).

Also, Section 12, First Schedule, Item 5 of the Malaysian Aviation Consumer Protection Code (MACPC) 2016 (designed to protect consumer interest in air travel) requires airlines to resolve complaints and remit refunds to consumers within 30 days of receipt of complaints.

The least MAVCOM could do is to direct airlines to pay refunds within a given timeframe or offer any alternative solutions acceptable to consumers, Tan said.

“Perhaps the Ministry of Finance should scrutinise the current practice of airlines, as what they have done is similar to deposit taking cooperatives that were banned in the 1980s for utilising collections from consumers to cover operating costs.”

MATTA reiterate that while they are sympathetic to the adverse conditions of the commercial aviation sector, they stand firm on their position that taking deposits for future services and the inability to provide refunds is not prudent financial management.

Customers’ deposits ought to be placed in a designated or trust account until services are rendered.

“Why must airlines be allowed to delay refunds when they are not the only business affected by the pandemic? This is akin to telling every business that credit vouchers will suffice instead of refunds.”

“Ironically, all passengers except those on transit, children below two years old, and passengers using the Rural Air Services in Sabah and Sarawak are made to pay RM1 levy to MAVCOM since 1 May 2018. Perhaps it is time for MAVCOM to cease collections due to its failure to protect consumers,” Tan added.

Booking trends and travel patterns will be stifled unless this issue is settled in order to boost public confidence.

“MATTA urges the government to seriously study the possibility of providing financial support such as soft loans to our local aviation industry and local airlines Malaysia Airlines Bhd and Air Asia Group Bhd to survive this period as they are crucial to the recovery of the travel and tourism industry”, concluded Tan.

Preparing for the worst but looking forward to the future

Photo by Headway on Unsplash
[Part 1 of this article appeared on Mon: Recession Today, Opportunity Tomorrow: How To Build Sustainability Today And Prepare For The Coming Economic Recovery]

By Dr V. Sivapalan

Most entrepreneurs don’t look too far ahead. They are often caught up fire fighting on a daily basis and worry about operational matters and survivability more than strategic matters. However, when a crisis hits, thinking about the future of their industry and forward planning take on an equally important position within their daily roles.

The Malaysian government has already introduced two stimulus packages to assist individuals and companies to get over the current pandemic. While there is a lot of support for individuals and conventional SMEs, these packages don’t do enough for the tech sector especially Startups.

Most Startups are small, young (less than 3 years old), don’t have sufficient cash flows to take on loans and most don’t have a track record to even apply for a loan. The Prime Minister has indicated that there may be a third stimulus package for Startups so I think we need to wait for his announcement.

However, companies shouldn’t just wait for government assistance. Now that we know the recession is here, there are several critical things entrepreneurs need to do. These are divided into two areas, building sustainability and preparing for the recovery.

Building Sustainability

To take advantage of the recovery and future potential, you have to first stabilise the ship so that you can survive the next 12 months.

Preserve Cash

Many companies don’t have sufficient cash flow for even a couple of months, but there’s ways to preserve and stretch your cash for a longer period.

Firstly, look at your debtors ageing and identify who owes you money and assess how much you can collect and how soon. A lot of companies have uncollected billings that may give them a lifeline. Work on collecting as much of this as you can. Give debtors discounts for early payment if you have to. But get this cash into your bank account.

Are there customers who may buy your products or services at a discount? If you have to give discounts for cash sales then this can increase your cash buffer too.

Some services can be sold now for future use. Airline tickets and hotel rooms for example sell tickets and rooms that will only be used sometime in the future but collect the payment in advance. Can you also do this? If yes, then do it.

Stretch Your Cash

As you build your cash resources, you also need to stretch this for as long as possible. Ideally build sufficient cash for a 6 -9 month period. As some normalcy returns you will start selling again and revenue will return.

In the tech industry staff costs are the highest, often 70 to 80% of total costs as its primarily a knowledge based industry. Find ways of reducing staff costs. You don’t necessarily have to retrench staff, start with across the board pay cuts instead. It must start with the founders and management right down to the staff. However, cuts for staff earning smaller salaries should be much less than for those earning more. But make sure everyone has a pay cut.

Explain to everyone why pay cuts are needed. You’re trying to save the company and saving jobs. If cuts are not made then either the company closes down or there will be retrenchments neither of which are desirable. You staff will understand and good staff will stay together to save each other’s jobs.

When making pay cuts, do it in one big round, don’t do small cuts and then make more cuts later. That will create uncertainty and will cause staff problems with planning their own cost cutting measures. However, try and ensure that what they take back is sufficient for living costs.

I’ve been asked whether these should be pay cuts or pay deferments i.e. you cut their pay now but agree to pay the difference later. This is not a good idea as this can cause serious cash flow implications in the future; essentially you’re just pushing the problem into the future. Cut salaries but as soon as the business stabilises increase their salaries again and if the business does well pay them a bonus as appreciation for helping the business survive.

In some cases you may need to retrench staff, perhaps because just cutting salaries alone is not sufficient or because the business has fundamentally changed and some staff may not be needed. In that case make one major cut of staff you no longer need and make sure you don’t cut anymore in future. The worse thing you can do is cut slowly. This creates a lot of uncertainty and will affect staff emotionally as they won’t know who else will lose their jobs in the future.

This may be the hardest thing you do as a founder, but it may be necessary to save the company.

Ultimately, the amount of money you save from pay cuts should allow you to stretch your burn rate for a longer period.

Then talk to creditors, your landlord and other business partners and ask them for payment extensions. If necessary pay in instalments over a longer period and keep to your promised schedule. They will understand.

If possible re-negotiate tenancies and other costs, ask for short-term discounts or reductions. No one wants you to fold up so most people will try and accommodate.

Secure Additional Cash

If it’s possible secure some additional cash either via investments or a loan. But remember that a loan has to be paid back and you will need revenue and cash flow to do this. So raise only the extra sum you’ll need for the next 6 to 9 months and ensure you can pay this back. Also, if the government has any grants or is offering any support via their stimulus packages go grab it immediately.

Resource and Performance Reviews

As part of the plan, review your resource requirements especially staff. How many people do you really need, who do you need, what must they do, can they do more? Some companies actually have more staff than they need or if the future of your business has changed maybe some staff are no longer needed. Do the necessary restructuring to your staff requirements so that going forward you have optimum staff levels.

You also need to improve productivity of your staff. Are you tracking their productivity? What metrics are you using? Are you benchmarking against industry norms? In a recession everyone has to give 150%, so everyone has to do a lot more. Everyone’s performance has to improve significantly.

Product Reviews

You also need to do a complete product review to determine which products or services are providing you with better return on investment than others. For products that bring poor ROI or cause you to lose money, cut those products and focus on those with better margins. This may also require less staff and lower your costs. Better margins mean more cash flow.

Future products or research and development must also focus on products that will bring better ROI and not just vanity products with poor returns.

Better Business Models

Review your business model and pricing strategy to make sure it’s optimised to bring the best returns at the lowest cost. Look for innovative models that may bring more sales or better margins. Don’t assume the old ways of doing things are the best. Some ideas can be found in my book, “Blue Sky Innovation” which is available on Amazon Kindle. If you can create a model that brings in recurring monthly or annual incomes that is a better way to build a sustainable business than one time sales.

Check your unit economics to ensure that the lifetime value of your customer (i.e. how much you make from the customer over the period the customer buys from you) is at least three times your customer acquisition cost. Founders often do not realise it but their customer acquisition costs are much higher than they think and their customer lifetime value (LTV) is lower than expected and this leads to a poor business model. Review this and ensure that the returns justify the costs.

Sometimes this depends on your pricing strategy. If you don’t price it right you may be earning much less than you can and this can lead to poor margins. So review your pricing and do some experiments to determine if you can price the product higher. Better positioning or packaging can also lead to better pricing and a higher margin.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you to sustain your company for the next 12 months and help you manage the recession better. Once you are able to do this, you need to then prepare for the future, as there will be a lot of opportunities when the world economy recovers.

Preparing for the Future

Every storm has a silver lining and if you can weather the storm you will be in prime position to take advantage of the strong growth of the global economy that happens after every recession. History has shown us that recessions are generally short but the recovery and subsequent growth period is long and profitable.

With less competition in the market, the addition of good talent, stronger financials and a better business model you will be primed to enjoy the benefit of a long period of growth.

However, you’ll need to ensure that you tap all the opportunities available post recession.

Explore the Potential

Use this time to explore and study your market and industry to discover what new opportunities are available for the next 5 – 10 years. How will changes in consumer behaviour, market and technology trends and government support change your business environment? Does it open up new markets, new sectors? Do you have to adapt your product to new problems or needs?

The more you explore, the more you talk to customers and ecosystem leaders the more understanding you’ll build about the future and this will help you to change, adapt and position your company and products for the future.

Be prepared to serve your customer needs better and grab the opportunities faster than competitors. Remember some competitors won’t make it; many others will be badly bruised and won’t be able to compete as effectively as before, so this means you have the upper hand.

However, as you do this remember that you must build a financially strong and long-term sustainable company because funding will be scarce, so the only way to fund the business is via sales and margins. Build a company that is profitable and you’ll not just survive but thrive.

No matter how bleak it looks now, if you do all of the above, you’ll be a very successful company from 2021 and beyond.

Building a Pegasus Business with ScaleUp Malaysia

In mid-2019 I was already predicting a recession. Not because I’m super smart or that I have a crystal ball, but if you go back 100 years, you will realise that every 8 years or so after a recovery a recession happens. The global economy started recovering from the GFC from 2009 and it’s been one of the longest periods of prosperity over the last 100 years. With this prosperity comes excesses and this will always lead to a recession. It’s a predictable cycle. We only don’t know what the trigger will be but it’s always been a black swan event. Unfortunately for this recession it was the coronavirus and the disease it causes, Covid-19.

Knowing a recession was looming, when we launched ScaleUp Malaysia Accelerator, our model was premised on building a “Pegasus” which we define as a high growth but profitable company. Hence we don’t believe in the “Go big or go home” mantra or the build market share at all expense model either. This was ok in the go-go years of the 2010s but as you approach a recession this is a dangerous strategy. We can see the possible failure of multiple companies that have this model, from WeWork to OYO to the many other VC funded companies that sacrifice cash flow and profitability for market share. In fact many of these companies don’t even know if they’ll ever turn a profit. That model is now dead, for the next few years anyway.

Hence in ScaleUp Malaysia we selected companies that have high growth potential, but also have a business model that allows us to build a path to profitability. Even if growth is not as fast as some of the VC funded companies, its ok, as we are willing to sacrifice some growth in return for profitability and a positive cash flow. Today cash is king, so a positive cash flow is highly desirable and this is what all ScaleUp Malaysia companies are working towards.

We are not worried about the recession because we already knew it was coming. All our investee companies have solid business models and great prospects going forward and we will prepare them to be resilient and to have a business model that helps them to build a sustainable and long-term profitable business.

We will use the strategies and ideas mentioned above to do this.

I am sharing these ideas because I am passionate about entrepreneurship and have spent the last 2 decades helping entrepreneurs to build great businesses. So I hope you’ll take advantage of what I have shared and work on building a solid business that you can be proud of. And if you do, apply for future cohorts of ScaleUp Malaysia because we would love to work with you.

Until then, stay strong, stay positive and stay safe.

Dr V Sivapalan (seated in the middle – blue shirt) with the cohort of ScaleUp Malaysia.


(Dr. Siva has a Ph.D in Venture Capital from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the Co-Founder and Senior Partner of Scaleup Malaysia Accelerator (www.scaleup.my) and Co-Founder of Proficeo Consultants (www.proficeo.com). Visit his LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/drsivapalan/ )

He is also the author of “Blue Sky Innovation” published in Feb 2013.

This article was first published in Digital News Asia

Carsome sets up $50,000 Covid-19 support fund for employees

“We were already digitalising the used car industry as much as possible to consolidate a very fragmented market. The pandemic has accelerated the digitisation of the entire automotive industry,” says Cheng.

Used-car selling service, Carsome has announced that they have set up a $50,000 Covid-19 Support Fund for all their employees across their bases in Southeast Asia.

The fund is expected to cover Carsome’s 700 employees financially across SEA, should an employee contract the virus.

“Covid-19 is unlike any other previous crisis we have seen and has caused major disruption in businesses, healthcare and the economy. With the support fund, we hope we can help alleviate the stress the crisis has brought to our employees by contributing to the fight against the pandemic” said Eric Cheng, chief executive officer and co-founder of Carsome.

The fund will also be utilised to provide living expense support to employees if they have contracted Covid-19.

Carsome will also issue a one-off gratuity payment totalling $1,000 to each infected employee and undertake additional costs up to $3,000 should the employee require further treatment.

“As we grapple with the scale of this pandemic, we will continue to provide our employees with the utmost attention and do our very best to care for their safety and well-being,” added Cheng.

Recession today, opportunity tomorrow: how to build sustainability today and prepare for the coming economic recovery

credit: freepik/xb100

By Dr V. Sivapalan

As I write this article more than 1.5 million people worldwide have been infected by COVID-19, ninety thousand people have lost their lives and the pandemic is escalating in the United States and India. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones especially the older generation.

I pray that governments will take painful but necessary measures to curb further infections and deaths and that the people will comply. The rest of us can only stay at home and pray for the safety of the most vulnerable in society.

While this unfolds another tragedy is happening – a recession. There is no doubt in my mind that a recession is already here.

Over the last two weeks 10 million workers have been displaced in the US, the largest in history and there’s already a 10 percent unemployment rate there, more than during the great recession of 2008-2009.

It is only going to get worse as the US starts enforcing a nationwide lockdown. Some experts predict a 15 percent to 30 percent unemployment rate in the US; worse than the Great Depression of 1929 when the average was about 20 percent.

Bank Negara Malaysia predicts a 2020 GDP growth rate of between -2 percent to +0.5 percent while the World Bank predicts a contraction of -0.1 percent this year which means more likely we will see a recession too – a mild one.

Bank Negara Malaysia predicts a 2020 GDP growth rate of between -2 percent to +0.5 percent, AFP PHOTO (Photo by STR / AFP)

This may change as the rest of the world grapples with the pandemic. If our major trading partners or the rest of the world falls into a worse recession, then ours may be worse as well. There is still too much uncertainty to make a better prediction.

Depth and Length of the Recession

The bigger question is not just how bad the recession will be but how long will it last?

There are generally three types of recession and recovery scenarios. There is the “V” shaped recession which predicts a sharp and fast fall in economic growth, often caused by what they call a “black swan” or totally unpredictable event like the current pandemic, followed by an equally fast and sharp rebound. The recession after the 9-11 terrorist attack in the US is an example. Recovery is generally quite fast on average about 12 months.

Then there is the “U” shaped recession, which can be a fast or slower fall, but it stays down for a longer period and then recovers to pre-recession levels. Imagine the letter “U” and you get what I mean. A “U” shaped recession often takes between 12 to 36 months and the recovery takes longer than a “V” shaped recovery.

Dr V.Sivapalan

And, there is the “L” shaped recovery, which starts with a fast or slow fall but takes a very long time to recover. This is often classified as a depression and can take a decade for the economy to recover. The recovery period is also not easy to predict.

The Great Depression in the US that lasted from 1929 to 1939 is such an example. In fact, if it wasn’t for World War II that started in 1939, the depression may have lasted even longer. The war required the US government to spend on war preparations and it got the factories to work producing weapons and other war needs and this got the US out of the depression. Yes, government spending works.

Photo credit: AFP

I have personally been through many slowdowns and recessions in Malaysia from the 1984-86 oil shock, the 1994 stock market crash, the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis (AFC), the dot com bust in 2000, the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis  (GFC) and now the Covid-19 pandemic induced 2020 recession.

So, this is nothing new to me. And one thing is certain – every recession ends with a recovery, often a strong one that lasts for a few years. The AFC was probably the worst in Southeast Asia (SEA) and it lasted a few years but by the 2000’s all the SEA economies recovered strongly. The GFC was the worst to hit the world since the Great Depression but then we had 10 years of strong economic growth.

Hence, the most important lesson is this: that there will be a recovery and when that recovery happens, will you be around to take advantage of the strong growth or will you be watching from the sidelines wondering “what if?”

In my opinion, and most analysts predict this as well, we will experience a “U” shaped recession, which means a sharp fall followed by recovery in 12 to 36 months. If that is the case, as an entrepreneur how do you prepare for such a situation? What must you do?

Before we go there let’s explore what will happen in the next couple of years.

The Recessionary Period

It will be painful. Many people will lose their jobs, businesses will close and there may be a dramatic change in the economy. Entire industries may fail, some will recover but many won’t.

-Competition and closures-

Many companies with weak financials and product-market fit will close. Most startups fall into this category.

A recent survey by the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) shows that 40% of startups can’t survive beyond 2 months and only 2.9% can survive beyond 12 months. These are dire figures but goes to show that we have too many startups with weak fundamentals. This means there will be less competition so while it is bad for those that have to shutter, it will be good for survivors as it gives them a better chance to build stronger companies.

-Availability of Talent-

As more startups close, their employees and even founders will be looking for jobs or be available to join the management teams of the survivors.  This is good because over the last few years talent has been one of our biggest problems. Many of them will also have startup experience and this is great for the survivors.

-Funding-

While existing funds still have money to invest, they are going to be more selective and their mandates or criteria will change.

We are already seeing more and more venture capitalists talking about looking for companies with a path to profitability. This is common.

It happened after the dot com bust, the GFC and now this crisis. So, generally over the next couple of years only the stronger companies with better fundamentals and solid revenue models will get funding.

I predict however, that investors will return to their market growth at all costs model in the future as they always do, but the next three years will be about fundamentals.

So, while funding is still available it will be harder to get.

-Market Access-

In a recession, companies and consumers will be a lot more careful about spending. High levels of unemployment mean consumers have less money to spend so they will be selective with their spending. Companies will want to preserve cash to ensure sustainability and maintaining profitability so they will only spend on necessaries. However, they will spend on technology that improves productivity, reduces costs and increases their bottom line.

So, while access to markets will be tougher, companies that offer solutions and products that their market needs will still be able to grow. There will always be opportunities, so companies have to adapt and be creative in capturing these opportunities.

-Market Changes-

The market will change, and in some ways, it may be a dramatic change.

The demand for some products will disappear but new demands will appear. For example, more things will be done online as people have learnt to use online tools during the Movement Control Order. Ecommerce will flourish even more, retail sales will drop, more people may be working from home and this may lead to less office space requirements and much more.

In every industry or sector there will be changes and entrepreneurs have to study their own markets to determine what these changes are and prepare for and adapt to these changes.

The Recovery

In a “U” shaped recession there will be a reasonably fast recovery. Why will we see a “U” shaped recovery? It’s mainly because governments all over the world have learnt that by spending money and pump priming their economies, they will literally “force” their economies to grow.

It happened during the Great Depression and also during the GFC. During the AFC, the IMF imposed prudent spending guidelines on many countries that led to a slower recovery. The same happened in much of Europe with economies like Greece and Spain having slow growth because they couldn’t spend themselves out of a recession.

This time around led by the US with their USD2 trillion stimulus package, every government is doing the same. Even the Malaysian government has a USD57.5 billion (RM250 billion) stimulus package with more to come to save the economy from going into a deeper recession. I believe we will see record spending by governments like we’ve never seen before. All this will trickle down into the economy and induce growth.

With interest rates at or near zero among the OECD countries and in some cases negative interest rates, companies find that borrowing costs are extremely low and just like during the GFC sooner or later companies will borrow to grow their companies. This will lead to higher employment and more money in the economy.

A recovery will happen that is a given, likely in the second half of 2021. That being the case what do entrepreneurs have to do to prepare for this?

Some of the companies that we have coached including from the Coach & Grow Program are very concerned about the future and I’ve been asked on several occasions already what they need to do to overcome the current problems and how do they prepare for the future. I’ll address this in the second part of this article tomorrow.

Dr. Sivapalan Vivekarajah has a Ph.D in Venture Capital from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the cofounder and Senior Partner of Scaleup Malaysia Accelerator (www.scaleup.my) and cofounder of Proficeo Consultants (www.proficeo.com). Visit his LinkedIn

This article was first published in Digital News Asia

Brace for impact

Photo by Azlan Baharudin on Unsplash

By Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid

Little that we know, micro-organism such as novel coronavirus disease or famously known as Covid-19 has a severe impact to humanity globally. It all started in Wuhan City, China, whereby the first cases reported was on 31 December 2019.  

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) commenced their Situation Report on 21 January, the number of infected countries was just four and they were namely China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Thailand. Total number of confirmed cases stood at 282 while the total number of fatalities was 2.  

Fast forward, more than 200 countries have been infected by Covid-19, cumulative cases soared to 1.21 million and total deaths stood at 67,841 as of 7 April 2020.  

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called for global output contraction on 27 March while the World Bank says that the prospect of global financial shock and recession would hurt the developing countries.  

About 193 countries have begun injecting the economy with cash and financial assistance in order to expand the healthcare facilities and capacity, safeguarding jobs and businesses cash flows. Not to mention the major central banks like the US Fed and the European Central Bank have dialled back their Quantitative Easing (QE) measures.  

The move was none other than to flood the system with cash so that the economy would keep going.  

In a nutshell, the global economy is expected to experience its recession this year. The last time the world economy went into recession was in 2009 whereby the global GDP fell by 0.1 percent. Back then, it was originated from the US following the proliferation of toxic assets also known as Sub Prime Mortgage crisis which have been held by various countries and institutions.  

The Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) could not agree more too.  

In their latest communique, the central bank is of the view that Malaysian economy would contract by as much as 2 percent or the GDP could grow by a maximum of 0.5 percent in 2020. The net exports are expected to fall by 27 percent while domestic demand would only grow by a paltry 1.1 percent 

The Federal Government has also announced the total fiscal stimulus amounting to RM260 billion. The focus has been to ensure employers will keep their employees by subsidising their workers’ wages for three months commencing April. Maintaining a healthy cash flows are also the immediate priority with various financing packages with super low rates are being poured in.  

Indeed, the scale of the public health crisis is unprecedented.  

Kudos to BNM which has implemented an unconventional means to address the current predicament. The six months loan moratorium is by far the largest stimulus in our view. The RM100 billion bandied around the measures are, perhaps quite conservative.  

Total loans repaid in February 2020 stood at RM97.5 billion while in January, the figure was RM109.8 billion. This should give us a monthly average of RM103.7 billion. Last year, the monthly average of total loans repaid was RM101.1 billion.  

Assuming if its RM100 billion per month, we are looking a total of RM600 billion worth of savings by the businesses and households. If its 50 percent take-up rate, that would put the figure at RM300 billion. Still that’s a 20 percent of GDP, give or take.  

In that sense, the potential economic recovery is enormous. The BNM has estimated that it would yield 2.8 percentage points of impact to the economy. That, too, is still conservative.

From our estimates, the economic impact from the loan moratorium could be more than 5 percentage points should all segments of the economy opted for the six months instalment deferment.  

Imagine if someone is paying RM500 per month for car financing and monthly instalment of house financing of RM1,000, that would give RM9,000 worth of savings. Assuming 30 percent savings from that amount, that would leave him or her with RM6,300 to be spent on other stuff.  

This year, the average loans repaid by the households stood at RM30.6 billion between January and February. That’s RM183.7 billion worth of savings to be made by the households if all of them decides to take on the six months loan moratorium. Applying 53 percent of Marginal Propensity to Consume (MPC), that would translate into RM97.4 billion worth of spending and that is equivalent to 6.6 percent of GDP. It’s massive indeed.  

Notwithstanding that, it is easier said than done. All the permutation and hypothetical estimates are hinges upon the duration of Movement of Control Order (MCO) and the success to contain and to break the chain of Covid-19 spread.  

The economy is almost at a standstill. That is what it is.  

Therefore, it is imperative for everyone to adhere the MCO ruling. Otherwise, all of us will have to pay the economic cost that is so dearly and most importantly, our lives. So folks, please stay at home!

 

Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid is Chief Economist of Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad

Are we thinking right about migrant workers in Malaysia?

Photo credit: Change.org

By Evelyn S. Devadason

Malaysia is the second largest migrant-receiving country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), after Singapore. Based on the United Nations (UN) database, the country accounted for 28 percent of the total migrant stock in ASEAN in 2019.

Though the plight of migrant workers has constantly occupied policy debates, it continues to be entrenched in divided feelings between employers, unions and the government in relation to the economic (workers’) rights. With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the enforcement of the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia since March 18, 2020, migrant workers once again garner the media attention.

With no work during this MCO because of the temporary halt of jobs in most sectors, not only is the livelihood of migrants affected, but they are also struggling to meet their basic needs.

Migrants are a vulnerable group; living hand to mouth, subject to abuse and exploitation by employers, and with no or minimum social protection.  They are also highly vulnerable to infections given their unsanitary living conditions. Paradoxically, the “deservingness” of migrants to decent work, healthcare facilities and safety nets have long been contested, despite their role and significance to the Malaysian economy.

First, migrants are indeed an indispensable workforce that has and continues to instrumentally contribute to the economic development of Malaysia. Representing 31 percent – 40 percent of the labour force, they work in critical sectors, such as plantation, manufacturing, construction and essential services (security and cleaning services). It is therefore no longer justified to treat and consider migrants as “disposable” workers.

The second point is linked to the first point above in that it relates to the contribution of migrant workers to economic growth through international trade. Migrant workers dominate jobs as production operators in most export-oriented and multinational companies for the trade-dependent Malaysia.  More revealing is the extensive contribution of migrants during this pandemic. A case in point is that migrant workers are utilised by rubber glove manufacturers, which are permitted to operate during the lockdown with a restricted number of workers, to meet the surge in demand for medical gloves. Migrants continue to work diligently for these companies that already have a history of mistreating them. Migrants certainly deserve respect for their essential contribution during this pandemic despite the risks.

Third, Malaysia is not just a migrant-receiving country, but also a migrant-sending state.  Approximately, 15 percent of the ASEAN migrants came from Malaysia based on the latest 2019 UN database.  Malaysia has therefore emerged as the third largest migrant-sending country (after Myanmar and Indonesia) within the region. Migrant-sending states, on balance, are of little help to their migrant population abroad as it is difficult to influence state behaviour of host countries, even though migration is regarded a shared responsibility of receiving and sending countries. Given Malaysia’s dual (receiver and sender) contribution to migration flows within the ASEAN region, it only seems appropriate for it to integrate migrant workers into the national (financial and healthcare) policies and demonstrate a high respect for human rights.

It is even more timely now, with the battle against the Covid-19 crisis, that the relevant actors put a positive spin on their thoughts on the rights of migrants instead of challenging them. Human rights should be made available for all, leaving no one behind, including migrant workers. A rights-based approach should therefore be applied to addressing the welfare of migrants in this MCO period.

The national response during this pandemic therefore needs to consider the plight of this vulnerable group of migrants, without discrimination against both the documented and undocumented. To date, the public policy measures seem a far cry from addressing the welfare of migrants.

Social distancing, for one, is impossible for the migrant group given the congested state of their accommodation. On the contrary, this measure puts migrants at risk. It therefore comes as no surprise that almost 10 percent of the Covid-19 positive cases in the country were reported to be non-Malaysians, as at April 9, 2020.

The government must also rethink its healthcare policy to be more inclusionary. The March 23, 2020 announcement that COVID-19 tests will be made free for foreigners does not mention if it includes the undocumented migrants. The government obviously needs to take a stand on policy inclusivity. For example, Portugal has already done so by temporarily giving all migrants and asylum seekers citizenship rights, that is granting them full access to its healthcare during this Covid-19 outbreak.

The Covid-19, therefore, is seen as a major stress test for the government to respond inclusively to the human rights concerns of the vulnerable group of migrant workers.

Evelyn S. Devadason is a Professor at the Faculty of Economics & Administration, University of Malaya. Her research focuses on international trade and regional integration. She currently serves as an Associate Editor to the International Journal of Social Economics and as a member to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Contemporary Asia.

Social enterprises come together to battle the Covid-19 disruptions

By Poovenraj Kanagaraj 

In times of crisis when the Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted lives globally, Malaysia’s frontliners as well as the marginalised who are facing severe impacts are in a battle against the unpredictable nature of this pandemic. 

Businesses in various industries have come together to support each other to stay afloat since the movement restrictions were enforced nationwide. 

The virus has not just taken more than 60 lives in the country, but also disrupted the normalcy of life for many, causing businesses to fold and the needy to be cut off from their daily necessities.  

However, there are two social enterprises that have stayed open throughout the outbreak in the country to continue doing what they do best – helping others.  

“Our roles are more prominent and important as of now, this is why we exist in the first place,” says Kim Lim, founder of PichaEats, who also points out that many more people will fall into the poverty line and for those who are already in the marginalised group will suffer deeply during this ongoing crisis.  

PichaEats, a social enterprise that feeds the needy and the marginalised has continued its efforts,despite the government’s Movement Control Order (MCO) announcement even though their orders for events were severely impacted around middle of February which affected their B2B sales due to the coronavirus outbreak.  

Credit: PichaEats

“We had to quickly adjust to the B2C sector and grow that channel,” says Kim, adding that they were also working on pivoting their business to expect the worst, as they might not get any catering orders the rest of the year. 

InitiallyPichaEats only delivered meal packages of five pax and 10 pax mini-buffet delivery, but due to the current situation, they had to adjust their current model to serve more people. 

Furthermore, Kim and her team re-activated a movement to get people to contribute to the frontliners who need food in order to continue their services. 

Kim told Business Today that her team must be more creative to help the marginalised, but it’s not without its challenges. 

“The challenges we face will be the availability to run our business to support the people working with us which also means there’ll be a need of more creativity to make this happen and survive through together.”  

“Now, it’s also the best time to experiment with new ideas and strengthen processes,” Kim adds.  

Masala Wheels, another social enterprise, also plays a significant role in lending a helping hand not just to the frontliners but to students and communities that have no access to food.  

Credit: MasalaWheels

Kuhan Pathyone of the co-founders of Masala Wheels, initially started the #foodwithoutborders movement to sponsor meals for stranded university students for a week during the MCO period.  

The #foodwithoutborders is a “Pay It Forward” social campaign which allows contributors to sponsor suspended meals for the needy which are delivered through their volunteers to the identified beneficiaries 

Soon the campaign grew sizable and MasalaWheels found themselves partnering with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Non-Profit Organisations (NGOs), and hospitals in the state  

More so, they continued to garner attention from the banking sector, universities as well as the Prime Minister’s Office.  

“As a social enterprise, we felt the calling to act immediately and what we started for the stranded students became a large and significant social movement for many towards remedying the unfortunate situation,” Kuhan tells Business Today 

Thus far, the movement has raised over 8,000 meals and fed more than 7,000 beneficiaries including poor households, medical frontliners, welfare homes and university students, and they have 16,000 meals to raise further.  

Though, PichaEats and Masala Wheels received support from government agencies and various stakeholders, they hope this can lead to a more sustainable collaboration that will allow social enterprises to continue working together with NGOs rather than in silos.  

“Social enterprises work on strict accountability which allows both the private and public sector to work with us knowing full well that the funds will be channeled in a proper manner, Kuhan affirms 

While the Prime Minister announced further aid for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) during the MCO period, Kim points out that there is confusion as to whether social enterprises fall under the same category as SMEs.  

Lastly, Kim says that the government will not be able to address all the issues, and thus, social enterprises which are already working on the issues at grassroots level will be able to assist.  

Alchemist Codes becomes first Malaysian company to be reverse acquired on the London Stock Exchange

The spread of the novel coronavirus has led to a global pandemic and economic stagnation. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and JPMorgan Chase bank, industries that have been severely hit include financial services, tourism, aviation, public transportation and hospitality.

New opportunities emerge

During this period of severe global market turbulence, there is economic slowdown and stagnation, but for some industries, new opportunities can arise. Alchemist Codes is proud to announce the recent acquisition by AIQ Limited.

AIQ Limited aims to create a modern-day online ‘Silk Road’, spanning Eastern and Western markets. The vision is to facilitate the interconnection of small and medium-sized enterprises in Eurasian countries to establish a global e-commerce network.

By choosing to support Alchemist Codes’ OCTAPLUS application, AIQ has provided validation of the platform’s technical potential and value. Alchemist Codes believes that its creativity and strength will enable it to surpass the pandemic and move into the economic recovery period where it will be able to fully leverage its advantages and become a major player within the global market.

OCTAPLUS App was officially launched in 2019. The core concept is to allow users to selectively screen the items they are interested in when shopping online. Superior to other online shopping platforms such as Lazada, Shoppee and 11Street, OCTAPLUS boasts of an excellent shopping cashback system with instant online retail promotion functions.

The platform provides users with discounts and quality information on the products including price comparison data, product information and reviews.

It is imperative for international communities to join hands in fighting the pandemic!

In the past, the rapid spread of a virus across international borders has resulted in catastrophic plunges in global stock markets. This pandemic is no different as both European and American stock markets have generally fallen by more than 20 percent.

In efforts to alleviate the impact of this pandemic on the global economy and financial markets, certain overseas central banks have announced emergency monetary policies such as interest rate cuts and quantitative easing initiatives which are designed to increase market liquidity and provide effective support for their financial systems.

The temporary halt in the global economy caused by the pandemic is real, however it is part of the overall economic development trend which experiences highs and lows. Many believe that though there are hardships, the overall trend will be to move forward, rather than take a permanent pause or recession. Once this pandemic period is over, economic recovery can begin and a new generation of business opportunities are expected to emerge.

Highlights in the haze

Founded in April 2018 by Charles Yong, Alchemist Codes is a provider of specialist software solutions that utilise artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Its areas of expertise include software engineering, mobile web application development, and social chat platform development. Alchemist Codes has its own professional information technology research and development team dedicated to designing and developing comprehensive information technology solutions for customers within the field of e-commerce.

Charles Yong had analysed and researched the Malaysian e-commerce industry and realised the developmental growth opportunities of the shopping cashback market. This, combined with the implementation of big data analysis, data mining and AI, showed real potential, which led to the initial development of the OCTAPLUS e-commerce platform and mobile application.

From February to March 2020, OCTAPLUS saw a 47.6 percent growth in total users, and the platform has proven itself attractive to both e-commerce retailers and end-users due to its cashback system.

Through the use of social media platforms, OCTAPLUS users can connect with each other. Retailers are also able to connect with users to answer customer inquiries and build brand awareness. Alchemist Codes also utilises the analysis of real-time big data, which helps e-commerce retailers to better target their offerings and anticipate changes in consumer behaviour.

Going forward, Alchemist Codes aims to leverage the rollout of 5G networks, build greater relationships with e-commerce retailers, establish social media partners and extend its consumer and B2B offerings.

AIQ Limited – A Unique Vision

In 2020, Alchemist Codes was honoured to become the first company to be acquired by AIQ Limited. Charles Yong is confident that the backing of AIQ and its investors will have a positive impact on Alchemist Codes’ market value going forward

Charles Yong’s operating concept is also in line with the core concept of AIQ, which is to “Integrate Differential Industry Alliances & Resources”. It is through the combination of wisdom and co-existence that the world may be united!

Covid-19 and its dual shock on the world economy

credit: freepik/xb100

By Professor Dr. Christophe Schinckus

The world economy faces an unprecedented challenge due to what economists are calling a dual shock generated by the lockdown of almost three billion people around the world.

Even though these lockdowns are inviting people to stay at home and practice social distancing as a precaution for sanitary reason and limit the spread of the Covid-19; they also interrupt the majority of national and international productions.

Professor Dr. Christophe Schinckus, Head of the School of Accounting and Finance in the Business School, Faculty of Business & Law at Taylor’s University

According to a study from the Department of Labour in the United States (US), only 29 percent of workers can really operate via teleworking processes in a service-based economy.

This number is certainly lower in emerging countries where manufacturing sectors account for a significant part of the GDP. Forced to remain at home, workers do not produce, and closed factories simply must interrupt their supply and scale down their operations.

The impact of the Covid-19 on the manufacturing activities can be seen as a “supply shock”, referring to a sudden exogenous reduction in abilities of national companies to supply goods.

If the supply disruption does not last too long, factories can reopen, and the supply can bounce back quickly supporting a relatively quick recovery of the economy. In case of a longer disruption, companies facing this forced interruption of activity miss business opportunities and may lose their ability to continue paying their staff salaries.

A number of these companies might even have to reduce their number of employees.

A recent analysis from the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) indicated that the Covid-19 might generate up to 2.4 million of job losses in Malaysia in 2020 – this challenging situation will negatively affect household income, which is expected to fall by 12 percent in Malaysia according to MIER.

A reduction of households’ income generates a decrease of national consumption that directly affects all other (non-manufacturing) economic sector. This snowball effect creates a “demand shock” might create dynamics of recession.

The Covid-19 is hitting national economies by generating this dual shock and creates a growing uncertainty for policymakers who, instead of debating between monetary and fiscal tools; must combine them to keep the economy afloat.

But what are these monetary and fiscal tools? And how can they contribute to the recovery of the economy?

A traditional firepower of the Central Bank aims to reduce the interest rate in order to restart of production and supply and promote economic development with more incentives for investment.

This is a current option recently taken by leading Central Banks such as the FED the US, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England and the Central Bank of China for instance. In order to support production and economic activities with accessible loans, commercial banks are encouraged to lend more and to do so, they require enough liquidity leading monetary authorities to inject liquidity in the economy via the banking sector and/or to reduce the reserve requirements imposed on commercial banks.

These actions are not without risk given the fact that banks will be under further pressure due to a significant decrease of business investment and corporate bankruptcies. To help alleviate this situation, several countries are offered state guarantees for bank loans to the most affected companies.

Some Central Banks such as the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan already have very low (even negative) interest rates, and as a result, these monetary authorities have a very small room to react limiting their actions to the two measures evoked above (inject liquidity in the banking system and/or reduce the reserve requirements imposed on commercial banks).

In the context of the Covid-19, a monetary policy alone will definitely not suffice to boost the economic recovery. This is more so since one might wonder whether the classical monetary policy consisting in an interest rate cut will have a real effect simply because the spread of the virus generated a growing uncertainty reducing the enthusiasm of households to save less or companies to invest.

In other words, monetary measures must be combined with an appropriate fiscal policy.

With well-targeted fiscal measures, the government can spend money through an appropriate support to help impacted households and businesses.

In the short-term, fiscal policy aims at protecting incomes and supporting workers and their families as well as ensuring an effective continuity of the national health system.

The creation of a temporary income for vulnerable households in Brazil; targeted cuts in taxation in Canada and China, or the development a specific fund decided by the European Union (EU) to help SMEs affected within the regions and labor markets are among the measures taken.

These expenditures must also be supplemented with the significant increase in spending on epidemic control and hospitals.

All these fiscal measures have a direct impact on government spending and some countries might have less room than others for fiscal stimulus simply because of the existing debt-to-GDP ratios.

This subsequently limits their borrowing abilities, as in the case of Japan and most countries in the EU.

The Malaysian government also implemented a combination of fiscal and monetary measures with a bigger emphasis on the fiscal stimulus. Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) reduced its interest rate from 2.75 to 2.5 in addition to providing a RM 2 billion worth in loans for SMEs, especially those involved in food production.

To encourage companies and SMEs to invest, RM 500 million will be used to fund start-up and early stage Malaysian micro-companies while the Securities Commission will waive fees for enterprises looking for market investment by being listed. These measures aim to limit the supply shock by ensuring that companies will invest and boost their future activities.

Additionally, to increase the liquidity for households, the employee contribution towards the Employee Provident Fund (EPF) has been reduced from 11 per cent to 4 per cent to ensure more cash (estimated at RM 10 billion) in hand for families. This option combined with a financial assistance to low-income household is expected to limit the decrease of national consumption.

As mentioned, the government decided to combine several measures to maximise their fiscal stimulus: deferring taxes, government fees and loan payments as well as a particular package for tourism (one of the most affected sectors) combined with tax exemption on equipment and machineries are examples of targeted measures taken in Malaysia.

Some Keynesian measures have also been implemented to support the national economy.

To support national contractors (and therefore the national consumption and investment), the government will spend RM 2 billion  in infrastructure projects (maintaining roads, bridges, water supplies etc.) with a particular emphasis on the improvement of broadband quality and internet access across the country.

This measure will be combined with the allocation of RM 300 million  in loans for SMEs looking to digitalise or automate their business.

The Covid-19 has place all national economies in an unprecedented situation, which has generated an important economic uncertainty in which classical economic tools must be combined instead of being debated.

 

Uncertainty dominates Malaysia’s property sector

By Poovenraj Kanagaraj

The Covid-19 outbreak has caused a global disruption, causing economies around the world to be under stress which in return has led to industries such as aviation and tourism to be affected from the very start of the pandemic.

In Malaysia, different sectors have already seen the impacts arising from the outbreak. With the Movement Control Order (MCO) in place, the country’s entire economy has been put to test and this includes the property sector.

According to IDEAS senior fellow, Carmelo Ferlito, the property market will be under stress from different perspectives. He points out that projects under construction cannot go ahead under the MCO and with a dominant climate of uncertainty, investments are on hold both for commercial and residential properties.

In recent weeks, tenants of both commercial and residential units have been affected in their capabilities to pay rents. Ferlito points out that this is particularly true for activities within the malls and for individuals who are losing the job and in return will affect landlords as well.

“Such difficulties add on to the structural difficulties experienced by the industry in the past few years, where both the residential and the commercial sector have faced a slowdown,” says Ferlito.

Putrajaya had recently announced three stimulus packages in order to better aid Malaysians as well as businesses in the country, in particular SMEs. Ferlito points out that the stimulus package recently announced is more oriented toward the generality of the public and presents further measures for SMEs.

He further points out that the property market, together with all other industries can enjoy some of the credit facilitations or loan payment deferral which are introduced however, nothing specific is foreseen for the property market

“It has to be said that, according to some studies, the construction sector is the one that has cash enough to stand longer than other sectors,” Ferlito says.

He also cautioned that if the MCO were to last longer than expected, property segment will remain stand still with some projects abandoned for good and some firms will face bankruptcy however the extent of the impact will still very much depend on the MCO duration.

Foo Gee Jen, group managing director of CBRE, who shares a similar sentiment with Ferlito stressed that the property market will not be exempted from a pandemic of this magnitude.

“The property market is known to be lagging behind economic changes, thus there may not be significant changes in the first-half of 2020 while economies around the world are still contemplating and domestic consumption and investment behaviours are unlikely to change immediately either once the MCO is lifted,” Foo says.

He added that the effects would be more evident in the second half and challenging times are to be expected ahead.

Impacts vary according to segments

As for the residential market, Foo says the market has been on the bear run prior to the pandemic and the market is anticipated to remain subdued in short to medium term. Lack of spending confidence and more stringent lending policies are expected to deter residential purchases as well. A similar effect will be seen on new launches and price appreciation as Foo points out, will take a back seat.

CBRE Malaysia managing director, Foo Gee Jen

“By segments, the conventional housing segment could be lesser impacted compared to the stratified properties with higher density intended for tourism and accommodation for expatriates as sharing communal space may be perceived as a risk during this sensitive time,” Foo opines.

“Challenges may be felt first-hand by the mid and lower range housing that caters to the vulnerable B40 and certain portion of M40, especially the self-employed and daily wage earners,”  he added.

He is however optimistic that in the long run, organic drivers such as urbanisation and population growth shall continue to induce stabilising effect on the residential market.

In regards to the office sector, CBRE Malaysia told Business Today that the sector is likely to experience a more minimal adversity in short to medium term since office tenancy by default, has longer lease term. Foo points out that that the MCO does induce organisations to be more agile in their operation and it is an eye-opener to remote work arrangement.

“The greater threat to the office actually lies with the ongoing oil price war in the international market. If the race to bottom persists, another gust of headwinds could await the oil and gas industry in the country. As the industry is one of the nuts and bolts in Malaysia’s economy, it’s downfall will certainly trigger a damaging chain effects in the downstream,” Foo stressed.

Data by CBRE Malaysia shows that occupancy rate of Klang Valley’s office market – which measures 112 million square feet in size – is still hovering slightly above the healthy benchmark of 80 percent. Rental has also remained stable in the past few years as well and there is 10.2 million square feet of office space in the pipeline to be completed in the next two to three years.

“Should the oil and gas industry enter into a downturn, office supply in Klang Valley will come into the picture,” Foo told Business Today.

As for the retail and hotel segments, CBRE Malaysia says malls in sub-prime areas may see increasing vacancy rate and the upcoming ones could expect difficulty in securing tenants. While the services industry contributes to more than 50 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Foo says it is also the likeliest industry to experience longer lasting adversity from the pandemic.

“On the other hand, businesses are staring at a possibility of capacity reduction post-MCO may it be due to labour shortage or mandatory requirement by the authorities,” Foo told Business Today.

The retail and hospitality segments which are in the eye of the storm are expected to foresee a painstakingly slower recovery after the impacts arising from the outbreak subsides.

Foo stressed that e-commerce has to be the breath of fresh air in the gloomy retail and tourism markets where a number of e-commerce platforms have acknowledged surges in their orders for groceries and food deliveries in particular.

“This may be the time for offline retailers to explore omnichannel while hoteliers could undertake enhancement actions such as renovations, upgrade, innovative marketing, collaborations among many others to future proof themselves,” Foo says.

One of Malaysia’s leading mixed developers, Mah Sing, told Business Today as Mah Sing is heavily reliant on technology, their employees are working from home using collaboration tools, which have been implemented companywide for some time now.

Mah Sing founder and managing director, Leong Hoy Kum

Founder and managing director, Leong Hoy Kum pointed out that Mah Sing employees are using online platforms to showcase their products currently with most of their new projects available for viewing via virtual showrooms. “Our property advisors are also available to video chat with potential buyers,” he said.

Furthermore,another segment of the market that will face an inevitable temporary slowdown according to Foo is the industrial segment where industrial sector is foreseen to moderate as well as on both local and foreign fronts.

According to CBRE Malaysia, from a long-run perspective, the industrial sector will continue to be the bright spot in Malaysia’s property market with logistics and warehousing being the silver linings. “The economic fundamentals and the prospects of industrial sector of Malaysia with reference to high value manufacturing, regional logistics and distribution are still very tangible,” Foo says.

Moving forward

CBRE’s managing director, Foo told Business Today there are a few curative and corrective measures that could be considered moving forward, for one, getting the government to bring back another edition of Home Ownership Campaign (HOC) to spur the soft residential market.

He added that the new HOC should be broadened to cover both the primary and secondary markets with indiscriminate rebates for properties for all prices.

“Unsold bumi lots holds back cashflows of developers, there should be simplified mechanism for quicker release of the unsold bumi lots,” Foo stated.

He has also pointed out that recognising a possible higher incidence of project delays after this couple with prevailing residential overhand in which the authorities must assess the demand and supply condition before granting new approvals.

Mah Sing’s Leong also shares a similar sentiment to Foo as he proposes for the continuation of the HOC, not only for ongoing and completed residential projects, but to also extend to commercial developments.

“We hope the government can consider introducing a new HOC scheme with additional incentives such as higher margin of financing for first property, reinstating maximum loan tenure for 45 years, lower interest rate for first property as well as considering the developer interest bearing scheme (DIBS) for first-time homebuyers.

“I would start with a gradual lift up of the MCO, in order to restore economic activities,” Ferlito on the other hand says while expressing that he is quite sceptical on the efficacy of the stimulus package, as it both massive, too general and short-sighted.

“The Government, on the advice from public health authorities, should create a zoning system for production clusters or territories as a basis to gradually allowing employees to return to work and businesses to resume operating,” he added.

However, in terms on how the property market will shape in the second half of the year, Ferlito says he is not very positive as he does not see signs of a different policy.

“The situation is very difficult to predict now. we do not have a clearer picture of the medical situation and signs of easing the MCO, the economy (which is not an it, but a group of he and she) will keep on suffering,” Ferlito stressed.

 

 

 

 

 

Hun Sen bans re-entry of 150 Cambodians from Malaysia amid Covid-19 fear

By Poovenraj Kanagaraj

Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen has banned a flight carrying 150 Cambodians from Malaysia in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus outbreak in the Kingdom.

According to Japanese daily, The Mainichi, the premier in a press conference stated that the decision to turn down the planned return of the Cambodians, who have been working in Malaysia, was for the safety of the country’s population of 15 million.

Sobri Salleh, a Cambodian student from the International Islamic University Malaysia was among the 150 passengers that was denied re-entry today into Cambodia.

“We have informed the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia but there was no answer if we could get another flight back or a refund,” Sobri told Business Today.

He further added that a number of Cambodians among the 150 did not have a valid Visa anymore or money to keep staying, pointing out that buying necessities might become a struggle.

Patrick Lee, legal consultant for the Central Alliance of Labor and Human Rights told Business Today that the ban on the flight was a violation of Article 40 of the Constitution, where it is stated that all Khmer citizens have the right to settle abroad and to return home.

“We heard that there are around eight workers sleeping in the airport because they don’t have enough money to go anywhere else,” Lee said

A news report according to Khmer Times stated that 70 of the passengers due back were fisherman who had lost their jobs and their flights were paid by the fishing company that hired them.

The Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia has also issued a statement in accordance to the Prime Minister’s ban, urging Cambodian workers to not return home.

The statement did not include any form of aid or remuneration from the embassy for the stranded workers.

In early February, the prime minister had personally greeted 400 who had disembarked from the Westerdam cruise ship after two weeks at sea.

The cruise ship previously turned away by such countries as Japan, the Philippines and Thailand over virus fears.

This was seen as a likely show of goodwill to the U.S. and Europe.

Cambodia has recorded up to 115 positive cases with 80 of it being imported.

Hun Sen has also cancelled the upcoming Khmer New Year from April 13 to 15.

Covid-19 update: 80 recoveries, death toll at 63

(Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

The Health Ministry has announced that 80 Covid-19 cases have been discharged bring total number of recoveries to 1,321 with one death.

Total number of deaths from the infection is currently at 63.

However, 170 new cases have been identified bringing number of positive cases to 3,963 with 92 cases in the intensive care unit. 50 out of the 92 are currently on ventilators.

The Health Ministry has also urged for Malaysians residing or working in Singapore to stay on for another two weeks.

 

Allianz Malaysia CEO resigns from Socso

Allianz Malaysia Berhad has confirmed news reports that Zakri Khir has resigned as Chairman of the Social Security Organisation (Socso).

Zakri, who is also Chief Executive Officer of Allianz Malaysia Berhad and Allianz General Insurance Company (Malaysia) Berhad, tendered his resignation to the Minister of Human Resources, Datuk Seri M. Saravanan this morning with the resignation taking immediate effect from April 7.

“I was appointed by the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) to helm Socso as Chairman on October 8 2018 due to my 30-year experience in the insurance industry. I looked at it as doing national service to the country. But with any new government, there will come changes and I am of the opinion that my services are no longer required.

“I have done my best and am grateful for all the support received and that I was given the privilege to serve the government for the last 16 months,” said Zakri.

Renewing hearts and hope

Credit: Freepik
Since performing the country’s first heart transplant, IJN has continued to make strides in giving patients with heart failure a new lease of life

One of the chief concerns for people with heart disease is having their condition develop to the point of requiring a heart transplant. The procedure is usually carried out when a patient has experienced heart failure, when other treatments and interventions have not worked.

Clinical Director of Transplantation and Mechanical Heart Services, Datuk Dr Mohd Nazeri Nordin

While the thought of going under the knife to receive a whole new organ can be daunting, Institut Jantung Negara (IJN) Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon and also Clinical Director of Transplantation and Mechanical Heart Services, Datuk Dr Mohd Nazeri Nordin says it’s a necessary treatment option for some.

“We have much better medication and treatment options for heart patients now; coupled with some lifestyle changes, these can effectively help most patients manage their conditions,” he says. “However, if the heart disease is very severe, a transplant can make a significant difference in prolonging a patient’s life.”

Since carrying out Malaysia’s first heart transplant in 1997, IJN went on perform the country’s first lung transplantation in 2005 and subsequently the first double lung transplantation in October 2007. Capping off all these milestones is the fact that IJN remains the only hospital in Malaysia to offer heart transplantation and mechanical heart implantation surgery.

To date, IJN has successfully performed 23 heart transplant surgeries, 5 lung transplantations and 3 heart-lung transplantations. It’s a number that Dr Mohd Nazeri feels is relatively low when compared to the transplantation rates in other countries.

“At the top transplantation centres in countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, about 50 to 70 heart and lung transplants are performed every year. Here at IJN, we carry out about one or two transplants a year – I think the highest number of surgeries was in 2011, when we performed five heart and lung transplants,” he says.

Aside from a limited number of specialist available to perform transplantations, a main reason for this is the lack of organ donors in Malaysia.

“Donations” that save lives

As reported in the media late last year, over 20,000 Malaysians are currently waiting for donor organs. However, on average, there are only 30 organ donor cases annually.

While this is partly due to Malaysia’s low organ donor rate, another major factor lies in the lack of awareness among family members of people who have pledged to donate their organs. Based on Health Ministry statistics, as of October 2019, around 1.3 percent of the country’s population (432,215 people) are registered as organ donors. However, in almost 80 percent of the cases handled, healthy organs were not retrieved due to opposition from family members.

Dr Mohd Nazeri thinks that this is awareness raising regarding organ donation can play an important role – particularly in highlighting the urgency and need of patients who can benefit from such donors. “It’s not a new concept, the Health Ministry has been carrying out an ongoing campaign for the past 20 years,” he says.

“But we need to further educate potential donors about communicating their wishes to their immediate family members as well. Once a patient is brain dead, it is the family members who have to decide on their behalf.”

On its part, the Health Ministry in November last year unveiled a plan to revamp how it runs organ and tissue procurement services. Among its plans is to streamline the functions of the National Transplant Resource Centre (NTRC) to effectively coordinate all organ and tissue donations upon the death of donors.

At present, the NTRC manages organ donations in Malaysia by maintaining a list of donors and organs available. Dr Mohd Nazeri explains that coordination with NTRC is crucial as a heart or lung transplant usually needs to occur within four hours of organ removal for the donor organ to remain usable.

“It can be quite an intense process,” says Dr Mohd Nazeri.

“First, a team has to go in and carry out an assessment of the organ donor, to see if the organs are suitable, and subsequently retrieve them if they are. This has to be done within two hours at most. Then we have to coordinate with the donor recipient, bring them in, and perform a final check on their suitability as well. And of course, finally, it’s preparing for and performing the surgery itself. So, we’re looking at a team of 20 to 30 personnel to do all of this within the tight time frame we have.”

He adds that another crucial component of this process is more emotional than clinical. “We take care to counsel patients who waiting for organs, and prepare them for all the possible scenarios. It can be quite overwhelming to handle, and they need to be ready to come in for surgery at any moment. But most of all, it’s the waiting that can be tough to handle,” he says.

A little from machines

While transplantation is the ideal solution for end-stage heart and lung disease, IJN has made significant efforts at exploring other forms of treatment for heart failure patients – namely, mechanical systems. “These systems are particularly useful to act as a bridge, while patients wait to receive an organ,” explain Dr Mohd Nazeri. “Some patients are unable to receive heart transplants at all, either due to their specific type of heart condition or other illnesses present such as cancer.”

Here, IJN also boasts of being the first hospital in the country to perform a mechanical heart implantation in 2005. Since then, various state-of-the-art mechanical systems have been introduced for patients suffering from end stage heart disease. These systems offer patients full circulatory support, and are lightweight enough to offer patients the freedom of mobility to continue carrying out their daily activities.

Among the latest in these are the left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

The LVAD is an implantable mechanical pump that helps pump blood from the ventricles to the rest of the body. A control unit and battery pack are worn outside your body and are connected to the LVAD through a port in your skin. While commonly implanted in patients awaiting a full heart transplant, the LVAD has also been proven useful as a long-term treatment option for patients with heart failure who are not good candidates for a heart transplant for various factors such as age and other underlying conditions.

Dr Nazeri shares that the centre has achieved significant success with LVAD implants, even receiving patients from other countries for the procedure. “However, the only problem is that is incurs quite a high cost and not everyone can afford it. The IJN Foundation has helped to sponsor a number patients for the LVAD, but we are definitely open to more funding – this is truly a life-saving procedure,” he says.

Meanwhile, the ECMO is a mechanical circulatory support systems that temporarily takes over the function of lungs and heart for patients experiencing failure in both these organs. Generally, it is used either post-cardiopulmonary bypass or in late stage treatment of a person with profound heart and/or lung failure.

“While the ECMO can help stabilise a patient experiencing heart and lung failure, it does not treat the underlying cause of the patient’s disease or injury,” explains Dr Mohd Nazeri. “But it is one of the most advanced tools we have to support the patient while the doctors work on treating them – it goes a long way in buying us the time we need and minimising risk to the patient as much as possible.”

With more options available to end-stage heart and lung disease patients, Dr Mohd Nazeri reiterates that the diagnosis is not necessarily a life sentence. “There are more advanced treatment methods in development right now, and these have the potential to improve the patient’s quality of life,” he adds.

Cushioning impact through hashtags

Credit: macrovector / Freepik

Business Today Malaysia speaks to Fave Managing Director, Jake Abdullah and founder of DiineOut, Lionel Lau and co-founder of The Other Kitchen, Albert Wong on how their initiatives are helping businesses in the F&B industry to stay afloat

By Poovenraj Kanagaraj

In any given day, businesses in the food and beverage (F&B) industry face daily struggles to keep operations running smoothly. Today, these struggles have amplified, raising questions if the existing players in the industry will be able to have their doors open after the crisis subsides.

Restaurants, in all shapes and sizes in the country are asking themselves a similar question. With the outbreak and the announcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) following suit, restaurants and cafes alike have been seeing close to zero revenue in the last couple of weeks.

However, arising from the crisis are several movements that are hoping to cushion the impact the industry is currently facing with hopes that everyone can come out unscathed after the outbreak subsides.

Digital merchant platform, FAVE have launched the #SaveOurFave movement encouraging consumers to support their favourite merchants by purchasing eCards that could be used at the time of purchase or within the next six months.

“Our goal with the ‘Save Our Fave’ movement is to help cushion the business closures that restaurants and retailers will face over the next few months,” says Fave Managing Director, Jake Abdullah.

FAVE, Managing Director, Jake Abdullah shows his support to local business via his Instagram post

With over 300,000 nationwide restaurants and retailers in Malaysia, 17,000 restaurants and retailers are registered under Fave.

“We have seen many joining the social media movement by posting a picture of what restaurant or service they are missing the most and tagging five other friends to the same along with the hashtag #saveourfave,” Jake told Business Today Malaysia.

The movement has also seen local personalities join in to further encourage Malaysians to support their favourite merchants by purchasing the eCards in order to keep businesses afloat during the crisis.

According to Jake, within the first week of the movement (4th week of March), Fave have seen the eCards sales grow three-fold and the same upward trajectory has since been seen daily as more people continue to join the movement to express their support towards local businesses.

Until the end of April, Fave will not be taking any commissions or cuts from the eCards that merchants are pre-selling on the platform. This will allow merchants to obtain 100 percent of sales until April 30.

“We encourage other platforms to reduce their commissions, so we can all chip in to help ensure restaurants, retailers and businesses do not bear the brunt of the economic damage,” urged Jake.

He further says that more needs to be done for them to help mitigate the situation as well as to address business challenges as most F&B retailers are already trying to salvage the situation in the form of token gestures and paying it forward.

#JomTapau, another movement that came about during the crisis has been seeing a similar traction among Malaysians. The hashtag in Malay meaning ‘Let’s Takeaway’ is an initiative launched by The Other Kitchen, a F&B focused digital marketing agency and DiineOut, a local pioneering online marketplace for unique dining and F&B events,  aiming to help F&B businesses to offer self-pick-up or delivery options to their customers.

The #jomtapau logo

Both firms had come up with an Online Ordering System (OSS) called app’etite which allows restaurant partners to create a simple webpage within just 24 hours to list menu items, images, pickup and delivery options.

Lionel Lau, founder of DiineOut says challenging times call for a change in the way things have been done.

“We know the small eateries as well as local home-grown eateries that are dependent on day-to-day sales for their livelihoods are struggling,” Lau says.

A flat rate of RM 2 per order for the payment processing fee and a two percent transaction fee will be imposed over the transactional fee will be waivered until industry is in a better position.

Co-founder of The Other Kitchen, Albert Wong says they have partnered up with the likes of MrSpeedy and Lalamove as delivery partners and will continue to see more partners come on board as the numbers of F&B businesses listing themselves on app’etite continues to grow as well.

Currently, the number stands at 70 with up to 10 to 15 inquiries coming in from various restaurants on a daily basis.

According to Albert, there have been an increase in deliveries registered by restaurants, estimating a 20 percent jump from a usual day of operations. While the significant jump is unusual for restaurants due to the MCO, the services provided by the team is proving to be an alternative for many currently confined to their homes.

“People are realizing that there are alternatives as not all delivery services can deliver to certain locations due to the shortage of riders,” says Lionel.

While Lionel and his team continue to approach small and local eateries, it is not without its challenges as some eateries have resisted to the changes taking place on the belief that things will go back to normal in a couple of months.

“Delivery is here to stay and it will continue to grow,” Albert tells Business Today Malaysia as he goes on to say that it is the smaller eateries will face the biggest impact.

“What we are trying to do is give them this option and not lose the diverse food options we have out there. It would be a sad day if all we are left with is large chains. You will see a number of players collapse but we will continue to help as many to stay afloat,” says Albert.

 

 

 

 

Mah Sing donates 30,000 masks to Housing Ministry

Mah Sing Group Berhad (Mah Sing), together with its corporate responsibility arm, Mah Sing Foundation (MSF) has donated 30,000 pieces of face masks to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT).

The face masks will be distributed to KPKT in support of the Ministry’s on-going efforts to mitigate the outbreak of Covid-19 through the Public Sanitisation Exercise at hotspot locations in the red and orange zones nationwide particularly the People’s Housing Programme (PPR) located in red zone areas.

Mah Sing’s chief executive officer,Ho Hon Sang presented the donation to KPKT Minister, Hajah Zuraida Kamaruddin at a presentation ceremony held at the Ministry’s office in Putrajaya today.

Mah Sing’s founder and group managing director,  Leong Hoy Kum said “We appreciate KPKT’s Public Sanitisation Exercise to ensure the level of cleanliness of the community across various different segments is well taken care of in respect of the current Movement Control Order.

He further expressed his appreciation to the KPKT front liners’ to provide their services throughout the ongoing crisis.

“We laud the government’s move to introduce the RM10 billion Prihatin Stimulus Package for SMEs as this will certainly ease their financial burden – ensuring the
SMEs continue to support the corporate and economy of the country,” he added.

Together with MSF, Mah Sing has presented a pledge of 20 units of heavy duty critical-care ventilators worth RM3.9million for National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), to front line hospitals in need.

This is part of the Group’s RM4.175 million pledge in support of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, which
includes Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Johor government front liners, whilst 150,000 face masks have been allocated for five government agencies.

PM announces additional RM 10 billion aid

(Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhiyiddin Yassin has announced an additional RM 10 billion to help sustain SMEs and retain employment nationwide.

The announcement made by the PM increases total wage subsidies to RM 13.8 billion, which is expected to benefit 4.8 employees nationwide.

Further measures included special grants worth RM 3,000 that will be offered to micro finance companies. This is expected to benefit up to 700,000 micro SMEs.

Additionally, companies with up to 75 employees will receive RM 1,200 in wage subsidy for each employee while organisations with 76 to 200 employees will receive RM 800 in wage subsidy.

Companies with more than 200 employees will receive wage subsidies of up to RM 600.

The wage subsidies are granted for up to three months and for employers who have registered under SSM before January 1.

The Government has also allocated RM 200 million in order waiver Micro Credit Scheme interest rates from two percent to zero percent while easy loan schemes for micro SMEs will be extended to a limit of RM 10,000 with zero percent interest rate.

SMEs renting in government buildings will either receive rental discounts or be exempted from paying rents.

Putrajaya has also announced a 25 percent levy for foreign workers starting April 1 until the end of the year.

Astro Malaysia confirms one Covid-19 positive employee

(Photo by BILLION LIM / AFP)

According to a news report by Astro Awani, Astro Malaysia has confirmed an employee to be positive of Covid-19 infection after tests were done.

Astro’s spokesperson in a statement stated that the employee stationed in the headquarters was tested positive on April 5th.

The employee is currently receiving treatment in a public hospital.

Following the news of the infected employee, Astro Malaysia is tracing those who had been in close contact with the infected employee.

The Bukit Jalil broadcasting centre has been closed for sanitisation purposes.

AirAsia Foundation launches digital donation drive

AirAsia Foundation has launched a public digital donation drive as part of AirAsia Group’s #InThisTogether campaign to help vulnerable communities impacted by the pandemic.

Donations will be channeled to social enterprises and charities such as Perak State Parks, SEED Foundation and Beyond Borders Malaysia that provide food and medical aid to Orang Asli families, people without permanent shelter and refugees.

The Foundation will also be monitoring the situation of its social enterprise grantees and the community members involved, as many had lost daily subsistence wages as a result of movement restrictions imposed across the region.

“The pandemic has disproportionately affected those who were already socio-economically disadvantaged. Among our grantees, several have reported appeals from community members for food aid. In these extraordinary times, we call for collective action and hope that as many people as possible will give their support,” said AirAsia Foundation Executive Director Yap Mun Ching.

AirAsia will also be redirecting its commercial and transportation channels to provide a lifeline for small businesses.

Other than the Foundation’s fund-raising drive, the Group is also providing e-commerce and delivery solutions via its e-ecommerce platform OURSHOP and Teleport delivery service to bricks-and-mortar businesses.

Enterprise Singapore collaborates with food delivery platforms to aid F&B businesses

Enterprise Singapore have collaborated with three food delivery platforms to launch the Food Delivery Booster Package.

The platforms involved are Deliveroo, foodpanda and GrabFood.

The initiative announce aims to benefit food and beverage businesses in Singapore that are existing operators on as well as new entrants to online food delivery platforms.

Starting from April 7 till May 4, the Food Delivery Booster Package will fund five percentage points of the commission cost charged by the three food delivery platforms.

Additionally, there will be no cap on the qualifying food delivery transaction value.

In order to qualify, food and beverage businesses must be selling food that have been prepared on the premise for immediate consumption.

The initiative will cover small establishments for instance hawker stalls and cafes as well as larger establishments such as restaurants.

Enterprise Singapore is a government agency committed to support Singapore’s small and medium enterprise development.

4 reasons SMEs should embrace cloud collaboration

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By Gibu Mathew, Vice President and GM, Asia Pacific, Zoho Corp

The evolving digital business landscape in the Asia Pacific region is seeing a trend of operations moving into the cloud. Firms are collecting massive quantities of data that requires analysis, protection, and storage. This data brings significant business opportunities along with it.

SMEs, in particular, can utilize this information to achieve a competitive advantage. As suggested by IDC data, smaller enterprises are increasing their investments in IT products and services, indicating that digital transformation spending worldwide will grow steadily throughout the 2019-2023 forecast period, achieving a five-year compound annual growth rate of 17.1 percent.

However, many of these types of businesses still lack the dedicated internal IT support teams required to pursue their business objectives.

Lacking the resources available to large enterprises, smaller companies generally struggle to gain a competitive edge, even as they continue to pursue innovation. However, as researchers note, social media can be a relatively cost-effective way for these companies to create brand awareness and pursue innovation, increasing their website traffic and sales.

That depends, of course, on whether these businesses can overcome the potential technological challenges facing IT teams, like providing employees with the mobile devices and cloud applications necessary to facilitate collaboration.

Cloud collaboration tools in particular help internal teams become more creative and engaged when developing solutions for increasing revenue.

The increased accessibility of data across multiple devices also allows for improved mobility of business processes, since approvals and decisions can be made more quickly.

Because of their direct engagement with customers, sales and customer support staff typically have access to customer information that isn’t always available to marketing.

On the other hand, marketing may be developing their campaigns without keeping sales teams in the loop. When sales and marketing teams are able to collaborate, they can greatly improve a company’s ability to make informed decisions.

The sales team can share live feedback with marketers to improve new content in real time, and other internal teams can quickly access up-to-date lead information remotely. With cloud tools, IT admins gain more control over access rights for legitimate users, which facilitates stronger data security.

 Among the clear benefits of adopting cloud collaboration solutions, four key reasons stand out for any organization undergoing transformation projects:

1) The Cloud benefits organizations with limited budgets

In the past, IT has been a differentiator for large enterprises that could afford to invest in software, hardware, and ongoing maintenance.

Over time, IT departments have evolved to embrace cloud software. For SMEs, adopting SaaS solutions helps bridge the gap in IT resources.

When seeking to minimize IT costs, businesses have become more resourceful in leveraging cloud platforms, as they avoid the huge upfront cost that comes with on-premises ERP systems.

 2) Cloud collaboration tools reduce complexities

Traditional on-premise office productivity tools are cumbersome to install, maintain, and update—in terms of both licensing and software upgrades.

Cloud collaboration tools, on the other hand, make solutions more accessible to employees and require less IT oversight. As the priorities of a business evolve, cloud solutions require less adjustments to meet changing needs.

Cloud platforms also offer greater stability over time, since software upgrades are taken care of by the vendor, allowing business owners to focus on higher priority tasks.

3) Integrating third-party software is simpler when data is in the cloud

When products that you use on a day-to-day basis are integrated, productivity and usability increases, boosting their combined value.

In the past, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)—which are critical for integrating tools from different vendors—were hard to acquire or even non-compatible, and integrating different software solutions involved in one business process required highly paid consultants to get working.

Today’s cloud collaboration tools are much less complex with much more open architecture that encourages integration between diverse platforms and products.

4) The interface will match employees’ experiences with consumer tech

Consumer technologies and social media platforms, like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are part of the lifestyle of Asia’s young workforce. So, it is no surprise that at work, employees work better when their business software provides a comparable experience. With the right tools for collaboration, employees will be empowered and motivated to be more productive.

 

For businesses that want to stand out in a highly competitive environment, the cloud is the way forward. The benefits of these tools will be felt long into the future as the business world continues to become more mobile.

 

 

 

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Bank Negara urges financial institutions to treat climate risk like any other financial risk

AFP PHOTO (Photo by STR / AFP)

By Poovenraj Kanagaraj

Bank Negara Malaysia continues to highlight the growing intensity and frequency of climate-related events that are increasingly posing physical and liability risk to the economy.

According to BNM, the country has experienced more than 50 natural disasters, affecting more than three million people through displacements, injury and death.

Between 1998 and 2018, the Malaysian economy suffered a total damage of RM 8 billion due to climate-related events.

Source : BNM Annual Report 2019


The central bank stated that immediate transition towards a greener future will put jobs and industries at risks and changes in policy, technology and market changes without caution can affect asset valuations and significantly increase business risks in the coal and energy industries for instance.

Source : BNM Annual Report 2019

BNM has also pointed out that the banks, insurance and takaful operators are also exposed to liability risks, asset impairment and rising claims.

“With about 11.7 percent of their assets in sectors potentially exposed to climate change, it is important that the Malaysian financial institution treat climate risk like any other financial risk which has the potential to affect their profitability and balance sheets  that in turn may affect the ability of financial institutions in raising funds,” the central bank stated.

Source : BNM Annual Report 2019

“A recent example is the prolonged drought last year which led to supply disruptions in palm oil production and had a visible impact on the growth of the Malaysian economy particularly in the fourth quarter of 2019,” BNM stated.

The central bank late last year issued the Climate Change and Principled based Taxonomy Discussion Paper to solicit feedback on the classification of assets associated with fun raising and investment activities in,  based on their exposure to climate risk.

According to BNM, taxonomy, backed with better date and insights into climate-related risks, it is expected to increase financial flows to activities that will support the transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy.

The central bank has partnered with Putrajaya, industry and other domestic regulators in responding to climate risk. September last year saw the central bank and Securities Commission Malaysia establish the Joint Committee on Climate Change (JC3) to drive and coordinate the financial industry’s collective response to climate risks.

Furthermore, BNM is also part of the Malaysian Green Financing Taskforce,which is chaired by Securities Commission Malaysia to spur private sector financing in the renewable energy sector.

 

Kwasa Land appoints Hafiz Kassim as managing director designate

Kwasa Land has appointed Mohamad Hafiz Kassim as its managing director designate effective April 1.

The wholly-owned subsidiary of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) new managing director will lead Kwasa Land’s strategy and execution of the company’s role as a master developer of Kwasa Damansara, a 2,300-acre mixed development covering residential, commercial, educational and recreational offerings.

Kassim first joined EPF in 2008, taking on several leadership roles within the Investment Division and will continue to lead EPF’s real estate investment team.

Bringing with him over 20 years of experience, Kassim’s focus has been on real estate, capital markets, private equity, financial services and accounting.

The role was previously held by Mohd Lotfy Mohd Noh who retired end of March 2020.

Philips escalates production to meet demand in coronavirus fight

Business Today through an email interview with Philips, the Dutch health technology company, finds out their efforts in managing production of critical care products and solutions during this challenging time.

By Sharon Chang

The shortage of ventilators is inevitable. Runaway demand for ventilators has laid bare the grim reality for healthcare professionals who need them to treat patients impacted with the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.

“While we acknowledge that there is an unprecedented global demand for medical equipment to help diagnose and treat patients with the virus, we have also put in protocols to ramp up efforts to meet these demands,” Philips says in an emailed response to questions from Business Today.

“As a global leader in health technology, our effort is to prioritise increasing the production of certain critical care products and solutions.

“We are working around the clock to double our hospital ventilator production within the next eight weeks and are aiming for a four-fold increase by the third quarter.”

Given the circumstances, such as shortage of parts due to the disruption of the supply chain and the lockdown implementation, Philips says they are working closely with their suppliers to secure materials supply to feed the increased production at their manufacturing facilities.

In addition, Philips is leveraging on its innovation capabilities to re-purpose adjacent product ranges and, also, engaging with third party contract manufacturers to address the increased demand.

“Furthermore, we are also hiring additional manufacturing employees and adding manufacturing lines and increasing the current work shifts to 24/7 shifts,” it says.

Philips says that currently, the most needed products are patient hospital (portable) ventilators and medical consumables for non-invasive and invasive ventilation to treat a broad range of respiratory conditions.

Meanwhile, Philips is hoping to increase production of other equipment critical in the fight against Covid-19, such as vital signs monitors, diagnostic imaging systems and software solutions for hospitals to monitor and manage patients in intensive care units.

“These will help our frontline medical teams address the preparedness, response and recovery needs from diagnosing to assessment of respiratory conditions,” it explains

In a response to questions, Philips says, “For a more data-driven and connected approach, we will explore how we can leverage our hospital telehealth solutions to centrally monitor and manage patients in the intensive care unit (Philips eICU program), and solutions to connect caregivers and patients at home.”

Philips adds that their ventilators are designed to be easy-to-use and simple to maintain.

The intuitive, graphical user interfaces and menus are created to simplify ventilator set-up and boost productivity. Advanced, automated features, such as mask auto-calibration, can save time, and built-in monitoring alerts you to patients’ changing conditions.

Together, these advances can help to improve workflow.

“Backed by our deep clinical knowledge, our hospital ventilators and masks are developed using only high-quality parts,” Philips shares, adding that their ventilators, patient-friendly masks and accessories deliver non-invasive ventilation (NIV).

Government needs to act

In line with the recent call to action by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and World Health Organization (WHO), Philips says they are calling on governments to facilitate enhanced access to critical materials and components by not imposing restrictions such as export controls and tariffs.

“Besides, the government must also provide help to accelerate logistics, as well as exemptions for critical suppliers from lockdown measures,” it says.

Critical medical equipment, such as hospital ventilators and patient monitors, should be made available across the world, Philips believes, adding that priority should be given to those communities and countries which need them the most,

And most importantly, use a fair and ethical approach to allocate supply to acute patient demands based on data such as the Covid-19 risk-classification of a country/region.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Despite these turbulent times, the company has been able to continue its global business operations and serve its customers, according to Philips.

However, the impact of the outbreak on public life and industry in the most affected regions is resulting in a decreased demand for Philips’ consumer portfolio and is affecting Philips’ global supply chains.

While this is expected to have a negative impact on the financial performance in the first half of 2020, the company cannot quantify the magnitude and duration of such impact at this time given the continued fluidity of the situation.

Philips continues to monitor and assess its business operations daily and will provide an update as appropriate.

Digitising the path ahead

Business Today Malaysia interviews Bryan Boo, Pet Lovers Centre, operations director on how the biggest pet retail chain has adopted digitisation and discusses their strategies moving forward

By Poovenraj Kanagaraj

“Our business strategy is focused on targeting the middle class groups who frequent malls and those that are hands-on with their pets and are interested in learning more on how to care for their furry best friends,” operations director, Bryan Boo told Business Today Malaysia.

Known as the biggest pet retail in the country, Pet Lovers Centre (PLC) is a household name that has since achieved over 53 store openings since its flagship store back in 2016. And with rapid expansion brings about opportunities and with it, comes challenges.

Tackling challenges 

PLC, like many of its counterparts are facing an increasing need for storage as spatial need proves to be a burden for traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and many stores and malls are facing stiff competition for rapid footfall to meet a quota of customers per day.

Pet Lovers Centre, Operations Director, Bryan Boo

“There is a pressing concern on the freshness of stock and PLC aims to reassure that we have a robust protocol for ensuring that our customers get the freshest and best from the range,” Bryan said.

However, a pet retail chain has a few advantages on being at a bigger capacity operations-wise to store food and keep track of the expiration date through a meticulous tracking system both online and offline.

Bryan further states that a higher inventory turnover rate ensures that a retail store sells its average investment locked up in inventory during a particular period of time and generates employee morale which leads to higher loyal customer conversion rate and improves the image of the store.

When it comes to guarding against losses from product perishability, PLC practices the  ‘first-in-first-out’ method (FIFO) which ensure that product expiration is stringently followed through according to the dates.

“Product perishability is a possibility that every business must plan for and comprehend. As mentioned, PLC has a standard protocol where we check for the product’s freshness every month and the automated system for weekly deliveries to stores,” Bryan pointed out.

Providing a more holistic experience

PLC believes in becoming the centre that provides the best for pet needs and for the convenience of owners around the country. The opening of it’s Ikano Power Centre mall (IPC)  flagship store, The Pet Safari (TPS) later this year, is aimed to serve as an extension of the PLC stores which features specialised themes suited towards the needs of pet owners.

Through this space, the brand will be working together with longtime partner, PAWS Animal Welfare Group, to provide potential owners with a one-stop centre for their adoption needs ranging from available stray animals to be adopted, food, hygiene products and starter kits to help these owners ease themselves into their new roles.

At MyTown, TPS focuses on a garage theme and provides additional services would benefit both the owners and pets. PLC believes these add-ons diversify offerings at the store which includes a pet bakery, small animal grooming section and a vet pharmacy among others.

The pet retail brand is also planning to venture further into pet care which will include pet insurance, pet cremation, a vet pharmacy in Klang Valley, pet relocation services, a dog training centre and a daycare centre for pets.

Digitisation, partnerships and strategies moving forward

According to PLC, digitisation is giving leverage to technological advancements such as high-tech toys and veterinary applications which showcases the information about health and welfare and this will further equip pet owners with the information to afford better care for their pets.

“We are seeing more and more NGOs utilise social media and the voices of these passionate individuals to preach for the need for adoption. This ensures that the message of adoption is propagated,” Bryan told Business Today Malaysia.

He further pointed out that the increase in demand for better quality products along with the ease of information available in the digital streams will be a part of the ability for the pet sector to move forward.

“In line with increasing digitisation, partnerships with e-Commerce sites will be beneficial to improve brand accessibility,” said Bryan.

Beyond its brick-and-mortar presence, PLC is innovating itself into adopting omni-channel marketing via social media and building partnerships with e-Commerce applications such as HappyFresh.

“We also foresee that there will be a rise in pet-friendly apartments and high-rise buildings, pet inclusive homes becomes trendy and many property developers – in a bid to remain on top of their competition – will offer this feature as a way to appeal to this trend,” said Bryan.

This will lead to more pet-friendly homes where interior designing will take centre stage as owners are looking towards integrated designs such as decorative litter boxes with sustainable litter which is eco-beneficial.

“PLC has continuously emphasised on a strategy to expand and have more stores within the malls because it improves the economies of scale, as there were no other pet shops penetrating the malls back when we were just getting started. Till this day, it has remained one of our key strategies,” Bryan told Business Today Malaysia.

Malaysia in 2020: Navigating Overlapping Shocks

A man wears a facemask, amid fears over the spread of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus, at Saloma Link Bridge in Kuala Lumpur on March 12, 2020. (Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

By Firas Raad

World Bank Country Manager for Malaysia

Malaysia is no stranger to external shocks affecting its macroeconomy. Over the past two decades, it was buffeted by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis (AFC), the 2001 global slowdown after 9/11 and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, each shock affecting the Malaysian economy in different ways.

The first one resulted in the steepest economic contraction in Malaysia’s history – reversing growth to negative 7.35 percent in 1998. The country surmounted this massive crisis through prudent policy-making and drew important lessons to protect itself from the latter two economic shocks.

This latest global COVID-19 crisis is particularly unique given the context in which it emerged and the dual threats it poses to states and societies across the world. Before COVID-19’s global spread during the last two months, economic growth in almost all countries had already slowed on the back of trade tensions between the United States and China.

Against this softening economic backdrop entered the COVID-19 virus. What began as a localized epidemic in Wuhan, China has now transformed into an international public health crisis and an international economic crisis creating supply shocks and demand shocks in over 180 countries. Amidst this unfolding global pandemic, international oil prices, too, began to plummet in early March adding additional fiscal pressure on oil-producing countries including Malaysia.

World bank Group Global Knowledge and Research Hub in Malaysia country Manager Dr. Firas Raad (Pics by Hussein Shaharuddin/TMR)

The public health shock created by COVID-19 first evolved slowly and then expanded rapidly in March of the year. Within four weeks after February 27, the cumulative number of infections skyrocketed upwards to 2,766 confirmed cases, and there were 43 deaths and 537 recoveries (as of March 31).

These trends are already placing the Malaysian health system, particularly the public hospitals, under considerable strain. A third ‘tsunami wave’ in the words of MOH Director-General Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah, if not prevented through more expanded testing, case isolation and enforcement of public compliance, could easily flood Malaysian healthcare facilities and result in numerous fatalities not least among the elderly and persons with chronic health conditions.

COVID-19’s shock to the Malaysian economy has deepened with the mounting public health crisis. Initially, the effects of the crisis were felt in the electrical and electronic products (E&E) sector which is closely tied to the Chinese market; and in the tourism and retail sectors due to a significant drop in incoming tourists.

These effects widened recently resulting in broad-based disruption to all economic activities in the country including the financial and currency markets.

Looking forward, recent projections by the World Bank indicate that substantial economic pain will be inescapable in all countries in the region. In our latest regional economic update East Asia and Pacific in the Time of COVID-19 launched earlier this week, economic growth in developing East Asia and Pacific countries is estimated to slow to 2.1 percent in 2020 under a base case scenario; and to negative 0.5 percent in a lower-case scenario.

For Malaysia, economic growth in 2020 is forecasted to drop to negative 0.1 percent under the base case and negative 4.6 percent under the lower-case scenario.

Along with significant economic retrenchment, the global pandemic will have a large impact on poverty in the region with 24 million fewer people escaping poverty in 2020 under the base case scenario than was forecasted in the pre-COVID-19 projections.

These estimates were generated under continuously changing conditions and based on available data as of March 27.

The World Bank update urges countries to take immediate action to strengthen containment, to boost healthcare capacity and to implement targeted economic measures to lessen the impact on Malaysian households, businesses and workers including the injection of greater liquidity and repayment flexibility into the financial sector.

The report also promotes the importance of countries adopting an integrated approach towards containment and macroeconomic policies, and international cooperation and public-private partnerships to ensure the production and supply of key medical supplies across international borders.

In line with these recommendations, the Malaysian Government issued two economic stimulus packages and placed the country under a ‘Movement Control Order’ (MCO) for an initial two weeks – now extended to mid-April. The MCO, through banning public gatherings and mandating home-based learning and work for all students and workers (except those involved in essential services), seeks to limit further widespread diffusion of the virus.

Public compliance with MOH testing policies and movement restrictions will be crucial to preventing a new and sweeping wave of infections from gathering momentum.

The economic stimulus packages, on balance, contain the right elements for mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The second and larger economic package announced on March 27, rightly prioritizes supporting front-line workers in the healthcare system and purchasing medical supplies.

It also contains important additional measures to protect the income of vulnerable Malaysian households through cash transfers, help individuals and businesses smoothen out their debt repayments, and provide support and wage subsidies to Malaysian businesses. The goal of the wage subsidy measure is to encourage struggling companies in the private sector to retain their employees during this downturn.

Although this second package is prescribing the right economic medicine for the COVID-19 crisis, there may be questions about gaps in the medication and the appropriate dosage of some of the measures.

Specifically, how best to support medium-sized, small and micro-enterprises will require further thinking and action, and the relatively modest size of the wage subsidy may prove insufficient to prevent job layoffs by firms in weaker financial positions. If the public health crisis continues unabated and requires an extension of movement restrictions, a third economic stimulus may be necessary.

In retrospect and taking the long view, Malaysia has seen many economic crises in its day. With enough determination, clear-eyed thinking,careful policymaking – and capitalizing on its prior experiences – it will be able to weather this unusual storm.

Celebrate The Best Of Malaysia’s Tech Ecosystem

Malaysia Tech Week 2019 (MTW19) is a city-wide festival of industry driven events that will congregate the best of Malaysian corporates, ecosystem partners, investors, regulators and tech start-ups along with delegations from around the world to the tech hub of Southeast Asia.

Knowledge Group, together with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and other partners will be organising the nation’s first Malaysia Tech Week from 17th to 21st June 2019.

MTW19 is a 5-day event which will feature a variety of activities, such as innovation showcases, business matching opportunities, pitching platforms, and access to Malaysia’s tech ecosystem network.

This event also offers experiential engagement in a casual setting with an abundance of networking opportunities for all participants.

“Malaysia, with its strategic location and diverse culture, has long been a favoured tech foreign investment destination in the Southeast Asia region,” says Surina Shukri, CEO of MDEC.

“We are a nation with a rapid-growing tech ecosystem that has so much to offer the world. With that, we would like to welcome tech start-ups, companies, investors and more from all over the world to come witness what Malaysia has to offer right here at MTW19!”

In conjunction with MTW19, the Central Bank of Malaysia (BNM) will also host MyFintech Week (MyFW), an event that brings together the industry movers and shakers in the fields of finance and technology for meaningful exchanges to shape the future of financial services.

 

Heineken Embarks On Ambitious 2030 ESG Goals

With the ever rising concern on climate change, many corporations are slowly awakening to a reality whereby more needs to be done especially from bigger organisations in addressing issues related to sustainability and the environment. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) is a charter developed precisely for this purpose, governments and companies can refer to the 17 goals listed as a guiding point for their own initiatives in keeping climate change in check.

The ESG or Environment, Sustainability and Governance adherence were one of the derivation that prompted public listed entities to embark on, as part of their contribution towards balancing profits and corporate responsiility. Heineken a progressive beverage company which had its Brew A Better World program in 2009 is now expanding the initiative with the 2030 Brew a Better World campaign that is seeking to ambitiously commit at driving a positive impact on ESG and the responsible consumption of alcohol.

“For over 150 years, we’ve been passionate about making a positive impact on the world around us. We know that we can only thrive if our people, the planet and the communities around us thrive,” said HEINEKEN’s CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board Dolf van den Brink. Among the initiatives will include, Carbon neutrality, the company will step-up its ambition to decarbonise its production by 2030 and its full value chain by 2040. As part of this effort, the company aims to cut its overall emissions2 by 30% by 2030. It will also implement a Zero waste policy, pledging to eliminate sending waste to landfills from its 166 production sites by 2025. With 90% of its products using water, Heineken will further reduce its average water usage to 2.6 hectoliters per hectoliter (hl/hl) in water stressed areas and 2.9 hl/hl worldwide. The company will also fully balance its water used in products in water-stressed areas as it is doing in Mexico, Spain, Egypt and here in Malaysia.

On issues of diversity, by 2023, 65% of country leadership teams in each region will be comprised of regional
nationals with the aim of enhancing cultural diversity and local leadership representation. Also all managers globally will be trained in inclusive leadership practices with the aim of ensuring all of its more than 80,000 global employees feel a deep sense of belonging. In support of its inclusion commitments, it recently signed France’s most respected LGBT+ inclusion charter. This will also include on the wage equality idea, whereby Heineken will be implementing the concept across the operation countries.

In Malaysia, Roland Bala, Managing Director of Heineken Malaysia Berhad, commented: “As a responsible and progressive brewer, we are committed to Brew A Better World. On the local front, we will be pursuing initiatives that enable us to meet our 2030 global commitments, expanding our use of renewable energy, improving water efficiency, maintaining our achievement in fully balancing the water used in our production, advocating responsible consumption, as well as bringing positive social impact to our communities.”


We Forgot Water In The Food Security Equation

By Ameen Kamal,

A closer look at the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2020 shows how Malaysia’s waters and water resources are significantly at risk, jeopardising Malaysia’s ability to improve its self-sufficiency in food security. This is an outcome of Malaysia’s incumbent economic practices, and the situation calls for better water resource protection and management, and ultimately, the nationwide implementation of circular economy.

As concisely put by The Economist, “water security is food security”, and “managing water resources shapes how we feed the world today and in the future”. In this regard, we should be worried. Malaysia scored “very weak” at a mere 18.5 per cent in the “oceans, rivers and lakes” indicator, which is critically below the world average score of 60.4 per cent.

Relatedly, Malaysia received a qualitative rating of zero for a sub indicator on the risk of eutrophication, which is the enrichment of a body of water with nutrients, causing negative ecosystem change such as depletion of aquatic life and the worsening of water quality.

Starting with rivers, eutrophication isn’t a surprising outcome given that the biggest contributor to the pollution of Malaysia’s rivers are piggeries (pig farms) and sewage treatment plants (STP), both contributing to the highest pollutants in the form of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and suspended solids, according to a research paper by Chai Lee Goi published in the journal of Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering.

High BOD is usually a result of high organic waste. Aerobic decomposition of organic material decreases dissolved oxygen (DO) and may release nutrients, which feeds in the growth of algae and aquatic plants, which further decreases DO, resulting in death of fishes and other marine animal, effectively reducing biodiversity. The polluted water and reduced marine life are a triple-whammy impacting water, food, and ecological security simultaneously.

Under the “water” indicator, Malaysia scored 40 per cent, which is by definition considered borderline “weak” and well below the world average score of 60.4 per cent. Pollution of rivers and lakes may have consequently led to Malaysia receiving the highest risk rating of 5 for the “agriculture water quality risk” indicator, against a world average risk rating of 3.3, giving Malaysia another zero score.

This is a worrying observation as researchers have mentioned that 98 per cent of the total water use originates from the rivers. As more and more rivers transform into polluted status, Malaysia’s ability to produce food through its agriculture sector would be critically impacted given that 70 per cent of the water resources in the country are for the agricultural industry, according to researchers.

Chai’s compiled data from the Malaysian Environmental Quality Report 2017 showed that more than half of Malaysia’s rivers are not categorised as “clean”, and that the percentage of clean rivers was declining. From a total of 477 supervised rivers, a total of 219 (46 per cent) were considered clean, 207 (43 per cent) were deemed to be slightly polluted and 51 (11 per cent) were categorised as polluted.

Malaysia also received a “weak” 37 per cent sub indicator score on marine diversity, which, even though is only slightly below the global average score, is still a low score and could be attributed to extreme eutrophication of Malaysia’s rivers flowing into our oceans, perhaps compounded with unsustainable fishing practices and on top of pollution, particularly from plastics.

In a 2019 study commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Malaysia was reported to have the highest annual plastic use per capita at 16.78 kg per person, ahead of China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The Race for Water foundation referenced a 2010 study by Jenna R. Jambeck’s, which estimated Malaysia as the fifth biggest plastic polluter of the ocean globally, and number eighth worst in the world in managing plastic waste.

So, not only our polluted rivers are secreting eutrophication-causing pollutants and suspended solids, but it is also spewing out vast amounts of plastic waste into the ocean. According seafood industry portal for transparent and sustainable aquaculture and fishery supply chains, Seafood TIP, mentioned that fisheries and aquaculture are considered important for domestic food production and as a source of employment for coastal communities in Malaysia. It has been reported that Malaysia imports a lot of seafood, therefore, deteriorating oceans would severely impact marine food self-sufficiency level.

Water resource security issues due to increasing pollution are exacerbated by growing demand due to population growth, economic activities, and climate-change related changes in water supply. In fact, GFSI views Malaysia as having absolutely no safety net against climate-change related adaptation measures for food safety.

Malaysia received yet another zero rating for the sub indicator of climate-change related measures in GFSI, which involves the development and/or investments in “early-warning measures” and “climate-smart” agriculture practices, which would in turn explain another zero rating for national agriculture adaptation policy, which is an assessment on national climate change strategy which covers adaptation for agriculture and/or food security.

Therefore, it is clear that this goes beyond water security and water resource management. This calls for the internalisation and practice of circular economy across all sectors to minimise waste, and improve natural resource utilisation and resilience, which will require a change in the economic system spanning technology, infrastructure, policies, regulations and enforcements, society-wide awareness and participation.

Under the GFSI, Malaysia’s highest number of indicators that performed poorly with the best-performing countries in the Asia Pacific region are indicators under the dimension of “natural resource and resilience” (which is also a dimension that is proving difficult for even well-performing countries), as elucidated by Datuk Dr. Rais Hussin and Dr Margarita Peredaryenko in the article “Macro outlook on Malaysia’s food security insecurities”.

In the context of water resources, circular economy practices should also be applied across all sectors, particularly the major polluting industries. Chai referenced data from a report released by the Department of Environment (DOE) in 2018 which showed manufacturing industries, agricultural-based industries, STPs, piggeries and wet markets as the top five sources of pollution load.

STPs may require technological upgrades to minimise the level of organic and suspended solid waste to river streams. From the context of water resource security in relation to food security, application of circular economy practices in agriculture and animal husbandry are necessary to reduce pollution in waterways.

Despite the complexities of supply chains, circular economy and water security complements one another and is mutually benefitting. In fact, French transnational company focussing on ecological transformation, Veolia, proposes for an integrated water, waste, and energy approach in the circular economy, whereby water is central to the equation.

For the plastic-related manufacturing industry, WWF released a report in September 2020 proposing the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for Malaysia as a policy tool to promote accountability of plastic products and packaging manufacturers in the end-of-life impacts of their products, which is a crucial step towards reducing plastic waste in the oceans, landfills and incinerators and therefore, a necessary step towards circular plastics economy.

Local agencies such as the Malaysian Green Technology Corporation, which has proposed and supported EPR schemes before, should consider collaborations with organisations such as Circular Economy Asia, which has been pushing for projects such as “Waste-as-a-Resource” and “The Asian Plastics & Packaging Agreement” in Malaysia, but have not gained the traction it deserves.

The manufacturing industry should also embark on circular metals industry, together with the metal and mineral mining industry, which is in line with Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s call for sustainable development of mineral industry when launching the National Mineral Industry Transformation Plan 2021-2030 on April 22, as reported by Bernama.

In addition to being a central component to food security, our waters and water resources are an important part of the ecology, home to wildlife, micro-climate regulation, use in homes and industries, generation of hydroelectricity, flood mitigation, tourism and many more. It’s time to realise this as a serious national security issue, which requires it to be addressed via careful management alongside the application and enforcement of circular economy across all sectors.

Ameen Kamal is the Head of Science & Technology at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

CITF And Facebook Malaysia Team Up To Boost Awareness On Vaccine Uptake

The Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) and Facebook Malaysia have revealed a series of new initiatives to provide authoritative information on the Covid-19 vaccine and to strengthen educational efforts to boost vaccination confidence among the public. 

This new campaign is focused on tackling misinformation, connecting people to accurate and authoritative information as well as supporting the Covid-19 vaccination rollout. 

Facebook with over two billion users has been an instrumental medium in helping Malaysia to deliver public health messages throughout the pandemic. 

This time, Facebook will launch a digital campaign with the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to minimise the health misinformation among the Facebook community.

Among the initiatives is to include a feed reminder that aims to bust myths around Covid-19 focused on side effects of vaccination and feature generic tips such as Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) reminder. 

Apart from that, they will begin connecting people on Facebook to local resources in Malaysia with information on who is eligible for the vaccine and how to get an appointment starting this week. 

The WhatsApp Chatbot also will reach people on WhatsApp to promote vaccine education, scheduling and follow-up reminders. 

Khairy  Jamaluddin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation said, “Despite the vaccination rollout, many are still in the ‘wait and see’ stage to get themselves registered for the vaccine, and people  are turning to online news and social media to find information and share with family and friends.”  

This initiative will boost awareness and connect people to credible information on Covid-19 vaccines that contributes to the success of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK). 

“The success of PICK is critical in ensuring a faster recovery of our country’s economy when social and economic activities can be less stringent and can open up once again,” he added.  

Meanwhile, Justin Murugaya, Acting Country Director, Facebook Malaysia said, “By working closely with CITF and using our scale and speed to reach people, we are doing our  part to help educate the public and provide accessibility to credible information helping to build  trust and encourage more people to come forward, register and receive Covid-19 vaccines.” 

This initiative is in conjunction with World Immunisation Week. The priority for CITF is to ensure Malaysia achieves the desired herd immunity level by December 2021 where at least 70 percent of the population are vaccinated against the virus.

Trinity Group To Roll Out RM1 Billion Worth Projects Coming One Year

Property developer Trinity Group aims to roll out RM1 billion worth of new projects in the next one year. With three upcoming property projects in the pipeline – two in Ampang North and one in Bandar Kinrara, Trinity Group looks to grow its presence in more locations in the Klang Valley beyond its stronghold in Puchong and Bukit Jalil.

“While we remain cautious, we are nonetheless optimistic as industry data has shown sustained interest in certain sections of the market especially from young and first-time property buyers. With a relatively large segment of Malaysia’s population under the age of 40, the formation of new households remains strong,” said Dato’ Neoh Soo Keat, Founder and Managing Director of Trinity Group.

“We see this as a great opportunity to fill the gap and demand for affordable lifestyle-oriented homes by moving forward with a number of projects in strategic locations to meet the market demand. It’s certainly a calculated move with 80% of our projects over the next one year priced below RM650,000 per unit with a key focus in delivering value-driven properties. We will specifically target buyers under 35 years, a majority of whom are first-time homeowners,” he added.

While acknowledging a challenging market environment, Dato’ Neoh said that Trinity Group remains confident that demand for the group’s projects will meet the interest of buyers, driven by strategic location, attractive price-points and compelling concepts featuring innovative designs and layouts.

One such upcoming development by the group is Trinity Wellnessa in Beverly Heights, Ampang North. Targeted for launch in July 2021, Trinity Wellnessa is a 3.9-acre condominium project offering buyers a wholesome and holistic living experience with a strong focus on wellness and protection in terms of wellness features, smart design and efficient layouts. Meanwhile, Trinity Group is also slated to launch two projects next year, namely Trinity Enlivea, also in Ampang North and a mixed development in Bandar Kinrara. Combined, these three projects constitute an estimated Gross Development Value of about RM 1 billion.

“What differentiates Trinity’s upcoming developments are our innovative wellness and multi-layer protection concepts, as consumers will see during the launch of projects like Trinity Wellnessa and Trinity Enlivea. These USPs are already starting to create significant buzz in the industry and interest from prospective buyers,” said Dato’ Neoh.

“As a boutique developer, our game plan moving forward is being agile, prudent and demand-centric in a competitive market. Above all, we will continue to stay true to our brand value of developing projects that delivers true value to our customers, with timely delivery of these projects, which is reflected in our track record,” he added. 

Since its inception in 2004, Trinity Group has charted notable success stories in the Klang Valley with an impressive portfolio of iconic residential and industrial developments that scale new heights in innovative, elegant and affordable urban living using cutting-edge modern trends to enhance the lives of buyers of its projects and the community at large, true to its mantra of “Building Communities, Enriching Lives.”

Lagenda Properties Launches Privilege Club To Give Back To The Community

Affordable homes developer, Lagenda Properties is intent on addressing the underserved B40 segment and giving back to the community.

As one of its many community focused initiatives, Lagenda Properties has recently launched the Lagenda Privilege Club that aims to “give back” to the community through savings. The incentives include additional 3% rebates in house prices, and RM1,500 referral rewards.

“Word of mouth and referrals have been a powerful way in which our buyers encourage friends and families to stay in an environment that promotes wellbeing and quality lifestyle. Therefore, the Privilege Club’s rewards are a meaningful and tangible way to reward Lagenda homeowners as many influence others to acquire Lagenda’s properties. Community living depends largely on building an ecosystem of trust as well, and giving equal opportunity to everyone, despite their economic circumstances,” Dato Jimmy Doh, Managing Director at Lagenda Properties said.

“We are working closely with national sportsmen Datuk Misbun Sidek and Dollah Salleh to help us steer the community development. Datuk Misbun was spotted as an early talent in his childhood and was given a chance to train at the best facilities in Kuala Lumpur. We would like to emulate this and give opportunities in the form of sports clinics and local competitions to encourage the community towards active, healthy living as well as to hone young talents,” he further added.

At the launch event of the Lagenda Privilege Club national badminton champion Misbun Sidek said “I’m very pleased to be a part of such a beneficial initiative. Lagenda goes the extra mile, providing so much more, which is unheard of, in the usually basic, affordable segment. This agenda of championing the underserved is important to me, as people’s matters are close to my heart.”

Dollah Salleh went on to add “In addressing sedentary habits brought on by lockdowns, Lagenda has demonstrated an eagerness to promote active lifestyles to homeowners and I am keen to do more for the community here. The Privilege Club is a welcome bonus that gives back to the community, this will certainly make a difference for the B40 segment.”

“Affordable does not have to mean ‘no-frills. We are happy to give more to our buyers and reward them with additional perks. We find that this segment of people truly appreciates such benefits as it makes a real difference to them. It is a rewarding feeling for us and encourages us to do even more,” Dato Jimmy adds.

Other privileges of the Privilege Club include discounts at Peekaboo Child Care Centre, Coral Bay Pangkor Resort, D Hotel, Sitiawan Bolts & Nuts Hardware – with more partners to come on board.

Digi Records Steady Growth Of 3.2% In Internet And Digital Revenue In Q1 2021

Digi.com Berhad (Digi) recorded a total revenue of RM1,550 million in the first quarter of 2021, the company announced today. This was largely attributed to a steady growth of 3.2 percent y-o-y internet and digital revenue, alongside improved 23.1 percent y-o-y device and other revenues.

Effects from border closures, changes in prepaid subscribers and revenue mix moderated service revenue performance to -3.6 percent y-o-y. Excluding roaming, the service revenue would have declined by -2.6 percent y-o-y.

The company’s focus on operational efficiency resulted in EBITDA at RM737 million, or margin of 48 percent while operational cash flow strengthened to RM580 million.

Digi’s Chief Executive Officer Albern Murty said, “We saw a steady growth y-o-y from improved commercial momentum leveraging internet growth and a stronger network that has provided better capacity and consistent network experience. Moving forward, we stay committed in delivering business priorities, while maintaining a balance of operational efficiencies with strategic investments in growth areas, as well as continuing our support in the society’s recovery.”

The company’s internet customer base was 8.8 million, with customers using 19.7GB of data monthly, driving data traffic volumes up by 28 percent y-o-y. Internet and digital revenue increased to RM1,008 million, +3.2 percent y-o-y as a result of higher data usages across segments.  

Digital engagements were robust underpinned by 13.8 million upsell transactions volume on MyDigi, now surpassing 4.48 million monthly active users. In addition, the company is gaining market share in the B2B segment as evidenced by higher subscriber base of 7 percent y-o-y and increased revenue excluding roaming of 3.3 percent y-o-y driven by strong take-ups in Go Digital and PENJANA bundles.

Digi’s 4G LTE and LTE-A network coverage now serves 92 percent and 75 percent of the population nationwide respectively, alongside extensive fibre network of 10,000 KM. The company completed 104% of new 4G sites rollout under the Jalinan Digital Negara (JENDELA) plan in the quarter and is also on track in customer and network migration efforts as part of the nation’s 3G shutdown in phases.

MOSTI Announces Consolidation Of MaGIC And Technology Park Malaysia

Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO), Dzuleira Abu Bakar

The Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) is restructuring two of its agencies via a consolidation to create a new technology commercialisation agency to accelerate Malaysia towards becoming an innovation-driven economy.

This new mandate will act as a technology commercialisation accelerator which has been approved by Cabinet. 

The synergy will bring together the best of both Technology Park Malaysia (TPM) and the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC).

TPM is the only 4th generation technology park in Malaysia with physical incubators and tech infrastructure, while MaGIC has played an important role in cultivating technology start-ups and innovation ecosystems with a wide range of interventions ranging from regulatory facilitation, market access support as well as capacity building.

This initiative is aimed at equipping Malaysia to be better positioned to tackle issues such as low commercialisation rates, low gross domestic expenditures on research and development (R&D) (GERD), low R&D spend by the private sector, and overlapping of roles between government agencies.

By building a pipeline that encompasses the entire value chain, from start-ups in incubation to high growth technology companies, this will allow Malaysia to strengthen and unlock value in the technology and innovation ecosystem.

A joint task force comprising both TPM and MaGIC, headed by the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of TPM, Dzuleira Abu Bakar will be set up to oversee the establishment of the new agency.

MOSTI Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin has reviewed areas of priority which required Putrajaya’s interventions, starting with the commercialisation agenda in his first year in the ministry.

“The landscape for innovation continues to evolve at a furious pace for both tech start-ups and tech giants. We have done reasonably well in riding the wave of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), and we want to speed up the rate of commercialising our technological and innovative solutions in our push to make Malaysia a high-tech nation,” he said.

This was evident in the Malaysian Science Technology Innovation and Economic Development Framework (MySTIE 10-10) which was launched in December last year.

With technology commercialisation being one of the 10 STIE leap programmes designed to propel R&D conversion, creating spin-offs, targeted capacity building, technology development and ecosystem support.

In 2020, Malaysia was ranked 33rd out of 131 economies in the Global Innovation Index 2020, improving two rungs from 2019. Malaysia was ranked second among 37 upper middle-income group economies, and eighth among the 17 economies in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania.

Additionally, MOSTI has announced that they will periodically share updates on the progress of this initiative.

Sunway Launches Second Phase Of Covid-19 Vaccinations

Sunway has launched the second phase of Covid-19 vaccinations at Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre (SPCC). The vaccinations will be carried out in SPCC until February 2022, following the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme. 

Sunway’s move to provide the convention centre rent-free for 11 months to support the NCIP has set the group back RM28 million in actual costs including cleaning and sanitation costs as well as opportunity costs. 

“It is my personal belief that no corporation can live apart from the community it serves. As such, we strongly believe in doing well by doing good. In line with these values, we have committed more than RM50 million since the lockdown was imposed. You have my pledge that we will continue to help the communities we serve and stand by them in heir hour of need,” Sunway Group Founder and Chairman Tan Sri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah said.

State Health Director of Selangor Dato’ Indera  Dr Sha’ari said, “SPCC vaccination centre will allow for about 5,000 people to be vaccinated per day during Phase Two onwards. With a space of 150,000 sq ft, we are able to mobilise our resources in a single location and accelerate vaccinations. This is especially important right now as the threat of the fourth wave is a possibility.”

District Officer at Petaling Land and District Office, and Director of Petaling District Disaster Management Committee Dato’ Johary bin Anuar said, “The speed in getting more vaccinations done is more imminent than ever. We need more corporations like Sunway Group who quickly summed up the situation and provided the SPCC rent-free to support the government’s aim to achieve 80% herd immunity. Its strategic location that links public transportation and as well as free ample parking makes it convenient for the public.”

The 150,000 sq.ft. SPCC first opened its doors on March 10 for the first phase of the NCIP and has seen some 9,000 front line workers vaccinated at SPCC, with a total of more than 13,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered to date. SPCC, the first private large-scale vaccination centre in the country, is expected to carry out vaccinations for at least 1.8 million people in the Petaling district. The vaccinations will be carried out by Petaling Health District Office with strict adherence to the SOPs, in small groups, with adequate social distancing.

WORQ Offers New Solutions to Businesses Looking To Build Sustainable Operations

Co-working space, WORQ will be rolling out their new Flexi-Team solutions as part of their Uplift 2.0 initiative to help businesses build more sustainable operations.

As part of Uplift 2.0, the co-working space is now focusing to help organisations move forward with better productivity while keeping costs low.

“Global surveys have shown that both flexibility in location and collaborative office spaces are paramount to productivity. While organisations are looking to restructure their workplace policies, business sustainability is a pressing issue. Our new Flexi-Team enterprise solutions are the key to enable this transition smoothly,” Stephanie Ping, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder said.

WORQ also believes that the monthly pay-per-use cost of the Flexi-Team solutions can offer businesses up to 40 percent cost savings, based on the headcount of employees in a business.

Payment for WORQ’s spaces involves only OPEX, which is 100 percent tax deductive and there is no reinstatement cost once tenure ends.

“We hope to be a corporate partner that gives businesses the flexibility needed to accommodate the new hybrid workforce, in the most cost-efficient way possible. With options to combine and customise from different solutions,” Ping said.

WORQ has secured US$2.4 million (RM 10 million) in funding, which will be used to grow its space 10-fold to hit a whopping one million square feet, all dedicated to helping businesses pivot to cost-efficient workplace solutions.

Petronas Prices US$3 Billion Senior Bond Offering

Malaysia's iconic Twin Towers are seen in the background of the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas logo at a petrol station in Kuala Lumpur on August 13, 2014. Malaysian state energy firm Petronas is expected to announce its second quarter earnings later on August 13. AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP / MANAN VATSYAYANA

Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas) has priced a US$3 billion dual-tranche senior bond offering, comprising US$1.25 billion 10.75-year and US$1.75 billion 40-year conventional notes.

The 10.75-year senior notes were priced at 92.5 basis points (bps) over the 10-year US Treasury yield for a coupon of 2.480 per cent, and the 40-year senior notes were priced 115 bps over the 30-year US Treasury for a coupon of 3.404 per cent.

Supported by strong investor demand, Petronas was able to upsize the transaction size to $3 billion based on total demand of US$7.4 billion – more than 2.46 times the enlarged issuance size

The bonds were distributed to top tier international investors across the globe – with the 10.75-year distributed to investors in Asia (48 per cent), USA (43 per cent), and Europe and the Middle East (9 per cent); the 40-year distributed to investors in USA (46 per cent), Asia (40 per cent), and Europe and the Middle East (14 per cent).

This issuance follows the US$600 million bond offering issued by Petronas Energy Canada Ltd. and guaranteed by Petronas in March 2021, and the previous US$6 billion multi-tranche offering in April 2020.

Use of proceeds will be for debt refinancing and general corporate purposes, thereby further optimising the balance sheet and extending Petronas’ debt maturity profile.

The Key To Building Trust In Digital Banks

By David Rajoo, Head of Systems Engineering, Malaysia, Palo Alto Networks

Bank Negara Malaysia’s implementation of a regulatory framework for digital banks and the subsequent announcement to issue 5 digital banking licenses by 2022 are clear signs of the government’s openness to embrace digital transformation in the finance sector. These latest developments are also timely – according to a recent survey by analytics software firm FICO, 61 percent of Malaysian consumers prefer to use digital channels to engage with their bank during financial hardship, which signals that Malaysians might welcome digital banking and conveniences it may bring.

Digital banks, or neobanks, are set to reinvent banking and finance in Malaysia and other parts of the world, with the aid of popular disruptive tech such as 5G and cloud services These banks offer the services of a traditional bank, such as applying for a loan, opening an account or investing in financial markets, without the need to visit physical branches, while still observing compliance to financial guidelines such as know your customer (KYC). These fully digital services mean greater convenience for users and the opportunity to connect underserved consumers in the country. With the imminent adoption of digital banking services, digital banks’ ability to secure this massive network and infrastructure will be the key to ensuring trust in this new digital ecosystem.

Where the risk lies

Financial institutions (FIs) such as banks have always been attractive targets for cybercriminals due to obvious reasons – the amount of money, as well as the critical information that they keep. Digital banks will potentially process even larger volumes of such data over their networks. Fundamental components of cloud native applications such as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), interfaces which allow software solutions to communicate with each other, also present a security vulnerability to banks who use them by giving cybercriminals potential entry points to circumvent and exploit.

This is further complicated by the complexity of the modern software supply chain. Digital banks will naturally partner with third party vendors to provide various innovative payment services for users, which opens them to possible attacks through weak links if they are not secured properly. This dramatically increases the number of attack-points that cybercriminals can exploit to access the bank’s data and systems. Such an attack is known as a supply chain attack. An example of a recent high profile supply chain attack was the SolarWinds breach which potentially compromised the data of up to 18,000 customers, including FIs, using SolarWinds’ software.

Ransomware is one of the major cybersecurity threats to FIs due to the high value information they store. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files and demands money for it to be returned, often disrupting operations. Through a process known as double extortion, ransomware operators may even leak the information if the organisation refuses to pay the ransom in extreme cases. This sinister type of attack has already caused millions of dollars for organisations abroad and is already posing a threat to companies in Malaysia and ASEAN as well.

Gaining public trust by adopting ‘zero trust’

For digital banks to compete with the established incumbents, building customer trust needs to be a priority and this entails robust cybersecurity measures. Digital banks will require security that is comprehensive and rigorous, given the colossal amount of data being moved through multiple cloud environments within their networks.

The best way to build trust in digital banks’ networks is to adopt a Zero trust approach to cybersecurity security architecture, which basically means nothing should ever be taken for granted or assumed safe by default. Specifically, zero trust is a dynamic IT security model that eliminates the notion of trust to protect networks, applications and data. This relentless process of inspecting all network movement will go a long way in setting up a digital business for success for a few key reasons. Firstly, users will be accessing the bank services from any location and zero trust is not dependent on a location and can be delivered directly on a device or through the cloud. Zero trust security can also be achieved by adding on to the existing network architecture, without the need to replace existing technology. Tools and technology that are already owned by companies can still be used in tandem with this new security approach.

Building trust is a concerted effort

Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and the onus is also on end users to ensure that their valuable data is kept safe from prying hands. On the other hand, businesses will need to take a proactive approach to stay ahead of the curve to protect themselves, and in the case of digital banks, their customers as well.

Before partnering with digital banks, enterprises should also do their due diligence to ensure they have sufficient security measures in place, including a comprehensive cybersecurity framework such a ‘zero trust’ as well as agile security application capabilities. These capabilities should include DevSecOps, security audits, vulnerability assessments, and penetration testing.

DevSecOps for instance, involves making software security a core part of the overall software delivery process. Traditionally, the different aspects of software security operations have been performed separately from each other – developers wrote code, and IT teams deployed it without thinking much about security. It was only after software was written and placed in production environments that security engineers would check for potential vulnerabilities in the code or the environments hosting it. DevSecOps, streamlines this process by integrating security into all stages of the software delivery process, ensuring that developers think about security when they write code that software is tested for security problems before it is deployed, and that IT teams have plans for addressing security issues quickly if they appear after deployment.

Customers also need to understand how the banks will use and store their data, and pay attention to cyber hygiene best practices. This includes learning to identify common phishing scams, avoiding the use of public Wi-Fi networks when accessing their digital-banking accounts and using different passwords for different banking applications rather than using a single password for all logins. Robust multi-factor authentication is also a must and should be utilised by the customers of these neobanks to ensure digital identities are sufficiently protected.

The successful launch of digital banks in Malaysia will propel the finance sector into a new epoch and transform the industry for both enterprises and consumers. However, cybersecurity will be a critical success factor in the journey towards building consumer confidence and a single cyberattack or data breach on a digital bank could impact the public’s trust in digital financial services and erode any momentum gained. Hence it is imperative that Malaysia prioritises cybersecurity and a preventative approach is going to be critical to the overall digital transformation plan.

Putrajaya Launches National Mineral Industry Transformation Plan 2021-2030, Set To Develop Industry More Sustainably

Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin

Putrajaya has targeted the contribution of the mineral industry to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to increase to RM29 billion by 2030, and that the industry would be further developed in a sustainable manner.

Speaking at the launch of the National Mineral Industry Transformation Plan 2021-2030, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin urged all stakeholders, including the rakyat, to work together to give their best ideas in developing the industry.

“Apart from that, relevant agencies should also investigate encouraging aspects, either financial or non-financial incentives, to support the development of a responsible and sustainable mineral industry.

“The government is also hoping for strategic collaboration among the relevant quarters to transform the industry so that it would benefit the people’s wellbeing,” he said.

However, the Prime Minister was disappointed that the mineral industry was not balanced between the upstream, middle, and downstream levels. Therefore, he hoped that the launch today [April 22] will be the main source of reference for all stakeholders to ensure holistic development of the industry.

“In line with the rapid development in the era of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), the demand for various types of mineral continues to increase drastically.

“Technology for the future continues to depend on high mineral inputs, including in the manufacture of products to tackle climate change, such as solar panels, windmills, electric vehicles and energy storage,” he added.

Additionally, he said that Malaysia, as a country rich in mineral resources, should be wise in positioning itself and taking chances to explore and develop those resources.

“However, this does not mean that the government allows mineral industry activities to be carried out without control. The challenge the world needs to address is managing the industry without causing environmental damage and disruption to life,” he concluded.

Mah Sing Looking To Be Among The Top 5 In Malaysia’s Gloves Manufacturing Sector

Mah Sing’s senior management team at the glove manufacturing factory in Kapar, Klang

Property developer, Mah Sing Group Berhad (Mah Sing) has completed the testing and commissioning of its first two glove production lines in its first glove manufacturing factory located in Kapar, Klang.

The factory is expected to start operations  in May this year with the first shipment of gloves to be delivered sometime in May and June.

Mah Sing’s Founder and Group Managing Director, Leong Hoy Kum said the glove manufacturing venture is part of Mah Sing’s plan to strengthen and expand its manufacturing division by venturing into the export-oriented, resilient healthcare sector.

“We will continue to look into various ways to enhance our business operations and meet our shareholders’ expectations. Having started our new venture into gloves, we target to expand further under Phase 2 should the glove demand continue to outstrip supply for Phase 1.

“Looking ahead, the group aims to be one of the top five glove producers in Malaysia in the future. The group will also be exploring listing of its manufacturing and healthcare division separately to better unlock value for Mah Sing shareholders,” he added.

An analysis curated by MIDF Research has shown that the glove production from Mah Sing can project a future profit of RM175 million for their FY2021.

Mah Sing is on track to see another four production lines to be operational in Q2 this year followed by another six production lines in Q3 2021.

These 12 double former lines are under the Group’s Phase 1 of glove manufacturing business, which can produce 38,000 pieces of gloves per hour per line and a maximum capacity of up to 3.68 billion pieces of gloves per annum. 

Mah Sing’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ho Hon Sang said that starting from scratch allowed the Group to put the best practices in place from the get-go.

“Our high-speed production lines are equipped with auto strip, auto stack and auto count features as well as auto dosing of solutions for higher efficiency. There are also plans for auto-boxing and the factory will also be ready to adopt the IR 4.0 ecosystem to improve our efficiencies and competitiveness,” he added.

According to a research report by Hong Leong Investment Bank,  the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturing Association (MARGMA) has estimated the global disposable glove supply to increase by 22 percent to 420 billion pieces in 2021.

The association has also noted that post pandemic average selling prices (ASPs) are expected to be 40 to 60 percent higher compared to pre-pandemic levels because of increased hygiene awareness worldwide and higher glove usage in general.

The Group is looking to import their products to the United States, Canada, Middle East, Europe, United Kingdom, Japan, China, Souh Korea, Singapore, Russia, and Latin America.

The Group is also optimistic on the potential long-term growth of the glove industry and will seek to fill up the current demand and supply gap through their production capabilities in both nitrile and latex gloves.

“Besides original brand manufacturer (OBM) gloves under our MS Glove brand, Mah Sing will also be producing original equipment manufacturer (OEM) gloves. The group will explore the possibility of manufacturing non-medical, industrial specialty and other gloves in the mid to long term,” he said.

If demand condition permits, Mah Sing could expand Phase 2 by exercising the option for the next portion of the existing plant or negotiate with the landowner on the adjacent land.

The group can accommodate another 12 new production lines and increase the capacity up to another 3.68 billion pieces of gloves per annum.

Proton Set To Expand Tanjung Malim Plant To Build New RM200 Million Stamping Facility

Proton has begun work on a further addition to their Tanjung Malim plant. The company performed a groundbreaking ceremony for a new stamping facility that will complement the existing lines. This expansion will house a new Superlarge press machine to further enhance stamping abilities. More significantly, it is part of Proton’s overarching plan to increase levels of localisation, both for current and future models.

With an investment of RM 200 million, this new facility is part of Proton’s plan to make Tanjung Malim a world class manufacturing plant. This is on top of the RM 1.2 billion that was spent previously. The new press will allow for the stamping of much larger pieces of bodywork and other parts.

The company says that this investment is part of its growth strategy as well as for future planning as it is designed to allow for the manufacturing of more model lines. It is also in line with Proton’s technology strategy as the new area will include state-of-the-art tools as well as systems.

“While we are happy with our progress so far, Proton must continue to look to the future”, said Dr.Li Chunrong, Chief Executive Officer of Proton. “This new addition is part of our strategy to ensure that we can grow continuously as well as increase our model footprint when we have to. This means having the ability to build more variants but more importantly to be able to build them to the highest standards as well as to incorporat new technology”, he added.

Proton has seen a huge turnaround in fortunes over the last three years. It has launched new models, gained market share, improved quality and also revamped its entire dealer network. This resulted in the company being the only large manufacturer in Malaysia to post growth in 2020.

“We are very clear about direction and growth for PROTON. While Malaysia will always be our primary market, we must be able to compete beyond our shores. This facility is one small part of that journey. It is especially important for us because it means we can do far more localisation going forward. This will have a spill-over effect which will see us engaging with more vendors and further growing the local automotive ecosystem”, said Li.

The new stamping facility will flank the existing line and is expected to be completed by the 3rd quarter of 2022.

Nazir Razak Appointed As BPMB’s Non-Executive Chairman

Nazir Razak has been appointed as Bank Pembangunan Malaysia Berhad’s (“BPMB”) Non-Executive Chairman effective today. Nazir succeeds Zaiton Mohd Hassan, who retired in February 2021 after having served for two years.

“BPMB is a key development finance institution tasked to support companies and projects that promote socio-economic growth,” said Nazir. “I am grateful for this opportunity to serve a government institution and bring to bear the years of experience I have in the financial sector.

BPMB was incorporated on 28 November 1973 and mandated to support the Malaysian economy’s development by assisting entrepreneurs in small and medium-sized industries. Today, BPMB provides medium to long-term financing to sectors of strategic importance to the nation and places particular importance on impact financing, which channels capital to address social issues and development priorities.

Nazir is the Founding Partner and Chairman of Ikhlas Capital, an ASEAN private equity firm. He has extensive banking experience, having served as CIMB Group Holdings Berhad’s Chairman for four years and Group CEO for 15 years prior to that. Nazir also served as the Non-Executive Director of Khazanah Nasional for four years and was a member of the Employee Provident
Fund Investment Panel for 15 years.

“I am delighted to welcome Dato’ Sri Nazir to BPMB. The breadth and depth of his banking and finance experience will be a significant asset to BPMB as we continue on our nation-building journey. I look forward to working with him”, said BPMB’s President/Group Chief Executive Officer, Arshad Mohamed Ismail.

Kwasa Land Signs Agreement With YTL Construction To Develop RM200 Million Residential Project

Kwasa Land, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Employees Provident Fund Board (EPF) and master developer of the Kwasa Damansara township, has signed a development rights agreement with Syarikat Pembenaan Yeoh Tiong Lay (“YTL Construction”), a wholly owned subsidiary of YTL Corporation Berhad (“YTL”) to develop a residential project with an estimated gross development value of approximately RM200 million. Signing on behalf of the parties were Mohamad Hafiz Kassim, Managing Director of Kwasa Land, and Yeoh Keong Yuan, Executive Director of YTL Construction.

The 12.7-acre development which is identified as plot R2-1 in the Kwasa Damansara township will entail the construction of 1.5-storey townhouses and 3-storey landed terrace houses enclaved within a lush green space that includes a 1.28-acre central park and 2.71-acre linear park.

With a built-up area of between 1,200 sq ft and 2,300 sq ft, the homes will feature modern and minimalistic designs true to YTL’s aesthetics in line with Kwasa Damansara’s vision of being a Green, Connected and Inclusive township.

Catered to various market segments and lifestyle needs of homebuyers for a healthier, balanced lifestyle, the residential development will be surrounded by green spaces which include being located nearby the newly-opened Taman Bandar Kwasa Damansara – a 42.55-acre park for the public to enjoy fitness and leisure activities. It has a strategic location which is supported by key transportation infrastructure – the Subang Airport, Kwasa Sentral and Kwasa Damansara MRT stations, and a network of four expressways.

“Kwasa Land is excited to welcome YTL on board as one of our development partners – a great addition that will help realise our goals for Kwasa Damansara’s sustainable township. YTL was selected following a robust process where they showed their ability, solid track record and desire to deliver residential offerings with exceptional quality – in line with the demand of current homebuyers.  We look forward to working hand-in-hand with YTL to launch the development by year-end,” said Mohamad Hafiz.  

“YTL is excited to be part of a green, inclusive and connected township that represents Klang Valley’s last significant greenfield site with the development of future-forward residential offerings. Leveraging on shared values with Kwasa Land to strive towards a greener community, the R2-1 development provides us a platform to integrate nature as a complementary aspect that completes the home and living experience. Residents will be able to enjoy open, spacious living spaces and be connected outdoors with the stunning views of the surrounding parks and venture out to explore well-landscaped walking trails and jogging paths,” said Keong Yuan.

Oyen Creates Digital-First Insurance Platform For Pet Owners

Oyen Sdn Bhd has created a digital-first insurance platform – oyen.my – with MSIG Malaysia partnering to underwrite the pet insurance policy. This new platform allows caring pet owners to digitally buy and manage medical insurance for their cats and dogs, quickly and conveniently.

Kevin Hoong, Oyen Founder & Chief Executive Officer, said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled an increase in pet ownership around the world. More people are now working from home and increasingly look to pets to provide companionship and help manage their stress. Many of these new pet owners are first-timers and often millennials, who are more digitally savvy.”

 “Medical costs for pet care can be surprisingly large and an unexpected and unwelcome expense for many owners should their pets get ill or suffer an unfortunate accident. That is why we thought it was the perfect time to launch this digital pet insurance option in Malaysia. We want to lower the barrier to entry and offer a service which can provide pet owners, especially first timers, with some reassurance and peace of mind in these turbulent times,” he added. 

Some key features of Oyen’s pet insurance^ include high vet medical coverage in Malaysia of up to RM 8,000 in vet medical fees, claimable in the event of illness or accidental injury. Farewell burial or cremation cost up to RM 1,000, and third-party liability coverage up to RM 50,000.

Additional features include reimbursable visits to registered vet clinics in Malaysia and fast cover and seamless claims.

Chua Seck Guan, CEO of MSIG Malaysia, said, “We are delighted to have been able to work with Oyen to develop this unique digital pet insurance offering. We hope that our position as one of the world’s top ten general insurers, with over 100 years of operation in Malaysia, will provide reassurance and confidence to Malaysian pet owners looking to use Oyen to cover their pets’

Pamarai Introduces Asher, Definitive Solution To Solid Waste Management Problem

Pamarai has introduced Asher, a cutting-edge technology that simply turns plastic and solid waste into ash through thermal degradation. A versatile and easily deployed machine, the Asher does not require any external accelerants or fossil fuel (diesel, gas, petrol, coal) to generate heat for its thermal degradation process to turn waste into ash.

The emission and ash emitted also complies with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) standards and the formidable machine has been awarded the MyHIJAU Mark certificate from the Malaysian Green Technology and Climate Change Centre (MGTC). 100% made in Malaysia by Malaysians, the Asher is already proving itself to be the definitive solution to the solid waste management problem.

“Traditional landfills are a waste of space and are a major threat to the environment. The losses and damages that a landfill creates for the environment are hugely devastating. Imagine a place where we no longer need landfills, we eliminate long haul transportation, risks of leachate going into our water system, significantly reducing greenhouse gasses. The Asher can make this a reality.

We can divert waste from going to the landfills, and eventually, rendering landfills to be a thing of the past. Decentralising waste management, treating waste from the source, if you will. “Waste-marked lands” can then be opened up to better, productive, and sustainable use. With the Asher, nothing really goes to waste, because even the ash from the Asher can be repurposed as soil conditioner or construction filler. This is in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals,” shared Executive Chairman and co-founder of Pamarai, Datuk Mohamed Razeek Md Hussain.

“With the Asher, corporations, large and small can truly play their part to protect the environment. We are currently facing a worldwide crisis that necessitates us to clean up the Earth, it is high time we take a stand, and start making better decisions towards that. The Asher can help bring us on that path, it operates at greater efficiency and has far better environmental impact compared to conventional incinerators, whilst doing so at a fraction of the price. With the excess funds saved, companies will be able to focus on revamping employee benefits, diverting more resources to effective research and development, and ultimately leading to more efficient production and output. Governments can redistribute funds for socio-economic development, better education provision, better healthcare access, and sustainable infrastructure.

Let the Asher handle the “dirty work” while companies can focus on their main business, and governments can focus on building the nation and their citizens,” added Pang Swee Lei, Executive Director and co-founder of Pamarai.

The Asher can be deployed and used anywhere and only requires low upkeep, has easy operational protocols, and a non-complex manufacturing process. From cities to rural areas, hospitals to hotels, rivers to beaches, mountains to islands; the Asher is adaptable, highly flexible and offers reasonable and practical financial implication (tangible and intangible) for both the private and public sectors.

Accommodating various enterprise sizes, the Asher currently comes in 3 different models, with the capacity to treat from 1 to 4 tonnes per day (depending on the operational hours, choice of variant and protocols). The throughput ranges from 40 – 240 kg of waste per hour; depending on the moisture content and mode of operation.

As all 3 models forego external energy for the heat-treatment process, the solid waste deposited into the machine also doubles up as the fuel source. The specially formulated refractory chamber within the machine is capable of absorbing, retaining, and exuding heat perpetually. Because of this revolutionary feature, the Asher also enjoys a very small carbon footprint, as it does not consume any fossil fuels to operate nor does it require any post-process handling or treatment, producing almost no secondary discharge or contamination at all.

On top of that, the Asher is also self-sustainable and can fully function just by using solar energy. For the electric-variants, the electric power is meant only to run the water pumps and blower fans and is not for any form of heat generation. Fitting snugly within a typical space to park one car, the Asher is designed and built to be SSC – slim, simple and compact. It is versatile and can easily be re-deployed and transported across different locales, terrains, and weather – ultimately adding additional value to corporations as it not only saves operating costs, but also space.

Additionally, the emission coming from the Asher is non-toxic, and efficiently complies with the US EPA standards. This is validated and verified by well-known and accredited testing laboratories and certification bodies such as SGS, MYCO2, SIRIM, EXOVA, SUCOFINDO, and PONY.

The Asher has also received its MyHIJAU Mark certificate from the MGTC in September 2020. Through the certification, eligible private companies that procure the Asher can potentially participate in the Green Investment Tax Allowance programme, which allows business owners to enjoy up to 100% tax incentives on the capital expenditure incurred when approved.

“Global emergencies such as climate change have been at the forefront of our minds ever since founding the company. We have been trying our best to slow down, or even reverse the effects of climate change, one small step at a time. This is not just for us. This is to make sure that our children and their children will have a safe future. With the Asher, we are confident that small enterprises to large corporations can play their role in helping, preserving and saving Mother Nature.

“One day, when we have successfully placed the Asher everywhere, it simply means that we have availed an equal opportunity to everyone, to live in a clean, bright and beautiful environment,” added Pang Swee Lei.

Presently, there have been more than 80 Ashers delivered, deployed, and commissioned in 13 countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, China, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, South Africa, Saint Lucia, and many more.

6 Key Insights Businesses Need To Look Out For During Ramadan

(Photo by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)

Facebook’s insights unit, Facebook IQ has highlighted six key trends that are helpful to businesses in understanding how people are observing and purchasing new products and services during Ramadan. 

The YouGov survey commissioned by Facebook IQ aims to understand the behaviours of people who observe Ramadan and who shop for this season.

Facebook Malaysia’s Acting Country Director, Justin Murugaya said that while the Covid-19 outbreak continues to change the way people live, connect and shop, people will see the emergence of new discovery and shopping behaviours.

“That is why it is important for us to help businesses of all sizes identify ways to stay relevant, equipping them with knowledge and insights such as these to keep up with today’s evolving landscape,” he added.

The first highlight is the demand for safety drives mobile shopping which 59 percent of shoppers surveyed in Malaysia said they spent more time shopping online during the season due to the outbreak.

Amongst the Ramadan observing and shopping community surveyed, nearly half said they trust creators for impartial advice and inspiration in which have creators to offer a new source of credibility for future shoppers.

Additionally, social conscience drive support for local communities is one of the key insights found in the survey.

As people personally contribute to their communities, shoppers increasingly expect the same of businesses.

Based on the survey, 72 percent agree brands should find ways of giving back during the Ramadan season, while 53 percent in Malaysia became more interested in a brand after learning about their business practices.

The next insight is that the unity through technology to empower family connection due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The survey shows that brands need to reach the right people no matter where they are, and they can do so through channels they are already using conveniently such as WhatsApp and Messenger for Business.

Additionally, Ramadan is one of the biggest shopping moments of the year as continuous shopping results in a surprising second shopping peak. The data shows that the period just before Eid has become the single biggest 10-day shopping period.

Lastly, price sensitivity elevates an anticipation for mega sales in which 75 percent of shoppers said they use Facebook platforms for inspiration, research and to discover new shopping ideas.

For more information, please refer to the Facebook Ramadan Marketing and Consumer Insights info pack or discover more through the Ramadan Consumer Insight report and Ramadan Marketing Insights and Recommendation Guide.

Volvo S90 Updated With Fine Scandinavian Craftmanship

Volvo Car Malaysia introduces the updated Volvo S90 which is a facelift model that has a total design upgrade both on the exterior and interior.

The new Volvo S90 is equipped with a T8 Twin engine and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery capable of producing 407 horsepower and 640Nm of torque. Volvo combines the four-cylinder engine and a powerful electric motor to produce a powerful, performance-filled drive while producing lower CO2 emissions.

Akhtar Sulaiman, Marketing & Public Relations Director for Volvo Car Malaysia said: “The aesthetics of the car – from the chrome-accented exterior and refined trims, to the updated interior with a cleaner overall look – is Scandinavian luxury at its finest. .”

Similar to the XC90, the S90 Recharge T8 carries on the rich legacy of Volvo Cars through the pronounced elegance in Volvo’s design language. This blend of minimalist design and stylistic cues creates a premium image that is accentuated by Volvo’s key aesthetic features, such as the “Thor Hammer” LED headlight design, vertical chrome grille with the Volvo Iron Mark, and a bold and clean use of the Volvo spreadmark on the rear. The tail lamps of the Volvo S90 Recharge T8 have also been updated to now bear a similar design to the recently launched Volvo S60 T8 R-Design, thus marrying luxury with a little sportiness.

The Scandinavian motif is also integrated into the cabin of the car to further enhance its overall look and feel. The inclusion of vertical air blades on each side of the Sensus user interface, perforated front seats and sunroof raises the bar on elegant aesthetics. Upgraded Bowers & Wilkins sound system with a total of 19 speakers provides true high-end, in-car audio performance.

Being a safety conscious automobile company, the S90 Recharge T8 comes with a variety of standard Volvo safety features, starting with a chassis made out of boron steel for added body strength, Volvo’s Intellisafe system, which equips the vechicle with the latest safety technology such as the Blind Spot Information Systems (BLIS), City Safety, Cross Traffic Alert, Front and Rear Warning and Mitigation Support, Lane Keeping Aid, Pilot Assist, a 180kmh speed cap and many more.

Priced at RM358,888, the S90 Recharge T8 is now at RM339,315 after sales tax exemption (on-the-road, without insurance) and will be available for viewing at all authorised Volvo dealers nationwide starting