Home Blog

Islamic Banking In The New Era

Mohd Muazzam Mohamed appears to be running two marathons simultaneously. The first marathon is his cycling feat and being a bicycle enthusiast, he tries to do at least 100 km on weekends.

He appears to have achieved many formidable feats in this area evidenced by the medals that he has showcased in his lush office but the other marathon that he is still at is his attempts to make Bank Islam a formidable financial player in the country.

Having assumed the leadership of the Bank in December 2018, the chartered accountant was tasked to steer Bank Islam towards its listing status and beyond.

His achievement to date is nothing short of stellar evidenced by the fact that Bank Islam, in the shortest period, became the country’s fourth-largest Islamic financier and Muazzam has put in place plans and set the vision for the newly restructured financial entity.

Industry analysts were baffled as to why a financial entity would undertake restructuring and the eventual listing of Bank Islam when the country was besieged with the pandemic.

Muazzam appears to be unperturbed by the turn of events but remain steadfast and focused on the objectives that he has set for Bank Islam and does not see the “headwinds” as an obstacle.

In an exclusive interview with Business Today, Muazzam said that the restructuring will pave the way for Bank Islam to emerge as a full-fledged pure-play Islamic financial institution in the country and that the Bank would also be accorded full autonomy in undertaking its corporate and business strategies as well as adopting its capital management initiatives.

The Group CEO thinks that the transfer of listing from BIMB Holdings Berhad (BHB) to Bank Islam will allow the bank to gain direct access to the equity capital market for fundraising activities.

As for the shareholders, the exercise is expected to allow them to participate directly in the equity and future growth of the new Bank Islam Group and Takaful Malaysia, which were previously BHB’s subsidiaries.

The whole listing exercise would allow Bank Islam to have a capital injection to further innovate and provide better products and services for the convenience of its customers.

With the listing, the Bank is not sitting on its laurels but has set its sights and goals on scales that are just not on the immediate horizon but also on timescales that are much longer.

The Road Map

Moving the plan forward, Bank Islam has set out a 5-year roadmap through its 5 business drivers; Wealth Management, Social Finance, Digital Bank, Enterprise and Wholesale Banking, premised on its key line of businesses notably Consumer Banking, SME Banking, Commercial Banking, Corporate Banking, Treasury, Deposit and Cash Management and its investment management arm, BIMB Investment Management Berhad.

Integrated Wealth Management aims to transform from product-centric business to holistic financial advisory, resulting in a wealth-creating proposition beyond basic financing.

For enterprises in the SME market, the focus is to propagate, nurture and develop  the  segment, by advancing from financing-centric approach to catering to an ecosystem approach to the SMEs. This will be achieved by enabling the Halal economic platform to facilitate a collaborative financial ecosystem. The renewed focus is aligned with the recent Budget 2022 announcement which, among others, emphasised business progression, particularly among the SMEs.

The Bank’s Wholesale Banking proposition looks to further enhance its delivery of total holistic financial solutions that help customers achieve sustainable growth through efficient capital mobilisation.

Bank Islam’s Digital Banking ambition will not only see the utilisation of technology and collaboration with fintech partners to further improve our digital offerings that promise convenience and security. With the advances made in digital and technological capabilities, it will catalyse the Bank’s entrance into new markets and segments.

Social Finance customers can anticipate being a part of Bank Islam’s journey of inclusivity with a focus on empowering the unbanked and underbanked communities to become bankable. This is in line with setting the path in spurring Malaysia’s economic recovery, building resilience and catalysing economic reform, as outlined during the recent tabling of Budget 2022 by the Finance Minister.

On other plans after listing, Muazzam said that the Bank has always been retail-driven and that it plans to grow its customer base, and this would mean continuous improvement of its customer service and experience.

He said that its vendor financing programmes were one of its success stories and that the concept has been replicated to many of the business strategies.

As of June 30, 2021, the size of its SME portfolio was RM2 billion and the Bank plans to elevate it’s SME portfolio in the future. The support for SMEs is crucial as they are the nation’s economic backbone, employing almost half of the total workforce in the country and contributing close to 40% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Bank Islam also aims to position itself as the Bank of choice within the ecosystem, providing not only financing facilities but other financial services including cash management solutions.

Diversified Offerings

On being listed and whether it plans to take on corporate business, Muazzam said that he intends to leverage the strength as a group to deliver diversified offerings, an uplift from the previous “monoline” approach.

“Financing-based products can be accompanied by investment-related ones, hence providing “Total Islamic Financial Solution” to our customers, enabled by a digital proposition,” he said.

“We see this as an  opportunity  to  strengthen our market positioning and build winning operating models while profiling the group synergy proposition. While the Bank and the entire industry has been absorbing losses from the pandemic, we see this as building reserves towards recovery,” the Group CEO said.

Minimising resource and infrastructure duplications would mean prioritising cost optimisation and management. The inclusion of a stockbroking arm, BIMB Securities, provides alternative means to expanding fee-based revenue streams, together with our investment management arm, BIMB Investment. Having entrenched in the local market, the question is whether Bank Islam would be making its presence in the overseas market altogether. To this,

Muazzam said that it has no plan to go outside the region. He further said that with a deeper collaboration with a global asset manager, Arabesque, its investment management arm, BIMB Investment aims to strengthen local market position while garnering new market share by securing further distribution in regional markets. BIMB Investment’s 5-year roadmap aspires to grow its Asset Under Management (AUM) to more than RM10 billion in 5 years. This, in turn, will pave the way for access to the vast ASEAN regional network to be recognised as the market leader in the Shariah-ESG space. The company strives to establish a value proposition for long-term sustainable growth while expanding and establishing Shariah-ESG investment capabilities, he said.

With the onset of digitalisation in banks, Bank Islam has no intention of being left behind. The Bank embarked on a three-year transformation plan (2019-2021) named CODE21, where the Bank marched towards culture, operation and digital excellence.

Becoming the digital Islamic Bank  of  Choice  is one of the items that Bank Islam is striving for, and one of the ways to do this is by working with FinTech companies that would provide the Bank with the solution on digitalization Muazzam said that it has gained significant traction and is on track to get some initiatives off the ground by early 2022.

“With these efforts, Bank Islam intends to provide financial solutions that are beneficial to all. These endeavours stem from improving Malaysia’s situation today; the rising cost of living, high household debts, and high level of unemployment exacerbated by the pandemic.

Also, one of the key focus, he said in the innovation labs is to develop Bank Islam’s ability to enhance staff skill set, train employees to bring agility in processes, and apprise them of developments in ongoing digital transformation.

Still, many would ask what is the value that Bank Islam brings to investors and stakeholders, Muazzam said that this listing will allow Bank Islam to better position itself in the Islamic Finance and Islamic Capital Market and capitalise on both markets’ growth in the Bank’s effort to expand its customer base.

He said that Bank Islam can look forward to enhancing group value proposition plans and with more business opportunities being formed, delivering value to all of the stakeholders has become its goal. “It’s noted that while the exercise will enlarge its share capital base, it will also strengthen its capital position and improve the liquidity of the shares,’’ he said.

Green Financing

On Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) and Value-based Intermediation (VBI), he said that in the 5-year direction, the Bank plans to expand and grow Shariah-ESG investment and financing capabilities.

“It means to double our green-financing portfolio from where we are while raising Shariah-ESG funds to about 12% – 15% by 2025, thus providing a total Islamic solution,” he said.

“We also aim to provide value-added services that are offered to the customers (advisory) including information sharing and updates on relevant development within the ESG spheres (industrial and regulatory development BNM, Bursa Malaysia, Securities Commissions),” he said.

He said that with the current pandemic, investors will continuously assess their exposure to defensive and cyclical stocks to ensure that diversification effects are maximised in the wake of unstable situations that are highly volatile. ESG has become more critical now to these shareholders in seeking sustained business performance.

Muazzam further said, “The year 2022 will be a critical year for Malaysia, not just from an economic recovery perspective but also the healing of businesses, livelihood and employment, particularly to those most adversely affected by the pandemic.

With these efforts, Bank Islam intends to provide financial solutions that are beneficial to all. These endeavours stem from improving Malaysia’s situation today; the rising cost of living, high household debts, and high level of unemployment exacerbated by the pandemic.

He adds, “Therefore, Bank Islam will continue to play its role to stimulate the market and provide the necessary aid in promoting economic growth and sustainable income generation to all in the sector.”

With the listing and the visionary team in place, Bank Islam is set to change the Islamic financial landscape in the country.

Pernas Plays Pivotal Role In The Franchise Sector

Gearing up to play a pivotal role in thrusting more entrepreneurs, as an investment holding company owned by Minister of Finance Incorporated (MOF Inc.), Perbadanan Nasional Berhad (Pernas) appears to be the driving force that is mandated to develop the franchise industry since 2004. 

Bound by its strong rich history, Pernas has witnessed significant changes in the corporate landscape and being an agency under MEDAC, it will continue to reiterate its importance in driving the franchise sector in the country as it emphasises its focus on building an entrepreneurial community with the franchise in mind. 

Understanding that in keeping the organization relevant in the industry and in line with its goal to produce more entrepreneurs in the franchise industry and develop more local brands towards franchising, the decision to rebrand the company in a big way was imperative. 

The rebranding itself involved changing its acronym and logo, to strengthen its position as Malaysia’s franchise champion. 

With Chief Executive Officer, Mohd Hilaluddin bin Abd Shukor at the helm, he believes that the Pernas rebranded signals the move to enable the public to differentiate Pernas distinctively and maintain the mandate given as the agency responsible for the development of the country’s franchise industry.

The first move in this new direction was to conceive a new corporate identity.

“First we have a new corporate logo which depicts the sun as the new beginning with the cradle visual as symbolic of how we nurture business growth from the start-up to success.

“The circle featuring a spectrum of orange colour symbolises the sun that portrays a bright future as well as progressive relationship and growth,” Hilaluddin told Business Today in an exclusive interview.

A modern and fresh new logo and colours that symbolises the support to its effort in empowering the growth of entrepreneurs.

The rebranding exercise was not only to introduce the new identity as Pernas but also a strategic one that allows the company to position itself as Malaysia’s franchise champion that underscores its role in providing franchise opportunities to entrepreneurs while growing the nation’s entrepreneurial community.

“The change from PNS to Pernas signals our move to become the nation’s distinguished franchise champion. To reflect this change, we now have a new brand promise to fulfil, “said Hilaluddin.

Hilaluddin said that it plays a pivotal role in not just limiting the existing franchise brands but also in guiding micro-businesses and SMEs with the potential to grow them into becoming franchisees.

ENHANCED QUALITY OF SERVICES

The rebranding exercise also entails other aspects such as the quality of the services Pernas offers to its customers and entrepreneurs with the commitment to produce more entrepreneurs, especially in the franchise business in line with the National Entrepreneurship Policy (NEP) 2030.

Through its five-year plan, Pernas aims to approve 5,000 financing funds for entrepreneurs to grow its franchise portfolio by 400% from RM178 million to RM700 million; create 18,000 new job opportunities, and contribute RM4.4 billion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

To achieve this, the CEO said Pernas will create a more effective franchise ecosystem with a comprehensive value chain supported by digital technology as well as empower the socio-economic development of Bumiputera through entrepreneurship.

Since 2004, Pernas has disbursed a total of RM1.3 billion in funding to more than 5,500 entrepreneurs and created more than 35,000 jobs.

BEATING THE PANDEMIC

The pandemic has provided fresh challenges for Pernas and it had to overcome these challenges through various assistance and funding schemes, including the introduction of the “RECURVE” program that offers additional funds to entrepreneurs to help revive their businesses.

“A total of RM20 million is allocated for this purpose which will benefit more than 350 of Pernas existing franchise entrepreneurs; the offering of a moratorium to eligible borrowers for all financing for six months from June to November 2021; rescheduling of loans for all eligible financing after the end of the moratorium period.

The assistance is offered to borrowers with a good repayment record and for this year, a total of 337 entrepreneurs had their moratorium application approved which amounts to RM9.32 million, the CEO said.

Pernas also organised several webinar series which include collaboration with the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives (MEDAC) to provide information on Pernas services and products including providing knowledge and guidance on franchise business as well as sharing sessions by industry experts on entrepreneurship strategies and plans to prepare entrepreneurs in facing the new norm.

FUTURE PLANS

On how optimistic Pernas is in achieving its laid-out goals in the coming years, Hilaluddin said that the franchise industry grew at a commendable rate where its annual sales value recorded an increase of 17.3% of RM13.3 billion compared to RM11 billion in 2019.

In fact, he said there are now 1,090 registered franchise companies and from that, a total of 68 local franchise companies have successfully entered the international market in 70 countries.

“This proves that the country’s franchise industry has gained a place among entrepreneurs as one of the viable branches of entrepreneurship,” he said.

Based on this positive scenario, Pernas will continue to be focused and committed to produce more franchise entrepreneurs and develop more local franchise brands through its financing, guidance, and advisory services offerings.

Pernas disbursed the following funding amount, RM22.8 million in 2020 to 94 entrepreneurs; a total of RM33.7 million to 202 entrepreneurs in 2019; and for this year up until June 2021, Pernas has funded a total of RM16.3 million to 55 entrepreneurs.

To improve the franchise ecosystem in the country for it to achieve a higher position, and in an effort to create a more effective franchise ecosystem and achieve a higher level, Pernas has established strategic engagements and collaborations with various government agencies and the private sector.

Collaboration such as these plays an integral role in Pernas initiatives, especially when developing and strengthening the business system of existing and potential entrepreneurs, including the transition from being a skilled workforce to franchise entrepreneurs.

He said that to support the creation of 18,000 job opportunities initiatives in the next five years, Pernas has launched two new projects early this year. The launched projects by Pernas are also in line with the government’s intention to produce more entrepreneurs, namely:

Be Your Own Boss (BYOB) Project offers two programs targeted at women and youth known as the Successful Women Entrepreneurship Engagement Talent (SWEET) program for women and the Young Entrepreneurship Engagement Talent (YOUNITY) program for youth.

In addition, Hilaluddin said that Pernas aims to produce 1,000 franchisees and pre-franchisees under these programs where participants are offered comprehensive guidance and training, funding as well as access to current markets.

He said that since they were first introduced, more than 614 participants comprising youth and women have registered as BYOB participants; and from that number, 417 participants have completed their training and 396 of them are undergoing a business matching process.

The other project, he said was the Xcelerator Project where Pernas actively helps existing entrepreneurs to fast-track their business towards the franchise. i.e within a year.

He said that the projects were initiated with the aim to help reduce the rising unemployment rate in Malaysia especially when Malaysians are facing job losses during the Covid-19 outbreak, and help cultivate public interests to make entrepreneurship a top career choice.

ROLE OF SMEs

The small and medium enterprises (SMEs) including micro-enterprises have been integral to Malaysia’s economy as they play a significant role in creating employment and account for being the major contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In 2020, SMEs contribute 38.2% of the nation’s GDP which is RM512.8 billion from RM1,343.9 billion.

Pernas has offered several initiatives to assist SME entrepreneurs through

Business In Transformation (BIT) Program which identifies and in turn helps develop small businesses towards franchising; provides funding support, advisory services, and consultancy to participants; and to create more affordable franchise businesses that enable more potential entrepreneurs to venture into the franchise business.

He said to date, a total of 142 companies from various sectors such as food & beverage, retail, services and education have registered in the BIT program.

He said that SME businesses play a big role in contributing to the national economy. Based on this initiative, Pernas is one of the agencies that will help MEDAC to achieve its aspiration to produce 100 millionaires every year among SME entrepreneurs.

In addition, the Pybli; provide online services for buyers and sellers to conduct their business transactions; and this infrastructure was developed to provide a digital marketplace designed specifically for franchise businesses, BIT entrepreneurs under Pernas and SMEs.

He said to date there are 442 small entrepreneurs registered under Pybli where Pybli’s existence is seen to be able to further diversify the choice of platforms and services for entrepreneurs to market their products and services digitally.

MEDAC and Pernas also offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to participate in the Jom Ubah Minda Peniaga (JUMP) Program with the objective to provide digital training and exposure to micro and SMEs entrepreneurs and reduce operating costs, acquire new customer targets as well as optimize SME resources.

Among other initiatives is the Franchise Institute with the aim to provide training and consulting services in various fields and not just limited to the franchise and this is not limited to only SME entrepreneurs, in fact, all entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs to-be can go to the Franchise Institute to gain knowledge and receive guidance on entrepreneurship and business.

On how to heighten the awareness on affordable franchises, the CEO said that the public has the preconceived sceptical view that franchise businesses are expensive. 

“There are many who still think that franchise brands are limited to big brand names such as McDonald’s, Marrybrown and so on (super brand) but the truth of the matter is, franchise businesses are not only vast but also there are plenty of affordable brands under franchise business that can be explored.

He said that when talking about the franchise business, society perceives it as a business that requires high capital.

Today, prospective entrepreneurs who want to venture into business, particularly in the field of franchise, do not have to worry about the big business packages because you get to choose franchise business packages that are more affordable.

“For example, the MD Putu Bambu World brand. With their package starting from RM7,000 to RM70,000, you can start a franchise business,” he said.

He said in fact, the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) has implemented the Micro Franchise and Affordable Franchise Development Program as follows:

Through the presentation of Budget 2021 on Nov 6, 2020, the Government has allocated a total of RM5 million to KPDNHEP to implement and carry out the Micro Franchise and Affordable Franchise Development Program successfully; This program will be one of the main programs in an effort to attract the involvement of more people, especially the B40 and M40, to venture into the franchise business.

He said that KPDNHEP as the national franchise industry development leader has announced the implementation of this program focusing on granting grants to develop more affordable franchise packages worth RM100,000 and below as well as micro franchise packages worth RM50,000 and below to increase the number of franchise entrepreneurs (franchisees) from the B40 group and M40 and they are not limited to the F&B sector only.

Hilaluddin said that the objectives of the implementation of this development program are to provide job creation to the M40 and B40 groups and expand the franchise business to target groups especially those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the past, the franchise industry was dominated by the food and beverage sector, today the franchise business sectors that have gained more demand and has the potential to thrive are Beauty and health; fashion and accessories; Services and maintenance; Convenience stores and supermarkets; IT and telecommunications; Learning and childcare centres among others.

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is LCS_7397-3-1280x1920.jpg
“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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is LCS_7432-1-1280x1920.jpg
“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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is LCS_7444-1280x853.jpg
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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is LCS_7382-1280x1920.jpg
“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

SSUCv3H4sIAAAAAAACA31Ru27DMAz8FUKz0Qe6eS2CAp2KtlvQQaYYh4gsBpTkNAj876WcFOjUjeSdjsfTxQ0+M7r+4jjGmov6wpJc/9g5ClxE2UfXPyydy8WXmikb1zr0hUZD1/5XZHtpc9e7T8J9kijj2dnDOtjoWaZjLaTZLd0/tE0kLCqJ0YhfnfMjJTy3nbZUKZJfLWwNOpxMbrr5mTmQXEtfA7fSzYI+Gv7U/NptMrXpqP64Z1SeSVsfKKM2g1FqgEw6M1IGzjJRUUZAcy6ZWy5w4rKHgUdglJRBdoDrM1yv42RA2qm3HCuWqgTmeKJUsjFSstMoXDWCz3urIyfbNRsgCn9/4A42Fr8fIsHm7QN8CvBOKZCxEry+vcBOdLIQO1e+W5Suu2V61cr3gVCa1EwGycF+dFmWH/r1vSzvAQAA
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.

 

 

 

###

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

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.

 

Govt Coughs Out RM32.5 Million For RTM To Air FIFA World Cup 2022

Ministry of Communication and Multimedia has announced that national broadcaster RTM will be airing live matches of the upcoming FIFA 2022 World Cup which will be played in Qatar.

Tan Sri Annuar Musa, Minister of Communication stated that RTM will air all 41 matches including 27 live telecasts including the finals, and 14 delayed telecasts with over 130 hours of total hours.

The telecast will be aired over TV2, TV Okay, Sukan RTM, and streamed over RTM Klik, with this Malaysian need to subscribe to pay-TV operator Astro who has also secured rights to broadcast the world’s most popular football event.

Qatar World Cup will start on November 20 to December 18.

Move Towards An ASEAN Common Fisheries Policy Before Its Too Late

Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee said that Malaysia’s per capita consumption of fish and seafood in Malaysia has been 46.9 kg annually and ranks second in Southeast Asia behind Cambodia’s 63.2 kg annual consumption.

However, it’s reported a few months ago that the sighting of fish in Malaysia had decreased, especially in the north of the peninsula, by up to 70%, as highlighted by the Chairman of National Fishermen’s Association (Nekmat) Abdul Hamid Bahari. According to an unnamed source from the Fisheries Department, the issue of the decrease in fish sightings started in 2015 due to the enormous number of catches every year, with illegal fishing as one of the primary causes.

It’s part of the broader global trend as noted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) which reported in 2018 that almost 90% of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted (see “90% of fish stocks are used up – fisheries subsidies must stop”, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development/Unctad, July 13, 2018).

It’s no surprise then that the South China Sea, home to “half” of Southeast Asia’s main fishing hotspot is also facing the same predicament. This is because, in this region, overfishing occurs due to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IIU).

For example, the total catch per unit effort in the Gulf of Thailand – which is adjacent to the South China Sea – has decreased by 86% since 1966 (see “The threat of overfishing”, The Asean Post, September 17, 2018).

In Malaysia, we lost RM6 billion to IUU fishing in 2016, and even though enforcement and monitoring were tightened, we still lost RM4.2 billion in 2019. Again, overfishing and poaching – which includes harmful fishing techniques such as fish bombing or blast fishing, the use of dragon traps and push nets, bottom trawling, etc. as well as encroachments by foreign fishermen – have all contributed to the decrease in our fish stocks.

The World Wildlife Fund of Malaysia reports that bottom trawling which sweeps up everything on the ocean floor is one of the most destructive fishing methods and is responsible for the destruction of thriving marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. Some of the fish species that fishermen used to capture 30 to 40 years ago are no longer being seen in the oceans.

Last year, the investigative journalism team reported that the decline in fish stocks under our Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) facing the South China Sea has been noticeable since the influx of foreign fishermen, especially Vietnamese trawlers.

Since fisheries is a regional issue, there’s a need for stronger and more concerted regional cooperation among ASEAN member states (AMS).

At the bilateral level, Malaysia and Indonesia this year have agreed to host joint patrols along the Straits of Malacca and North Natuna Sea which connect both countries with the aim of reinforcing maritime security against illegal fishing. The Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono said that illegal vessels are usually the ones that harm the sustainability of fish stocks due to their overfishing and destructive fishing practices (see “Indonesia, Malaysia to hold joint patrols against illegal fishing”, Mongabay, February 1, 2022).

The joint patrol should also be done together with other AMS to combat IUU in the South China Sea – which can build on the policy contents under the Development of an ASEAN General Fisheries Policy (AGFP) Feasibility Study Report (2020).

  • As of February 2022, Thailand has imposed a temporary moratorium (ban) on commercial fishing in the Gulf of Thailand until mid-June this year to rebuild marine resources in the meantime.

The prohibition is being implemented in two stages. The first covers 27,000 square kilometres and the second covers 5,300 square kilometres.

This policy measure should also be considered as part of an ASEAN action plan to promote the recovery of fish stocks in the South China Sea and Straits of Malacca, etc.

Currently, Asean only has a Strategic Plan of Action on ASEAN Cooperation on Fisheries 2021-2025 which has six strategic thrusts.

  • Notwithstanding, we should still strive for a Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) – similar to the EU (European Union) where we can set quotas on the total allowable catches (TAC) and the concomitant of landing obligations (i.e., the number or amount of fish netted or deducted against the TAC quotas), enforce the ban on destructive fishing practices more effectively and on a sustainable basis, enable and empower systematic joint-action on a regional basis, etc. with the exception of freedom of movement, i.e., of fishermen and fishing vessels.

After all, Asean has already sought the technical assistance of the EU for its fisheries policy framework under the Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI).

Instead, as proposed we also suggested that Asean’s version of a CFP be used to support massive aquafarming projects in border regions that “capture” and re-designate the smooth cross-border movement of fishes within the zonal limits for the purpose of commercial breeding.

This not only promotes joint/cross-border investment from the private sector but also a more viable alternative to deep-sea fishing which can often result in an unfair playing field, among others.

Jason Loh and Anis Salwana Abdul Malik are part of the research team of EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

PIE Industrial, New Customers To Catalyse Growth

With its results coming below expectations, achieving 45.8% and 34.5% of the full year revenue and profit forecasts by Mercury Securities, the research house has revised PIE Industrial Berhad forecast by 8.3%-15.9% and 19.1% -30.6% for the full year 2022 to 2024.

The downward adjustment was understood to be due to higher labour costs and provision for slow-moving inventories. However, Mercury maintains a BUY recommendation with a revised TP of RM4.07 based on FY23F EPS 18.6 sen and PE of 21.9x in line with the 2-years average. They like the stock for its attractive dividend yield and 3-year CAGR forward earnings of 13.2% from FY21 to FY24F. The target price represents a potential return of 24.1% over the current price.

PIE’s revenue for the quarter was stronger year-on-year due to higher demand from new and existing customers. Profit was weaker, down by 38.8% due to higher labour costs and provision for slow-moving inventories. The group has a proven track record and strong support from Foxconn.

There were also new customers on board, Customer N was secured in FY20, which is involved in the video games business, and a full-year revenue contribution from this customer was realised in FY21, allowing the company to achieve a record-breaking revenue above RM1bn. The company plans to dedicate a floor space of 120,000 sq ft to a new customer namely Customer A, involved in the supercomputing cloud business secured in FY21. With a full-year revenue contribution from Customer A expected in FY22, Mercury opines that this could potentially catalyse PIE’s earnings moving forward, driven by higher margins as raw materials are consigned by the customer.

In tandem with the expansion plans, the company plans to hire more workers, expected to arrive in the third quarter. The additional workers are expected to replace some inefficient existing workers and produce higher productivity and output. Running at double shifts 24 hours a day is expected to add RM150m worth of backlog orders to be cleared by year-end.

Risk factors however include fluctuation of raw material prices and labour shortages.

MAHA 2022 Concludes With Over RM260 Million In Sales Value

The biggest agriculture and food event organised by the Ministry of Agriculture And Food Industries which was held on August 4 ended with huge success after securing over RM260 million in sales volume.

After 2 weeks and welcoming 1.4 million visitors, MAHA 2022 which has held in MAEPS Serdang for the physical event saw 1.2 million visitors attending while 266,000 attended the event virtually. Based on the final tally by the organisers, the event saw RM260 million in sales volume which was generated via direct, online sales, and also from trade deals.

Minister Dr. Ronald Kiandee confirmed these figures when he shared them with news outlets as the event concluded.

Vietnam Proposes To Build A US$58.7 Billion High Speed Railway

Vietnam is considering building a high-speed railway spanning the whole country at a possible cost of US$58.7 billion, this was reported by the government in a news release.

Its Transport Ministry will submit a proposal next month to build a 1545 km railway to the Politburo a powerful decision-making body of the ruling communist party.

The first phase will be 665 km covering two sections and will be built at a cost of US$24.72 billion by 2032 while the entire project is expected to be completed by 2040 2050 time period.

The ASEAN member is becoming a major manufacturing hub in the region with China, Europe, and the US looking to get a foothold in the fastest growing economy in the world at this moment.

Before You Start Exercising, Ask Yourself Why

I once read about a parent driving to pick up their 10-year-old child from school. As they approached the schoolyard, they fumbled around in their glove compartment looking for a cigarette, only to find they were out.

As the school bell rang and the crowds of children came down the stairs, it began to rain. The parent thought, “If I put my foot on the accelerator, I can get to the corner shop and pick up my cigarettes before my child gets too wet.”

That was the day that individual quit smoking for good.

Like that parent, some people change unhealthy behaviors on their own — usually when they see a disconnect between their behavior and what is important to them in their lives.

Inspired to start

So many of us know we ought to be more physically active. But with life passing us by at such a rapid pace, this seems to be the first thing to fall off our to-do list. Others jump into an ambitious exercise routine, only to lose steam a few weeks later.

In my practice as an exercise specialist within a cardiology department, I invite my patients to put the pause button on life and consider why they want to exercise.

Ask yourself: What, if anything, would be a good reason to start an exercise routine?

Taking that brief moment to think about that question is probably the most important message I can give anyone who is stuck in the vicious cycle of a sedentary lifestyle. It allows you to find a deep motivation to exercise by connecting exercise to what is most important in your life.

For example: Maybe you want to travel easily without worrying who will pull your suitcase or how far you can walk on a tour. Maybe you want to keep up with your kids. Perhaps you would be inspired by charitable exercise events such as a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or triathlon. Maybe you want to better control your diabetes or help lower your cholesterol. Or you want to get stronger and maintain your sense of balance so you can live independently as long as possible.

Next steps

If you discover starting to move more will help you achieve what you really want in life, here’s the next question: If I did decide to exercise, how might I go about it?

 Be specific and customize your exercise plan to fit your life. You may enjoy exercising at a routine time in the morning before work to avoid the distractions and mental fatigue that occur later in the day. Some people want to exercise in a group for support and accountability. Others opt for exercises such as water aerobics that avoid aggravating joint pain.

Once you have had that conversation with yourself, you may be ready to consider guidance from an exercise specialist. Here are some tips:

  • Select an activity that is safe, therapeutic and somewhat pleasurable.
  • Start out with a conservative plan.
  • Progress steadily over a 6- to 8-week period.
  • Begin by increasing the minutes and days rather than the intensity. A little exercise is good, but more is better.

I liken exercise to paying your rent or mortgage. We can’t go long periods without making our mortgage payments, yet we expect to remain youthful as we age without regularly exercising. The more you invest in exercise (within reason), the higher the quality of living.

Finally, seek guidance from your physician if you have concerns about your physical limitations or a medical condition.

(Article attributed: Mayo Clinic)

Don’t Tell Anyone! Insider Tips for Germany

A huge beach, nostalgic industrial heritage and a massive crater from prehistoric times: come with us on a trip beyond the tourist hotspots in Germany. Our off-the-beaten-track highlights.

A deserted beach in the height of summer? A clear view of the starry night sky, just like in the desert? A solitary stroll through a cool beech forest? Germany has much more to offer than Oktoberfest, Neuschwanstein Castle and hipster Berlin. And best of all: it doesn’t take much to find this different side to Germany. You’re never very far from a hidden gem.

Europe’s largest beach

Amrum: full moon over the beach, light house, beach chairAmrum: full moon over the beach, light house, beach chair©DZT (Markus Pioro)

Off we go to the mudflats of northern Germany. The island of Amrum. is situated in Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mudflat hikes are exciting enough, but then there’s Kniepsand, Europe’s largest sandy beach. There is always a secluded spot to place your towel, even in the height of summer.

Vikings and the cool beech forest

Busdorf: UNESCO Haithabu, colony of vikingsBusdorf: UNESCO Haithabu, colony of vikings©Ostseefjord Schleswig GmbH (Beate Zoellner)

The town of Schleswig is also located in Schleswig-Holstein. The small town on the Schlei inlet dates back to the 9th century. The Vikings used to live in the region, and they expanded their settlement into a gigantic stronghold: Hedeby. Many Germans are unaware of this heritage from the Norse people – the region first became German territory in 1864. Merchants from all over the world met here between the 8th and 12th centuries. Often fought over, Hedeby was ultimately destroyed. The Viking Age lives on today in a village of reconstructed huts. Hedeby was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2018.

Our quest for insider tips now takes us to Uckermark in Brandenburg, a district to the north of Berlin, where a mystical wood awaits: Grumsin Forest, one of the world’s largest continuous beech forests. In 2011, parts of the forest were included in the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 20-kilometre circular route takes walkers to hidden lakes and moors via an ancient forest path. This is a lovely and cool place to be in summer.

Dark Sky Reserve and free climbing

Rhön: Sternenpark, Orion im schwarzen MoorRhön: Sternenpark, Orion im schwarzen Moor©Sternenpark Rhön (A. Hänel)

Next stop: Gülpe in Westhavelland Nature Park near the Elbe river. Until 1990, just under 100 kilometres of the river marked the border between East and West Germany. The region is still just as sparsely populated today – perfect for stargazing. There is hardly any industry, street lamps or any other form of artificial light to tarnish the view of the night sky around Gülpe, making it the darkest place in Germany. Whether you want to spot shooting stars or the lunar eclipse, there is no better place to gaze at the sky than the Dark Sky Reserve in Westhavelland. There are now other dark sky parks in the Rhön Mountains, the Eifel low mountain range and the Chiemgau Alps.

The Alps are impressive. Insider tip: the German Central Uplands even more so. Here too, you can hike without seeing another soul. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony with their table mountains, pinnacles, gorges, rivers and forests are particularly appealing, and they just so happen to be a climbing paradise that holds its own as the alleged birthplace of free climbing. More than 1,000 free-standing sandstone rocks can be scaled here. You can book lessons in climbing schools from Bad Schandau right through to Königstein.

Smoked beer and impact craters

freshly tapped draught beerfreshly tapped draught beer©FrankenTourismus/Bamberg TKS (Andreas Hub)

It’s no secret that the Germans brew an abundance of beer. But have you heard of smoked beer? This liquid delicacy, which smells a little like smoked meat, comes from Bamberg. Several breweries in the town in Upper Franconia, Bavaria still make their beer today using traditional recipes – a practice not found anywhere else. Back in the day, smoked beer was the only beer, as it only became technically possible to malt without the use of smoke through industrialisation. At any rate, there is an impressively high density of breweries here. There is a total of 60 in the vicinity, and they brew around 400 different beer styles. You can go on walks from brewery to brewery and learn how to make traditional beer on beer courses.

Nördlingen, a two-hour drive to the south of Bamberg, is the site of a catastrophic event in the Earth’s history. Fortunately it was a long time ago. And yet the history is omnipresent, for the pure fact that Nördlingen is situated 150 metres deeper in the ground than the surrounding area, as the town was built in a crater.

A meteorite hit the Earth 14.5 million years ago at a speed of 70,000 kilometres per hour. It tore an impact crater 25 kilometres in diameter into the ground: the Nördlinger Ries, the best-preserved crater in Europe. Guided tours are available almost every day at Geopark Ries. You can also learn more about the impacts of this prehistoric cosmic encounter on Earth at the Ries Crater Museum in Nördlingen.

Museums and the Landscape Park

Rheinradweg: cycling in the landscape park Duisburg-NordRheinradweg: cycling in the landscape park Duisburg-Nord©Tourismus NRW e.V. (Dominik Ketz)

Museums and Germany is a special topic in itself, as there are around 6,800 throughout the country – something for culture lovers to celebrate. Museum Island in Berlin and Frankfurt’s Museum Embankment boast a particularly high density of these institutions. But you will find lesser-known establishments among the crowd, including Berlin’s Computer Game Museum, the German Emigration Centre in Bremerhaven, which documents the history of German migration using the fates of real-life families and the German Sports and Olympic Museum in Cologne, which showcases the world of sport, from the ancient world right through to the modern era. It tells stories of triumphant victories but also bitter defeats.

Or perhaps industrial heritage is your thing? Then we recommend Duisburg-Nord Landscape Park. The 180-hectare urban sanctuary in the north of the city of 500,000 inhabitants sprawls out around the disused Thyssen ironworks in Duisburg’s Meiderich district, now a heritage-protected industrial monument. Raw iron was produced for the steel industry here from 1901 to 1985. On guided tours of an old blast furnace, visitors can see how the workers once grafted here.

The grounds boast gardens, meadows and waterways, which can be explored on foot or hired bicycle on a circular route steeped in industrial history. If you want a clear picture of the landscape park, the observation tower in Blast Furnace 5 is a great place to start. Not high enough for you? A climbing garden has been installed in a former charge bunker, while there is a high ropes course in a casting house. Or maybe you prefer being down low? In a flooded gasometer, Europe’s largest artificial diving centre, you can put on your scuba diving mask and oxygen cylinder and discover a fascinating underwater world. You can also go wreck diving: a Trabant, the car brand most widely available in former East Germany, and the fuselage of a passenger aircraft have been plunged into the water here.

Who would have thought all this possible?

(Article attributed: Germany Travel)

Beyond Cliché: Effective Communication of Sustainability in the Hospitality Industry

The annual research by Booking.com published last April with insights from more than 30,000 travelers across 32 countries and territories revealed that four out of five global travelers now say that they would want to travel sustainably. 

Of these, 50% of global travelers say that recent news about climate change has influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices. The study also revealed that 25% would be willing to pay more for travel activities to ensure that they are giving back to their communities.

Without a doubt, the hospitality industry is collaborating, pledging, and committing to more sustainable practices. It is becoming increasingly important for the hospitality industry to communicate its sustainability practices. 

However, a “let’s save the world” claim and tacky towel policy stickers, on the other hand, may be perceived as shallow and unappealing by increasingly environmentally and socially conscious consumers. 

Studies have found that consumers are dubious of sustainability claims made by hospitality institutions when they recognize a self-serving motive. 

Aside from being genuine about sustainable practices, there are some key questions to be addressed: What works and what doesn’t when it comes to communicating about sustainability? How can sustainability be communicated more effectively and consistently? 

Here are some suggestions to be considered. 

  1. Measure and Communicate Hard Numbers  

Measuring and communicating actual baselines and targets, as well as progress can be used as a strategy to steer clear of unsubstantiated claims. 

When controlling operational effect and narrating progress, a set of solid measurements is crucial. Therefore, more uniform definitions and industry-wide benchmarking are needed. Hotels could leverage free measurement tools such as the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI) and the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative (HWMI).

Businesses in the hospitality industry that periodically benchmark their energy use can inform their clients about their energy, emissions, and improvement measures. Something along the lines of “With your support, we’ve saved this premises’ annual water use by 20% since 2021.” 

Can the actual impact of your social initiatives be illustrated with absolute statistics, keeping in mind to address less tangible sustainability criteria, so customers can have a clear sense of how significant that influence is?

  1. Talk About the Invisible, Impact, and Context 

The best sustainability solutions are often those that are invisible to visitors. 

Many hotels and other hospitality businesses have made commitments to use renewable energy, reusing grey water, or hiring individuals with disabilities—things that most customers are probably unaware of. 

Hospitality operators could describe the specific impact that these acts have rather than concentrating solely on the efforts. Remember to contextualize the language you use when discussing these impacts. 

Very few individuals, for instance, are aware of the significance of a tonne of carbon. A clearer example would be to communicate it as 1 tonne of CO2 per year needs 16 mature trees to offset, or 1 tonne of CO2 is equivalent to 18 dairy cows in weight, or for 1 tonne of CO2 that a person emits anywhere on this planet, 3m2 of Arctic summer sea ice disappears.

Storytelling is one technique for enhancing customer experiences. By delivering the information through a personal narrative, you may encourage customers to relate to and empathize with the sustainability principles of your firm.

  1. Alignment to a Bigger Picture with Integrated Evidence 

The architecture of an organization’s sustainability blueprint can be systematically reflected and communicated when it is aligned to a larger picture of a global sustainability agenda. 

Start broadly by describing how your initiatives match with the UN SDGs, a national sustainability strategy, or the policy of your company. Then focus on what you do explicitly using tactics and realistic, feasible goals. Observe the inter-relational or inter-dependable sustainability initiatives and ensure that they are equally evident, not in conflict with one another, and not lopsided efforts. 

Avoid situations where a program to reuse linens is advertised but there are no recycling bins on hand, or claiming that there are no plastic straws in restaurants but still allow for single-use plastic bottles in hotel rooms; or that you are particularly environmentally friendly at an exhibition but throw away an entire decorative floor covering right away after the exhibition closes; or to provide recycling containers but don’t hire recycling companies to pick up different types of waste. That will just risk the organization’s reputation by being called out for greenwashing. 

  1. Let Credible Parties Speak for You 

Numerous previous studies have indicated that third-party certification can directly improve buyers’ trust-related beliefs and intentions. 

Hence, hospitality firms are encouraged to be certified by independent and credible organizations such as Green Seal and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), Green Globe, EU-Eco-regulation, and others in the hospitality industry. In recent years, the event industry has developed a plethora of voluntary guidelines, regulations, and checklists to assist stakeholders in acting more sustainably. 

  1. Sustainability as Part of Service Experience

Offering sustainability as a component of service excellence can be a more natural and efficient method to express it. Instead of just providing factual information to customers, sustainability can be packaged into an experience. 

The experience could come in the form of eco-friendly amenities, clear waste segregation practices, locally sourced, organic, and fair-trade food supplies with low-carbon cooking methods on the menu, local workforce inclusivity in guest services, sustainable transportation options, and so on. 

Not to mention, the sustainable architecture and interior design of the rooms, dining areas, gyms, convention halls, etc are the most obvious facilitation of sustainable experiences.

Conclusively, hospitality companies must exercise caution when communicating with customers to avoid creating doubt in their minds. Most importantly, sustainable practices should not be portrayed as deceptive claims or a form of greenwashing.

By Associate Professor Dr. Daniel Chong, Associate Dean (International), School of Hospitality and Service Management, Sunway University

MAHA 2022 Achieves 1 Million Visitor Target, Special Prize For 1.1 Millionth Awaits!

The Malaysian Agriculture, Horticulture, and Agrotourism Exhibition (MAHA) 2022 met its target of one million visitors, one day before closing, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob who made his second visit to the fair.  

The event which began on August 4 ends on 14 August highlighting the best food and agricultural produce the country has with added activities and performances which makes this biannual event a must-visit.

In his, the post PM said “I spent almost three hours at MAHA but still did not manage to visit many places,” he sai Meanwhile, Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee, in his Facebook post, confirmed the number of physical visitors to MAHA 2022 had exceeded one million.

After presenting a cash prize to the 1 millionth visitor, the PM said “a more special prize awaits the physical visitor number 1,100,001st.

Leader Energy Solar Deal With TNB Keeps Its Sukuk Rating Stable

MARC Ratings has affirmed its AA-IS rating on Leader Energy Sdn Bhd’s outstanding ASEAN Green Sustainable and Responsible Investment Sukuk Wakalah of RM245 million. The rating outlook is stable.

Leader Energy is the investment holding company of two solar power project companies with large-scale solar projects in Kuala Muda, Kedah. The solar power plants have a combined capacity of 49MW.

The rating affirmation reflects the strength of the 21-year power purchase agreement between Leader Energy’s two solar power project companies, Leader Solar Energy Sdn Bhd (LSE I) and Leader Solar Energy II Sdn Bhd (LSE II), and the offtaker TNB (AAA/Stable). Under the agreement, the energy generated by the two plants will be purchased by TNB at certain tariffs, thereby mitigating demand risk. The rating also incorporates the plants’ track record of energy generation which has been in line with forecasts.

In 2021, both LSE I and LSE II recorded good operational performance, with energy production exceeding P90 estimates by 14.5% and 3.0%. In line with the plants’ good operational performance, total revenue for LSE I and LSE II was recorded at RM38.9 million, above the projected RM35.2 million. Energy production at both plants continued to exceed P90 projections in 1Q2022.

Cash flow from operations remained healthy at RM38.2 million in 2021. Based on Leader Energy’s cash flow projections, minimum and average finance service coverage ratios were strong at 2.36x and 2.71x. Projected cash flows remain capable of withstanding multiple stress scenarios, including lower energy generation, higher plant outage, and increased operating cost. The group has liquidity of RM53.6 million after repaying its sukuk obligations in July 2022, more than sufficient to meet its sukuk obligations of RM5.5 million in January 2023.

KTM Allows All Bicycle Types On Board, Scraps Fees Completely!

Keretapi Tanah Melayu has revised its bicycle policy of just foldable and will now allow all types effective April 18 in an effort to promote more healthy living among Malaysians

Subsequently, the rail operator has also scrapped the RM2 fees charged for bringing bicycles onboard the trains, this is seen as a positive move that will also encourage tourism in small towns the train passes. As for the northern track, this will only be permitted on the Butterworth Padang Renggas commuter line.

To enjoy the facilities, riders are responsible for their vehicles and should be placed where they can be obstructive to other passengers. KTM has also advised riders to use the first and last coach or any that is not too crowded, they are also required to be close to their wheelers and not wander off.

If it’s a foldable bike, the owners are to have them folded while on board as for conventional bikes they must be clean and sharp pointy parts to be covered.

BMW Lets You Subscribe To Heated Car Seats. Is Your Business Subscription Ready?

BMW recently announced that to get warm in your car (by way of heated seats), you’d need to pay a monthly subscription for that. 

What are subscription services and how big a part of our future are they? 

According to Juniper Research, the global market value of the subscription economy will grow to US$275 billion in 2022, rising from US$224 billion in 2021.

From Spongebob merch delivered on a monthly basis to spices to razors, it’s the literal long-tail at work – someone somewhere is willing to pay for something to be shipped every month. 

Beyond the subscription boxes, some of the more common ones are content or streaming services such as your Netflix. This could be anything from music to audiobooks to online course etc as long as it can be accessed via a channel or platform anytime, anywhere. Most will also take a page from Netflix’s playbook by providing personalized recommendations to keep subscribers engaged. 

Next you have technology as a service. This encompasses everything from software, to the platforms they are built on and even where they are hosted. For most of us, we deal mostly with SaaS providers such as Microsoft’s Office 365, Adobe’s Creative Cloud and the like. 

Once upon a time, it would have cost thousands of ringgit to buy a single license of Adobe’s Photoshop for example. Now for less than RM50 a month you get Adobe Photoshop as well as Adobe Lightroom across your devices and cloud storage.

Lastly, you have the products with added subscription services. Your iCloud or Google Drive storage is an example of this. Subscribe to expand your device’s ability. BMW’s heated seats are another example of this. 

So why should you consider subscription as a business model? 

Firstly, it helps with pricing, especially when your product or service commands a premium. 

By moving away from outright sale of the product to a monthly subscription, it not only lowers the entry point, but allows more people to use your service. At the very least, more people will sign-up for the experience. 

The majority of subscription businesses also offer different tiers in their subscription model – from free all the way to full-blown-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink thrown in. This is designed to allow people to get people comfortable with the product first. 

Experience is key in any subscription business. You cannot just stop engaging once they have given you their credit card details and move on to converting the next person who comes along. 

How you engage or guide a person in experiencing your brand or product is key to retaining his monthly subscription. Example – I’ve read and watched about how useful Lightroom is to me as a photographer, so when I’ve taken the plunge and paid my hard-earned dollars for a sub, ease me into it. 

Granted with software such as Lightroom there are thousands of resources out there, but that doesn’t give you the right to not treat me special. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Da Vinci Resolve is a popular video editor competing with Adobe Premiere and used by amateurs and professionals alike. There’s no welcome tutorial but they give a free version away and users have to rely on tutorials from You Tube and the web. 

Experience works both ways. It is not only skewed towards the customer, but also to your business. It could be challenging for businesses to innovate fast enough, but by monitoring what users are saying, you can then tweak your products and services accordingly for broader appeal. Think of it as a never-ending focus group on steroids. If you are just starting out and have adopted a freemium model, user feedback would be the best way for you to identify any shortcomings in your product or service. 

On the flipside of things, a bad experience could also lose you customers. Poor product on-boarding and unresponsive customer support can lose you your loyal subscribers. Companies have even tried to make it hard for people to unsubscribe to services – forcing subscribers to call in to unsubscribe for example, but this has actually caused subscription numbers to go down. Rather than telling their friends to try your offering, people tell their friends about how hard it is to unsubscribe causing people to not even want to try in the first place.

It may seem insane that BMW is offering heated car-seats subscriptions to tropical Malaysia but could this be a ploy for people and news outlets to then explore what else could be available as a subscription from the German automaker? Who knows, you might be able to book your next hotel stay from them.

By Afif Azman, Teneo Innovation Lead

Unique things To Do in Norway

The main attractions in Norway are beautiful and well worth a visit.

But do you want some tips on less well-known places and activities that you didn’t even know existed?

Here you go!

1. Camel safari in Hammerfest

This is what it looks like when the Sahara meets the Arctic. The camel safari in HammerfestNorthern Norway features an extra-scenic view, and maybe the midnight sun as well! 

2. Spot a UFO?

In 1981, people first spotted mysterious lights in the valley of Hessdalen in Trøndelag. Today, researchers and enthusiasts from all over the world come to observe the phenomena.

Stay at this UFO cabin or at Hessdalen UFO camp – maybe you will get to see some strange things too!

3. Ride the World’s longest toboggan run

Although Norway is very much a ski nation, you can have a lot of fun without skis too.

In Loen, in Fjord Norway, you can take the Skylift up, and ride sledges from the top of the mountain and down to the fjord. It’s 7 kilometres of fun – last one down is a rotten egg!

4. Meet and greet – a moose

One of the most common animals in Norway is the moose. Sometimes you can spot them in the distance, grazing on a field early in the morning. But it’s not that often you get to see them up close.

At some places, like Elgtun in Southern Norway for example (temporarily closed in 2022), you can get really close – and maybe even feed them!

5. Visit modern-day Vikings

Did you think the Viking Age was consigned to the history books? Well, not in the Viking town of Njardarheimr, in Fjord Norway. These are not actors in costume, but real Vikings of all ages who have implemented authentic details from the period into their lifestyle.

There are lots of places in Norway where you can explore some fascinating Viking history.

6. Spooky adventures

Are you into mysteries? Join a ghost tour of one of the most haunted places in Norway – the more than 700-year-old fortress, Akershus Festning in Oslo!

7. Sleep like an ice queen

You will never forget the night you spend at Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Northern Norway, the northernmost of Norway’s cool ice hotels.

With a bit of luck, you’ll get to see the northern lights dancing across the sky before you fall asleep between reindeer skins.

LEGOLAND® Malaysia Resort Outlines Growth Plans Amidst Tourism Revitalisation

To support the government’s tourism revitalizing efforts, LEGOLAND® Malaysia Resort announced its upcoming expansion plans and a line-up of exciting activities. The announcement is in line with the resort’s 10 th anniversary celebrations, including a month-long celebration.

“We will continue to build on our fundamentals and focus on our strategic priorities by investing in enhancing, expanding, and establishing new activities to provide our guests with a truly unique experience that is only available in LEGOLAND. We are grateful for the unwavering support shown by our guests, partners, and the government. LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort is committed to providing our guests with new offerings of great value as the ultimate family holiday destination,” says CS Lim,
Divisional Director at LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort.

Major Enhancements Coming to LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort
LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort has brought guests new and unique experiences over the last 10 years. In the coming years, guests can look forward to a series of enhancements such as:
 Shaded MINILAND – Guests can walk around comfortably under new shades with cooling fans while browsing through iconic landmarks of LEGO builds from January 2023 onwards.
 Refurbished LEGOLAND Hotel Rooms with New Themes – Fellow explorers should look forward to experiencing the up-and-coming new themed room that will be joining the current offerings of PIRATE, KINGDOM, ADVENTURE, and NINJAGO in the 1 st quarter of 2023.
 First Ever Splash Carnival – Fans can look forward to the first ever water park festival for special shows, activities, friendly challenges and more while enjoying a splashing good time in Mid 2023 at the LEGOLAND Water Park.
 New Thrilling 4D Movie at LEGO Studio – LEGO fans rejoice as the resort will be bringing an immersive cinematic experience to a whole new level with a new 4D Movie that will only be available at the LEGO Studio around the third quarter of 2023.

Above and beyond, LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort will continue hosting large scale annual festive events celebrating key holidays such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, and more.

In the coming year, LEGOLAND will be partnering closely with LEGO to LEGO themed events such as Build the Thrills and Friendship Fest that are uniquely available in LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort.

Meanwhile, for the rest of this year, guests can immerse themselves in the new world of mythical creatures with LEGO MYTHICA 4D movie, a spookily fun Brick-or-Treat Monster Party featuring a brand new 4D movie and the spectacular Brick-Tacular Holidays to end the year with a bang.

“The investments and enhancements align with our strategic priorities to draw new and repeat visitations from domestic and international tourists to LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort. We are optimistic about the industry’s recovery and look forward to
supporting the tourism revitalizing plans developed by the government,” said CS.

Drawing International and Domestic Guests To Malaysia and Johor With Malaysia expected to attract between 4.5 million and 5 million international tourists in 2022, LEGOLAND Malaysia is committed in working closely with the Ministry of Tourism to transform Malaysia into top destination of choice in the region by 2024.

CS added, “Over the past decade, LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort has worked closely with key government agencies to ensure that Malaysia continues to be an attractive destination choice for international travelers. LEGOLAND sets Malaysia apart from
other destinations by ensuring that all our activities are meticulously curated based on the foundational strength of our LEGO DNA that nurtures creativity through play.

In this way, we are able to draw travelers who are looking for more than just a holiday when they visit Malaysia,” said CS.

Malaysia’s GDP Upside Surprise Opens Door For More Rate Hikes

OCBC Bank has admitted of having a forecast of 7.5% yoy for the Q2 2022 GDP growth for Malaysia would put it in a comfortable place compared to the median forecast of 7.0%. As it turned out, the Bank had been too conservative in its estimation of the underlying strength of the Malaysian economy over the period, as the actual number turned out to 8.9%.

Technically, that is the highest in just a year, after Q2 2021’s 15.9% yoy. However, given that it does not enjoy that much of the uplift from the base year effect as the 2021 print, the latest uptick is all the more remarkable.

Looking into the details, the surge in private consumption stands out above all. It came in at a robust 18.3% growth, compared to 5.5% in Q1. The recovery in employment over the period, with the unemployment rate declining further to 3.8% in June compared to the height of 4.8% last year, helps to underpin the consumption strength.

This is corroborated by the upticks in industry-level GDP prints, with items such as recreational services up 75.1% and restaurants and hotels up by 36.7%. Altogether, these signal the type of ‘revenge spending’ that a country entering the endemic stage of the Covid-19 pandemic has had.

Elsewhere, investment activities saw a relative uptick, with private-led investment, in particular, growing by 6.3% yoy in Q2, compared to 0.4% before. Going by the statistics office, this appears to have been led by improvement in non-residential construction and continued expansion in machinery and equipment investments.

Apart from the domestic drivers, the external growth driver of exports performed well too. Exports grew by 10.4% in Q2, compared to 8.0% in the prior quarter, broadly in line with the strength seen in the customs exports print, bolstered by semiconductor shipment. Given the strength in domestic consumption, however, import activities also grew considerably, by 14.0% against 11.1% before. The combined effect is that net exports of goods and services shrank by 28.7%, compared to a drop of 26.5% in the prior quarter.

Overall, the strength in Q2 could be seen as a continued pick-up in growth momentum that had been seen in Q1, with the combined H1 growth of 6.9%. This should bode well for the underlying strength in the economy as we step further into the second half of the year, which may look decidedly less supportive, especially on the external front that might crimp exports more. Still, given the strength in the GDP prints thus far, OCBC remains comfortable with the full-year forecast of 5.7% that it had in mind, even as the challenges of the second half of the year may look foreboding.

On the monetary policy front, even before the upside beat in the Q2 GDP print, OCBC said it already saw a good chance of a 25bps hike in the September MPC meeting, partly because of the incipient price pressures that are starting to show up more concretely.

Even though there might now be some whispers of a ‘fatter’ hike of, say, 50bps, the probability is low to that. The fact that BNM has been relatively early in normalizing rates – having hiked rates twice this year already – gives it the space to continue adopting a modest and gradual approach for now.

Still, the abnk does see a higher chance of another 25bps hike in the last meeting of the year in November, which would put the Overnight Policy Rate at 2.75% by the end of 2022. There is still some time to come, with a number of key data points to look out for in the interim months. In particular, if core inflation picks up speed to above 3.5% by then, compared to the latest 3.0% print of June, the likelihood of the November MPC hike will be a lot more crystallized.

Wellian Wiranto Economist Global Treasury – Research & Strategy OCBC Bank

WWF Malaysia And CIMB Islamic Collaborate In Conserving Fraser Hill’s Biodiversity

Undertaking a laborious task of cataloging the botanical varieties in Frase Hill’sForest Complex, WWF-Malaysia has started a project supported by CIMB Islamic Bank Berhad to inventorise these treasures as part of the Peninsular Malaysia Terrestrial Conservation programme.

Apart from emphasising floral species diversity, endemism, and conservation status, this botanical inventory project will also provide assessments and recommendations for conserving the various species, as well as their habitats. The Fraser’s Hill Forest Complex sprawls nearly 83,000 hectares across the Titiwangsa Mountain Range, comprising six forest reserves, state land forests, and the Fraser’s Hill Town Board.

WWF-Malaysia’s CEO Sophia Lim said that as a key biodiversity area, Fraser’s Hill Forest Complex meets the three International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria that qualify it as an Important Plant Area due to its high species richness and presence of threatened species and endangered habitats.

This project also aims to increase public awareness about the importance and the role of floral diversity in conservation.
It is part of a three-year Fraser’s Hill Conservation Programme, which was made possible through a contribution of RM443,900 by CIMB Islamic to advocate the security and protection of the Fraser’s Hill Complex as a State Park.

CIMB Islamic’s CEO Ahmad Shahriman Mohd Shariff commenting on the project said, in line with Bank Negara Malaysia’s Financial Sector Blueprint agenda which emphasises preparing the Malaysian financial system to be more sustainable and climate-resilient, CIMB Islamic has always been at the forefront of value based intermediation, championing initiatives that prioritise positive impact on society, which include the conservation and preservation of the environment

Customers can choose to open an EcoSave account at any CIMB Islamic branch nationwide, with a minimum deposit of RM250. Subsequently, apart from indirect contribution towards green initiatives, customers who maintain a monthly average balance of RM5,000 without any over-the-counter transactions within the month, will enjoy an RM5 monthly cash incentive. In addition, customers will also receive quarterly updates via EcoSave’s e-newsletter on green initiatives undertaken by EcoSave.

MTPB Appoints Tan Sri Ong Hong Peng As Chairman

The Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Shukri has appointed Tan Sri Dr. Ong Hong Peng as the Chairman of Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board effective August 2022, replacing Dato’ Seri Ramlan Bin Ibrahim.
 
Tan Sri Dr. Ong began his service in the government sector as an Assistant Director at the Public Service Department of Malaysia in 1981. In 2007, he was appointed as the Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism, marking the start of his contributions to the tourism industry. He then served as the Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture for eight (8) years, beginning in 2008.
 
During his service with the Ministry, Tan Sri Dr. Ong simultaneously served as the Chairman of the Malaysia Convention Bureau (MyCEB) and Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) from 2009 until 2016. He was also the Chairman of the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (ASWARA) from 2013 until 2018.
 
As the new Chairman of Tourism Malaysia, he aims to be committed to working closely with the management and officers of Tourism Malaysia, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the tourism trade industry, and the media to reinvigorate the tourism industry and place Malaysia as a safe and preferred holiday destination.
 
“I am truly honoured to accept this position, especially during the same month and year of Tourism Malaysia’s birthday. Celebrating together Tourism Malaysia’s 50th Golden Anniversary not only fills me with gratitude but also with immense responsibilities that come together with it. I am thrilled to walk hand in hand with everyone on this journey as we work toward paving a better path for the industry,” says Tan Sri Dr. Ong.

Call Of Duty Gaming Studio, Virtous Sets Up Shop In KL

Global gaming studio which worked on popular titles like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Demon’s Souls, Final Fantasy, Horizon Forbidden West, and Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond for Meta Quest 2, is setting up shop in Malaysia.

Virtuos has been on an expansion streak in the region with bases in Vietnam and China, and is looking to have a studio in Kuala Lumpur. Headed by Mufizal Mokhtar as General Manager, the KL studio will include veteran AAA game developers with over 20 years of experience each of who have returned home to launch the studio.

“I am pleased to return home to build Virtuos Kuala Lumpur alongside some of my closest friends and pioneers in the industry,” said Mufizal. “We are excited to play an active part in Malaysia’s game development industry and the growth of its digital ecosystem. Thanks to the support of the Malaysian Government and our global Virtuos network, we look forward to welcoming the best talent to our multicultural team and making games better, together.”

Datuk Arham Abdul Rahman, CEO of MIDA, said, “The establishment of a Virtuos studio in Malaysia is in line with our efforts to attract creative quality investments, which contribute to a rich and diverse digital media sector and create high-value job opportunities, allowing many young talent to pursue their passion for gaming by making a global impact with fun, creative and original IP conceptualized and developed in Malaysia”.

Gilles Langourieux, CEO of Virtuos, said, “With the launch of Virtuos Kuala Lumpur, we are excited to contribute to Malaysia’s digitalization and growth as a regional game development hub. We have ambitions to grow our local headcount to 300 by the end of 2025, and become one of Malaysia’s top studios that deliver full-cycle game development expertise and quality projects for our partners worldwide.”

Strategically located between Virtuos’ Singapore headquarters and its largest Asian studios in China and Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur is a natural expansion for Virtuos worldwide. The expansion also builds upon Virtuos’ launches in Lyon and Montreal, as well as its acquisitions of Glass Egg in Ho Chi Minh City and Volmi in Ukraine this year.

A Q&A with An Expert on Monkeypox Testing, More…

Health officials continue to monitor and track increasing cases of monkeypox, a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. 

“Monkeypox is a virus that has mainly caused outbreaks in the continent of Africa. There have been over the last decade or two isolated outbreaks in countries outside of Africa, but this is the largest outbreak occurring in what we call nonendemic countries,” says Matthew Binnicker, Ph.D., director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic. 

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global public health emergency, with more than 18,000 reported cases in 70 countries. In the U.S., more than 4,907 cases of monkeypox have been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How is monkeypox spread, who should get tested, and could it become a new sexually transmitted infection? 

What are common monkeypox symptoms?

If someone is exposed to monkeypox virus, several days later they typically develop what we call a viral prodrome, where they may have a fever or body aches that may last for a few days and then progress to developing a rash on their body. That rash may be what we call localized in one part of the body, for example on the chest or on the face. Or it may be more widespread across the body — in other words on the face, chest, arms and legs. And that rash can then persist for several weeks. Someone continues to be considered infectious until that rash is completely healed, which may take up to four weeks.

How is monkeypox contracted and spread?

The primary mode of transmission of monkeypox is through direct contact with a lesion that contains the virus or direct contact with bodily fluids that have the virus in it. It’s also possible for the virus to be spread through contact with what we call contaminated fomites. “Fomite” is a word that includes things like a bedspread or a bath towel, or even clothing. For example, if someone who has been infected with monkeypox sleeps on a bedspread, or wears clothing, those fomites could then spread the virus to others who might come into contact with them.

There is the possibility that monkeypox can be spread through the respiratory route, but it’s believed to be a very rare form of transmission. And it’s thought to require prolonged exposure.

What is the test for monkeypox, and who should get tested?

When someone is suspected of having monkeypox, they may present to their physician or the emergency department with a new rash, fever or viral prodrome illness. What the physician will do is they will take a swab of their rash, they’ll vigorously collect a sample from one of the lesions — the spots of the rash — and then they’ll send that swab into a testing laboratory, including ours. The laboratory will then perform what’s called a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test.

Those who should be tested for monkeypox include if you’ve had direct contact with anyone who has a confirmed case of monkeypox, if you develop a new rash, and you’ve either lived in or visited an area where there’s monkeypox transmission. Or if you’ve come in contact with an individual or groups, where there is known monkeypox circulation. If you’ve had contact with an animal from the continent of Africa and develop a new rash, you should be tested for monkeypox. Reach out to your health care professional to inquire about testing.

Could monkeypox become a new sexually transmitted infection?

One possibility that we need to be ready for is that monkeypox may become a sexually transmitted infection that we’ll need to test for while we test for other more common well-known diseases, like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis. The next several weeks to a month are really going to determine whether that is the case or whether we can stop the spread of this virus. So, again, the next two to four weeks are going to be essential.

Are vaccines available to prevent monkeypox?

The smallpox vaccine provided about 85% protection against monkeypox because they’re members of the same virus family. In today’s world, people aren’t receiving the smallpox vaccine because smallpox has been eradicated. 

What we’re seeing is a population level decline in the level of protective immunity that was really intended to target smallpox, but also helped with prevention of spread of monkeypox. One theory why we’re now seeing this outbreak of monkeypox is because the level of immunity in the global population is slowly declining.

The most common vaccine, at least here in the U.S., is the JYNNEOS vaccine. It uses a strain of a virus that’s part of the monkeypox family. That strain is called vaccinia virus and can generate an immune response that’s protective against both smallpox and monkeypox. 

It’s being rolled out in many developing countries, including the U.S. It will initially be used against targeted groups and populations: those who are most at risk and those who have been exposed. And then, as more vaccine becomes available in the future, we may see broader availability and access to that vaccine.

We are still in a COVID-19 pandemic. How worried should I be?

It’s important to emphasize that it’s very unlikely that monkeypox will cause a pandemic to the scale of COVID-19 because the virus is different. It’s spread in a different way. As I mentioned earlier, the primary mode of transmission of monkeypox is through direct contact with an infected lesion. We don’t think that monkeypox is going to cause millions and millions of infections like we saw with COVID-19 that’s now resulted in more than 570 million cases worldwide.

People should be aware. They should especially take precautions when having sex with a new partner because that currently is appearing to be one of the main sources of transmission during this monkeypox outbreak. If an individual has a new sexual partner, take precautions. And if you develop a new rash, be evaluated and request testing from your health care professional.

(Article attributed: Mayo clinic)

Explaining Artificial Intelligence Governance – And Why Financial Institutions Need It

The financial services sector is highly challenging, with participants seeking to gain a competitive advantage through technologies, business practices and the incorporation of more efficient operational methods. Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming one of the essential tools that financial institutions possess that can assist in automating processes, improving the accuracy of predictions and forecasts and improving customer service. However, financial institutions must establish a robust AI governance framework to drive AI implementations that encompass operational safety while remaining effective.

Where AI governance comes into play

AI governance collectively incorporates the rules, practices and processes by which artificial intelligence is directed and controlled. AI governance aims to enable organizations to take full advantage of AI while minimizing costs and risks. 

In particular, because of the highly regulated nature of the sector, financial institutions must implement a robust AI governance framework to better oversee an AI strategy. The framework should include a clear strategy for using AI and guidelines for collecting and managing data. Also essential is the need to identify and mitigate risks in conjunction with actions to better maintain stringent data security as well as compliance with legal requirements.

Key benefits of investing in a practical AI governance framework include:

  • Improved decision-making capabilities — better access to data and more accurate predictions
  • Increased efficiency and lower costs — automation of routine tasks and processes
  • Improved customer service and engagement — chatbots or other AI-enabled tools enhance customer interactions.

Investments to realize these benefits may include hiring dedicated staff members responsible for overseeing the framework, establishing clear guidelines and protocols and acquiring the tools to monitor and analyze data.

AI governance needs to stem from existing and future demands

Artificial intelligence capabilities are powerful but introduce new challenges that financial institutions must manage in a transformed operational environment. Organizations should embed controls to help measure and manage the models’ objectives, data needs, desired performance levels and trustworthiness in alignment with the company’s risk appetite.

By adapting to a more formalized, comprehensive and holistic governance approach, financial institutions can better develop improved and more controlled methods for managing the risks associated with AI models. Ultimately, they can better protect their organizations and customers from potential harm while attaining broader customer-centric benefits.

The vital factors where financial institutions need to implement formalized and strong AI governance practices center around their reliability, operational resilience and security, including data privacy.

  • Reliability — is imperative especially as it relates to AI models’ fairness and ethical components because wrong decisions can inadvertently penalize certain groups. Accountability and transparency can justify how information is used, how it impacts the decision-making process to reach outcomes, and provides channels for inquiry or challenge if needed.
  • Flexibility — AI models must be constantly updated and revised to account for new risks, regulatory changes and other challenges in order to optimize performance and consistency. A robust governance framework can aid financial institutions in their goal to effectively assess, monitor and respond to model-related risks.
  • Security — AI models can potentially expose financial institutions to a wide range of operational and regulatory vulnerabilities, including risks associated with disruptive incidents such as IT systems failure, cyber threats (e.g., data poisoning attacks) and regulatory compliance issues.

Challenges in implementing AI governance frameworks 

To attain the majority of long-term benefits associated with an AI governance framework, critical challenges that need to be addressed include:

  • Maintaining appropriate data collection, cleaning and analysis to produce more accurate, reliable and consistent results — including the validity of the data input function.
  • Addressing the issue of bias in AI models which can lead to discriminatory and unfair outcomes.
  • Adherence to accountability and transparency in AI systems allows understanding of how the organization uses data to make decisions, facilitating the ability to challenge or appeal decisions if necessary.
  • Compliance with regulatory requirements, organizational policies, standards and industry best practices, including external and internal mandates. This challenge is especially vital for highly-regulated industries, such as finance, to avoid fines, penalties and reputational harm.
  • Proactively managing and monitoring AI systems that identify and diagnose issues and allow for corrective remediation actions.

By Red Hat