ISCA Member Dr Ang Hak Seng, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth
1. Why did you choose to become a Chartered Accountant?
My interest in accounting and finance stemmed from my personal experiences since young as I had been actively involved in my family’s coffeeshop business. My role was to assist in the handling of accounts, such as ensuring that the cash was counted accurately and deposited promptly, tracking the daily cash flow, accounting for profits and losses, as well as doing budgeting for the purchase of resources.
These early experiences in accounting taught me the value of integrity and responsibility. I found the role of an accountant to be deeply meaningful as it ensured proper stewardship and effective use of resources.
With this interest I decided to pursue a degree in accountancy. My family, especially my late mother, gave me their utmost support and took tuition loans for my further studies at Massey University, New Zealand. During which, I was awarded a Massey scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Studies (Accountancy) and a Masters in Business Studies (MIS) (1st Class Hons).
2. Can you share briefly about SG Cares and how it makes a difference to the community/nation?
SG Cares seeks to build a caring home with culture of consideration and contribution. It is a national movement that involves all members of society at the individual, community and national levels. SG Cares key stakeholders (SG Cares Office, National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) and National Council of Social Service (NCSS)) work closely with each other to foster a connected caring ecosystem - akin to the ‘EDB of Caring’.
Individual level: Care as part of Singaporean DNA
SG Cares aims to make caring an everyday part of life by encouraging desired social norms and behaviours among Singaporeans and all living in Singapore. Through flagship events such as the annual SG Cares Giving Week (1 – 7 December), 2019’s SG Cares Bicentennial Celebration and many others, we build greater ownership of common purpose and inspire more people to come forward and take action. With each individual living out the value of care, we can ensure that no one would be left behind, and build a nation that can stride confidently into the future as one.
Community level: Building a strong social compact where no one is left behind
To achieve this, there is a need to ensure that volunteerism is purposeful and meaningful.
A key initiative under the SG Cares movement is the appointment of community-based organisations as SG Cares Volunteer Centres (VCs) since November 2018. SG Cares VCs are responsible to grow and coordinate volunteer supply, build volunteer management capabilities, and broker partnerships between demand and supply of volunteers at the town level. To date, there are 14 SG Cares VCs and they have engaged more than 10,000 volunteers, developed 400 volunteer leaders and served over 71,000 beneficiaries. The SG Cares VCs also brokered 175 partnerships involving regular volunteers to support those in need. This is part of the efforts to establish SG Cares VCs in all 24 towns across Singapore by March 2022.
On the digital front, to facilitate convenient and personalised giving and volunteerism, members of the public can download the SG Cares mobile app to kickstart their giving or volunteering journey for causes close to their hearts.
National level: Ecosystem that bridges supply and demand
At a national level, the role of the SG Cares Office is to build bridges between various stakeholders in the caring ecosystem. This is to encourage better collaboration and ensure that resources are channelled more effectively to those who need it. This also requires building of key capabilities within the non-profit sector to bridge supply and demand. One of the capabilities is Volunteer Management capabilities, which partnerships with key stakeholders such as NVPC and NCSS are ongoing. SG Cares also partners sector-specific intermediaries such as RSVP Singapore to grow capabilities in senior volunteerism and Heartware Network to grow youth volunteerism.
In addition, SG Cares is also partnering professional bodies, known as SG Cares national-level intermediaries, to promote and grow skills-based volunteerism1 in the sectors and make a larger collective impact to the wider community. Skills-based volunteerism is one of the important ways that we can help to build a more caring and inclusive home for all. For example, SG Cares inked an MOU with ISCA in May 2021 for the partnership in growing skills-based volunteerism. Through ISCA, members can contribute their skills by providing pro bono services and assistance with accounting and compliance matters to non-profit organisations, and share essential financial skills with vulnerable families.
In essence, the SG Cares movement encourages Singaporeans to give back to the community in any way they can and to leave no one behind. Only with a collective effort, can we build a more caring and inclusive Singapore we are proud to call home, not just for ourselves today, but also for our future generations.
1 Skills-based volunteerism refers to leveraging one’s profession skills and expertise to serve the community.
3. You were formerly the Commissioner of Charities (COC) and Executive Director, Registry of Co-operative Societies and Mutual Benefit Organisations (RCS). Now, as MCCY’s Deputy Secretary, you lead the ministry’s efforts in growing Singapore Cares, the national movement to foster a more caring, compassionate and inclusive society. Can you elaborate on the highlights of your extensive career at MCCY? How does what you do enable you to make a difference to the community and the nation?
I am honoured to have taken on various roles in the public sector and contributed to community building.
When I was the CEO of the Health Promotion Board from 2011 to 2013, I promoted the tagline ‘I Care’. The main mission of HPB was to keep Singaporeans healthy. This was done through pushing the value of ‘personal responsibility’ to our Singaporeans. It was implemented through achievable change in lifestyle such as consuming ‘less sugar, less salt, less oil’ and keeping active through simple exercises that can be easily and conveniently done at home by all age groups. In addition to encouraging the public to adopt healthy lifestyles, we also provided the structure for healthy living by piloting the concept of the Healthy Hawker Centre, now known as HPB’s Healthier Dining Programme. Through this, about 83 million healthier meals were sold.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to lead the People’s Association (PA) as the Chief Executive Director, championing the shift from people association to people movement, and promoting the tagline ‘We Care’. In PA, I emphasised that the community had a bigger role to play and this involves partnerships between the 3Ps (People, Private and Public sectors). It involved getting Singaporeans and corporates to come together to help one another at the community level. One example is the collaboration between 3P to combat the haze situation in 2015. With support from the government, our corporates came forward to donate masks and We Care well-being packages, and the community came together to distribute them to every household. This is the collaborative spirit we now see in our Singaporeans from all walks of life to stand together in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic.
After “I Care” and “We Care”, the next step is naturally “Singapore Cares”. When I joined MCCY in 2017, I championed the tagline ‘SG Cares’. SG Cares is a national movement to ensure that no one is left behind. It is for people who want to care to have an opportunity to care, and for the people who need care to have the opportunity to receive care.
SG Cares is also about the overall ecosystem of care, which comprises the charity sector and the co-operative sector in Singapore.
During my four years as the Commissioner of Charities (COC), one of my main priorities was to ensure that the charity sector thrives and is sustainable for the future years to come, and to achieve that, regulation only is not enough. Since 2017, COC’s approach shifted from regulation to co-regulation, which is a proactive approach that requires connecting with the people through regular engagements and education. This encourages greater responsibility, transparency and accountability.
To encourage more responsibility and ownership, there were avenues created to strengthen professionalism. I launched the ‘In Conversation with COC’ platform as a safe space for the COC Office to share updated information and knowledge, as well as to hear charities’ feedback and concerns, thereby building trust with and within the sector. COC had also worked with Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) on a structured curriculum based on the seven disciplines of high performing charities (published in October 2019). To support charities in their transparency practices, I introduced the Visibility Guide’s PARENT Framework (published in May 2020) as a framework for charities’ reference to ensure proper communication to their stakeholders.
Lastly, accountability is a cornerstone for the charity sector. Hence, since 2019, the COC formed suite of Shared Services Initiatives for Charities, to provide a range of services at a low cost or no cost. There are now 11 such organisations, including ISCA, which assist charities from accessing IT solutions, to recruiting talent and the filing of annual reports and financial statements.
Similarly, in my role as the Executive Director of RCS (“The Registry”), I championed the importance of professionalism of the co-operatives (co-ops), particularly targeting the credit co-ops as they function like mini banks. Together with our partner, the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (“SNCF”), the Registry worked closely with the credit co-ops to develop policies and training programmes that improve competency in key management roles and to discharge their fiduciary duties to their members. In 2019, the Registry introduced the Co-operative Societies (Requirements for Members of Committee and Officers of Credit Society) Rules 2019 which requires the Committee of Management and key officers of credit co-ops to possess the relevant competencies and knowledge on credit co-op governance and management.
The professionalism and education of the charity sector and credit co-op sector goes in tandem with my role in SG Cares where the non-profit sector, including charities, ground-up movements and community groups, work together in an ecosystem. Here, there is a shift in mindset from ‘organisation-centric’ to ‘beneficiary-centric’. By having the beneficiary in the center, we strive to not only solve the symptoms but identify the root cause itself. To do this, there needs to be collaboration within the caring ecosystem. This is why there was the impetus for the establishment of the SG Cares Volunteer Centres (VCs).
SG Cares Volunteer Centres
As DS of MCCY championing the SG Cares movement, I also focus on building national capabilities. One key node to enhance national capabilities to connect our caring ecosystem is the SG Cares VCs. Our SG Cares VCs are responsible for:
• growing and coordinating volunteer supply;
• building volunteer management capabilities; and
• brokering partnerships between demand and supply at the town level through demand aggregation and matching of supply to demand.
Volunteers are an important resource for charities to deliver their services to the beneficiaries and causes they serve. Through the coordination and support from the current 14 appointed SG Cares Volunteer Centres for recruitment and deployment of volunteers, charities are better able to fulfil the important last mile delivery of services to beneficiaries, which was especially needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the SG Cares VC being the synergising node for each town, it enables volunteers and corporates to know where to focus on so as to maximise impact to the community that requires the most assistance.
SG Cares movement is a journey only possible with the support and efforts from all stakeholders in the non-profit space, in collaboration with corporates and with support from the government. I take this opportunity to urge everyone to download the SG Cares mobile application to kickstart your giving journey today.
4. How has being a Chartered Accountant and an ISCA member helped you in your career?
Financial skillsets have been important in all my roles, be it in the health sector or the community sector. It boils down to effective and efficient utilisation of resources which requires focus and identification of key levers and the ability to connect the dots with logical thinking – important for policy planning which is strategic and practical.
The training I got as a Chartered Accountant not only provided me with important skillsets, it also changed my mindset on the definition of good governance. To me, good governance is a reinforcing loop between both performance and compliance, driven by values and ethics. To which I coined the tagline “Do the right thing, do things right, nothing to hide”.
ISCA continues to provide its members a local context of the business and finance landscape in terms of knowledge, expertise and business connection. Through ISCA, I also continuously update my finance and accounting skillsets and knowledge via ISCA’s seminars and webinars, as well as the ISCA Journal.
5. Chartered Accountants have the breadth of skills, global expertise and commitment to ethics to make a difference to businesses, the economy and the community. Can you share some anecdotes or highlights in your career that demonstrates this? You can elaborate on one aspect (e.g. breadth of skills), or more.
Chartered Accountants' contribution to business and economy is very clear cut. I would like to highlight three areas where Chartered Accountants have and can further contribute to the community.
As many will know, “trust is difficult to build, easy to erode”. On a national level, Chartered Accountants provides quality assurance in organisation. Leveraging their expertise, several accounting and audit firms have stepped forward to provide inputs and guidance to the Charity Council’s Code of Governance for Charities and Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs) which was refined and published in 2017, specifically to the guidelines under the section of Financial Management and Internal Controls. This is of importance to the non-profit sector as charities have a duty of stewardship over resources put under their charge, and upholding the reputation of the sector. Hence, it is ever more important that non-profit organisations have sound financial management in compliance with application laws and regulations to ensure that its resources are used legitimately and are accounted for.
While the people sector is primarily equipped with skills to address cause-related issues, they require accountancy expertise to uphold strong governance and accountability and this is where the skillsets of Chartered Accountants are needed. In September 2020, in my role as COC, I signed an MOU with ISCA to be one of the Shared Services partners to guide and train charities on finance and relevant accounting standards as well as compliance to the Code of Governance for Charities and IPCs. This is done through training programmes and webinars, sharing expert know-how on compliance to standards such as through financial reporting standards, as well as ensuring performance through productivity.
On an individual level, Chartered Accountants also plays an important role in the community. In May 2021, SG Cares signed an MOU with ISCA for the promotion of skills-based volunteerism in the accountancy profession. With their breadth and depth of skills and expertise, Chartered Accountants and ISCA members are well equipped to make a difference by using their professional capabilities in service to the community. For example, members can uplift vulnerable families through imparting of skills and knowledge such as financial management. Skills like basic accounting can encourage expense tracking and helps in a healthy and sustainable household budget.
The role of accountancy in the non-profit sector cannot be understated but accountancy is a professional skill which may not be easily available to non-profit organisations, especially the smaller ones with less resources. I encourage more professionals to step forward and contribute their skills to the people sector. This will strengthen the capabilities of the people sector and enable them to optimise their resources to effectively meet needs.
6. How do you think Chartered Accountants can make a difference to the community, especially in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment?
In today’s VUCA environment, there is utmost importance in ‘doing the right thing, and doing things right’. To achieve this, it is about having good governance. Governance is a core skillset that Chartered Accountants have and can therefore contribute to the community through the organisations they work at.
In a VUCA world, things keep changing and at a very fast speed. One may tend to lose focus or get caught in an endless loop. This is where the skillsets of Chartered Accountants come into play as they are trained to “pan and zoom”. For example, an Accountant is able to zoom into the details of a single account entry (micro) yet having the ability to link the many micros together to see the bigger picture of financial statements (macro). With this in mind, I posit that Chartered Accountants are trained to see the trigger points as well as the shifts i.e. the ability to “see the trees as well as the forest”.
Another characteristic of a VUCA world, is that resources are never enough. Therefore, there is a critical need to be able to identify the things or items that have the most direct impact to bottom line, and ensure the limited resources are thereby channelled in an efficient and effective manner. In order to achieve this, Chartered Accountants are trained to identify where the levers are through management and financial ratios; this is the ability to leverage the 80-20; meaning to focus on 20% input to give 80% outcome.
With the above core skillsets that a Chartered Accountant brings along with him/her, coupled with continuous learning, one can make a difference to the community in a VUCA environment.
Chartered Accountants have the breadth of skills, commitment to ethics and global expertise to help your business thrive. Making a difference in diverse ways in various parts of the world, Chartered Accountants are uniquely experienced to help get businesses and economies moving again.