Thursday, 19 November 2009

An Elegy for the Singapore Expat

A news report suggests that foreigners in Singapore are now buying property in areas outside the prime districts. This is more evidence that the species classified as the 'Singapore Expat' (SE) is evolving to meet the challenges of the new age.

In the 1990s, the SE was a privileged animal. He had his crib, his car, children's education and many other family expenses paid for by Headquarters.
His kids went to international schools. The school bills went to HR for processing. The Filipino maid did the grocery shopping.
Typically, he was paid in US Dollars.
At the time, the US Dollar was a strong currency.  China was just opening up and had not assumed the role of Central Banker to the US.
The SE was indifferent to the value of a car's Certificate of Entitlement (COE). Whether the COE was SGD 10,000 or SGD 50,000, he bought the car he pleased. Why bother with COE details when the bill was sent to Human Resources (HR) for processing anyway.
To top it all, the SE's job and compensation was not entirely dependent on his own efforts. The SE had a regional job.
The rain makers who generated the cash to pay his salary were spread out over the region. His was mainly a 'supervisory' role.
Some of his best supervision was done immediately after work at Harry's or Penny Black. Carnegie's and Brix were reserved for the weekends, especially when the wife and kids were away on one of their thrice yearly visits home.
The SE had it good until the Asian Crisis. The paradigm started to shift around him quickly. His 'value added' suddenly came into focus.
The current economic downturn is the final nail in the coffin.
Today's SE has a new face. Often he lives in an HDB unit in the Singapore heartland. He is seen travelling by subway or bus. Air travel is often on budget airlines. Mommy's afternoon school run is not always in a SUV.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the New SE is buying property in non-prime districts. The SE is no longer special. He is another professional who happens to live and work in Singapore. No more, no less.
The new Singapore Expat is a welcome addition to the city's environment.
However, the loss of the Sarong Party Girl (SPG), a constant companion of the Singapore Expat, saddens me. As the natural habitat of the SPG diminished the colourful sarong clad species could not adapt habits quickly enough to survive another generation.


  1. Many expats are not better than average Joe out there. As you alluded in your article, most of them are in managerial role. I know one of the expats who is in this very position. Greed and nepotism play big role at the executive level of large U.S. corporations. Recession, or more severe downturn like financial crisis, serve as market clean up. It makes us take a better look at our current state in order to reduce waste (expats who don't do much). Other reasons that contribute to the dying of expats are 1) Better government regulations 2) Better company policy. One example of reason #1 is executives should be held accountable when the company is not doing well. They should give back the bonus and perks they don't deserve. One example of reason #2 is to put more power in the stockholders like you and me when it comes to electing the next board of director. Better yet, stockholders should have a say in executive pay. As we see better regulations and policies in place, the lavish life style enjoyed by the expats will disappear. If their bosses can not live a luxury life, why should they?

  2. Hi Lee,

    Thank you for taking the time to write out your comments.

    You are absolutely correct in suggesting that ordinary shareholders should have a greater say in certain matters, including compensation. Corporate transparency is at the heart of the matter and slowly things are improving in Singapore.

    Recessions do help clean things up which even auditors cannot find ...

    I look forward to more of your comments in the future.

    Kind regards,