Alex: Hello, everybody, and welcome to today's webinar. The focus of our discussion today is digitalization in the various economies around the world and the findings in our recent Digital Currents report. I'm Alex Brodie and I'll be chairing our discussion today in my capacity as co-lead of Gowling WLG's Global Tech Sector, which I co-lead with David Brennan and Viona Duncan. So thank you for sharing your time with us today.
The roll-out of new technologies supporting digitalization, as well as the influence of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, have really accelerated the shift towards digital technology being brought into, not just advanced, but also traditionally so-called low tech industries. The focus of our recent report was to look at the jurisdictions were digitalization is thriving, and therefore commercial opportunity thriving, those where you could say work is still needed to embed the necessary regulation or investment or use of digital technology by major businesses, as well as us, of course, their customers. In the report we also looked at several industries that have been heavily disrupted by the roll-out of new technologies and which technology is causing that disruption. So Digital Currents is an update on our previous Waves of Readiness, which ranks countries by several different metrics to help determine the level of readiness to digitalization. Today I'm delighted to be joined by a panelist with a real expertise in a myriad of different areas and markets, to poke through where and why differences exist around the globe, how businesses can be proactive in seizing those opportunities and moving their own businesses, and also their sectors, forward in using technology.
I'm absolutely delighted to be able to introduce you to Claudia Olsson, who made an invaluable contribution to our Digital Currents report, through her discussion and expertise in Sweden's Doctrine of Digitalization and, of course, it's no surprise that Sweden topped the Wave of Readiness. Claudia is the CEO of Stellar Capacity, a global education company specializing in digital upscaling and leadership, and she's one of the Nordic regions premier and most sought after speakers in exponential commodities, future trends, leadership and governance. Her work is focused on the impact of new technologies on citizens, society and global markets. Claudia, thank you so much for spending your time with us today.
I'm also thrilled to be joined by Choon Leng Tan, a partner in JurisAsia, who we are fortunate with to be affiliated with in Singapore. Choon Leng is a specialist in corporate M&A, advising on complex multi-jurisdictional transactions in Southeast Asia, technology companies and obviously those who wish to invite Choon Leng. Until two years ago Singapore topped the Wave of Readiness in our report and we'll be asking him why it has performed so well over time and also how Claudia's Sweden has knocked it off the top spot. We are looking forward to that debate between Claudia and Choon Leng.
I'm also delighted to be joined by two of my right hand sector specialists, John Norman from our Canadian team and also Sushil Kuner from our UK team. John is the co-head of our Global Life Sciences team and a patent litigation specialist at heart. He's represented pharmaceutical, bio-tech, biologic and technology clients for the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Canada. Sushil is a FinTech specialist with significant experience with financial regulatory law. She spent eight years working with the supervision and enforcement divisions of the Financial Conduct Authority. You've been certainly coach … game keeper. Her clients include banks, asset and fund managers, FinTech companies, start-ups, corporates, private equity houses, platforms, intermediaries. She really is my go to person for regulatory and FinTech.
With that, Claudia, I'd like to start our session with a look at Sweden, which would be the top ranked country in our Waves of Readiness report. What in your view helped propel Sweden to the top? Is it private enterprise, government support, something else?
Claudia: Good question. I would say that there's definitely a combination of both. So Sweden has a history of early recognizing in projects investing in IT infrastructure. We have a very early making sure to roll-out road bans. Currently we have almost 100% internet penetration. We also have governmental agencies really being quite innovative in getting the general population accustomed and comfortable in using PCs, using digital technologies. One of the most known requires that Sweden around was the PC reform that was initiated 1995 - 1997, which enabled Swedes to actually be able to borrow home PCs from work, basically tax free, to buy them at a very low cost, to enable as many participants of the economy, as many citizens as possible, to actually have access to their own PC at home. In addition to this we've had a lot of different governmental initiatives focusing on making sure that Sweden could position itself as one of the most digital economies. In 2011 we had the Digitalization Commission being formed and Digitalization Commission has been working very actively on making sure that Sweden becomes one of the best countries in the world at harnessing and capturing the opportunities of digitalization. Following the Digitalization Commission we had another agency coming about and this agency has been very active and actually making sure that all our other governmental agencies actually follow suit and become one with digitalized. This agency is the Agency for Digital Development and it is called DIGG. In addition to this we've had, for example, an innovation agency which each year hands out a significant amount of money to support innovation of the ecosystem. They identify areas that will be important for Sweden's economy going forward. So it's supporting innovation to smaller grants and also supporting by enabling collaboration between academia, private sector and public sector. Of course the private sector has a super important role to play as well. We have a great ecosystem being developed around Ericsson, our big telecom. We've had quite a few significant start-ups that put the foundation for a very good basis for growth and more unicorns. So if you look at, for example, the entire community around Skype, where Sweden also played a role, we've had of course media around Spotify, companies like Kleiner, and many of them have been the first big giants and the community around them has gone to invest in more start-ups and they've made more creative companies connected to music, to FinTech, many gaming industries, many creative industries as well. So it's definitely from a collaboration. I would also want to highlight development foundations as one of these entities as we know contributes a lot to spearing innovation and collaboration. They basically have holding companies which hold a lot of that major Swedish industry companies, which pay diligence back to the foundations and the foundations invest that in research in Sweden, focusing on areas like artificial intelligence, for example, to prepare us for what is to come. So I would say it's been both the public and private sector contributing and the collaboration has definitely been a success factor as well.
Alex: That's recently interesting. That sort of holistic approach of private and public, with the government driving away to create an environment where people can adopt these new technologies, and that has obviously given Sweden a phenomenal foundation. Do you think it's sufficient for it to continue at the top or is it going to get steadily overtaken? Obviously it was first out of the tracks. Is it staying there?
Claudia: I of course hope it is sustainable and we do have a lot of things in place that make a difference. For example, all secondary education is free in Sweden. We have a relatively large percentage of the population that has PhD degrees. We have a lot of people go into science, innovation. That is a really good start for enabling great growth of ideas, even going into the future. Sweden has also been working a lot to be a very attractive country for international talent, at least Sweden. If we look at all our international companies like Spotify, Norfolk, growing fast now and many of them have really benefitted from international talent that chooses to move to Sweden to establish here. That is also something I think will be a success factor for us going forward. But I would also say that Sweden's focus of common innovative technologies is something that is also going to make a great difference. Our focus on green steel. Our focus on developing solutions around energy storage. These are areas which attract great talent and which are super important for our future, where I think that we can have the largest impact as well. So when focusing on them I think Sweden will be able to make a great difference. In addition to this we also have about 30 different test beds for different technologies and for companies to try them out. We have a lot of basically science parks collaborating across the country, creating great environments for new companies to grow from, and we have been relatively good also reaching out, forming collaborations across the world. For example, with Singapore we had the great benefit, quite recently, to establish a collaboration of accelerator in Stockholm where Singaporean companies can come to Stockholm too to establish and accelerate their business. So we form these partnerships by enabling talent to learn and to innovate. I hope that we will be able to continue to learn, to grow and to stay at the forefront.
Alex: That all sounds so impressive and really exciting. Aside from moving to Sweden we just need to hear from Singapore. So, Choon Leng, Singapore led the rankings until last year when Claudia and her team took over. But obviously Singapore is thriving growth in the digitalization space. It remains second in the rankings. But in your opinion what's driven that success? Is it similar things to what Claudia was mentioning or other items?
Choon Leng: Yeah, no. Thanks, Alex. It's great to be here. Actually it was really good to hear from Claudia because I think the general framework is not dissimilar. I think in Singapore's case it's a small country but it is a mid-size city and it's in the middle of a very large regional economy. So I think the lesson, the experiences, that Singapore had gone through and to see the mistakes that have been made around here are certainly applicable to other cities and other states as well. If you look at the partnership that Claudia very eloquently put together, you've got the government on one side and the private sector on the other, I think the government has not been party on that aspect as well. There's a certain level, top down, pressure from the government to companies as well. You see mostly in the form of government grants. I mean that's almost a low hanging fruit where more positive plans when it meets the target and there are certain KPIs. You find that the government support to help companies in the digital transformation. It's there. Whether it be something as basic as getting additional hardware, software subscriptions to the point of actually working with the companies to appoint industry experts to help guide the company through its transformation, you find a whole slew of government grants and programs to support that. But other than just giving money, I think the government itself has also undertaken industrial transformation brought back across six different clusters within 23 different sectors where they looked at each of them. So you have input from both the government and from the private sector to try to work out to then say, what makes sense. I think that acceptance by the government that they had some of the answers but don't necessarily know what's happening on the ground. So they had to work together, the private sector, to try to come up with those roadmaps. We're in the early days of rolling out those roadmaps but the initial results are encouraging in some sectors but I think that some sectors, which the government has acknowledged, needs for the work already. But then even from the bottom up for companies there's a certain sense of urgency as well. If you look around the GDP growth rates of most of the Asian countries, will be anything from five to 10%. We live and see that every day around us so I think for companies based around here they do see there's a lot of urgency too. If they're hit they're hit but if they're not we try to get the hit of the regional competition. I think the last thing that has had some immediate impact, Alex, it's really the pandemic. I think that and we've all heard this a number of times, in terms of how much the growth got put forward. But I think one thing we saw around Asia is that, in general, I think the Asian economy stayed in some form of lock up more than a lot of European and North American economies. That forced everybody to go online instead of online shop, online demos, but not just within the country but you find that travel within the region actually opened up only earlier this year. So there has been sometime for a lot of companies around the region that they're not going to get customers over into our factories, into our demo shops. So what do we do? We have to. So they were forced to but that's a silver lining there I suppose.
Alex: Okay. Thank you. So again it sounds very similar which is a clear government strategy backed by tangible investment. Not just money but also help and guidance in terms of years without appointing industry experts. Looking at companies that are thinking of inbound investment into Singapore, what big trends, what market trends should overseas businesses be aware of, do you think, in Singaporean market?
Choon Leng: Yeah. That's a really big question in one day.
Alex: I'm sorry.
Choon Leng: No, no, no. It's a good one and I think we get asked that very often as well. I think that the sense is that going back to the GDP growth, you could normalize it across all of it but I think the amount of excitement here, the amount of that sense around Asia, the size of the markets and the populations around here, Indonesia go to 300 million, Vietnam about 100 million and you know, of course, that obviously India and China are much larger than that. But each of them is not only large but many of them have very favourable demographics as well. So if you look at in terms of they look at the lifetime investment, you want to make an investment in Asia now, how long do you think that investment will last and yield a good ROI. It's a really good number. We hear that from clients. So I think in terms of setting up in Singapore, as a hub to then grow their Asian businesses, I think that has been true for some time and we continue to see that. But even on the tech front what we're seeing, and we've had the chance to go around the countries around Southeast Asia recently and we haven't done so for about three years, and you find that excitement on the ground is very real. That's obviously commodities, and on the other industrial sectors, but anything that tech does focus remains exciting. I'm not sure it's red hot anymore. I think valuations across the board come down but certainly that sense that if you can roll-out a solution that addresses that issue within the local market, and they are often very large local market, there is still a lot invested interest, there's still a lot of excitement, there's still a lot of growth that people are investing into.
Alex: Thank you. So I like the sound of that. That excitement. That engagement from the population but also business community in technology sort of coupled with the investment and encouragement from the top down. Claudia, obviously Sweden's doing brilliantly, but what do you think it could take from Singapore's example in this area?
Claudia: I would say a lot. Singapore is definitely a country that has been extremely good at long term planning and I think that's putting into measures into place that will give fruit in 10 to 15 years, which is extremely impressive looking at already what Mr. Lee Kuan Yew did, starting there. That kind of long term planning I think a lot of nations would benefit from. But something that Singapore is also extremely good at doing is to attract great talent to the region. Singapore has been very good at also providing a test bed for a lot of different companies, a lot of different actors to come in and try new innovations. I was very early on impressed, for example, by how Singapore is making contribution in the healthcare system by experimenting and developing new ways of teaching medicine. For example, with the Duke Campus that was established in Singapore, where you could actually try new teaching models that were very digitally driven enabled and then try them out in Singapore, and then explore them, and scale up across the world, also back to the US, for example. That kind of platforms and test beds is something that I think many countries could learn from, contributing to and enabling as well as Sweden. I think Singapore has also been very good at learning from other countries. I'm very impressed by how Singapore, quite early on with central locations across the world, sharing their knowledge but also bringing a lot of knowledge home and seeing a lot of that could be integrated in their own system. In our company, at Stellar Capacity, we try to encourage a lot of people when they learn and when they are trying to create game digital skills, not only to learn from what is happening in Sweden or the nearest region, but actually to look across the globe in a similar way as Singapore has done to bring back the best innovations learned from them, implement them and then develop them further. So I definitely think we can learn a lot from Singapore and I also see that we can learn a lot from other regions that are really investing heavily and moving forward. If we look at India and China, for example, there is tremendous progress going forward. There are a lot of really great educational programs. There's a lot of good accelerators and there's a lot of innovations coming up from the region that is really important to observe and learn from. So I think that any country that wants to stay ahead and wants to embrace digitalization and understand the risks, but also to have a responsible growth, should learn from other regions and try to see what you can learn from best practices and implement that back in the system. I think Sweden is definitely on that path and on that track as well.
Alex: Thank you. It sounds so energizing and if you could sort of pick one area of digitalization, which I know is incredibly hard to do but you think, Claudia and Choon Leng, that Singapore and Sweden could really take a charge on, and Choon Leng, what's your one in Singapore? If you had to pick just one thing.
Choon Leng: It's not an exciting one, Alex, but a very crucial one; trade facilitation. I think many of us have looked at that little credit and at the end of it, we've brought in pictures of the number of ships waiting to dock at certain yards and being held back because there wasn't the manpower to deal with the ships and all that. It's obviously a factor that isn't going to go away, as long as we actually want it to go good, are going to be manufactured somewhere else. But I think one of the things that Singapore is able to really work with, again working with the private sector, to really try to streamline the process, to make that as quick as possible. Somebody just remarked to me today, anytime you see a large boat sitting in the harbour somewhere off the coast, it's not making money either. It's not moving as it should. So anything that can be done to try to facilitate that, to try to reduce that turnaround time, it's big money and I think that's one thing which I think that the private sector and public sector here come together and done quite well and I think it's probably that kind of thing that I think should be shared around the world and to be learned from how others are affected from that or doing better and to try to.
Alex: Brilliant. Thank you. And, Claudia, for Sweden what would you pick if you had to pick just one thing?
Claudia: I think that would be expected to pick maybe a creative industry like the gaming industry, or music, or one of our more creative or potentially also FinTech areas, but I think that the area where Sweden definitely is excelling now and where we're going to see a lot of impact in the coming years, is with regards to connected industry and connected manufacturing. We have a lot of focus on really enabling automation of our industry. We have state of art factories like the one created, for example by SKF, and we have the robot valley that we have defined and basically in the middle of Sweden, which is a hub, a cluster, for a lot of both smaller companies but also some of our larger industrial companies where there's a lot of cooperation happening, a lot of innovation in terms of how to use automation and different processes and how to enable that in a more sustainable way, but also more safe and scaleable manufacturing that can also be enabled and decentralized in many ways, because if we're looking at the future of industry we're definitely going to have to see the possibility to have smaller batches, much more complex solutions being created but also not necessarily have skill in one part of the world but also in more locations being able to really have a connected industry and connected manufacturing across the globe. I think that the innovations Sweden is developing in this space will make a mark. So I would say that that is an area which I think is important to follow going forward.
Alex: Thank you. Connected manufacturing, shipping and the advanced Sweden and Singaporean enjoy but the word that you both keep mentioning is investment. Investment in the public sector and private sector which brings us to Sushil, who's our FinTech specialist, and obviously financial services have been arguably earlier and more thoroughly disrupted than a lot of other sectors in our economies and so much so that obviously there's now a market for stand-alone financial services focused technology, quite apart from the financial services industry benefitting and embracing technology. Sushil, why do you think it's been first and quite so thorough, and given the amount of disruption you've seen in the last decade and more, what can other industries learn? How should they stand ready?
Sushil: Thanks, Alex. I think the paramount reason for why the FinTech sector appears to be more developed, and has more a mature market globally, is because the very nature of the financial services industry, and the fact that traditionally it has comprised the large incumbents, which have grown over time through merger and acquisition and whose decades old legacy systems have been pieced together rather than fully integrated with one another over time. Now with the lack of investment into streamlining systems in IT infrastructure, which was I think largely due to minimizing costs in an environment where regulatory barriers maintain that status quo, and offered little incentive to invest. Legacy systems have really obstructed those traditional players from reacting to changing consumer demands and achieving the full potential of end to end digitalization, making financial services a ripe market for innovators to take advantage of really. Now new entrants have seen opportunities in disaggregating components of traditional financial services, offering more target solutions with better servicing to both retail consumers and businesses. So take for example the banking space, where challenger banks have made a huge impact. They've revolutionized the banking industry. They've been amassing customers to the point where they do now pose a credible threat to the incumbent banks and how have they done this? It's not by offering anything new, necessarily, in terms of new products or services but through ease of use, customer centricity, competitive pricing and altogether a more personalized service, which is the result of innovative new technology and lower operational costs. By way of practical example, even further setting up an account with a challenger bank, often takes just minutes and is a really simple process to complete on your mobile phone device or your app, with very little human intervention. That's even accounting for your KYC processes, and compare that to traditional banking services, it could take days sometimes to open up a simple bank account. Especially in Europe I think policy changes have also helped to encourage innovation, particularly in the financial services sector, through initiatives such as open banking and PSD 2, which have helped bolster adoption of new ideas and the use of technology in the payment services industry to, again, enhance competition for the benefit of consumers. PSD 2, or the second payment services directive as its full name, developed the concept of a single payment market in the EU and promoted the development of innovation in the payment sector through open banking. Now under open banking, banks allow access and control of customers personal and financial date to third party service providers through the use of application programming interfaces, otherwise known as APIs, and this has been a complete game changer as new players can access that consumer data and banking information, enabling them to offer new financial products and services more tailored to customers needs and enable faster, for example, access to credit. Now regulators around the world are recognizing the benefits of innovation, which has led to the creation of regulatory sandboxes designed to push innovation in financial services, and allow firms to test new ideas on consumers and markets in a controlled environment. So it's interesting to hear from Claudia earlier, where she said that test beds have been really important in driving innovation and that's very clearly demonstrated in the UK and global markets where there are the creation of these regulatory sandboxes, which are designed to try and push and encourage innovation in financial services. They've also been recognized in the benefits of Blockchain technology for example, lower costs and faster and more secure transactions, and many Blockchain based solutions are now being tested in those sandboxes, which is great news. It will take some time to bed in but the regulators will want to make sure that Blockchain technology is being used effectively and sort of mitigating any potential harms that may be created by it. With all this going on traditional financial services firms are now being forced to invest into their own IT infrastructure with a threat of being left behind if they don't find a way to complete with the FinTechs. All of this is helping to develop a mature market for stand-alone financial services technology. What can the industries learn? I think, as mentioned before, FinTechs have focused on customer centricity and more personalized services by disaggregating those traditional and complicated financial products to offer them in a more streamlined and user-friendly way. So I think focusing on end outcomes, understanding consumer's needs, fostering inclusion, breaking things down, focusing on solutions and simplifying product offerings, they should all go a long way for the industries really.
Alex: Thank you. Again, it's coming back to the individual, isn't it? It's investment you're talking about but also engagement with people, the human within all of this. So that's what's going on at the moment. If you look at more mature FinTech markets, the ones that are further ahead, where are businesses thriving and where do you see regulation or investment to be lacking behind, if you're looking at the more mature markets?
Sushil: Yes, so I've already mentioned open banking. So in Europe open banking is really shaking up the banking and payment space. It's empowered customers to take control of their finances, make better informed decisions, manage their finances across multiple accounts through single applications and be able to make instant payments. It's also increased competition thereby giving consumers more choice and lowering costs. But aside from banking, there are plenty of other areas of financial services which have demonstrated significant innovation. For example: in ShoreTech where companies are selling insurance digitally; quote aggregators with all of the price comparison websites in the insurance market, not only insurance but mortgages and other financial services too; WealthTech which covers investment and management platforms, Robo advice; sales and trading analysis tools; personal finance management tools and, more recently, those crypto asset exchanges. Now the lending space too has been seeing great expansion in the number of FinTechs offering quick and easy credit options, including the big buy now pay later firms, one of which Claudia mentioned earlier, so big Swedish firm Kleiner, who are really reshaping that credit sector. In terms of the one area of regulation, which I think is perhaps lagging behind a bit at the moment, is the area of crypto assets and decentralized finance, otherwise known as DeFi, where there is no consistent global framework for these at present. In the UK the FCA started off by making clear that its rules are technologically in neutral and set out some guidance as to the regulatory treatment of crypto assets under its current framework, however, as time moves on and the nature of crypto assets and business models are evolved with greater and more complex adoption of crypto assets, for example unregulated Stablecoins are a key example at the moment, the government has recognized the need to legislate in this area to hedge against systemic risks, certain prudential gaps that might exist at the moment and potential market abuse risk. So we only have to turn to the recent Terra UST crash, which was like an algorithmic Stablecoin, which showcases the extent of potential detriment these Stablecoins can pose if not properly regulated.
Alex: Thank you. I think that's amazing, is a really good example of the issues that also the advantages that regulation can bring, because so often people look to regulation and see it's stifling creativity. But actually within the FinTech space it's been shown to create safe spaces for creativity to occur and people to trust. John, moving to your sector specialism obviously, which is life sciences, life sciences businesses traditionally have not been seen as digitalized economies but that's obviously changed enormously in the last few years, what can they learn from an area like financial services, which is obviously very far ahead of the game on digitalization and disruption? Do you think there are special factors that apply to life sciences businesses, make it easier or harder?
John: Thanks, Alex, and I was actually thinking about this this morning, and when I left medical research about 25 years ago I was horrified to see some of these wet benches dismantled and computer terminals put in, and I says, where are we going with this? I guess that was just the tip of the iceberg. Is it a must have? For certain businesses, absolutely. For example, there are traditional AI computer companies that now call themselves TechBio. They're based around AI entirely and now they've moved into the life sciences space and they're partnering with pharma companies. So for those companies, it is absolutely critical that they use AI because it's centrally the core of their business. On the pharmaceutical space we're seeing increased use throughout the platform. For example, Sushil mentioned API, in my world that's called actor pharmaceutical ingredient, and they're using AI to design new actor pharmaceutical ingredients. They're looking at databases. Old medicines can add new uses so AI is digging into that. They're looking at how medicines fold in the body for proteins. They're looking at other things such as clinical trials. You can look at a clinical trial and determine with AI how the clinical trial is being run, which patients are benefitting, what their characteristics are. So really neat application. You've also got supply chain management. Wouldn't have though AI would be important for that but with limited drugs, and for example in the vaccine space, clearly supply chain management was really huge in COVID-19, and also process for formulating making. Again AI is being used in that. In my view the pharma industry has erupted with AI and it's just going to become more and more increasingly used.
Alex: There's probably no such thing as just life sciences anymore is there? It's life sciences as a tech.
John: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Alex: Fantastic. Obviously life science is a heavily regulated industry through history and, Sushil, just come back to that regulation point. What do you think less developed FinTech markets could learn from more mature markets in relation to regulation?
Sushil: I think the UK regulators are often point to as one of the key facilitators of London's position as a global FinTech leader. The FCA has a strategic objective in order to make markets and financial services work well and to do that it needs to ensure the integrity of markets, protect consumers and promote competition in the interest of consumers, and in promoting competition it promotes innovation as it recognizes that it is competition and the innovations spurred by it that challenges incumbents. Innovation provides better outcomes for consumers and better value products and services. How that process of competition takes place is often determined by the market but regulation has a part to play in making sure the right conditions exist for that competition. Through the FCA's project, Innovate, the FCA helps firms tackle regulatory barriers to innovation, be it through clarifying regulatory expectations, examining its own rules or enacting policy changes to give them space to innovate in the interest of consumers. It was also the first regulator to establish a regulatory sandbox which allows firms, as I said earlier, to test those innovative propositions in the market with real consumers through a controlled testing environment, potentially enabling them faster routes to market at potentially lower costs. Now the FCA also regularly hosts a number of tech sprints which is designed to get firm's academics and innovators in a room to try and find solutions on current issues. Recent tech sprints have revolved around sustainability and solutions to overcome challenges faced by regulators in monitoring ESG data and disclosures. But the next tech sprint is designed to focus on solutions for authorized push payment frauds. The Bank of England too has a FinTech accelerator and so regulators globally can really learn from those initiatives in driving their agenda, really, on innovation.
Alex: Thank you. The tech sprints sound like a really good idea. So, Choon Leng and Claudia, looking back to Singapore and Sweden as our leaders in this space, what regulatory changes are ongoing at the moment in your country that you believe are supportive of this growth, digitalization, supporting technology? Claudia, in Sweden, what's the big thing that's happening in regulation at the moment?
Claudia: I would mention three different initiatives that are definitely also connected to what has happened on the European level. The first one is the work towards defining a blueprint a single digital gateway. A simple digital gateway that will enable us, for example, to share everything from graduation certificates between countries. So when students move in the Erasmus system, for example, they're able to show their qualifications. That single digital gateway is also enabling us, for example, that when we identify with all our credentials, addresses, etcetera, for one public agency we wouldn't have to repeat that for every single public agency we're involved with, but that is something that is automatically transferred and accessible throughout the system and hopefully also across Europe, going forward. So that is something that we're seeing on the integration level across Europe but I think that will really enable a lot of innovation as well going forward. The second initiative that I would also mention, on a European level, is the definition of the AI Act that the European Union is working on. That is really thinking ahead around artificial intelligence and the responsibility we have to manage the risks that AI brings about, spurring AI innovation but also thinking about how we need to be proactive about the usage of AI, the reliability, the transparency around how different systems are developed, built and for what purpose. That is something very, very interesting where we definitely are laying the ground foundation for how a very important technological development will be able to impact us in Europe going forward. I think a lot of people across the world are wondering about how do you really regulate AI ethics and this is an important initiative towards that goal. I would say that the third initiative, that is two or three years old already but is still in progress and implementation, is to make sure that across all public services they only accept e-invoices. So all invoices need to be electronically sent and the process is completely digitally run when the public system is procuring different services and products. That is empowering and enforcing that all the suppliers across Sweden is also becoming more digital using the digital system and also gaining more digital skills. So these are three of the initiatives and I think that we will be developing those in parallel and in collaboration with many other European countries and hopefully also beyond that.
Alex: Thank you. It's about creating the right environment, isn't it? Choon Leng, what's going on in Singapore?
Choon Leng: I think the first one of the things I realized here is that clearly the government between Sweden and Singapore have already taken Claudia's advice, in terms of exchanging notes and ideas, because there's certainly a lot of similarity. I think one key area that the government has implemented a few years ago and is still rolling out is really they had all pillars but they need to create the foundational aspect to allow a digital economy to flourish. If you think about it will make a lot of sense and it's in four areas. The first one is in terms of creating a digital identity, not just the company, but for each citizen so that much as we are represented in the physical world, of the digital world. You see the children we have here, you should have a digital name as well. Related to that is the ideal authorization and content. There's no point interacting with me if you can't interact with the digital me and have me say yes or no digitally. So how do you then try to have a check balance to make sure that that process isn't abused? The third one, and this is probably crucial, and this is really official expertise in terms of payments and the operability to make sure that you can't have different systems. You cannot have different systems. They don't talk to each other. You're going to get a very fragmented digital economy which is something that they clearly want to try to avoid. So that was the third piece. The fourth one is more challenging. It's really about data exchange. We know with all this information flowing across each other, and we've been on this topic for a number of years already and, friends, we know very well when it comes to privacy, it doesn't determine issues around it, how do you then allow the exchange of information, across borders in some cases, but yet retain the one that you don't want to have exchanged? That's still an ongoing process and I think they've identified the support. That's probably the key areas that they want to build on and, if you go a little bit further, sandbox is something that I think we talk about a lot in the FinTech space, but now you're finding that expanding to many areas as well, whether it's on the bio side and the AI side, you start creating the areas where is something fails, it fails within a controlled environment then you can learn from it and innovate from that. Then reaching further out areas like I think similar to what you mentioned, again in terms of AI, it's happening in limited industries right now but in terms of trying to find something omnibus that has a greater general application it's a little bity of a Holy Grail in terms of AI regulation right now and I think it's something which is going to need a lot more time and process. We're trying to come up with something that more and more of us feel comfortable.
Alex: I think that's so important about people feeling comfortable and trusting. John, you were mentioning about the wet benches turning into laptops just a moment ago, both Claudia and Choon Leng have just mentioned AI, and I was thinking about where a regulation doesn't quite touch what you need it to touch. How do businesses, particularly life sciences businesses that you're so immersed in, how do they protect their R&D, their innovation and in particular around the AI space? If you want to just touch on that in the context of life sciences.
John: Sure and it is absolutely a critical question that pharma companies are asking themselves because as you can imagine you don't want to do a clinical trial using AI. Go before the regulator and the regulator says, I don't like this data. Do it again. I mean you've just thrown away year and years and expense and that sort of thing. The thing that we are really seeing is companies in this space are engaging with the regulators early on. When they start to develop the technology, they have stakeholder meetings, they're working closely with EMA, with Health Canada, with the FDA, the various regulators to see how the regulators are considering these data. How AI can be accepted. The ultimate goal is to have a product that's approved because it's safe and effective and what the regulators are looking at is, is the risk sufficiently low so the benefit makes sense. That's kind of where a lot of this is being driven by. So we always tell companies engage in these stakeholder meetings. They're critical. It helps develop the guidance going forwards and if you're part of that process you can fit into the guidance that's going forwards. The other thing when we see companies getting ready to use AI, engage with the regulators early. Talk to them. See if this is an acceptable way of moving forwards. Sometimes little tweaks early in the process, before you do a clinical trial, can make all the difference in the world and it makes it a lot smoother.
Alex: Thank you. That's very good advice. Sushil, what do you see, where there's maybe a gap in the regulation or lack of regulation? How do companies protect their investment in technology?
Sushil: I'd say in certain industries, in particular in financial services which are fast evolving, I think you need to research the markets, take legal advice as the current state of play within that market and keep an eye on regulatory developments in the jurisdictions you're operating in. Prime examples of forthcoming regulatory challenges in the UK are in the buy now pay later credit fields, which are dominated by the FinTechs, such as Kleiner and PayPal, and which will shortly see currently unregulated products coming within that regulatory perimeter, and also crypto assets is another area where the law is drastically evolving. So conducting regulator activities without the relevant permissions is a criminal activity in the UK and so it is really imperative that firms operating those markets keep up to date with regulatory developments, as they may not even have the business to protect in the end.
Alex: Not an ideal outcome. It's been very interesting listening. Claudia, you talk about Sweden's meteoric rise here and, Choon Leng, Singapore's undoubted dominance over a long period of time and yet to come, and John, had the life sciences industry as coming forward with digitalization, and Sushil, you've got a mature market there in terms of technology and finance. There's some themes that are coming out and I just wanted to have these ideas. It seems to me that what's common in each of your areas is a holistic strategy. As a blueprint for success someone's decided what good looks like and then they're fitting the other pieces in around it. In some of those that's government and others it's money talking and others it's big business and maybe three or four visionary at the helm of those big businesses. But the strategy seems to be underpinned quality, in particular with real practical measures, such as the laptops for all Swedish citizens or the appointing of external experts to assist in various things and implemented regulation and legislation. I was particularly interested by the notion of paying dividends back into R&D institutes to make sure the money flows further into creative. But ultimately I don't know how you all feel about this. What your view on it is. It seems to come back to me, the people, and they need to be educated, they need to be encouraged, they need to be people centricity, Sushil, your word, they need to be enabled to take part with the laptops … and they need to be able to trust. I think that's where governments bring forward clarity, openness, regulations, safety nets. So to me it seems very holistic. You need strategy, you need implementation but if you can't bring the people with you, you're not getting anywhere. I don't know how that chimes with you or John.
John: Yeah, that's a great question because one of the challenges that the pharma sector is facing is the lack of qualified people to do this. You almost need someone who is used to AI and computer sciences and also understands pharmaceuticals and the drug development process. There are not very many people that have that qualification, and those that have that qualification, are in extremely high demand so you can imagine all the companies are going after a very small pool of fish. As this area gets more and more advanced you will find more people that are qualified and then you will find that the resources will be there, but I think right now in the pharmaceutical sector, the big challenge is actually the resources and that opens up for partnering. So you see a lot of smaller start-up companies, that have the expertise, that are partnering with the pharmaceutical companies and that's how they're driving it forwards because they can't develop the people in house to do it right now.
Alex: Thank you. Sushil, what do you think? Is it the people or is it something else?
Sushil: No, I completely agree with that and there are similarities with what John was saying in terms of financial services space as well because the incumbents right now, how are they trying to develop and sort of change their infrastructure? Are they suddenly getting that in-house experience themselves? Or are they more realistically acquiring the FinTechs which there's a lot of activity going on at the moment? So they need to compete with the challenge of banks now, especially the banking industry, and they way that a lot of them have been doing that is not really by educating their current staff, it's by quickly acquiring some of the FinTechs that can quickly address some of the issues that they're facing and bring those solutions to market really quickly. But even then, if we focus on the UK again, especially in the context of Brexit, the UK government has made it clear that it wants to be like a hub for FinTechs and specifically a hub for crypto asset businesses too. In terms of its initiatives, it has proposed those sort of tech visas as well to make sure they're attracting the right talent to the UK ,and we can quickly get that talent in to support the FinTech industry in the UK too.
Alex: Thank you. Choon Leng, in Singapore, is it people do you think that are going to move this further, or money or strategy or where are you?
Choon Leng: It's always comes back down to the people, I think. You could have the best technology and all but you don't have the right group that can make the most of it. It gets a little bit wasted. I think John touched on it very well. You'll find across the sector, one of the things we found during the last two years is that you had companies big and small who were often coming up with an app or a new software or something that you can't get around the issue, and it's not unusual that then they have a development team off-shore. It could be in Vietnam. It could be in Israel. It could be in Bangladesh but to find that talent the message was almost I don't care where they are but they can do what I need them to do. So I need their help on it and those who can find that talent are the ones that get to move ahead. We get to see that so often it's really encouraging and it does say a lot about innovative spirit. It's easy to look at a great recognition and say, where are we going to go from there, but dig a little bit deeper. I think a lot of people who have been involved in … after this they've moved on with something better.
Alex: Thank you, and Claudia, going back to Sweden as we must. What's your view? Is it the people or is it something else?
Claudia: I think if people make a tremendous difference, and it's also to people that are building the companies that constitute the government, so it's definitely the people we need to start with. That's why I think education matters so much. We need to enable people to learn, and not just at the beginning of their lives, but really focus on lifelong learning, embracing new technologies, learning as we go along. I really see that as a trend for our entire careers. It's something we need to continue doing. So people and learning is key to successful progress.
Alex: Thank you. Claudia, Sushil, John, Choon Leng, it has been a real privilege to share this hour with you. Thank you so much.
John: Thank you.
Sushil: Thank you.
Choon Leng: Thanks, Alex. Thanks, everyone.
Claudia: Thank you very much.